A start up to motivate young Indian voters this elections

Shabana Hussain
Published: 11, Apr 2014

I have been writing on Indian real estate sector for a little over 7 years. For most part, real estate is a tough to beat to cover, since transparency is not something one associates with the Indian real estate sector. But that is what makes the beat so challenging and interesting. A couple of years back, the emergence of start ups caught my attention. Almost everyday, one hears of a new startup and most of them are based on unique concepts. I find start ups very intriguing and I love the enthusiasm of their founders. Not every startup ends up being a success and I look forward to tracking their growth in the future.

I was rushing out of my house a couple of days back, when my neighbour called out to me to hand over my voting slip, which had accidentally reached him. Now, I am an enthusiastic voter and I love casting my vote for every election be it the MCD election, assembly polls or Lok Sabha…you get the drift.

But, not everyone thinks like me. Urban voters are especially notorious for not casting their vote. Maybe, they don’t like the long queues at the polling booths? Anyway, this election promises to be different. There are 12 crore new voters this time, out of a total electorate of 81.5 crore voters, most of whom are exposed to some form of social media. The excitement among young voters is palpable. If you are on Twitter, you would already be familiar with the endless political debates and analysis. Now, Vebbler (https://vebbler.com), a Mumbai-based, personal networking site is doing its bit to create political awareness. It has launched a microsite “http://ungli.net” to engage young voters on election-related topics and encourage them to vote for their favourite candidate.

The “Ungli” name which translates into “finger” indicates the index finger on which the election ink is applied. The 24 year old founder of Vebbler, Sahil Bhagat, says initially the campaign was named “India for Change” but it wasn’t catchy enough. “I started choking on the name because it was so contrived….when you are appealing to the youth, the name has to be satirical and catchy,” says Bhagat, who has a history of building start-ups. An advertising and mass media graduate, Bhagat, started his first company, “Frogster.com”, a social media site centred around causes when he was 18 years old. The site didn’t do well, so Bhagat moved on to starting a digital agency, named “Doodle works”, which luckily for him did well. “I used the money made from ‘Doodle works’, to start Vebbler,” he says. Bhagat has invested Rs 45 lakh till date in Vebbler, some of it borrowed from his family.

When you register on “Ungli” (I did), it asks you to follow existing members/topics (they have 65,000 global members, 80% of which are Indian youth). Out of curiosity, I followed one person. Once you follow the members you think are interesting, the site takes you to a page, which reminded me of Facebook, because it had “posts” of the member I followed. The rest of the site looks like a mix of chat room and Facebook. It has discussion forums and even an opinion poll. There is a page where you can check the profile of candidates and political parties from your constituency.

The “Ungli” campaign was launched in November last year. Bhagat thinks it is very important to bring the voting process to the youth. “I have seen many party volunteers come to my apartment building to create awareness about voting but we often don’t get to meet them…so I thought why not take the awareness drive to people,” he said.

Initially, the campaign was restricted to Vebbler users. “We broke the connection with Vebbler, so now you can come in from any social media platform with your existing username and password,” says Bhagat. The whole idea of the campaign is to educate as many as voters as possible about their constituency, the candidates from their constituency, their polling booth etc. Vebbler has linked to the election commission (EC) website, so if you want to know your polling booth, it will take you to the EC’s website.

Vebbler is now working on making the campaign “viral”. It has come out with a video song, called as the “Ungli” song in collaboration with “A Band of Boys”. “It is an offbeat song on the lines of “Lungi dance” from Chennai Express movie. Instead of sounding preachy and asking people to vote, we have taken satirical digs at the current political scene,” says Bhagat, who has brought in 13 Bollywood celebrities together for the video released a week back. Ungli song, [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFOK7HuClIs[/youtube] is already playing on MTV and Zoom music channels.

Vebbler has been in development for over a year and was opened to public in October 2013. Bhagat says the “Ungli” campaign will run even after elections. “We want to see the after effects of election as well. I will wait for the right time to shut it down. I am very interested to see how it goes,” says Bhagat. “Ungli” microsite may see a closure but the social networking site, Vebbler will continue to operate with a theme centred around social causes.

While the site Ungli, looks good and has some very interesting posts and discussions, I feel much of the debate space on Indian politics has been taken over by Twitter, which has a far wider audience. Nevertheless, it is a good start up attempt with a focus on elections. What I liked about the site are the details about constituencies, political parties and candidates, which can really come in handy for an uninformed voter. You will find more such examples of start-ups centered around the 2014 Lok Sabha polls in Forbes latest election special issue. Here is the link: “Elections: Spawning Business” Opportunities http://forbesindia.com/magazine/

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