In Chandigarh, one can easily spot young ministers like Manpreet Badal and Adesh Pratap — they drive their own cars and can often be seen picking up pizzas from takeaways. It is Badal and young politicians like them who are slowly changing the popular image of the Shiromani Akali Dal from that of a stodgy, religion-centric party, to one that is modern, tech-savvy and a driver of change.
And it’s not just Punjab, but all across the Indian polity that you’ll find young politicians like these who are changing the image of the archetypal Indian politician who wears torn kurtas, does not care for fashion and denounces the good things in life. Being poor — and somewhere from the rural boondocks — were virtues in Indian politics, once; but 2009 will mark a change in that.
Urban India will elect at least 100 members of parliament in 2009, around 30 more than it did in 2004. The general elections in April-May this year will be the first after parliamentary constituencies were redrawn to reflect the changes in population distribution recorded by the 2001 census (until now, the 1971 census had been the basis). In these three decades, the urban population has doubled and this year’s elections will reflect this urbanisation. What will this mean for Indian politics?
A new class of Westernised, educated politicians — many of them professionally qualified — are taking to politics. “This class has understood that mere criticism will not do. They are taking part in politics; some of them are entering electoral politics as well,” says Shailesh Gandhi, central information commissioner and an IIT engineer-turned-activist. In the Rajasthan assembly elections, 16 engineers and 17 doctors were in the fray as candidates of the BJP and the Congress.
In the political dynasties too, power is moving to the next generation — Sukhbir Badal in Punjab has taken over while Kanimozhi in Tamil Nadu, Supriya Sule in Maharashtra and Akhilesh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh will wield more power in the 2009 elections, not to speak of Rahul Gandhi whose role is expected to expand this year. They are a part of the urban milieu — their politics and style noticeably different from their parents’.
Are politicians driving this change or are they being forced to change? “They are responding to the changing demands of the electorate. As a result, identity politics is waning. This was visible in the recent assembly elections,” says Zoya Hassan, a political scientist. “This trend will continue into the next year,” she predicts.
Only 6.5 per cent of the members of the current Lok Sabha are below 35 years of age. This could improve a bit in 2009 with the Congress and BJP paying more attention to it. After all, two-thirds of the country’s population is below 35.
Indian politics will be younger, and more urban in 2009 but sadly, it may not be much cleaner — if the past is any indications. The Left and DMK have the oldest parliamentarians and the BSP and RJD the youngest — that proves nothing either way. More’s the pity.