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April 29, 2024


ON APRIL 11, JUST EIGHT DAYS BEFORE INDIANS GO TO VOTE in the first phase of the 2024 general election, social media was populated with a video of Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacting with seven top gaming influencers of the country. Recorded in March at his official residence, the video showed the prime minister engaging with the young gamers, whose average age was 25, even telling them how he could use some of their "gaming lingo" in his speeches. On another occasion, on March 7, during the presentation of the newly created National Creators Award for online content creators, Modi traded some friendly banter with some of the country's biggest social media influencers--Ranveer Allahbadia, Shraddha Jain and Kamiya Jani. Allahbadia and Jani, in fact, have also streamed interviews of Union ministers S. Jaishankar, Nitin Gadkari and Smriti Irani, among others, in recent months on their respective online platforms. Why the Youth Vote Matters Behind the political leaders' schmoozing with these young and popular influencers lies a significant statistic. Casting their vote this election will be 210 million youngsters between the ages of 18 and 29, comprising 22 per cent of India's 970 million-strong electorate, who, by population, are big enough to be the world's eighth largest country, bigger even than Russia. And thanks to the consistent focus by the political class and the Election Commission of India, the voter turnout for the 18-25 demographic, which had historically been low, saw the tide turn from 2014 onwards. From 54 per cent in 2009, the voter turnout of this cohort shot up to 68 per cent by the next election, higher than the national average of 66 per cent across age groups. It went down by a percentage point in 2019, but was still a high 67 per cent--153 million out of the total 229 million eligible youth. Of these, 41 per cent, or nearly 63 million youth, voted the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), according to a post-poll analysis by Lokniti and the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS). Given that the difference in votes between the two national parties-- BJP and the Congress--was 110 million that year, the 63 million youth vote would have contributed significantly--57 per cent to be precise--to the BJP's lead over its rival. This year, the youth vote could act as the swing factor in at least 97 seats where the victory margin was less than five per cent in 2019. The BJP won 41 of these seats, the Congress 19 and other parties 37. Hence the scramble among political parties to get the country's youth on their side, particularly the first-timersElection 2024 will see 18.4 million firsttime voters, aged between 18 and 19. If the BJP's ability to mobilise first-time voters helped the party win a landslide in 2014, as DO THE YOUTH VOTE? Youth voter turnout has historically been lower. It did jump ahead of the national average in 2014 only to drop, though very marginally, in 2019 68 68 60 58 58 66 67 57 52 54 1999 2004 2009 2014 2019 Voter turnout (18-25) Voter turnout (All age groups) Figures in percentage Source: Lokniti-CSDS


Winding its way through the Pir Panjal mountains amidst breathtaking scenic beauty, the ancient road into the landlocked Kashmir Valley helped the Mughals under Akbar to gain a foothold in the Valley in the 16th century. Known thereafter as the Mughal Road, the 84- km trans-Pir Panjal road that connects the twin border districts of Rajouri and Poonch in Jammu with Shopian in the Valley can now be seen as an apt symbol of the new political landscape of the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir in the coming Lok Sabha election. The 2022 delimitation exercise that followed the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act 2019—which bifurcated the former state into two Union territories—carved out a new parliamentary constituency spread over Jammu's Rajouri and Poonch districts, and Anantnag, Kulgam and some pockets of Shopian districts in the Kashmir Valley. With the giant wall of the Pir Panjal cleaving it into two, the JammuKashmir sections of the new AnantnagRajouri LS constituency are separated by ethnicity, climate, language and culture. It is this asymmetric union that allows the BJP the unique opportunity to expand its footprint into the Muslim majority Kashmir Valley. Though it hasn't announced a candidate, the BJP hopes to do well in this constituency, which comprises 18 assembly constituencies (11 in Kashmir and seven in Poonch-Rajouri). If it wins Anantnag-Rajouri, the BJP can read in it an encouraging sign for future assembly polls—a step towards its goal to form the state government with the help of these seats along with those in Jammu's Hindu-dominated districts. With over 14 lakh voters, Anantnag-Rajouri has 50 per cent Kashmiri-speaking population and nearly 50 per cent Paharis and the Gujjar-Bakerwal pastoral community. The Paharis and Gujjar-Bakerwals are based in Rajouri and Poonch, with some residing in the upper reaches of Anantnag and Kulgam. Previously, the 18 assembly constituencies have been dominated by the National Conference (NC), Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Anantnag-Rajouri, which goes to the polls on May 7, will decide the electoral fate of two former J&K chief ministers. PDP president Mehbooba Mufti is fighting from here, and so will former Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad under the banner of his Democratic Progressive Azad Party (DPAP). Syed Altaf Bukhari's J&K Apni Party has fielded Pahari writer Zafar Iqbal Manhas from the seat. The NC's choice—influential Gujjar-Bakerwal religious leader Mian

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