Captain Amarinder Singh's campaign team, over the last few days, has been going gaga over the response to the Captain Smart Connect Scheme (CSMS), which has clocked in 30 lakh registrations from the youth in poll-bound Punjab.
Launched on 20 November, the scheme aims to provide smartphones to the youth over the next five years if it comes to power. The idea the Congress is trying to sell is that the youth would be able to better combat unemployment if armed with smartphones and data connectivity.
Registrations for Captain Smart Connect Scheme close with more than 30 lakh registrations! Thanks you for the overwhelming response.— Capt.Amarinder Singh (@capt_amarinder) December 11, 2016
But the big question now is how many of those 30 lakh registrations will turn into votes for the Congress two months from now when Punjab goes to the polls.
Even though the party's campaign in Punjab has been entirely built around Amarinder, the Congress has yet to declare him as its chief ministerial candidate. It is currently busy in the process of choosing its candidates for the 117 assembly constituencies of the state.
The CSMS is basically the brainchild of Prashant Kishor, the strategist hired by the Congress in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. Kishor, along with the members of his I-PAC team, has been launching one campaign after the other over the last several months.
The CSMS campaign has been unique in several ways. Primarily, the purpose has been to attract the youth towards the party. The initiative is also targeted at dispelling the notion that the youngsters are not interested in the Congress and its ideology.
Under this scheme, Amarinder has committed to providing 50 lakh smartphones over the next five years with free data and calling facility to youth with the help of a budgetary allocation of more than Rs 4,000 crore.
A member of I-PAC team underlined, "It is always said about Congress that the party has lost ground with the young voters whether it is their rallies or their online presence. It is largely believed that the supporters for Congress lies in the age group of 40 plus. Hence when I-PAC started its campaign for Punjab Congress with Amarinder, aged 74 as the state's chief, the challenge to make inroads into the most talked demography was a big one. Especially with a third player like the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that is generally believed to have the youth by their side."
"The first phase of the scheme, from 20-30 November, saw 20 lakh people register for their free smartphones. The overwhelming response and unprecedented demand led to the extension of the registration deadline by 10 days, till 10 December," the member added.
Amarinder's team claims that most of the registrations under CSMS have come from Ludhiana, Patiala, Amritsar and Bathinda districts. Interestingly 83% of these are from people between 18 to 25 years and 16% from those between 26 to 35 years.
Another interesting aspect of the registrations has been that on expected lines the males have outnumbered the females. Of those registering themselves the figure for males stands at 62%.
"If analysed statistically this is a huge number. Even if you remove duplication and biases and believe that only half of this data is 'genuine', even then to get 15 lakh youth to connect with a Congress campaign is a huge achievement. If looked in a traditional manner, it would have required the party to have 30 rallies of 1 lakh youth each to reach to such a massive number. True it is debatable how many of them would vote for the Congress but the fact remains that they have taken the word of the 74-year-old leader seriously," said a member of the campaign team.
It is being pointed that the biggest challenge for both Amarinder as well as the Congress remains how to convert these registrations into votes. Amarinder has also announced that the party is inclined to field youngsters on at least one third of the total seats.
On the ground
Over that last 20 days, Congress workers and volunteers set up multiple desks in each of Punjab's 117 constituencies to facilitate registrations on the ground. About 40 'Punjab Congress Expresses' (vans) were used as mobile registration desks.
In Punjab, about 35% of the population is between the age group of 18 to 35 years. Hence, it is important to target the population electorally. It was keeping this aspect in mind that the campaigns like CSMS, Har Ghar ton Ek Captain (A Captain from every house) that aims at providing a job to every household and is going to be the flagship programme of the party and Coffee with Captain were launched.
Referring to CSMS, Amarinder has said, "These youngsters need employment. The smartphones can help them search for employment avenues and also find scope for self-employment. In today's world, it can provide gainful help to the youngsters."
The youth focus
It has been clear from the start that the key to these polls is in the hands of the youth as they have the maximum at stake. The state has been grappling with the issues of unemployment and drug menace. With farming, not being lucrative to the youth, they are trying to find employment in the other sectors.
Not only the Congress, but its rivals AAP and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP combine too have been targeting the youth. AAP is trying to replicate its Delhi strategy by fielding new youthful faces in majority of the seats. It has made considerable inroads into the constituency of youths in the state through its hyper local campaigns over the last two years.
The Akalis too have been trying to infuse some extra energy into their Youth Akali Dal through its young leaders like Bikram Singh Majithia and Sukhbir Badal. They have been trying to pedal the sops that have been announced by the Parkash Singh Badal government over the last few months.
Edited by Aleesha Matharu
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