With nearly a third of the total electorate of 3.78 crore voters being youths, aged 18-29 years, the ruling BJP and the main Opposition Congress are leaving no stone unturned to woo these youngsters, many of whom would enthusiastically cast their vote for the first time in the two-phased Assembly elections in Gujarat, scheduled for December 13 and 17.

While the new voters aged 18-19 years number 13.36 lakh, those aged 20-29 years number over one crore. In an election being fought in the absence of emotive issues so far, these youths are being seen as key to the Gandhinagar throne as they troop to the 44,500 polling stations, spread across 182 Assembly constituencies.

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. The last decade has seen Gujarat having a large number of new campuses emerging across the state, with many students having a foothold both in the urban as well as rural settings.

That is why the BJP and the Congress have put their might into attracting this 1.13-crore strong key component of the electorate that may override all traditional voting patterns and parameters, including religions and caste-based politics, and swing the outcome for or against their candidate in an anti-incumbency current sought to be neutralised only by the personality and achievements of Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

The BJP 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 would generate employment opportunities for 30 lakh youths in industrial and service sectors. The State Government would act as a guarantor for youth seeking loans for self-employment.

Not to be left behind, the Congress has also promised what attracts the youths the most: free laptops and tablets, reduced fees and grant of scholarships to students from the minority communities.

In 2007, the BJP had won 117 of the total 182 Assembly seats, the Congress-59, NCP-three, Independents-two and JD(U)-one.

In 2012, Gujarat’s mainly two-party politics is also watching with interest a third contender; former Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel’s Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP), which is trying to emerge as a “king-maker” by slicing into the BJP’s vote bank. GPP has not made any specific promises for the youths and has focused on farmers, women and the “deprived” sections of the society left behind in the State’s development.

As of now, Modi is seen as the front-runner to score a hat-trick and romp home with a comfortable majority. If he scores 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 the GPP the opportunity to upset the BJP’s applecart in a State it has claimed is its “laboratory.”

(This article was published on December 10, 2012)
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