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Youth power in 2019 Lok Sabha

With the unprecedented number of first-time voters, political parties can capitalise on them by fielding younger candidates

Youth power in 2019 Lok Sabha

Election fever has well and truly gripped the nation and with less than a month to go, all our attention is focussed on who will play kingmaker. This time around, forget the politicians for a moment and focus on the voters, more specifically the gargantuan first-time voters. Over 15 million new voters in the 18-19 age group have registered to cast their vote for the first time. According to IndiaSpend, states such as Bihar, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh, have added over 2.4 crore new voters.

While chatting with a journalist-turned-politician friend recently in the capital, it became amply clear that while the massive first-time voter base coupled with the general youthfulness of our country (India is still counted as one of the youngest by way of average age of the population) should be making our political parties seem more willing to give tickets to younger faces, they all seem to be needing more cajoling.

The age factor though is undeniable. While globally, younger leaders have assumed positions of authority faster, in India that progress has been slow. While the average age of Indians may be younger (27.9 in 2018 according to IndiaSpend), the average age of our Parliamentarians belongs to the geriatric category. It is that same feeling that one gets when we enter the wonderful dining area at the India International Centre in Lutyen's Delhi where the average age at any given time is above 70. But on a more serious note, while there is no doubt that wisdom and experience are welcome, shoving off young, fresh faces from the realm of politics is problematic.

If political parties must attract the first-time and other young voters, then being able to identify with the leader is also key. Young people obviously find it hard to relate to old fogies. The current Lok Sabha is the second oldest in the history of Indian democracy. While the youngest MP was 28 years old, the oldest was 88. The median age of the MPs was 58 years while the average age of the country was 24 years in 2011. And less than 10 per cent of the MPs were between 25-40 years of age.

Can this Lok Sabha change that and vote more younger leaders to the lower House? It would entirely depend on the political parties. According to reports, BJP's MPs became younger in the 16th Lok Sabha wherein the septuagenarians dropped to 8.8 per cent from 14.2 per cent in the previous Lok Sabha. Congress MPs though aged more with the number of older MPs increasing from 11.9 per cent to 20 per cent. With the unemployment rate staring the incumbent government straight in the face, it will also be interesting to note which issues strike a chord with India's youth. For now, all eyes are on the candidate list to be announced by BJP and Congress to see if the age gap can be bridged this summer when India goes to polls.

(The writer is a journalist and media entrepreneur. The views expressed are strictly personal)

Shutapa Paul

Shutapa Paul

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