Catching ’em young – Advani surfs net, Rahul legs it out

By Darshan Desai & Khalid Akhter, IANS,

New Delhi : One is 81 years old, the other 38. But each is taking a leaf out of the other’s book in the hope of catching young voters in the upcoming parliamentary polls.

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The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) prime ministerial hopeful, L.K. Advani, is journeying across cyberspace like Gen Y, while the Congress’ youth icon and general secretary Rahul Gandhi is walking to the doorsteps of young voters – something the former has done all his life.

There are 43 million new voters in the electoral rolls for the April-May polls and a bulk of them are in the 18-30 age group. The younger voters are not believed to be loyal to any particular party – and so it makes sense for politicians to try and impress them.

“We will vote for the one who gives our village a degree college. Age, experience and party don’t matter,” says 20-something Chandrashekhar Singh, a student from Sarai Meer village in Uttar Pradesh’s Azamgarh district.

Tanu Sehgal, 24, working in a music production house in Delhi, says: “I will consider voting for a well-educated and experienced politician. Age for me is not a factor.”

And these are the votes that are being eyed.

While Advani has launched an internet campaign through Google and put it up on 2,000 websites, the Congress general secretary is travelling across the country, reaching out to people and mingling with youngsters.

The BJP has often said it has more young chief ministers than the Congress and harps on Advani’s five decades of experience as against the sheltered existence of Rahul.

The Congress on its part maintains Manmohan Singh will continue to lead the government but has unleashed Rahul across the country to suggest it has young energy that others lack. So, basically, the party is offering a combination of Manmohan Singh’s experience and the energy of Rahul Gandhi.

Who will succeed is anybody’s guess. “Youth is not a monolithic category. Their aspirations and choices would vary with urban and rural areas, caste groups, class differences, religious background and sometimes linguistic divisions,” sociologist T.K. Oommen told IANS.

Tony P. Emmanuel, a postgraduate degree holder in Kerala’s Ernakulam city, said: “Old leaders of political parties are mostly conservative. The majority of them think only on their party lines.

“The young blood thinks in a broader sense. They are revolutionaries and can see revolutionary change if they are given an opportunity to rule,” said Tony, in his early 30s. He took to farming after studies.

The fight is intense since youngsters may not yet have firmed up their choices.

After sweating it out for five decades in the hurly burly of politics, Advani has lately been seen trying out weights at a gymnasium, launching his website and chatting online.

Manvendra Singh, 44, son of senior BJP leader Jaswant Singh, said there is nothing wrong with Advani “moving with the times and it is good”. As for lifting weights, he told IANS: “It is the energy of his mind.”

Another BJP campaign called Advani@Campus has been launched where canvassers contact students on as many as 5,000 campuses across the country.

While Advani himself will not visit most of the colleges, Gandhi has been going to campuses.

Just like his father the late Rajiv Gandhi, the young Congressman was ushered into the organisation as general secretary and put in charge of the Youth Congress and the National Students of Union of India (NSUI), the party’s student wing.

“Rahulji wants to bring more and more youth into mainstream politics. He wants objectivity in the appointments made in the Youth Congress and to introduce organisational democracy,” says Ashok Tanwar, national president of the youth wing.

Young Congress MP Milind Deora says youth today want development-oriented politics and not rhetoric. “The young are fed up of old ways of politics. They are fed up of rhetoric. They want a shift of 180 degrees from rhetoric to development.”

But BJP MP Manvendra Singh opines: “The expectations are no different than other voters. It all depends on how you campaign, it depends on how you do your social engineering.”

There are in all 714 million eligible electors this time.