It was history in the making, but young India didn’t appear to care less. India’s 2009 Lok Sabha election was the world’s largest electoral process ever with 714 million eligible voters – more than the populations of the US and Europe put together.
Yet, almost half of India’s young voters did not step out to cast their vote. The Hindustan Times Youth Survey 2011 found that only 55.1% of youth voted in the 2009 elections against the national average of 59.7%. Voting was lower among the younger electorate -- only 42.4% of 18-21 year olds voted. Men were more politically participative, with 59% voting compared to 51% women.
“India is a young country – two-thirds of its population is under 35 years. Youth participation in the democratic process is vital, but there is considerable apathy there. Enrollment in electoral roll has been low – as low as 20% among 18-20 year olds,” says SY Qureshi, India’s chief election Commissioner. “To make India a dynamic democracy, every citizen should enroll and vote.”
“Young people have an opinion, but don’t regard election day as the deciding day of their destiny because they feel their vote won’t count, that nothing will change,” says Prathap “Pat” Suthan, the man behind the Incredible India! and India Shining campaigns, and now ‘chief explorer’ of The Advisory.
“Leadership counts and the young feel elderly and old style leaders cannot understand their aspirations and needs. They want people who look like them and speak their language leading the country, and not octogenarians who are there just because they happened to be born before Independence,” he adds.
The average age of the 78 ministers in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Cabinet is 59 years and 11 months. The oldest, Foreign Minister, SM Krishna is 78, and the youngest, Minister of State for Rural Development Agatha Sangma 30.
The high-bar set for age across party lines is a major factor why politics is not seen as a viable career for better governance. “There is disenchantment because of various factors, but things have begun to change with young people being offered opportunities – as is being done by the Congress – to ideate and participate to revive the political process,” says Minister of State for Communications Sachin Pilot, 33, MP from Ajmer in Rajasthan.
His views were echoed in the survey: More than three in four – 77% --young people in 15 of the 18 cities survey say they will vote in the next elections. Bhubaneswar was the only city to register a drop in prospective voters, from 55% in 2009 to 47% voters in the next elections.
Another of the big positives is that divisive politics appears to be dying. The largest chunk of youth surveyed – 40% -- describe themselves as moderates. Right-wingers (29.2%) make up the second-largest group.
Today’s young obviously don’t find the Left, the erstwhile magnet for change and radical thought, attractive any more. Only 8% call themselves Left wing. A big surprise was former red-bastion Kolkata, where 17.5% youth now call themselves right wing compared to 16.1% leftists!
“Young people have aspirations and now want their elected representatives to deliver on issues that affect their lives. The youth do not want negative and confrontational politics, or politics of extremism, religion or caste. They want jobs, development, good governance and weeding out of corruption,” says Pilot.