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Role of Youth in Indian Politics – Perceptions, Reality and Future

Youth in politics” has been frequently touted as the perfect pill to cure all the ills that plague the Indian political system. A number of debates, especially if they involve the ‘younger’ and ‘urbanized’ crowd, will frequently propose “youth in politics” as the perfect antidote to everything that is wrong with Indian politics. Have more young people as MPs, MLAs and miscellaneous other elected representatives, and voila, that will be the end of corruption, lethargy and red tape! At least, this is what is widely believed. In addition, there is a widespread loathing towards the older set of politicians, admittedly with valid reasons.

But it is pertinent to pause, and have a careful look at this proposition. Can a greater participation of youth in politics be sufficient to bring about the winds of change that we all are eagerly awaiting. In my humble opinion, it is not very pertinent to equate “young” with “better” in politics. Frankly, I rate this proposition in the same category as the suggestions for “shooting criminals publicly” and “imposing military rule for n years” – drastic and impracticable. Why? For a number of reasons.

How do you define young? The law permits voting rights at 18 years of age, though a person willing to contest an election to become an MP in Lok Sabha has to wait another 7 years, that is, till 25 years of age. This is young enough by any standard. SO what is preventing 25 year olds from contesting elections in greater numbers? The often propounded reasons of cynicism and apathy do not hold water. If someone really wants to join politics to serve people, then he or she is not likely to be swayed by small irritants. Probably, the priorities of youngsters itself has changed. We want the good things in life right now, not the eternal hard work and hurly-burly of active politics.

If one looks at the statistical details closely, some facts may come as a surprise. Most people are likely to believe that the average age of our national parliament would be in the higher regions of 60, though actually, it is not so. The average age of MPs in the present Lok Sabha is around 55 years, which is the age group of the maximum number of MPs. This should be seen with the fact that most of the MPs have had a fair stint in state politics, and a number of them had started as “young” MLAs in state legislatures.

Another revealing fact is average age of parliamentarians in other countries. Again, surprisingly it is quite close to the average age of Indian parliamentarians. For example, in UK, it is 51 years, while in Japan, it is 53 years. For that matter, it is above 60 years in the most powerful nation in the world, the USA. Howzzat for youth in politics!!? This should go some length in proving that youth in politics does not always translate into better politics, or better administration for that matter.

Another aspect of this debate is brought to the fore if we analyze the current crop of young politicians. A vast majority of these so called ‘young politicians’ are sons (rarely daughters, another noteworthy fact) of established politicians. How many of them would have succeeded on their own in securing a parliamentary seat on the sheer dint of their charisma and performance is a question that is wide open to debate.

So, what does this mean? Does this imply that youth has no part to play in the national politics? The answer is an unequivocal no! In fact, there would be nothing more welcome than a greater participation of youth in policy making and legislation. The point that is worth making is – it is not a panacea for all our ills. The cure that we seek lies somewhere else, and not in the fact that our policy making body is geriatric, which is not the truth in any case. Perhaps, it would be immensely useful, constructive and productive if the youth just come out in full force, and do a duty that is enjoined upon them by the constitution – vote for the right candidate.

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