With 1.13 crore voters under 30, the BJP and the Congress are in for image makeovers
With nearly a third of Gujarat’s 3.78 crore voters being between 18 and 29 years, the ruling BJP and the main Opposition Congress are leaving no stone unturned in wooing these youngsters. For many in this section, the two-phased Assembly elections scheduled for December 13 and 17 will be the first time they will cast their votes.
While new voters (aged 18-19 years) number 13.36 lakh, those aged between 20 and 29 years number over a crore. With both the major political outfits in the State sidestepping sensitive issues in their campaigns, the young electorate that will troop to the 44,500 polling stations spread across 182 Assembly constituencies is being seen as the key to the Gandhinagar throne.
Gujarat is, perhaps, the most urbanised State in India with 42.5 per cent of the population residing in urban areas, as against the national average of 31.16 per cent. In the last decade, Gujarat has seen a large number of new campuses emerge with many students having a foothold both in the urban as well as the rural setting.
That is why the BJP and the Congress have put all their might into attracting this key component of the electorate, 1.13-crore strong, that may override all traditional voting patterns and parameters, including religion- and caste-based politics, to swing the outcome either way.
The BJP seeks to neutralise the anti-incumbency current sweeping through the State with the personality and achievements of Chief Minister Narendra Modi. The party has promised a network of hostels in urban areas for 40,000 higher education students, English-medium Government schools, a Skill Development Corporation, a Skill Development University and a Centre of Excellence – to create a 2.5-crore strong skilled young workforce. The ruling party promises to generate employment opportunities for 30 lakh youngsters in industrial and service sectors with the State Government acting as a guarantor for those seeking loans for self-employment.
Not to be left behind, the Congress has also promised what attracts the young the most – free laptops and tablets, reduced fees and scholarship grants to students from minority communities.
In 2007, the BJP had won 117 of the total 182 Assembly seats with Congress winning 59, the NCP three, Independents two and the JD(U) one.
This year, Gujarat’s mainly two-party political sphere is keenly following a third contender – the former State Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel’s newly-launched Gujarat Parivartan Party. The new outfit hopes to emerge as a “king-maker” by slicing into the BJP’s vote bank. While it has not made any specific promises for the youths yet, it has focused on farmers, women and “deprived” sections of the society left behind in the State’s development story.
As of now, Modi is seen as the front-runner on the verge of scoring a hat-trick and romping home with a comfortable majority. If he wins more than 117 seats, he may move to the Centre to lead the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Less than that score may, however, give the Congress and Patel’s new outfit the opportunity to upset the BJP’s applecart in a State they have claimed as their own.