Home / Politics / Policy /  Women, youth key to Gujarat election outcome

Yogesh Shaileshbhai Patel, slightly built with a hint of a beard, is a 24 year old who works alongside his father at the family-run grocery shop in Kudasan, a small village near the Gujarat capital city of Gandhinagar, off the Sarkhej-Gandhinagar highway. He married at the age of 21 and has a little son.

Yogesh isn’t content with running the store, which he says isn’t enough to meet his family’s needs; like most of his generation, he has higher aspirations.

“Isse kahaan kaam chalne wala hai," (how can this be enough?), he says about the shop. “I want to open a garment store in a nearby mall in Gandhinagar. I have already saved money for it and I am in the process of buying it."

He hasn’t chosen to open the business in his own village because there isn’t sufficient demand for the apparel he wants to retail. His wife, meanwhile, is studying law at a college in Gandhinagar and, says Yogesh, “I want her to become a successful lawyer."

Yogesh Patel is part of the new demography of aspirational youth that’s defining India and who will vote on Monday in the second and final phase of the assembly elections in Gujarat, a state that accounts for nearly 5% of the country’s population.

Some 19.8 million people are eligible to vote in 95 constituencies spread over 12 districts: Ahmedabad, Kutch, Banaskantha, Patan, Mehsana, Sabarkantha, Gandhinagar, Anand, Kheda, the Panchmahals, Dahod and Vadodara. The first phase of voting took place on 13 December.

According to data compiled by the Gujarat Election Commission, the highest number of voters are in the 20-29 years age group, making up 26.4% of the total registered voters in the state. Add to it the 3.5% of the voters in the age group of 18-19 years, and the young account for a little less than a third of the electorate. Those in the age group of 30-39 years constitute 24.6%.

Significantly, the electorate is almost evenly divided along gender lines, with women accounting for 47.6% of Gujarat’s total electorate of more than 38 million.

Voters say and experts concur that these two demographies—the young and the women—will strongly influence the electoral outcome, due on 20 December.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under chief minister Narendra Modi is attempting to win a third successive term in office in Gujarat. The party and Modi, who are identified with the Hindu majority, are fighting the election on the plank of putting Gujarat on the path of high economic growth.

“Almost half of the electorate is youth. Urban middle class youth—which are both vocal and influential—are a product of a number of conflicts which has made them more aggressive than their grandfathers and more anti-minority in a way," said Achyut Yagnik, a political analyst and author based in Ahmedabad.

“This is where the majoritarianism of Modi works with them," he said. “Even in the urban centres, one can find that there exists an inter-generational difference of opinion on electoral choices."

Babubhai Patel, 32 year old, takes a while to open up, but once he does, he unknowingly tells the story of a state where an individual’s aspirations are closely linked with the new development model.

Patel is a graduate who has been working on a third-party contract with a leading telecom company in Mehsana for eight years. With his wife Manisha Patel and their three-yea-old son Shyam, Patel resides at his ancestral home and has a monthly take home income of 12,000.

He is “happy" with the life he is living, but has two very distinct but subtly linked concerns —the future of his son and the state’s development model.

“Our state has been opened up to big companies which need land to operate from here. Naturally so, the land prices have escalated as much as four to five times in the last 10 years," said Patel, who has been trying for a government job for five years now but has failed to secure one. “People sell their land in the attraction of lump-sum money but what they do not realize is that someday this money will get over and they would be left with nothing, neither the land nor a job. This scares me the most."

To be sure, such concerns are not universal and changes among the urbanized electorate—the spurt in urbanization has coincided with the more than a decade long tenure of Modi—have in some ways helped the incumbent chief minister. A section of the youth that is now eligible to vote has grown up on the politics and governance style of Modi, seen as a potential prime ministerial candidate of the BJP in the general election due in 2014.

“The youth is supporting Narendra Modi because he has a positive approach and a clear thought to everything," said Amita Mistry, 25, a Vadodara law student who is also a qualified company secretary. “We feel our aspirations can get fulfilled in Gujarat and it gives us an edge over other states."

She added: “There are flaws in his development model that gives more leverage to private companies but honestly, the benefits are more than the losses and so I think it works for us."

Modi’s appeal for urban voters has received a fillip with the new trend of urbanization defined around census towns. While they do not possess an urban administrative structure in the form of a municipality and are still governed by the local village level bodies, the populace tends to mimic urban living and hence becomes an urban extension. A village can become a census town if it fulfils three criteria—at least 5,000 inhabitants, a density of 400 people per sq. km, and at least three quarters of its male working population “engaged in non-agricultural pursuits".

As per the Census of India, Gujarat has at least 152 such places where farming is no longer viable and people have turned to other professions. According to political analyst Yagnik, census towns in the state are under the influence of urban areas and may mimic their voting pattern, which in turn may work in the favour of the BJP government.

“According to the 2011 Census, 32% of India has urban population, the same figure is 43% for Gujarat, a jump of nearly 11%," Yagnik said. “Urban area voters have therefore become more important for Modi. Their aspirations matches with the development agenda of Modi."

Not everyone in urban Gujarat is smitten by Modi.

Take for example, Himmat Vaniya, 21, who trained at an Industrial Training Institute (ITI) and lives with his parents and younger brother Ghanshyam in Bajwa, a census town in Vadodara district. He works as a technician in a nearby refinery during shutdowns that are enforced when repair and maintenance work is undertaken

“The BJP government is only for big companies and not for the poor people. And even when these companies come here, it is the migrants who get jobs and not us," said Vaniya. “The farther you come to rural areas, the problems get more pronounced."

The view finds resonance in an urban counterpart of his, Milan Kuriyar, who is a first-year college student of commerce in Vadodara’s Maharaja Sayajirao University.

“There are hardly any government jobs around us. The only government jobs are those in the police forces and that too are both underpaid and irregular in hiring," Kuriyar said.

Unlike most other young people, both Vaniya and Kuriyar said they would like to give the Congress party a “chance" to get elected in the state where it was reduced to an also-ran in the last two elections.

Mint columnist Aakar Patel says that he was “quite disappointed" by the lack of fight shown by the Congress, which leads the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) at the Centre.

“It would however be interesting to see whether at all the work of the UPA or the lack of it will make a difference in the state," he said.

Modi’s opposition has always been the Congress at the Centre and not in the state, he said. “Even among the Congress voters, there is a sense of pride about Modi when he comes on national television and takes on Sonia (Gandhi) and Rahul (Gandhi)," he said, referring to the Congress president and her son and party general secretary.

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