Patrick French is among contemporary India’s most insightful chroniclers. In his book,
India - A Portrait
, published in 2011, French asked what it took to become successful in national politics.
The answer, by any yardstick, was not good news for democracy. In his study of the 545 MPs in the previous Lok Sabha, French discovered that fewer than one-third of the MPs had come to politics through family connections, but a breakdown of data threw up startling results.
All MPs below the age of 30 were hereditary politicians; two-thirds of the MPs below the age of 40 came from political families; 27 MPs were ‘hyper-hereditary’, suggesting they had several family members in politics; almost 70 per cent of the women MPs came into politics through their family networks; the average age of a hereditary MP was 10 years lower than that of a non-hereditary MP, giving the former a distinct political advantage.
Dynastic politics was clearly an entrenched fact of Indian politics. While no one suggests that just coming from a political family needs to be held against an aspiring young politician. But the fact that this was so widespread indicated that there was no level playing field. Entry barriers for those from non-political families were higher, and this violated a fundamental tenet of democracy: political equality.
These figures have come down to some extent after the 2014 elections, where more MPs, including many of the younger first-time representatives, are from non-political families. The emergence of new social movements and political forces has also helped other segments access the world of politics.
There is vitality in politics when the young participate and develop a strong political consciousness. But it is time to go beyond the cliché of welcoming youth in politics to ask another question: what kind of young people are entering the political sphere? Is it those who, by virtue of their kinship networks, have a head start? Or is it others, from diverse class, ethnic, geographical, professional and social backgrounds, who make a mark?
The answer is a mix of both. But in this issue,
brings to you the narratives of those who, till a few years ago, lived in anonymity, but decided to take the political plunge. From an Oxford-returned academic- turned-community activist to a young doctor from a medical family traumatised by direct encounters with kidnappers in Bihar; from a qualified chartered accountant to young women leaders who established themselves in the cut-throat politics of north India’s universities; there is, today, a new generation that is carving a space in politics.
We do not know if they will bring with themselves a new way of doing politics or whether they will get enmeshed in established patterns of corrupt, patronage-driven political culture. We also cannot argue that those from non-political families are necessarily better than those from political families.
Yet, this is the generation of leaders who will shape India. The electorate is young; it seeks leaders who can speak to them and understand their aspirations. These politicians, if they manage to navigate the maze of power corridors and sustain their stamina, will shape our lives.
But what is their story? Who are these individuals? How did they get interested in politics? Do they enjoy it? How did they end up choosing the political stream they eventually picked? Will they stick it out for the long-run?
We do not have all the answers. But read what young Indian political activists have to say, for their voices will determine our future.
Also read:Meet the young leaders hoping to infuse vitality into our democracy
From HT Brunch, June 21
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