Of all the seductions of youth, perhaps the most enticing is its potential for change. We associate youth with transformation and an ability to shake the status quo. None of this is the exclusive prerogative of any age, of course, but it is the young who seem to have agitation hardwired into their DNA. That is why the unknown student stopping tanks in Tiananmen Square remains a tattoo on our collective memory. He stands for us, a symbol of rebellion, a fledgling individual ranged against the might of the Chinese army.
Nearly 60 per cent of India's population is under the age of 24, a trend reflected in the emergence of a new generation of politicians. Our old politicians tend to be, well, exceedingly old while our young politicians tend to be the progeny of old politicians. While this raises serious issues about the whittling away of democracy to a members' only club, can we at least hope that India's young politicians share aspirations with the young everywhere?
In January 2009 when he became chief minister of Kashmir at 38, we imagined that Omar Abdullah would find new solutions to an old problem, would speak the language of a young Kashmir and articulate the dreams of his generation. But over a year later, there is agitation in the Valley — its worst in 20 years — and our hopes in the Sheikh's grandson remain unfulfilled.
That same year, in 2009 another newbie politician backed by a grand surname made such venomous speeches during his first election that he had to be packed off to jail. By the time the 29-year-old Varun Gandhi emerged, he had headlines, electoral victory and the honorific, ‘RSS poster boy'. The BJP tried to dissociate itself — Varun's hate speech tape had been doctored etc — but quickly gave up that fig leaf when BJP president Nitin Gadkari made him a party secretary this year.
I had hoped Aditya Thackeray, the 20-year-old son and heir of Uddhav Bal Thackeray would buck family tradition. Aditya studies history at Mumbai's St Xavier's College, is on Facebook, is a published poet and has generally received good press (this newspaper wrote about him as an 'unassuming light-eyed lad'). Yet, this cub is roaring and raring to go. First edict: a ban on award-winning Rohinton Mistry's Such a Long Journey from the Mumbai University syllabus apparently because of derogatory references to dad's party.
It would be ungenerous to draw conclusions from a few. There is no one-size-fits-all for young politicians, even though they all have family lineage in common. Some like Lalu Prasad's cricket-playing son, Tejaswi are untried and untested. Others — Jitin Prasada, Sachin Pilot, Agatha Sangma — have new responsibilities and ministries, shunning limelight and controversy. Still others have varied interests. Milind Deora is a jazz guitarist, Kanimozhi Karunanidhi writes poetry, Priya Dutt has a reputation for social work. Great, wonderful. This is a new breed of educated, articulate and urbane politician.
Yet, I would advise caution in too much expectation from those who are bred by the family firm precisely to follow tradition and established norm. Can Akhilesh Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav's Australia-educated son, really move away from caste politics? If he does what happens to his votebank? Can we expect social revolution from Naveen Jindal, MP from Kurukshetra, who offered to intercede on behalf of khap panchayats and their barbaric views on honour killings? Can we expect him to rise above constituency politics to national leadership?
Yet, because these new leaders are educated we demand from them articulation on big issues: human rights, gender equality, food security, wildlife protection. Because they are young, we invest in them our dream for a new, inclusive, liberal India. Because they are in positions of power, we expect them to redefine India.
These young men and women of privilege could have been the agents of transformation. Instead they choose to remain inscrutable about what they really stand for. The products of a system of patronage, change is what we want from them but change is probably the last thing on their minds.
Namita Bhandare is a Delhi-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal.