Starting from today I am introducing an Interview section on my blog. One interview every month. Starting with Jasmine Shah, the Campaign Coordinator of the Janaagraha and Tata Tea initiative, Jaago Re! One Billion Vote campaign. I took this interview for Mutiny and is first published in Mutiny’s January Edition.
In these trouble times a leader is what we need. Someone who the youth can identify with and one who can inspire them to take up the responsibilities that the future holds for them, a leader who brings hope, that all is not lost in the world’s greatest democracy, not yet.
You must already be aware of the Jaago Re campaign. Remember the TV commercial where a young boy is seen serving tea to every body in a crowd in front of a cinema hall asking them to wake up. When someone from the crowd says, “I am not sleeping” this young boy says, “election ke din agar aap vote nahi kar rahe ho to aap so rahe ho.”
Jasmine Shah is the person who came up with the idea of this campaign and presently he along with a team of equally dedicated young professionals is driving this unique campaigning which aims at awakening and enabling the citizens of India, especially the youth, to register for voting. Its mission is to register everyone in India to vote in the next 5 years, for better governance. In the launch year (2008-09), the campaign targets the top 35 cities of India, and aims to register millions of youth before the 2009 general elections.
Jasmine, 27, grew up in the town of Silvasa in the Union Territory of Dadra and Nager Haveli where he completed his high school, followed by B.Tech and M.Tech in Mechanical Engineering from IIT Madras. Before joining Janaagraha in 2007 he worked for ITC Ltd as a Project Manager handling engineering and infrastructure projects.
It takes a lot of courage, determination and love for the nation for someone, that too an IIT graduate, to be able to give up a well paying corporate job and work for the social sector. Jasmine definitely is the kind of leader India’s youth is going to look up.
Here are the excerpts from my conversation with Jasmine.
Me: So you have been giving out a lot of interviews?
Jasmine: No not too many. Mid Day took the whole team’s interview. They are our media partner. Then there were some national dailies.
Me: Ok. So first thing first, how did the Jaago Re campaign idea strike you?
Jasmine: Well, you see I have never voted yet. Only last year when I had begun to be conscious of my social responsibilities one of the first things I thought of was to get my name on the voter’s list. As I embarked on the task I realized the process was so difficult. I mean I grew up in once place, studied in another and then was working in another place. I didn’t know where from I should register. Then there were so many kinds of forms, I wasn’t sure about the significance of each one of them. We have such a big resource of techies in this country but the election process is not optimizing the use of internet.
It all pointed to one conclusion that, it’s not like we the youth don’t want to vote at all, it’s just that the process is really complicated. If the process was simpler we’d have more urban voters.
India is a young nation; the statistical data is out there (approximately 400 million in the age group of 15 to 35) this young group is looking forward to a change, but they are looking outside for change to happen, while the answer is within.
Me: So it was more like a self realization or a personal experience with the system that triggered this idea.
Jasmine: Yes, that and there are a few other factors too. For eg. In 2007 we from Janaagraha did a case study around a local body election in Bihar. The uniqueness of this election was the youth turn out, both in terms of candidates and electorate. I was also influenced by the Rock the vote campaign in US.
Me: Was it a big decision to quit your well paying corporate job and work in the social sector? After all we all know IIT graduates are such sought after candidate in the job market.
Jasmine: Big decision yes, but then I always wanted to do this. And it’s not an impulsive one time thing, not something I am doing in between jobs or anything like that. This is what I intend to do as my career, urban governance is an area that has always interested me.
Me: I remember before the Jaago Re TV commercials were released, there was another ad campaign by Tata Tea with the punch line, “Roz subah sirf utho nahi, jaago”. It had a young guy asking a politician about his qualification and experience. Was that also the part of this campaign?
Jasmine: No. Tata tea was already doing ad campaign to hit this issue of political apathy amongst youth. It was a strong campaign but we thought how about we turn the fingers towards the voter and ask them what have you done? Have you voted? The timing was very right for us. Tata Tea was thinking about the follow up to their earlier campaign and we were looking for a brand (Jaago Re campaign is a part of Janaagraha’s brand initiative). So most things fell in place.
Me: A while ago you said present election process is not using the internet technology to the fullest, are you using it? What are the technical aspects of the campaign?
Jasmine: Well if you’d visit our website (www.jaagore.com) and go to the ‘Benefits of Registering’ section you’d realize how various technologies are being used to guide the voters through the entire voting process. It is like providing them with a customer service.
There are some key innovations we are currently working on. We are trying to integrate the cell phone industry. Once that is done, you’d get election related updates on your cell phone. We are also trying to build an ‘online voter search’ application. By this you’d be able to search for your name in the electoral rolls; you can look for polling booth etc. We are in the process of ‘mapping of polling booths’ so you’d know which is the booth to go for in order to caste your vote.
Me: What about social media?
Jasmine: Yes, we have a presence on Facebook, Orkut and Youtube.
Me: How has the response of election commissioner been so far in all these initiatives? Were they reluctant in letting a non government entity in a domain which essentially is there domain?
Jasmine: No, not at all. Election commission of India has been very helpful and supportive. They lack man power really, so they are happy that we are doing this task. We convinced them to allow bulk submission of registration forms.
Me: That’s really nice. So how many people have registered as of now?
Jasmine: Around 1, 60,000 of them so far.
Me: Is that a success?
Jasmine: Well success it would be if we can get around 4 million by 2009 general elections. One billion of course is a mission call.
Me: But don’t you think success really would be, when all those who have registered would actually go out on the Election Day and cast the vote? I mean how would you ensure that?
Jasmine: That would be addressed in the next phase of the campaign. We would implement strategies and other initiatives to motivate the electorate to vote. And not just vote but vote judiciously.
Me: And what are the long term plans? Like once the 2009 General Elections are over?
Jasmine: Oh it would certainly continue. We would be covering all elections at state and local level. We are operating in 35 cities as of now, eventually we’d expand. We are not so over ambitious to think that we are going to change the outcome of 2009 elections but the efforts would continue.
Me: Tell me, how do you feel when, as a reaction to the recent terror attacks, you see people raising slogans like, “no security, no taxes” or “no security no vote.”
Jasmine: Well raising your voice is good. The anger is also justified but we shouldn’t doubt the tenets of democracy. Democracy is the answer. We shouldn’t also just stop at candle light vigils or peace marches. I feel disappointed when people don’t want to vote as a sign of protest.
Me: True, the answer lies in Democracy. Do you ever see yourself being directly a part of democracy? I mean what do you think about the political profession?
Jasmine: I think politics is one of the noblest of profession. There is an entry barrier but if one has the appetite for it and if large scale social change is the objective, I don’t know how it can be achieved by any other way but being in the political process directly.
Me: That brings me to my last question, what is your message to the angry youth of this nation?
Jasmine: They should think about their roles as an ordinary citizen much more deeply, should take their responsibilities seriously. Most importantly, they should dedicate some amount of their personal time for any cause that is close to their heart. Spend at least 1 day per week for any social cause they believe in.