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Prodding Middle-Class Indians to the Polls

"Tea is a way of life in India and symbolizes mental and physical rejuvenation. It is a natural fit for our message of social awakening," said Sushant Dash, Tata's marketing chief. "We are telling the youth to not just wake up every morning but awaken. It is a call for action."

It's not merely apathy that keeps people from the polls. Many middle-class Indians are reluctant to visit grimy, crowded government offices, stand in long lines and deal with callous clerks to get registered. To counter that, the Jaago Re Web site offers online assistance.

"People don't know how to register, who to apply to, where the polling office is, what is the name of their constituency, who are the candidates. They can fill in the registration form online, and we send them periodic e-mails and text alerts about all their questions," said Rajesh Choudhary, technology coordinator for Janaagraha.

The Jaago Re team will meet with young people at colleges, call centers and technology companies in 35 cities. Vote India also plans to e-mail detailed information packets on candidates five days before each election.

The Election Commission of India says that voter registration has increased in the past two years and that about 480 million identity cards have been distributed.

"We paid extra money to our polling officers to go to every home to update voter rolls. We reduced the unwieldy size of the voter photo ID card. We are digitizing rapidly," said Naveen Chawla, the election commissioner. "But we need to shake the middle class on election day, and citizen campaigns like these will play a vital role."

Srivastava, the engineer, said it is now up to the middle class to set things right in Indian politics.

"The middle class is doing very well in India. We are not fighting for basic needs anymore. We are now affluent and confident," he said. "Now we want more. We are restless for good, clean governance that takes India forward, not backward."

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