Words like scam, inflation, economic slowdown and policy paralysis have long been clichés and in the last few years they have dominated the minds of Indians. But despite the apparent cloud of hopelessness that surrounds the fate of this would-be superpower, the youth of our country seem to harbor a certain skeptical optimism about both the present and the future according to a survey commissioned by HT and conducted by C fore.
The survey, which covered over 1000 urban and rural residents between the ages of 18 and 25, revealed mixed sentiments among the youth - a disparaging view of the political system but faith in certain institutions, anger towards the employment situation but confidence in the economy, apathy towards the electoral system but belief in the power of their vote. 'Competent' was how 37% of the respondents described our current political leadership; But a cumulative 45% said today's political leaders are either hopeless or corrupt. The remaining 18% said they are just a product of the system.
Centre for the Studies of Developing Societies Fellow Sanjay Kumar says of the 37%, "I am not surprised. Usually gossip settles down when it's recorded seriously. People think and apply their mind. Still there are almost 2/3rd of the respondents who don't find it competent."
Sanghamitra Acharya, professor of Social Sciences at Jawharlal Nehru University says that their understanding of leadership is different. Present day youth connect with the current brigade of youth leaderships and that's why they are more hopeful. "Milind Deora, say for example, also plays guitar. Naveen Jindal is an industrialist as well as educationist. These leaders have alternative skills. The youth see their own selves in them," she says.
The survey results though say change in the system is unlikely come from within, but from increased civil society participation according to 36% of those surveyed. Only 27% agreed that a change in the ruling party would improve the current political system, 17% said that increased voter participation was a requisite while 15% had no hope for any improvement. (5% quoted other reasons.)
"The survey shows that people increasingly want to engage and create a space to interact with the political system. The existing setup is limited, dominated by dynastic politics, nepotism and a lack of transparency," says Anil Bairwal, national coordinator, Association for Democratic Reforms. "The youth are trying to figure out what role they can play to improve upon it," he says.
This engagement by the youth reflects in the survey. While there is a certain level of indifference towards the value of their vote, two-thirds of the youth said they would definitely cast their vote in the next general elections (27% said they would do so even though it did not make any difference). Only 19% said they would not vote as their vote was ineffective and 15% said they did not care.
In rural areas, respondents were generally more optimistic. "More positive opinion," says Kumar "is generally seen in rural areas than in urban. The more educated you are, the more you tend to be critical without looking at alternatives."
India's democratic system, which the Economist Intelligence Unit recently labeled 'flawed', still seems to have popular support and faith in its institutions, while shaken seems resolute. On a positive note, 13% say we are a functioning and expanding democracy; and nearly half, 49%, say we are still better off than others. Only 18% of said Indian democracy is flawed and regressing and 20% said it was stagnating.
In terms of democratic institutions, only 19% said they had no faith in any branch of the state. The judiciary came out on top with 40% saying they had faith in it. Parliament received approval from 32% of the respondents while 16% trust in the bureaucracy.
Surprisingly, while the government faces attack from all quarters over it's economic policies - with increasing price rise, slowing growth, a depreciating Rupee and rising unemployment - only 26% of respondents in the survey blamed the state's mismanagement for India's economic situation. Over a third, 35%, say they are hopeful and that India's growth story will bounce back. Another 28% believe it is the result of a global phenomenon over which even the state has no control and 11% say they are not affected at all. NR Bhanumurthy, professor, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy says, "There are multiple issues, both foreign and domestic, plaguing the economy but we are about to reach a turning point. Our institutions, which hinder the business making process for the government and the private sector, are evolving and getting stronger. Perhaps that is why the survey seems to show such a positive outcome. Also, we usually tend to blame the central government more than they deserve. The state governments are also to blame."
Unfortunately, the same people did not seem too enthused by the state of the Indian job market. Half of them said there was a mismatch between skills and employment and another 31% preferred the foreign market over domestic opportunities. Only 18% said the situation was adequate. At the same time, 51% said that India has a good system of higher education as opposed to the 34% who would want to study abroad.
A study by the University of Pennsylvania suggested a similar trend of mismatch. Megha Aggarwal, on of the authors, and CEO of Leap Skills Academy, says, "You need to know what the youth of today want. When we asked this question, over 50% of them chose career options which are not under the high priority list of the government." Sectors like construction, textile, gems, transportation, tourism, retail, etc are considered high priority by the National Skill Development Council. Youth today are more likely to prefer sectors like banking, healthcare, finance and insurance, etc. Surprisingly, in the HT-C fore survey, while the corporate sector and entrepreneurship were preferred, 35% did say they would want a job in the government.
Despite ubiquitous protests across the country in the last three years, the survey revealed that Indian youth are in fact not ready to protest against the state of affairs. Almost two-thirds, 61%, of those surveyed said they would not protest. Even out of those who said they would, only 23% said they would take to the streets while nearly half (49%) said they would only lodge their complaints on social networks; A fifth of them say they would even consider running for office.
Perhaps then it is not surprising that more than half the respondents say social networks are tools that give voice to democracy and can mobilize the masses. A lower 22% said the likes of Facebook and Twitter are elitist and unrepresentative, 13% dismissed them as simply babble while 10% attributed to them the simple role of social communication.