The Youth Dilemma in Indian Politics
Trilok Kothapalli – Student, Kautilya
As of 2023, more than 50% of the 1.4 billion population of Indians are under the age of 25 years. Considering the youth population age as 15-30, more than 65% are under 30. Do you think the same percentages are represented in the Indian Parliament as well? No. If we analyze the 17th Lok Sabha, elected in 2019, the average age of an MP is 54 years. Of 543 seats, only 12% of MPs are below 40.
Source: PRS – 17th Lok Sabha data.
This kind of governance is termed “Gerontocracy.” It means significantly older leaders rule a nation or state than most of the adult population. However, this was not the case at the beginning of Independence. The 1st Lok Sabha had 26% of MPs under age 30; since then, slowly, we have seen a consistent downward trend. What has led to such poor participation of young people in politics? In contemporary times can youth even dream of contesting elections? What needs to be done to encourage them?
The youth of India faces numerous obstacles when it comes to participating and contesting elections. These challenges include financial barriers, political dominance, muscle power, and the pervasive image of a corrupt political system. Running for office in India is expensive, with some popular political parties requiring up to 50 crore rupees to contest in an MLA constituency in states like Andhra Pradesh. Furthermore, the alarming trend of politicians with criminal backgrounds being elected, with nearly 50% of MPs in Lok Sabha 2019 having criminal records, has contributed to the widespread disillusion of Indian youth towards politics.
Borrowing a satire from a popular political party’s internal meeting, where a karyakarta rises and says when a politician is giving 1000 rupees per vote in a general election, and if we break that down into 365 days x 5 years = 1825 days, and that equates to 0.54 paisa per day. It is truly disheartening and alarming to witness the unfortunate truth that some individuals are willing to trade their precious vote for a mere half a paisa per day.
Picture: Bhagat Singh (1907-1931)
Our country has witnessed exceptional youth leadership during the independence movement. At a very young age, people like Bhagat Singh and Chandra Shekhar Azad sacrificed their lives for the country. Even today, the youth are called only during the protests & movements to gain traction; after it ends, they are sidelined, as we have seen in the case of Osmania university students during the Telangana Statehood movement. It is a cruel truth that young individuals with a burning desire to enter politics are often forced to sacrifice their career aspirations, jeopardize their family’s well-being, and remain in constant ambiguity unless backed by adequate financial support.
Let’s understand the general mood of the youth toward voting. Considering the urban constituencies where more young population reside, the voter turnouts in general elections are concerning. As per the past general election data, Hyderabad’s total voter turnout was approximately 48.89%, Bangalore reported 49%, and Mumbai 48.63%. My general understanding of such poor turnout is due to a lack of interest and limited connection with contesting candidates. So less than 50%, not even a simple majority, decide the leadership in our country. Have we forgotten that the power of living in a democracy lies in exercising our RIGHT TO VOTE?
In European countries, there has been a rise in young people being elected. For example, in the Finnish parliament, Sanna Marin, a woman at 34, became the prime minister. There is a general feeling in these countries that they need a new response to contemporary problems, and that is possible only through young leaders.
What can be done to encourage youth to participate in politics actively?
- Universities: Universities are neutral spaces of free thought & expression and represent diversity. Campus life should encourage discussions and debates. Universities can also encourage and promote student leadership by providing opportunities for students to hold positions of responsibility in governance bodies. For example, our country has seen student leaders like Late Arun Jaitley, Lalu Yadav, and Mamta Banerjee, who have today made their mark in Indian Politics.
- Political Parties: The parties must commit to having a percentage of youth leaders and support them in contesting elections. Parties like BJP, INC, and BRS have youth wings, but the scope of expanding & reforming responsibilities exists.
- Government: Any initiative can become a reality faster if introduced as an Act and has a legal obligation. Governments must introduce policies to increase youth representation at all levels, from panchayat to parliament. Providing opportunities in government through apprenticeships. Reducing the 25 years age eligibility for contesting elections to 18 years can be a progressive step. When an adult who has turned 18 can vote and decide who should be elected, why not run for public office?
- Civic Education: The comprehensive understanding of democratic principles and processes is increasingly going down, especially among young people. Civil society organizations and associations should actively encourage young people to be part of their meetings and foster a culture of listening to their views and new ideas.
In conclusion, the urgent need of the hour is to create a political system that provides equal opportunities and a level playing field for the youth of India. To begin with, the fight has to be against the dominance of money and criminal backgrounds in politics. We must encourage aspiring young people to participate in politics, and our current leaders must pave the way for a new generation of dynamic, visionary leaders who prioritize the needs and aspirations of the young. Only through continuous engagement, open dialogue, and concerted action can we truly transform India’s political landscape and build a more inclusive future for all.
*The Kautilya School of Public Policy (KSPP) takes no institutional positions. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views or positions of KSPP.