‘Youth is easily deceived, because it is quick to hope,” Aristotle once said. What he perhaps did not add is that once the young realise that they have been deceived, they will not fall for the same tricks a second time. And in this lies a lesson for India’s politicians. For too long they have thought that they can pull the wool over the eyes of India’s young with esoteric promises of a better life. But as an enormous number of the young begin to exercise their franchise, the politicians will find that they have to begin to deliver.
The HT-MaRS Youth Survey 2013 offers very interesting insights into the psyche of today’s youth. The important thing is that they are no longer willing to sit around waiting for the bus to arrive; they will start walking right up to the doors of power to get their legitimate dues. The disillusionment with the current political system is so deep that 52% of them said that they would prefer a dictatorship where things would get done.
If you have been around as long as I have, then a chill would have gone down your spine at this prospect. For the days of the Emergency have left indelible scars on our consciousness. Sure the buses and trains ran on time, but you had to fear the midnight knock on your door if you stepped out of line. We have not forgotten Sanjay Gandhi’s uniquely cruel way of keeping down the population, we have not forgotten the diminished political rights that people enjoyed and most of all we remember so well, how decisively a mighty leader like Indira Gandhi had to bite the dust. But clearly, today’s youth, most of whom were not born at that time, can speak of a dictatorship without the dread that an older generation feels.
This is also testimony to how much they feel let down by the delays in implementing schemes meant to benefit the people. It is a stinging indictment of how little has been done to realise the potential of our young. Demographic dividend is a phrase we hear so often, but the large youth cohort with little access to basic amenities and few employable skills cannot push India further up the economic and social ladder. For this everyone needs a level playing field.
It is precisely because of lack of opportunities and a disdain for meritocracy that many young people are not averse to using caste and religion to get ahead. These are their only paths to salvation. Educated youth are not above using caste to further their goals. But, I can’t help feeling that this is because they have no other option. The survey shows that young people are not all that keen to enter the political fray. And this is probably because they see it as being hobbled by money, muscle power and family connections.
This is a really worrying thing. More qualified young professionals should come into politics. Let us look at the West. Many politicians have jobs to go back to once they finish with politics. Their training in their respective fields adds value to the public office they hold. We too have such people in our politics but the system seems to encourage politics for the sake of politics. Politics should be seen as a field where one can spend some years, impart one’s knowledge in one’s specialisation for the good of the country and one’s own CV and then get on with life.
Here politics is an end in itself and the pressure is then on the individual to hold on for dear life by hook or by crook, often by crook. I wish our current crop of politicians would spend some time to reflect on how it can get young people, with their bright ideas, their enthusiasm, their lack of biases, their energy and idealism to get involved in politics.
I know that many of you think that the system is beyond the pale now. But I like to think as we near our 66th Independence Day that there is still hope that a new dawn will come. And it will come through the effort of our youth. But for youth to come into its own, the old guard has to know when to fold up their tent and become mentors. In party after party, we have seen how desperately, how pathetically the old cling onto positions which they are no longer fit to be in. They simply cannot imagine that they should cede the trappings of power and privilege to someone more deserving and more qualified.
Perhaps, we need to do a survey among the political class, which as you know has no sell by date. I am not saying that we should not value the wisdom and sagacity of age. But the youth, fed up with the corruption and scams, must find their place in the sun. For this, we need to shake the giant oak and many acorns have to fall. And new ones must take their place. Maybe a good start would be to have a cut off age in the youth wings of parties. What do you say to 25 years? This would at least give the young a chance to make a political mark instead of waiting around and growing bitter and cynical as the years pass them by. I know that the young in India, which could be a tidal force if unleashed, will agree with me.