A workshop on Elections and Electoral Landscape was organised on 3rd and 4th November 2020 with local youth, many of whom were to be first time voters in the upcoming elections.
The specific objectives of the workshop included learning about the various parties, coalitions, and their ideologies; analysing the current political landscape to identify issues relevant to our communities; and understanding the impact of electoral choices. The workshop saw a participation of 31 youth volunteers.
As the tradition goes, the workshop started with songs of struggle (sangharsh). Rimjhim from IPTA led the group in a lively chorus of “Maare Hathoda”. Akhilesh from the JJSS youth volunteered to lead the famous “hum log hain aise deewane, duniya badal kar manenge”. After songs and introductions, the young people briefly shared what they had been doing during lockdown. Most of them were at home helping with domestic chores or taking on paid farm work locally. The mood in the meeting was joyful because participants were meeting each other after a long time.
The discussion started off with Kamayani asking the youth if they knew what elections were and which elections were coming up? The group answered that elections were a time when we changed the government, when we chose our leaders and that this time, it was time to change the government at the state level. One participant even went on to describe elections as the biggest festival of democracy as that is when the people took an opportunity to change the government. Next, the entire group were presented with placards with political party symbols stuck on them. The group was asked to identify the political party based on the symbols. At this point, the broad ideological leanings of each coalition were also mentioned and the difference between left wing, right wing and centrist politics briefly discussed.
In the following session, the youth were divided into groups and were assigned a coalition each. They were asked to think like the coalitions they had been assigned, and present issues on which their coalition would fight elections. Some of the issues that were brought up included ration, pension, unemployment, violence against women, roads, floods, electricity, public education, public health, corruption, spread of communal hatred, rising prices, farmer’s issues, distribution of land, lack of industry, among others. The teams were encouraged to present their campaigns in entertaining and dramatic ways.
What was interesting to note was that most of the speeches were focussed on tall promises or making fun of the opposition. This reflected the common perception of politicians and political parties amongst young people – that of people making a lot of noise, tall promises, but don’t really deliver anything of significance to citizens.
In the next session, participants had a rich discussion based on their presentations. Many said that political parties don’t care about citizen’s real issues. It was a collective consensus that any party that focuses on creating an atmosphere of hatred, fear and mistrust between communities rather than issues of health, education, malnutrition, ration, pension or any of the other issues young people find pressing cannot be trusted.
Two leaders from the JJSS, Ranjit and Ashish led a discussion on the likely voting trends in the upcoming elections. Ranjit made the point that it is important to remember that no matter who comes into power, we will still have to fight for our rights because at the end of the day, all the major parties are ruling class parties who have vested interests against the toiling masses. But we cannot afford to have a party in power that out rightly attacks our unity and constitutional values. Another point discussed in Ashish’s talk was discussed that an individual, no matter, how good or pure-intentioned, will have to follow the party line and if the party is at its core communal and casteist, then chances are that once the individual comes to power, they will still have to also act according to the ‘party line’. Both, facilitators, pointed to the fact that in Bihar, voters tend to vote on community lines. The deep mistrust prevalent between communities is exacerbated and played upon by various political parties to their own benefit. The facilitators pointed out that voting based only on caste or religion is dangerous as these individuals, particularly if they are from oppressed communities, often are unable to actually do much for their community as they are a part of ruling class/caste parties.
The workshop ended with a resolution that the youth participants will continue not only learning about the elections, but as future voters and citizens, they will also find ways to effectively intervene in India’s electoral landscape.