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|February 10, 1998||
The politics of youthMadhuri Krishnan
As the leafy hedge get their early morning prune, hordes of students from Christ Church College, Bangalore, walk past the mali weighed down with backpacks, considering the forthcoming exams, Harrison Ford in Air Force 1 in the afternoon show, or maybe, just maybe, the election around the corner.
For some of them, February 16, or maybe 22, will be the first time they exercise their franchise. Some teenagers are abreast of the prevailing political temper in Karnataka, others have even progressed to anger, cynicism, even learned helplessness. "A joke of an electoral system where you really have no choice; the utmost being a selection of sourcing sweet lime from a basket of fully rotten fruit," was one bitter summing up.
Most confessed they knew little about the political system till now, and that they were going through an "undecided" or "confused" period. But some of them are taking care to find about candidates and leaders from peers, parents and Prannoy Roy, with talk shows and newspapers providing additional material.
"It is really a tough decision. Who do I vote?" asks Susan Prakasam, 19, of Christ Church rhetorically. "The BJP is hiding behind a mask of secularism but we all know their real colour. I mean, for a party whose main ideology was Hindutva till four years ago, to forsake it today just for votes goes to show their incredible lack of credibility.
"The United Front is made up of fragmented people, with ambiguous ideologies. And the Congress has been in rule long enough without making any major difference; Sonia will probably stop infighting in her party... But she's quite irrelevant as far as national policy is concerned. As of now, I really don't know who I will vote."
Would they seek parental guidance?
"We are quite confused at the moment," laughs first-time voter Aditi Das, all of 20, from Jyoti Nivas College.
"Yes, my ideology is definitely influenced by their political leanings but I will definitely make up my mind in the next few days. It is a decision no one can impose on me."
"No way," asserts Pradeep S, 19, of St Joseph's College, "I am not talking to my parents about my choice. I tend to vote more for a party than a candidate, taking care to check the individual representing my constituency's credibility. If he's good, there are chances, he can be a voice in Parliament, I'm hoping this is how it works," says the experienced voter.
But Syed Kaleemuddin, 18, from the Devraj Urs Medical College in Kolar, a self-confessed novice at ticking the right political answer. He feels he is a tad young and immature to take such an important decision.
"I will vote for whom my parents tell me to vote; they know best. I have heard discussions over the dinning table and I know the climate is particularly bad for the business community. No fresh tenders are being passed and the government has no effort to enhance infrastructure, especially in an IT-rich state like Karnataka. I think a final consensus will be reached the night before February 16 on whom we will vote for. Till then, we are still deliberating."
However, there is Rashmi Pradeep, who has just turned 18, from the Bishop Cotton School. She has already made up her mind. "It is pretty clear-cut, actually: The Congress, by bringing Sonia into the fray, has shown what a farce the whole system is; the United Front has an experimental stint at the helm and they couldn't hold themselves together. So the only probable system that I would like to vote for is the BJP," she says.
She termed the entire election pattern and our leaders "a sad joke with jokers contending for power. Have you seen them on Prannoy Roy's show? They are quite ludicrous."
She believes if the voters pick the right people, India can produce people of talent, credibility and aptitude to run a government.
"Look how well the corporate world is doing with entrepreneurs like Rahul Bajaj and Kumaramangalam Birla. Why can't good leaders come to power?"
Siddharth P Ram, 19 of Christ Church has a paradoxical answer to the dilemma: "I want the BJP to come to power, but I will vote for the Congress."
"My parents are loyal to the Congress much before Sonia came into the picture and I will have to do what they tell me. But, personally, I have an ulterior motive... If they win, the stock market will rise and I will benefit."
Hey, you selfish bloke, what about the larger interest?
"Look, it doesn't really matter which party comes to power. They can't reverse any of the policies made, especially not liberalisation. They will just have to coast along, probably take a few more decisions on how to serve the country best. So at the end of the day, any party -- but it should be a majority -- is good enough, in my opinion."
Some schools held opinion polls to gauge the teenager's voice.
Says Rashmi: "Nearly 80 per cent of us want to give the BJP a chance and want them to win by a large majority. No one wants another coalition to come to power. Unfortunately, there are very few students who have turned 18 this year so hardly 25 per cent of the class will vote."
Syed Mohinuddin, 20, from the Vishvesraya College of Engineering, feels, "The Janata Dal has split up in Bangalore, the Congress has done nothing for the progress of our country, Sonia Gandhi is getting heard just because of the glamour and sympathy she is generating. But I think the BJP is the party that has a clear concept and gameplan of how to run the country. They are more focussed in their goals and how they are going to achieve them.
"I know there are a lot of Muslims who do not completely trust the BJP because of past experience and this is probably causing a lot of confusion in their minds. But I think no one can hurt another person in a democratic set-up, more so after they are known to be biased. They will be extra careful not to hurt the minorities's sensibilities. So my vote will go for BJP."
Frequent elections made most students angry because of "the expenditure involved. Why do they need to campaign in helicopters, distribute sweets and liquor to slum-dwellers? They can just state their gameplan and we will decide," says Syed.
And a debate on which model of government was best suited for a heterogeneous nation like India goads Susan Prakasam to remark: "I think we need a dictator to instil some sense of discipline in every field. Democracy produces only mediocre people. You choose the best from the worst. What we really need intellectuals and leaders interested to taking the country forward and on par with the west."
Nineteen-year-old Laetitia Somapaul from the same college had a more radical idea: "Maybe we should call the Brits back and ask them to rule us, because if you logically see we have not moved an inch further in any direction since 1947."
Asked who was the most suitable leader to lead the country, the students came up with responses that were refreshingly varied.
Lakshmi Rajagopal, 21, Aditi Das, 20, and Sweta Narayanan, 21, of Jyoti Nivas College rooted in favour of Najma Heptulla.
"She's the most coherent, educated and pragmatic minister we have had. In fact, she should have become vice-president. It didn't happen, but she's the best," says Aditi.
Manmohan Singh and T N Seshan are their pick for PM, say 19-year-olds Sushmita Korvi and Venkatesh V R of Jyoti Nivas College.
"You need an educated, disciplined man at the helm." Aditi doesn't quite agree with Seshan being PM since she feels he's a megalomaniac".
Atal Bihari Vajpayee is picked by Shuven Shankar and Anirudh Bhatt, both 18, both from National College. "The Congress had their chance, so did the United Front. Let's give the BJP a chance."
Anyone for Sonia? "We'll not accept her as our prime minister," says Usha Nandini A, 20, of National College, "How can she empathise with our people when she's Italian?"
"That old coot should retire, go home and spend his last days reading books. He has absolutely no place in Indian politics," says Sushmita. "I think most of these guys are jokers and criminals. How come Balram Jakhar has been given a party ticket when he is still not vindicated in the Jain diary scam?"
Nirmala M, 20, of St. Joseph's College, Rashmi Pradeep and Syed Mohinuddin are excited at the prospect of casting their votes for the first time. But a few others, like Sushmita, Aditi, Sweta and Venkatesh, are casual about it. Exams, they say, are more important.
For Nirmala, though, "It is a feeling of importance, I feel like an Indian citizen being given a responsibility. Though, at the end of it all, I am not sure my vote is going to have much effect."
"The guys you vote for never comes to power and those that do, change once they are in power. It's a sham."
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