Arguendo catches up with Riddhima Sharma, Final Year student of K.C Law College, who is the current Executive Director of the Model Governance Foundation, was the driving force behind the “Wake Up & Vote, India”, voting awareness campaigns, wrote the India related content for Global Anti Street Harassment “Know Your Rights” Manual for HollaBack!, and was the Conference Ambassador for the Harvard Project For Asian and International Relations.

Sourya (S): Before we talk about the Model Governance Foundation, tell us something about your voter awareness campaign?
Riddhima (R): The Wake Up and Vote India campaign was conceptualized in late October last year. We saw the importance of making citizens aware of their rights and duties as well as giving them information about electioneering practices and cash/bribes for votes. We started an online campaign during the Rajasthan Assembly Elections and later we ventured into field campaigns with campus ambassadors in various cities across the country.  We had some extremely innovative campaigns like street plays, debate competitions, election quizzes, a voter awareness short film screening and informal conversations with slum dwellers about the side effects of giving in to bribery by politicians and how it can affect their future. We got covered by a local Andhra newspaper for our efforts and CNN International interviewed us for a segment on “What the Youth Wants” from the elections. Safe to say, the campaign was well received.
(S): What was the most common reason you found people giving for not voting?
(R): The feeling of apathy and helplessness is most common among non voters. They tend to feel that their vote doesn’t matter and politics in India can never be clean or dignified. The more well to do crowd don’t care as much because any change in power isn’t going to affect their status since political campaigns focus on the problems of the poor and how they will uplift them.
(S): What are the major issues which are obstructing a greater voter turnout?
(R): It is important for political campaigns to reach out in an inclusive manner. The appeal should not be just to the poorest people or the middle class people but also to college going students, to working women and housewives, to the elderly. There are a whole lot of avenues that are yet to be tapped in a bigger way and make people feel like they matter. Although the onus should be on the citizens to make sure they vote, the sense of responsibility or duty is somewhere lacking. And interestingly, the 2014 elections saw a stronger turnout than the previous years because people across economic and age boundaries felt like their view mattered and that they do have the power to change our country’s situation. It’s therefore important to not only keep this consistent but to improve upon the number of people who go out to vote.
(S): Tell us something about the Model Governance Foundation?
(R): Model Governance Foundation is a youth led organization working for good governance and inclusive development. We have a capable research team that undertakes projects on various key policy issues and legislation’s and an active blog with a diverse group of contributors writing on a variety of issues. We also conduct events and campaigns to promote causes we believe in. Model Indian Governance Conference is our flagship event which is a trailblazing initiative that replicates the proceedings of the Indian Parliament and Wake Up and Vote India, which is a pan India campaign to create voter awareness.
(S): What was your proudest moment, working for MGF, till date?
(R): There have been several, because I’ve learnt so much in this past one year, tackling organizational, technical and creative issues that I knew nothing about and becoming more confident about myself in the process. But one of the finest moments has been the recognition we received for Wake Up and Vote India and the number of people who participated. It was more than I expected and I hope to take this forward in the coming years.
(S): What motivated you towards such extra circular activities?
(R): I’ve always been a strongly opinionated person and love debating on politics and social issues especially during my degree college. After I got into law school, I was bored out of my wits and needed something to do and a chance to make a difference. I did a couple of internships with some NGOs and then came across MGF which was just a month old organization.  And before I knew it I was working here as the Executive Director.
(S): How do you balance you work and studies?
(R): The only advantage of pursuing post graduate law is that you have a lot of time on your hands. So time was never an issue, especially since I’m not a person who studies 3 months before an exam.
(S): Tell us something about the Lucknow Conclave.
(R): The Lucknow Conclave is going to be a fantastic platform catering to a diverse set of students interested in leadership, debating, entrepreneurship and networking. We’re trying to create an all encompassing environment where the delegates get to learn, present their ideas and have some fun too. It’s a concept we’ve all worked hard on and are extremely excited to present it this month.
(S): What about your future plans? Got anything coming up?
(R): First up is the 3rd Model Indian Governance Conference at The Lucknow Conclave from 27th to 29th June, 2014. Our research team is currently working on a fun research project which should be ready to launch by July end. We’ve also collaborated with a few creative people to make an even better impact during the upcoming Assembly Elections in couple of states in the country through Wake Up and Vote India.  The MGF Portal is looking good and we’re excited to have well rounded team writing on politics, society, economics, law and international relations.
(S): What is it that drives you to achieve all of this?
(R): The feeling that every little contribution makes a difference and the need to voice out are the biggest driving forces in everything I’ve done till now. Work for the sake of it will neither give you anything nor impact anyone else. It’s exhilarating to know that people listen when you speak, they care and they are influenced by you, doesn’t matter if it’s 10 people or a 100.
(S): A new batch of excited students are about to join Law, any word of advice for them?

(R): There are a lot of options out there and a lot of competition as well. Carve your own path, following someone else may not work out well and you might end up in a boring workplace with a job description you don’t want. Dabble in different areas of law and see what you enjoy the most.

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