Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Youthful tech-savvy electorate empowered in 2014 India election

Source: Google Images
The recently concluded Lok Sabha Elections in India were particularly noteworthy for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that it is the largest ever election on record anywhere in the world. Over 550 million voters headed to the polls during an election which was held in nine phases from April 7 to May 12, 2014. With an estimated 814.5 million people eligible to vote, this represents a voter turnout of over 66%, the highest ever in any of India's general elections.

Two of the major driving forces in India's general election were the rise of the youth vote and the growing adoption of electronic voting technology. Indeed, even in as small a demographic as eligible voters aged 18 to 19 years, there was a massive cohort of 23 million people. This is nearly three percent of the total number of voters. What's more, the voting youth of India are more engaged than ever with the politics of their country.

“The youth played a major role in these elections,” said Mukhtar Abbas Nagvi, Vice President of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The BJP led the National Democratic Alliance, which won the election by clinching 336 of the available 543 Lok Sabha seats. “Due to social media, we got support from a large section of population through Facebook, Twitter, etc.”

The growing importance of appealing to younger voters has been observed not only in India, but also in other parts of the world. Some have dubbed it the “Obama effect,” as American President Barack Obama leveraged the “disruptive power of technology and youth” to achieve his victory in 2008. In the case of India, visionary and idealistic political youth are utilizing social media, mobile, analytics and cloud technologies to address issues and raise voter awareness among their age group and beyond.

The youth-driven political start-ups are non-partisan in nature and they utilize the range of technology to best express and distribute their message. Some of the more notable political start-ups in India include GrassRoute, MumbaiVotes, Know Your Vote and iForIndia. The increased prevalence of the Internet and the higher rate of literacy among India's youth further embolden their desire to have their political voices heard and to empower their ability to do so too.

In the case of iForIndia, the web-based citizen engagement platform collects and analyzes data regarding the performance of an elected official. The generated “report card” improves accountability in real time. “We will share the data with the media and invite the politicians and public for active engagements,” said iForIndia co-founder Akur Garg. “The website will also serve as a mirror to inform the politicians where they stand in people's perception, which areas they are doing well in and which ones require more attention.”

Technology and the Internet certainly played very important roles leading up to the 2014 elections in India, particularly among the younger and more tech-savvy demographic, but technology was also heavily influential in how the elections themselves were run. Indeed, in order to reach the hundreds of millions of eligible voters, India deployed approximately 1.4 million e-voting machines across the 930,000 polling stations across the country over the course of the nine-phase election period.

Considering the massive scale of the multi-week election that involved hundreds of millions of voters, concerns over voter literacy, dozens of political parties and over one million e-voting machines, India could serve as a glowing example of democracy for the rest of the world.