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Woes of being a first time voter in the World's most complex democracy

Thursday, 10 April 2014 - 8:13pm IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: dna

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With 90 constituencies going to the polls today, lakhs of first time voters will be voting today. The constituencies of key states like Delhi, Bihar, UP and Haryana which are going to polls today, alone have over 46 lakh first time voters.

However, it is not all hunky dory for the first time voter. India's political system is a dauntingly complex one to understand. In this election alone, over 1,417 political parties contesting and the multiple messaging gets confusing.

According to Jainil Khandelwal, 24, a first time voter from Mumbai North West constituency, him and his friends did not even know of the different kinds of elections that took place in India. India has a broad range of elections - municipal elections for corporators, assembly elections for state MLAs and Lok Sabha elections for Parliamentarians. "When I hear elections, I think Lok Sabha elections."

He says this has led to a great degree of misunderstanding for him and his friends. "We kept judging our parliamentarian candidates by their promises on water, sanitation etc. issues in our constituencies. We didn't know that they actually do not have the power to fix these issues as they fall under the control of the State Assembly."

Says Sargam Nanda, a first time voter in Ahmedabad East constituency, "all I know about the elections, I get from the media. Whatever issue they highlight or information they highlight about a candidate is all I know." She says it isn't easy for her to get fact based unbiased information in a way that's easy to follow for a young person.

Tanvi Ratna, a young voter and policy analyst who wrote "Vote Smart," India's first election handbook for the new voter, was a student in America at the time of the 2008 elections in the US. Comparing her observations of the American democracy to her experience as a young voter in India, she commented that "voter and citizenship education and advocacy is very inadequate in India compared to other democracies."

She also comments that "public debate in India doesn't always engage young people," even though young Indians make up over 54% of the country's democracy. She received many comments from young readers of the book saying they never expected such a "pakau" (colloquial for off-putting) topic to be interesting.

However, she says there is a big demand for such engaging fact based analysis from young people, which remains unmet. She hosted her handbook as a free ebook on her blog. "It has received over 12,000 views within two days, without any ads or promotions. This gives you a sense that people want such material."

As young Indians navigate through the challenges of engaging with their democracy,  here's hoping they are given what they need to close the information gap.

The Vote Smart guide to the elections is available at www.tanviratna.com

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