Source: 
The Hindu
http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article1683236.ece
Author: 
AJAI SREEVATSAN
Date: 
10.04.2011
City: 
CHENNAI

India is considered a nation of the young. By 2020, the average age of an Indian is expected to be 29. But how many of them participate in the electoral process of the world's largest democracy? Sadly, only a minority.

With the Assembly elections scheduled for this month in four States and a Union Territory, efforts are on to urge the youth to come out and vote.

DISCONNECT

M.G. Devasahayam, convenor of the recently launched Forum for Electoral Integrity, says there is a lot of disconnect between the youth and democracy. “They can spend a whole day watching a cricket match, but don't find time to check the background of their candidates. The first-generation voter participation is very limited. Our online and outreach campaigns are aimed at asking the youth to engage with democracy.”

The forum's website (http://freefairelections.org/) has information on the voter registration process and a complete directory of telephone numbers to report violations.

Anil Bairwal, co-ordinator of the National Election Watch, a collective of more than 1,200 NGOs and citizen-led organisations across the country, says the first step towards initiating change is making information available. “For example, in the current Lok Sabha, more than 300 MPs are crorepathis. They account for less than 1 per cent of India, and they are the ones representing us,” he says.

While multiple dissemination strategies are being adopted to spread the candidate affidavit information, the Internet plays a central role. “India is a country of young voters. Roughly, 60 per cent of the people are below 40. Internet campaigns appeal to them,” he says.

The income, assets and liabilities of each candidate in the States going to the polls can be accessed at http://myneta.info/. Voters can also access the information by sending a message (in the format ‘myneta constituency name') to 56070 or call the toll-free helpline 1800-110-440 to ask specific questions.

Social networking sites are also being used, with the Election Commission of India opening a Facebook page recently. On Twitter, the Assembly elections can be tracked through @indiapolls.

LACK OF TRUST

Deepa Karthikeyan, moderator of the provocatively titled ‘Do you deserve Democracy?' page on Facebook, says that even if youngsters have an intention to vote, there is an absolute lack of trust in the system. “If access to more information is made convenient, there is still a chance. It should become cool to vote. Voters must exercise their right to at least keep out the wrong people or register their protest by choosing ‘not to vote for anyone' under Rule 49-O.”

As Mr. Bairwal puts it, the larger goal is to bring in a law to audit party finances, regulate what kind of people contest, and how they get elected.

“We have a democratic country, but run by undemocratic, autocratic parties. The young can change this. There should not be apathy towards everything political. Politics is not just for the politicians. Online tools are meant to engage with the youth. Only they can make our politicians more accountable.”

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