By Devika Bedi
India will be the youngest country by the year 2020 with roughly 592 million Millennials, just after China at 776 million. Its political landscape is not only dependent but also highly reliant on the good citizenry of its youth in the age group of 15 to 24 years. The number of eligible voters in India equates to the voting population of various European countries put together. In spite of that, we remain a gerontocratic legislature. Until the year 2014, we were a nation with an average age of 25 and all prime ministers were born in the pre-independent India, the cabinet having an average age of 40. The millennials, or the Generation Y—the “Echo Boomers” have a long road to go before they can prove in confidence that age is not a function of wisdom, and definitely not a factor to determine their leadership ability and credibility.
Things, however, seem to be changing now. Social media constitutes representatives and opinion leaders from major communities of India. Millenials are increasingly exploring, with creativity and imaginative speculations, their views and opinions over cyberspace. Although the lack of critical gatekeeping has erupted as a by-product of this trend, it may still be hyperbolic to say that millennials are devoid of political awakening. With the emergence of user-generated content in the form of blogs, websites and vlogs, millennials are increasingly taking part in aiding the political dialogue in the nation today.
According to credible sources, India’s smartphone revolution is lead by millennials with an astounding 84 per cent of them already hooked to their broadband network connections. Research shows that they are spending 17 hours or more online, every week. “The present young lot is quite intelligent and active. They think about issues and want to solve them. It is not just about roti, kapda and makaan for them anymore,” says 24-year-old journalist, Richa Sharma. Citizen Journalism is distributary of the same. The world of Mobile Journalism (MoJo) has the immense power of dissent and proof-oriented news. While the young ones are not only more aware than ever, they are also sensitive about issues with high news value.
The state and fate of youth leaders
The lot is facing socio-political challenges that are quite unique to them. Having been brought up in an atmosphere of brazen political rhetoric worldwide, increased global nationalistic sentiment and an economic condition suffocated with large demographic divide, many (if not all) millennials are rather impatient about them choosing their leaders. They tend to fall for electoral incentives and disincentives, though it may be short-lived and are prone to make misinformed decisions. Like, the 1990’s saw major political upsurge and political participation from the youth. This involvement was seen to be nullifying the rural-urban divide. Both arenas saw similar involvement.
According to Tabish Khair, a noted journalist and academician, the Indian legislature has low ‘ease-of-contesting-elections’ rate. He believes that due to strong and complex network between politicians, it becomes very hard for a newcomer to make their presence felt. This results in a few fortunate millennials reaching higher, more influential positions in the parliament while the local municipal leaders remain aged, old and “more experienced”. “If you do not have the right sort of connections, you might go through the municipal and local route. But if you do, why should you bother? You will get a ticket to start off directly as an MLA, if not an MP or a junior minister”, writes Khair.
This belief has been outrightly challenged by politicians across the nation. In what comes as a vicious circle of credibility and Hobson’s choice, the youth remain devoid of a real representative in most parts of the country. The trust and reliability of the electoral process also fade away, creating a sense of misbelief and low confidence among worthy, aspiring leaders. This is coupled with a spiral of silence in them. “This family system runs because of credibility; why do people want to buy a Mercedes car? Or a BMW car? Because they know the credibility of that car. You come out with a new car and if nobody knows it, nobody will buy it”, says Sukhbir Badal, Deputy CM and second generation dynasty.
Uttar Pradesh, the largest state in India holding the maximum number of seats in Lok Sabha was formerly headed by the Yadav family. Akhilesh Yadav, in his twenties, was introduced as a political bait to the voters. In Kashmir and Punjab too, a similar trend has been observed. Congress’s new President, Rahul Gandhi is a product of this practice. “There are three-four ways of entering politics… first if one has money and power. Second, through family connections. I am an example of that. Third, if one knows somebody in politics. And fourth, by working hard for the people.” The morality of this politics is highly contested.
Not all is lost
The millennials have played the role of the citizen, consumer as well as a catalyst in shaping up the political environment of India. The infamous upsurge of the Aam Aadmi Party and its supremo Arvind Kejriwal can rightly be owed to the present generation. Hardik Patel, Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia and alike are leaders who have successfully made a mark and proved their mantle. As citizens, a number of millennials have taken up the streets for protests against support socio-political issues. University politics is seeing a paradigm shift where a great number of students are informing, educating, warning and advocating about the issues that matter nationwide. Micro-level changes are initiated and aided by the digital media and are resulting in higher levels of accountability to the politicians in charge.
Youth leadership is more relevant today than ever. However, there are still many hurdles that the millennials face in admitting themselves and sustaining in the political fabric. Internet, in all its glory and gloom, is the fastest, most impactful tool to help them generate political mobilization. The good and informed citizenry is another way the millennials can shape how the nation at large debates on worthy issues. There is definitely a measurable change, but the question remains if it is enough.
Featured Image Source: Flickr