Indian middle class mobilised to vote

April 17th, 2009 - 10:28 am ICT by IANS  

Aamir Khan By Arvind Padmanabhan
New Delhi, April 17 (IANS) The Indian middle class is being mobilised to vote like never before.

From web sites giving information on criminal records of Lok Sabha candidates to nationwide TV and radio campaigns urging first-time voters to register and exercise their franchise, the middle class is being actively wooed.

Caste remains the main foundation on which politicians are fighting the elections. But development and good governance are high on voters’ agenda - over issues like prices, job cuts, growth, roads, education and water.

The idea is to ensure that the 714 million registered voters in India, out of a population of 1.17 billion, take informed decisions while picking their representatives from the thousands of candidates in the fray.

The five-phase balloting for 543 elected Lok Sabha seats started Thursday and ends May 13.

“People are really desperate for a positive change and a cleaner political scenario,” said Guru Murthy, coordinator for the recently launched “No Criminals” campaign, which seeks to rid politics of criminals.

“It may seem Utopian now, but if people promise not to vote for criminals, then with time even political parties will stop fielding them,” Murty told IANS.

Then there are some professionals who are themselves standing for elections like Captain G.R. Gopinath, who pioneered low-cost flying in the country with his Air Deccan airline.

“I am fighting to win and bring change to society. I am not for any party. Else, I would have joined some known political party. I am joining politics to bring good governance and social harmony,” he said.

And those who campaigned for him in the Bangalore South constituency are friends like Biocon chairperson Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Infosys Technologies director T.V. Mohandas Pai and fashion designer Prasad Bidapa.

Similarly, many educated youths have jumped into the process, either as contestants, or serving as volunteers for like-minded candidates. And some are activists seeking to help voters understand and judge the candidates better.

“While being in the corporate world, one can’t serve society completely. Politics is an area where you can do a lot for society,” said Ranjan Kumar, a graduate of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Lucknow contesting from Mohanlalganj on the city’s outskirts.

People are also not ready to be hoodwinked by freebees promised in the manifestoes of political parties. Even industry lobbies have spoken against them.

“Political parties are requested to desist from offering free power or supplies of food grains at subsidized prices as these are likely to be detrimental to the growth of the country,” said the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham).

“Experience has shown in the past that whichever political party promised free power and hugely subsidized wheat and rice to poorer sections ultimately landed in problems as it is difficult to keep such promises.”

Even celebrities, industrialists and fashion designers, known otherwise for late night parties and brand endorsements, have become vocal, seeking a better political culture.

“Every Indian citizen should vote, especially youngsters because they are the future of India and to change the system they should exercise their fundamental rights,” said Ritu Kumar, the well-known fashion designer.

“We all have a tendency to sit back and complain; we should change this attitude because it will lead to zero results.”

And Aamir Khan, the Bollowood actor known to make cerebral films, is among those who have no particular party to support but want Indians to get involved in the electoral process.

“We are not endorsing any political party; we are only asking voters to make an informed choice. We are asking them not only to vote but understand the value of their vote,” he said.

(Arvind Padmanabhan can be contacted at arvind.p@ians.in)

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