Author: Confidence Uwazuruike

Confidence Uwazuruike
On the last lap of an MA in Multimedia Journalism at Bournemouth University. My interest is in everything 'third world'- literature, politics, business and conflicts.
10May

The youth of India have voted, and they have voted for world-class education

More than 100 million people are eligible to vote for the first time in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. Some of these new voters are students. And for most of them the state of education in the country has been the greatest determinant of who they cast their votes for.

Young voters in Mumbai. Photo: Apekshita VarshneyShishir Samant, a 21-year-old management student of the Lala Lajpatran College of Commerce and Economics, says the only thing that matters to him and his friends is the state of education in the country.

“Economic issues do not influence us at the moment,” he said.

Like many other students, Samant is not happy with the state of affairs in the education sector. His college is affiliated with the Mumbai University and he thinks the government should take responsibility for anomalies in the system.

Supriya Bwivedi, 20, a medical student at the B J Government Medical College, had the same opinion as Shishir. She said: “Some things are been neglected, the funding to run hospitals and medical facilities is not there and the money people get is not equivalent to their work.”

Many others said the lack of infrastructure has made learning difficult; it has made many courses largely theoretical.

Sneha Murchavade, 20, a student of commercial art at Sophia College for Women thinks that with a little more practical classes the colleges in India should be able to compete globally.

Apart from providing the right environment, the students also expect a government that would be willing to review policies.

Proshant Chakraborty, a student of anthropology at St  Xavier’s College, says there is too much state control and censorship in education. “Books that are thought provocative by one person are dropped. Education has been politicised, so whoever comes to power controls it,” he said.

Not everyone though thinks the system is as bad or that the system needs to change drastically. Anshuman Preenza, 19, a student of Mechatronics at the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies expressed satisfaction at the pace of progress.

“We are gradually turning to a more practical approach. Exams are now application-based questions. Five years back we didn’t have this amount of logistics. I think things are turning for good,” he said.

He was however quick to distance the government from any of this achievements and think a more proactive government would make things even better.

Koran Hemanp, a medical student at Rural Medical College in Kolkata, thinks that what is needed is dedication from student; tools and infrastructure don’t matter too much if there is no dedication from students. But even he thinks that things have to change. He, for example, finds the common entrance into the medical college unjustified.

Some students though felt that things other than the elections should influence their votes. Pankhil Mispry, 20, a student of the VJPI Engineering College, said: “I thought first about development. I wanted a leader who would give attention to the manufacturing sector, improve the railways and other forms of transportation.”

A majority of students have expressed discontent about the level of education especially its lack of practical classes. Some of this problem have been linked to government policies or , in some cases, inaction.

“I also had education in mind when I was deciding who to vote for. The kind of education that I like takes place only in private institution. Government colleges have the intellectual crowds that are not treated properly. Private institutions have the rich crowd. At the end there is no proper man-power,” Pankhil said.

The students linked the poor state of education to the government and most thought that a new government might make this better.

“I hope for a new government. This present government has had 10 years and has not worked. Nothing will change if they continue,” Sneha said.

Even Ansuman who thinks that the institutions are improving wants a new government. He said: “Change is always better. Let’s see what a new government can do. Let’s give other people a chance.” 

Photo: Apekshita Varshney. Student voters in Mumbai

This story also appeared on Rediff.com, our media partner.

29Apr

Can Arvind Kejriwal be a giant slayer in Varanasi?

Arvind Kejriwal addressing a gathering in Varanasi, where he is contesting BJP's Narendra Modi. Photo: AAP

As the 2014 Lok Sabha elections begin to wind up, the BJP and Congress have intensified their mudslinging — even as one man continues to draw people to his cause. Arvind Kejriwal, 45, leader of the Aam Aadmi Party, is looking forward to a successful outing for his party, especially in Varanasi where he will contest against the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Narendra Modi.

His message, which can be summarised as ‘Congress is corrupt and BJP is no better’, has not changed since his campaign began. In Varanasi, he told people to vote for his party or risk a gas price hike. Unlike the Congress, accused by Modi of allegedly favouring Priyanka Gandhi’s husband Robert Vadra, and the BJP, accused of allegedly supporting the business interests of the Adani group of companies, Kejriwal seems to be concerned with what could be called a people’s model. He repeatedly told the crowd in Varanasi, ‘I am a fakir’– a poor man. At some point, he said he had only Rs 500 in his pocket.

This attempt, at various points in his campaign, to connect with the common people and present himself as one of them seems to have widely increased his popularity. He was recently named Time magazine’s most influential man of the year in its annual readers’ poll, pushing Modi to second place. He also dominated the list of the most-watched politicians on YouTube.

However, the contest he would love to win most of all is the Varanasi Lok Sabha seat for which he is pitted against Modi. He has said that his attempt to defeat Modi in Varanasi is not a battle of prestige but an attempt to save the country from the corrupt forces of the BJP and Congress.

Kejriwal also hopes the AAP’s candidate in Amethi, Kumar Vishwas, defeats Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi.

Modi has some reason to be worried because Kejriwal’s popularity is not just online. In December 2013, he defeated three-time chief minister of Delhi Sheila Dikshit in her own constituency. And he was only a rookie at the time.

Apart from Varanasi, Modi is also contesting in Vadodara, his home turf in Gujarat, an act some people have referred to as cowardice. Whether or not that’s true, winning in Gujarat and losing to Kejriwal in Varanasi would be an embarrassment to Modi. Will Kejriwal be the pawn that checkmates the king?

Photo: Courtesy AAP

This story was also carried in WoNoBo, our media partner.

14Apr

Indians in UK want new government that will bring change

NRIs at a Diwali celebration in London. Photo: Dean Ayres

Indian citizens living in the UK have decried the state of affairs in their native land and hope a new government will improve the people’s lot.

Kavita Vachaknavee, freelance writer and examiner at the University of Cambridge, who hails from Yamunanagar, Haryana, and has been living in the UK since 2011, said: “This election will dictate the direction the nation takes. As an Indian living abroad, I am ashamed of the negative influences in my motherland, especially the crime rate, which is increasing rapidly.”

India’s most famous political dynasty is clearly threatened by the growing support for the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Narendra Modi and the Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal. “What we have at the moment are politicians who care more about their family than the people,” said Vachaknavee. “The BJP appears to me a strong and uncorrupted party dedicated to the nation.”

Minita Patel, head of operations at Global Explorers, grew up in Gujarat but has been living in the UK for 33 years. She said: “For me, the BJP is the only political party ready to take India forward. The Congress has shown itself to be a corrupt, dynastic party held back by tradition and family. It’s time we let a new government change things.”

Not everyone believes the BJP and Modi are incorruptible. Many continue to see Modi as a polarising figure who has a case to answer regarding the mass killings of Muslims in the Gujarat riots of 2002. But he and his party are being seen as the only real alternative.

Pardip Kumar, 46, actor and activist, said: “Modi is basically a nationalist. Though he has been accused of involvement in the massacre of Muslims no one has been found guilty.”

Kumar said the elections would be close. “Modi has a good chance,” he said. “There isn’t an alternative. Nothing is new; it’s the same thing repackaged.”

Modi’s popularity has soared on his perceived performance as chief minister of Gujarat. “We have seen the immense progress Modi has made in Gujarat,” Patel said. “There is now more manufacturing and more international companies than ever. The entire nation is looking at that state. Who is to say he can’t do this for India?”

Others, however, remain unconvinced. “Gujarat has always been prosperous,” said Vishal Jain, a technical consultant from Agra, Uttar Pradesh, residing in the UK for the past five years. Jain’s home state has 80 seats in the Lok Sabha. That is where Modi has to make the most impact if the BJP has to win at least 200 seats in Parliament. “Many forget that the people of Gujarat have always been talented, educated, and hardworking. Development there has had more to do with these people, not Modi,” he said.

The ruling Congress, meanwhile, has been tripped up by corruption, the treatment of women, and promises that the party failed to keep. “Congress has not done a lot of what it promised to do,” said Kumar. “It concentrates on big players on the international stage and forgets issues at home. Not only is the economy suffering, corruption is endemic.”

But people like Jain believe the BJP is as much to blame. “For too long now both the BJP and the Congress have been making promises, yet only 20% in India are literate and so many are still struggling for a livelihood,” he said.

“For decades Congress politicians kept billions for themselves and did the absolute bare minimum to help the poor. The BJP never spoke up against this corruption strongly when given the chance. If they had, the Congress would never have got away with all the money it has stolen,” he said.

Rima Amin, a freelance journalist whose family hails from Gujarat, said:  “India’s development is impressive but I will be more impressed when India’s people can have strong infrastructure supporting their basic needs. The truth is, poor, densely populated, disease-ridden areas still exist and India’s leaders, be they from the Congress, BJP or anyone else, need to help them.”

Jain said the country needs a leader who is focused on democracy and delivering equality for the people, by the people. “For me, Arvind Kejriwal is the only leader who will do this.  AAP will provide a transparent system that will spend money on the development of India, not [on creating] politicians’ wealth,” he said.

For many, improving the state of women’s rights in India is pivotal to this year’s election. Vachaknavee said: “As soon as I set foot in my home country I feel insecure. As a woman, I find it much more comfortable and safe here in Europe.”

Amin hoped the international outrage following the Delhi rape case of December 2012 had compelled India’s politicians to look deeper into the rights of women. “Human rights are fundamental and must come before all else,” she said. “India needs to ensure processes are in place to make this happen.”

Radhika Dave, a student at Bradford University who also hails from Gujarat, said: “I was shocked to hear India ranked as the fourth most dangerous place in the world for women. People have awareness of women’s rights now and with recent incidents that have shaken the public, none of the parties can ignore this issue.”

However, with the 25 million Indians living abroad unable to vote in the general election, only those resident in India will have the final say. What will they decide?

Photo: Dean Ayres via Compfight cc. NRIs at a Diwali celebration in London

9Apr

Indian students in England look for change, lean towards Modi

Many young Indian students are yearning for a change of government in New Delhi

Many young Indians studying in the United Kingdom say the present Congress-led government has failed India, and see Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party as a viable alternative.

Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat since October 2001, is widely tipped to be India’s next prime minister. An opinion poll predicts the BJP would win half the seats on offer in Uttar Pradesh, which sends the largest number of lawmakers to the Indian Parliament.

“He [Modi] is the sort of leader my country needs,” says Riddhi Kachhela, 26, a  television production student at Bournemouth University. “He is dynamic, can take decisions, can speak up, stands up for his people, and can get work done.”

Harshal Choudhary, a student of hospitality and tourism management, agrees. “I have been to Gujarat many times and seen the progress… how he has improved infrastructure,” says Choudhary. “People say he is corrupt, but even if he is, he has done some good things for the people.”

Modi’s growing popularity presents a massive challenge for Rahul Gandhi’s Congress-led coalition. “Gandhi keeps talking of empowering women,” says Choudhary, “but it’s not the solution to all the problems facing India.”

The perception clearly is that the present government has had a long time to bring about change and has failed to deliver. Raj Sekher, 22, a computer networks student at the University of Bedfordshire, says: “People are thinking the Congress has only given them corruption and scams, which is why there is a rise in support for the BJP, but there is rising support for other parties as well.”

Kachhela says,”We don’t want the present government to win because my country has suffered so much.”

But not everyone is positive about Modi. Many have not forgotten the 2002 Gujarat riots, for which Modi is generally blamed. Vikram Singh, 21, an MBA student at the University of Bedfordshire, says: “He should apologise to Muslims for his incompetence at stopping the 2002 riots if he wants to lead the country. India is a secular, democratic country and I think Modi is a polarising figure and this mindset is a threat to our democracy and secularism.”

Shahid Mushtaq, 23, of the University of Chester, says, “He cannot lead the country because he is a communal leader. He was chief minister of Gujarat when thousands of Muslims were killed in riots. There is ample evidence that he gave free rein to extremist Hindus to kill Muslims.”

The clean chit given to Modi by the special investigation team set up to probe the 2002 riots has been challenged in court.

So what is the alternative for those who think the Congress is corrupt and the BJP is communal? Ahtisham Aziz, 20, an aerospace engineering student at the University of West of England, says: “I think AAP [Aam Aadmi Party] is an alternative because they are exposing corrupt politicians and can run the government with transparency. If I get the chance to vote from here I will definitely vote for AAP.”

But others remain sceptical of AAP. “They are not experienced,” says Singh. “They could not rule Delhi, how can they rule all of India?” But he, too, believes they can be an alternative because parties like the BJP and Congress are “corrupt and more concerned about money”.

Siddhesh Angchekar, a product design student at Bournemouth University, says: “Congress has been struck with lots of corruption charges, lots of  scams, people are voting for change. There are now alternatives like AAP and BJP. People are essentially voting for hope and there is a lot of hope from AAP.”

AAP recently expelled two of its members for alleged corruption, an act that has impressed many Indians.

But there are others like Ruchi Pandit, 21, who is studying for a master’s degree in advertising and marketing at Bournemouth, who have lost hope in the system. Says Pandit, “For many years people have been voting, trying to make a change. There is no change. Everything is based on influence and bribes. Our politicians say much and do little.”

While they differ on their politics, there’s one thing that all students agree on: that a system has to be devised to allow Indians to vote from abroad. Currently, Non-Resident Indians can vote, but they need to be physically present in their constituency to do so.

Even Pandit, who doesn’t much care which party wins, thinks Indians abroad should be allowed to have a say in the politics of their country.

Photo: Annabel Nguyen

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