Raipur (Chhattisgarh)/Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh): Hemant Sahu, a 24-year-old engineering student at Dr. C.V. Raman University in Chhattisgarh’s Bilaspur district, has no memory of Congress party rule in Chhattisgarh, or in its parent state Madhya Pradesh. So, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) campaigners, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, harped on “Congress misrule" of 70 years, Sahu couldn’t make the connection. What does anti-incumbency mean to him?

“I don’t know how good or bad Congress rule was and so I cannot personally compare the BJP rule with the Congress. I think the current state of affairs in Chhattisgarh can be improved, but I will study the manifestos of both BJP and Congress before taking a decision," Sahu had said before voting on 20 November.

Manish Gandharv, 22, of Kota town in Bilaspur district, said anti-incumbency or pro-incumbency for him meant a choice between “development or more development". “Every political party these days talks of development though I feel BJP and Modiji are more committed to it. My parents have told me about their struggles for getting the basic services from the government and thankfully my generation does not have to have such basic expectations from the government. But I will choose a party that better meets my aspirations for development and economic growth, especially for farmers," said Manish, who is preparing for the civil services and working on his paddy farm.

His friend Rupendra Jaiswal, 22, says it is the BJP which young voters like him prefer for its commitment to development. “Modiji attacks Congress all the time, but it is on the issue of development. BJP’s performance on development is self-evident in Chhattisgarh and young voters know who is committed to development."

But there were other younger voices who did not find any connect between the BJP’s frequent attacks on the Congress. Gaurav Kushwaha, 25, a newspaper vendor in Madhya Pradesh’s Vidisha town, which has mostly elected a non-Congress MP since independence, says Modi must tell the nation how many promises that he made in 2014 have been fulfilled. “Congress proved itself to be a crook and that is why Modi was elected. Now it is not proper that he continues to blame the Congress only. What happened to his promise of 15 lakh in each account? We are not getting any jobs here," he said, clear that the BJP will lose.

Unlike in the past, elections now are also fought on social media and young voters remain receptive to social media messaging—beyond simple themes of pro- or anti-incumbency. In the tourist town of Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh, 27-year-old Shailendra Silavat showed a video that has gone viral on social media. It purportedly shows voters in a Madhya Pradesh village asking tough questions to a sitting BJP member of legislative assembly (MLA) about the party’s stand on the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

“These people are literally abusing the BJP MLA for taking a stand against the Act and not being able to explain why. They are showing him a video of his speech in which he says he would protect upper caste people even if they are accused of perpetrating atrocities against Dalits. It’is not like in the past anymore. Now, anyone can shoot a video and circulate it on WhatsApp. That is why politicians should speak and decide with caution," Shailendra said, adding that government should focus on fulfilling its promises rather than creating social tensions.

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