They have the numbers to influence the poll outcome.

The young voters of Uttar Pradesh, who form a third of its electorate, are not influenced by religion and caste. What attracts them is the dream of a bright future through development.

A good chunk of them will be voting for the first time and have the potential to influence the poll outcome.

In Lucknow, youngsters voice their concerns about the functioning of democracy, and say that while personalities change the system remains unchanged.

Chief Minister Mayawati's dismissal of some “tainted ministers” during the last few months of her reign leaves many youngsters cold.

“What is the use of sacking corrupt ministers at the last moment? The damage has long been done. Behenji allowed her pampered party members to run riot for the first four years. Sacking them months before elections reflects the panic in her camp,” says Ahmed Raza, who is in his final year of graduation.

So she won't get his vote? “Yes, right. What has she done for the welfare of Muslim youth? They are harassed by goons in khaki and labelled as terrorists,” he says

Meanwhile, Anna Hazare's demand for the right to recall elected representatives and reject poll candidates has these youngsters excited.

Samreen Fatima, 21-year-old student of Isabella Thoburn College, says, “I realise the power of a vote and will not vote for the heck of it. Unless I'm convinced of a candidate's potential to curb corruption and tackle issues from the grassroots level, I will not vote for that party.”

Her friend Deeba, aged 20, is enthralled by the dimpled Congress scion Rahul Gandhi and his impromptu visits to the lesser-known villages to meet the less privileged.

“I'd like to give him a chance. He seems to be a genuine person interested in the uplift of the masses. More important, he is accessible to them; so why not,” she asks.

Many of these youngsters believe that politicians cannot sway voters on the basis of religion or caste. Praveen Rai, a 23-year-old student of Lucknow University says, “Times have changed and people have become much more secular in their approach. Gone are the days when people would consider religion, caste and creed before casting their votes. The religious background of the contenders doesn't hold any importance for the youth of the 21st century.”

There is greater worry over the controversial credentials of contesting candidates. They wonder why the netas are unable to keep musclemen and candidates with criminal background outside the political arena. Shishir Tiwari, a journalism student says, “We want to see more educated and deserving contestants with a clean background. Wearing spotless whites won't overshadow their stained past.”

Expressing his resentment over politicians seeking votes and then disappearing into air-conditioned offices or homes, he says, “We want politicians who are ready to interact with people, understand their problems, and remain accessible to masses throughout their term. Not barsaati mendaks (monsoon frogs) who are only good at making transitory guest-appearances during elections, armed with hollow promises and false assurances.”

Transparency in governance and job opportunities for unemployed youth are also high on the wish-list of Lucknow's young.

Aoun Naqvi, a first-time voter says: “Development does not mean going about spending huge sums of money on the erection of mammoth-sized statues. What about education? Crippled by lack of educational opportunities, dearth of jobs and poor infrastructure, we have no option but to pack our bags and migrate to other States.”

Social networking sites too are playing a role in this election, particularly for the young. Search engines and sites are abuzz with fan pages, groups and advertisements of contenders, vying for the attention of the youth.

Neha Tripathi, pursuing Masters in English at a city college, says she has noted their presence in cyber world, but this factor alone would not get her vote.

So who is she going to vote for? “Crimes are at an all-time high, so there's no way I'm going to vote for the BSP. That's for sure. Actually they are all the same; good at only repartee and wordplay.”

(This article was published on February 9, 2012)
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