Indian youth’s call for change

Shalini S. Dagar        Print Edition: November 30 2008

It is the season of finding Obama parallels in India. One of the defining features of Barack Obama’s campaign was the way it used the power of the Internet to mobilise youth across the nation. The locally-based but nationally coordinated grassroots movement,Generation Obama (GO), led by young activists, had a simple goal: to get Obama elected as the next President of the US.

Germs of a similar Indian movement are already evident in the form of the “Jaago Re! One Billion Votes” campaign. If it rings a bell, it’s because Tata Tea’s television commercials are centred on it. Unlike the GO movement in US, the focus here is on getting younger voters registered through an online presence (at www.jaagore.com) and outreach programmes in top university and corporate campuses, starting with IIT Chennai on November 10.

The 26-year-old coordinator of the campaign, Jasmine Shah, says: “The intention is to get four million young people registered across 35 cities before the general elections in 2009.” Shah, an IIT Chennai graduate, leads the campaign team of 11 people, all of whom are under 30. And within seven weeks of its launch, the website has managed to register nearly 70,000 youngsters.

What got Shah going was Janaagraha’s previous knowledge (through a quick study in 2004 and later a detailed analysis in an assembly segment in Bangalore) that the error rates in voter lists can be upwards of 40 per cent. The movement hopes to cover the entire country in the next five years.

Shah says the unstinted support of Tata Tea was a major boost. The company found in the campaign a great fit with an earlier advertisement, which spun a caricature of a “qualified” politician. Tata Tea is funding the campaign. Sushant Dash, Head (Marketing), Tata Tea, points out that the campaign fits his company’s brand strategy. The campaign will be considered a success, Das says, “if we can increase the footsteps to the polling booth.”

Tata Tea is not alone in lending support. Eminent persons, including former Chief Election Commissioner, T.S. Krishnamurthy, are on the board of Janaagraha as advisers. As for corporate support, companies such as Yahoo! and Mid-Day are on board and others are in negotiations. With assembly elections in several states around the corner, it is expected that the campaign will get further traction with the outreach programmes.

Janaagraha’s Founder Ramesh Ramanathan says: “This is a youth movement, which is being driven by the youth themselves.”

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