While the under-19 voters constitute 2.88% of the electorate in India, in Maharashtra, their percentage is only 1.4 of the total electorate, one of the lowest in the country as per the statistics with the Election Commission of India.
Only Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Himachal Pradesh with 1.1% and 1.3%, respectively, are behind Maharashtra. Dadra & Nagar Haveli (9.88%), Jharkhand (9%) and Daman & Diu (8.6%) are placed among the top. Even NCT of Delhi (1.9%) has a better enrolment rate of first-time voters when compared to the state.
Shockingly, over 55% of eligible young voters in India have not registered to exercise their franchise. In Maharashtra, the percentage of such people could be over 70%.
The data clearly show the apathy of youngsters in the state to electoral politics. It also indicate the failure of the election office to reach out to the young.
Most of the students dna spoke to cited "time constraints" and "complex procedure" as reasons for not registering themselves. Most 18-19-year-olds said they had busy schedules due to the board and university exams, and couldn't afford to "waste" three-four hours in queues. Many hostellers didn't bother to register as it "requires filling up too many documents".
Savita Kulkarni, PhD scholar (economics) at University of Mumbai, said: "The process of registration is cumbersome. Lack of political awareness resulting from the ban on campus politics is also a major factor here."
Many students blame identity politics played by all major parties in the run-up to the elections as a major deterrent. "They still play the caste-religion game. All parties keep fielding the same old, tired, criminal and corrupt candidates," said a student of Grant Medical College.
An HSC student said: "We don't like all these nonsense parties are talking about. Will anyone ensure me a seat in a government medical college? Instead of setting up more medical colleges, the government is allowing the proliferation of private colleges which charge Rs30-35 lakh, which my parents can't afford."
Umang Shah, B Tech second year student (chemical engineering) in IIT Bombay, says: "Students seek good research facilities and a conducive environment. That is not available even in IITs that are considered the best institutions in India. Hence, a large number of IIT graduates go abroad for post-graduation and research. This negates the purpose of the subsidies provided to IITs. Moreover, jobs available in core-engineering are also few, and less-paying, forcing many to go for management degree. I doubt if any political party has taken up such issues."
Clearly, the struggles and challenges of youngsters are different from the rest of the society. Aspirations are rising and the system is not ready to cope up, and the policies being implemented are often imported ones.
Sudhakar Tamboli, senate member, MU, who is a leader of Maharashtra Navnirman Vidyarthi Sena, admits: "Political parties are still evading issues related to youth. Youngsters have to run from pillar to post to get their work done."
Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad leader Yadunath Deshpande says: "A lot needs to be done to reach out to this big constituency, which has been denied its due."
Maharashtra 2014 elections
Total number of voters: 7.89 crore
Women voters: 4.18 crore
Men voters: 3.71 crore
Youth (18-40 years): 5.3 crore
Youth (18-19 years): 11 lakh