An estimated 15 crore Indians in the age group of 18 to 23 will be voting for the first time in the Lok Sabha elections in 2019.
Having failed to reach out to young voters effectively in 2014, the Congress is now keen to tap into the segment of first-time voters.
During the Karnataka Assembly election in May, the party’s students wing — the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) — held a few townhall interactions with young and articulate Congress leaders like Krishna Byre Gowda and Dinesh Gundu Rao under the banner of “Nanna Karnataka”.
The same programme will be replicated across the country where the NSUI and the Youth Congress will facilitate such direct interactions between first-time voters and Congress leaders.
“We are trying to ensure that the NSUI is electorally relevant instead of being restricted only to campus and college settings,” said Ruchi Gupta, a Congress joint secretary who handles the students wing. The Congress move to engage with students outside traditional campuses such as Delhi University, Rajasthan University or Gauhati University among others stems from the fact that space for student politics is shrinking.
Student unions of political parties are virtually non-existent in professional engineering and management institutes, the IITs and the IIMs. Townhall meetings, say Congress leaders, are more effective in drawing a younger audience.
To change the perception about politics among the student community, especially in the top-end institutions, the party conducted a four-week fellowship programme — Future of India — that covered issues such as public policy, law, foreign policy, economics and politics.
“We had received 500 applications includingf rom students from Harvard, Imperial college (London), the IITs and the IIMs. We could accommodate only 35 fellows in the final short list but it’s a great start,” Ms. Gupta said. The Congress is using its students body to launch innovative campaigns in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.
In Madhya Pradesh, Congress and NSUI workers are sending 2.5 lakh job applications to counter Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s statement that there is no shortage of jobs in the State.
In neighbouring Chhattisgarh, where Chief Minister Raman Singh, travelled on an airconditioned bus on his ‘Vikas Yatra’ across the State, the Congress took out a counter ‘Vikas Ki Khoj Yatra’ (Tour in search of development).
In Rajasthan, the party’s campaign for the young voters will centre around affordable education, equal opportunity and jobs.
“In Rajasthan, we have pointed out that there are 1.26 lakh vacancies in the education department, 88,000 vacant posts in the police and about 26,000 jobs in the health sector. At least, they can be filled up even if the BJP had forgotten that they had promised 15 lakh jobs to the youth in Rajasthan five years ago,” Ms. Gupta said.
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