Millennium Post

Politics of Youngistan

Saman Quereshi was all of 23 when she had arranged her finances, packed her bags and planned out a 100-day all-India travel itinerary. A post-graduate from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Quereshi had worked with various NGOs and was slightly disillusioned with the pace of change that work in the social sector could bring to the nation’s myriad problems.

‘I needed time to think through things,’ she says. However, right before she was to set out on the journey, she met chief minister Arvind Kejriwal in May 2013 and decided to give politics a shot. Quereshi dropped her travel plans and soon found herself campaigning for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Matia Mahal. The young girl was appointed party’s campaign manager for the constituency in the run up to the 2013 Delhi assembly elections.

‘I was not the only one to have taken the political plunge as a party volunteer. There are pilots and IT professionals who quit their jobs to be a part of the change that the country is seeing,’ Quereshi informs.

By October 2013, 80 per cent of the party’s 2,000 full-time volunteers and over 100,000 part-time volunteers were below the age of 40 years.

Political plunge

Clearly, India’s youth is no longer content being a passive participant in the country’s politics. ‘The youth of the country is now an active participant in politics. S/he is not averse to getting into the muck to clean to it,’ says Anil Kumar Jha, Academic Council member of Delhi University and professor of history.

A report published by IRIS Knowledge Foundation in collaboration with UN-HABITAT titled ‘State of the Urban Youth, India 2012: Employment, Livelihoods, Skills’, estimates that every third person in an Indian city today is a youth. By 2020, the median individual in India will be 29 years old. In the general elections to be held 2014, the country will see around 150 million first time voters. And these young men and women are not buying into the rhetoric of old style politics.

‘Now politics cannot be run the same way. The youth is fed up with the dynasty and parties who are involved in corruption and communalism. The Nirbhaya case had shown the power of youth which forced the government to take strict action against the accused. Earlier, Anna movement also got the momentum due to the youth empowerment. No political party including AAP can ignore the power of youth,’ Sanjay Singh, core committee member of AAP, says.

National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) media coordinator Amrish Ranjan Pandey says, ‘Centre for the Study of Developing Societies data shows youths have started looking for a career in politics. Though people with no experience or political affiliations are scared of taking the plunge, they are nevertheless doing it.’

But why is the youth suddenly so impatient? Is this a new phenomenon?
Political writer and editor Aditi Phadnis believes that youth have always been at the forefront of revolutions and protest movements in the country. ‘Even the JP Movement started with the Nav-Nirman (reconstruction ) agitation in Gujarat forced the exit of Indira Gandhi government in the 1970s, beginning of course with the exit of the Chimanbhai Patel government within three months.

That was a time when youth could buy jobs if they had money and power. The youth, disgruntled with all this chose to agitate,’ Phadnis says. Talking about how the new youth agitation is different from the old one, she says, ‘While the old youth agitations focused on exit of corrupt leaders, the new anger is anti-politician. The young are fed up with their politicians. The two main isms in AAP politics are end-all politicianism and corruptionism.’ Jha says that youth in the last four-five years got connected with the world because of globalisation and social networking websites. ‘They are now seeing the developed world. The youth in India have bigger hopes and aspirations and they don’t want to settle for the second best. They want the best. When they look around and find that the system is not able to give them their fair share, they get frustrated and walk to the streets,’ he adds.

‘Youth power has been dominating Indian political system for some time now. For the last three years youths have been raising their voice against corruption, rape, national and international issues. They are now coming to this field to make their career in politics, earlier it was ‘untouchable profession’ where people had the mindset that politics means corruption, now things have been changed and youth from all professions have come to join politics which is a good sign for our democracy, says AAP leader Gopal Rai.

The feeling so far had been that even though the youths have views, they are reluctant to come out and vote. But the recent electoral examples have shown that all that reluctance is a thing of the past. The recent Delhi assembly elections saw 65.86 per cent voter turnout. Vijay Dev, chief electoral officer of Delhi, says the jump of about 8 per cent from 2008’s 57.58 per cent turnout was largely because of the about 4 lakh 18-19-year-old voters.

‘Young voters went all out to shed the image of apathy, especially among the rich and upper middle classes. They came in large numbers. Youngsters played a big role. Polling stations feedback showed that 18 and 21-year-olds voted. The New Delhi constituency is a case in point were real-time data showed how youth voters added to the turnout,’ Dev said.

Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad state secretary Rohit Chahal said that about 14,000 young people registered themselves as voters in the very first three days of Youth for Change campaign launched by the organisation. This encouraged the outfit to carry out the drive on a larger scale. ‘Around 3 lakh teacher’s posts are vacant. Promises of building new universities have not been fulfilled. Six Bills related to education are pending in Parliament. In a globalised world, this pace of work is unacceptable, we will strengthen out agitation to ensure that the youth is not ignored in the country, Chahal says.

Will the discourse change?

At a time when the nation’s average age is 29, half of our people are under 25 and 66 per cent are under 35 years, the young are the new majority in India. But this huge majority is fragmented because of geographical, caste, religious and other such factors. Political parties have woken up to the urgency of addressing and tapping into this new votebank. Swadesh Singh, Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) in-charge for Delhi says that his organisation is making efforts to present this huge young population as one segment to draw attention to their needs and aspirations.

BJYM is preparing a Youth Policy Document to understand and incorporate the needs of youths that will in turn be recommended to the national party for inclusion in the party’s manifesto for the national elections. BJYM’s Dinesh Pratap Singh says that the youth wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party has already launched a ‘Yuva Sadasya – Yuva Mitra Abhiyan’ to attract more youths to the party. It is going to organise events such ‘Khelga Yuva. Jitega Bharat’ in a bid to reach out to the young by organising cricket matches.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who claims to have a keen interest in democratising the organisation at every level, has already implemented the direct election process in the Youth Congress a year ago. ‘Rahul Gandhi understands that the old culture will not work. He knows he has to change it to broaden party’s appeal among the youth. He is therefore making the process more democratic because he understands the power of the youth.’

Looking ahead

Is the country ready to be run by people who have the passion, but little or no experience of politics? Phadnis says, ‘The youth has moved from being non-political to anti-politician. They have the energy and the passion to bring about change, but is this enough? Well, that is something best left to time. They want clean governance and better policy making and they are present in large numbers. But width is not depth. Even beauty pageants have nobel aspirations.’

‘India is still a country where when you are a voter, you wear many different caps. You are not just a youth. You come from a region, you have a certain caste and you have a religion. Will the young talk about Article 370, caste issues, Article 377 or just restrict themselves to jobs and corruption is still to be seen. We need to know what their views on these issues are,’ she adds.

Jha, however, says, ‘Those with experience in politics ruined the country. Now is the time to let fresh ideas take centre stage and run the country with new energy and vigour.’

(With inputs from Sunil Thapliyal and Varun Bidhuri)
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