This generation, says Moeena Halim, is not willing to wait any longer for influential mass leaders and instead seem all set to take matters in their own hands
If you happened to be at the high profile and wild NH7 Weekender in Pune a couple of weeks ago, you might have spotted the guys from Operation Black Dot (OBD). The presence of a politically-inclined organisation might have seemed somewhat incongruous at a music festival but it was perfect for the 20-something OBD team to grab the attention of their target audience — urban, upper class, usually politically apathetic youngsters.
The organisation, intending to break down politics in an “easy and fun” way, is one among several new groups that have been set up by politically- aware youngsters themselves keen on spreading their enthusiasm and their belief in a democratic system.
Deepa Kumar, founder, GrassRoute India, believes that the sudden influx of youth-driven organisations has pushed the country’s youth to be more aware of the political scenario. “Whether they like it or not, active social media users are being bombarded by political discourse. Youth-driven organisations are pushing so much that even those who weren’t interested are now slowly opening up to the idea of getting more involved,” she says.
While Kumar’s GrassRoute India aims at humanising the politician by connecting citizens to their Member of Parliament (MP), similar organisations such as Jhatkaa(.org) or iForIndia(.org) encourage citizens to hold the system accountable and rate their leaders respectively. A number of these youth-driven organisations, which rely on the Web and social media to spread the word, have cropped up in the past year, well in time for the upcoming general elections in 2014 where the youth is expected to play a large role. Consider this. If every debutant voter, amounting to about 12 crore, decides to vote next year, this votebank will top the total votes of the winning party in the previous elections — the Congress party won with about 11 crore votes in 2009. The youth are undeniably a votebank politicians are eyeing with keen interest. As 23-year-old OBD supporter Shweta Satpute expresses on the organisation’s Facebook page, it is time for the youth to show responsibility by exercising its right to vote. And bombarded with the relentless Modi vs Gandhi debate, it’s crucial that the youth makes well-informed decisions.
Operation Black Dot
“Our goal is to get young people like myself to play a part in policy-making, within or outside the government. I want the youth to know that young people have a role to play beyond updating statuses on Facebook,” says 24-year-old Samyak Chakrabarty, founder of Operation Black Dot (OBD).
The social entrepreneur, who has worked on projects for the United Nations since he was a teenager studying media at Jai Hind College, launched OBD last month to introduce the youth to politics in a fun and engaging manner. “Young people, I find, are very socially conscious but when it comes to politics, they switch off because they find it boring, complex and tedious. I wanted to change that,” he adds. Chakrabarty plans to not only use social media to his advantage, but also engage students across colleges through a massive campaign. “The six constituencies across the city will get a youth MP. Youngsters have been applying. We will pick six based on their ideas and the commitment that they can promise. Also, they mustn’t have a political background. Each of the six MPs will have to choose 15 MLAs under them and representatives from across colleges,” he explains. The task of the teams is to get the maximum number of students to get voter ids. “Moreover, each constituency is backed by cause ambassadors — a celebrity who has proven to be socially conscious. For instance, Purab Kohli, Nikhil Chinappa, and Vishal Dadlani,” says Chakrabarty.
The most fun part, he reveals, is that if you vote in the 2014 elections, you get invited to India’s Voters Party where we plan to celebrate democracy. If you’re under-25 and a student of any of the Mumbai University colleges, all you have to do to get in is show off the black dot of indelible ink on your finger. But it isn’t just about casting your vote. The organisation plans to run political discourses that will help the youth know their MP better. “The plan is to get young people excited, make political discourse fun and get them to register themselves to vote,” reveals Chakrabarty, who founded OBD with support from The Thincquistive Foundation and DDB Mudramax.
Know Your Vote
Twenty-two-year-old Dhruv Sarin may be gearing up for a job at Goldman Sachs in Bangalore, but he is determined to develop the political organisation he set up as a graduate student. Know Your Vote (KYV), launched in 2010, was a result of Sarin’s inspiration during the Obama-McCain elections. “I was a student in Washington DC then and it interested me to watch how involved the youth was. I wanted to bring that level of participation to India,” reveals Sarin, who was about 19 at the time.
Sarin’s initial aim was to provide information about the candidates on his website, in order to encourage voters to make well-informed choices. “It wasn’t long before I realised pretty soon that this information was all already there on the Web, but people weren’t interested in looking at it,” he adds.
On his return to India three months ago, Sarin decided to take KYV offline to colleges across the country. “Our plan is to introduce KYV units across colleges. Apart from spreading political awareness and encouraging the youth to demand accountability from the politicians, the unit will also host leadership programmes,” reveals Sarin, who hopes the initiative will help train the leaders of tomorrow. “We want the units to be completely student-run and involve peer to peer outreach. I believe that if an older person comes to talk to you, it sounds preachy. We will also ensure that the units remain non-partisan,” adds Sarin, who hopes to have set up as many units as possible before the general elections next year.
Several factors over the years, including the onset of social media, Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement and most recently the Delhi rape case may have triggered off a spark among the youth to speak up and voice their opinions. And perhaps the upcoming general elections will witness one of the most well-informed set of first-time voters. But as KYV’s Dhruv Sarin puts it, “We must ensure that the youth is politically aware and engaged continually. This must not be a process that happens once in five years each time a general election comes up.”
There are other organisations too such as iForIndia and Jhatkaa, which are doing similar work. For instance, 30-somethings Ankur Garg and Tarun Jain who launched iFor India in August this year, gives citizens a chance to rate their MLAs or MPs on various parametres including basic needs (such as sanitation and cleanliness, public transport), governance and administration, growth and progress, professional education and reputation. It works on simple logic. One has to register on the website by providing one’s mobile phone number and once they receive a verification code, proceed to the rating system. At present iForIndia lists 4,200 constituencies of all 28 states and two union territories of India. Similarly Jhatkaa.org, a new website, founded by young social entrepreneur Deepa Gupta, urges citizens to shake up the system, regard democracy as going beyond casting a vote and hold those in power accountable to the people.
Clearly, the young and well-to-do Indian is getting restless, tired of traveling around the world and seeing how people in developed nations live and then returning home to corruption, stagnation and big talk. Waiting for a messiah they figure may take longer. Taking the lead themselves is evidently the better option.
While LAMP (Legislative Assistants to Members of Parliament) fellow Deepa Kumar was assisting Rajiv Chandrashekharan, an independent candidate in the Rajya Sabha, she realised the biggest shortcoming in the system was the lack of dialogue between the voter and his representative. “It struck me that the best way to rid our community of apathy was to encourage dialogue with their leaders,” says Kumar, whose organisation GrassRoute India aims at connecting civil society and politicians through online platforms including Twitter.
“People don’t realise that MPs are extremely accessible. Most don’t have websites, but the Parliament of India’s official websites are very well maintained. Everything you need to know about the MPs is available — their interest areas, what questions they raise in Parliament, their educational background, their home and office phone numbers. You can even cold call their offices and they’d help in any way they can,” says Kumar, who is working on creating an iOS and Android app that will provide all of this information to users at the click of a button. “This is no longer the desktop-age. Everything happens on the mobile phone. This is why creating an app is at the top of my priority list,” reveals the 22-year-old.
One of the several projects Kumar are her team are working on is engaging the Twitterati with Mumbai South MP Milind Deora. “In November, he will address Twitterverse, asking citizens for ideas of what they think the mayoral role should be. He is keen to take the people’s view to the CM. In fact, we’ve asked people to email their ideas to Mr Deora directly. He will present the ideas he likes to the CM,” adds Kumar, who set up the organisation only a few months ago.