An aged India, above 2000 years (of civilisation) wants to look younger. As the general election to form the 15th Lok Sabha came closer, political parties turn towards potential voters. For an image make-over “change” was the catchword for wooing voters in the much awaited verdict 2009. The younger generation, their role and issues came into the forefront of election campaign.
In the past Parliamentary and State assembly elections this does not seem to figure as an important matter. So also, Indian youths in general, were indifferent to the political process and if not all, most of them refrain or do not give importance to exercise their franchise.
As it stands, age or “youngness” seems to play a deciding factor in the upcoming election, at least in the urban constituencies and with major national political parties. Young electorates are indeed potential and will play an important role in the number game. In India an age between 15 and 24 are identified as youth, though till the age of 40 is considered ‘young’. Youth between the age of 18 and 30 who forms 30 % of the population, were at the helm of the most potential, in their capacity as well as a campaigner for an image make-over. An estimate by the Centre for Studies of Developing Societies, Delhi, shows that in India the younger the voter the lower the turn out. Not only the electorates, the 1st Lok Sabha has 140 member of Parliament who were below 40 years out of the total 545. From the 3rd Lok Sabha the numbers follow a descending order, with only 61 members below 40 years in the 14th Lok Sabha in 2004.
It may not be very wrong to say that this motivation and all about young voters came with the Obama effect and the momentous US Presidential election of 2008. A 47 year old Obama himself was one major pull during the election campaign drawing crowd of students and youngsters, though the average age of his predecessors were between 45 and 55 years. When it comes to youth, the interest and the issue varies, nor are Indian youth homogeneous. Youth for change echoed from the upper strata of the affluent constituencies. From the shaken youths and civil society in the aftermath of the infamous Mumbai episode of November 2008. This also comes with entry of the “sons of the soil” ( the young gandhis) who seemingly emerged at the right time, doing the right thing with the right support while trying their best to assert themselves as the right choice and an inheritor. While caste still divides the rural electorates and their youths.
Elsewhere in the North East the age old AFSPA (1958) still rules the poll plank. Peace, territorial integrity and development comes out as a prominent election campaign and manifestoes in Manipur. As a matter of age the State of Manipur did quite well, though the gender representation failed miserably. Representatives to the Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies shows an average age of 40 – 60 years, with 6 members in the current State Assembly in their 30s. The representatives to the Lok Sabha too were “not old”. Both the current sitting MPs were 45 and 55 years old.
In terms of participation, in the last State assembly election, voters of all the 60 constituencies in the State of Manipur the turn out rate was 70 – 90% which is an interesting phenomenon (www.empoweringindia.org). Hundreds of youths study outside and were employed in both Government and non Government sector. According to the Directorate of Employment, Imphal 1999, the number of job seekers recorded was 3,87,276, half of whom would certainly have ventured out of the State for employment. According to 1991 census the work force participation in Manipur was only 38.6 %. The number of chemical dependent estimated was 40,000 ( VHAI – Manipur branch) out of which 95 % were in the age group of 15 – 35, probably being sheltered inside the various rehabilitation and counselling centres. Meanwhile with the frequent boycott calls during election the turn out rates looked rather incredible.
One of the most unpredictable of the Indian elections, with an everyday poll updates giving new twist and turns, at a time when millions of people loss their job, when citizens all over the country feel insecure, nationally, religiously and communally. This is at a time when the Government spending increased from 10.45 crore in 1952 election to 1,300 crore in 2004 and estimated to come up to 10,000 crore in 2009 (the Week, March 29, 2009). With 50 % expenditure financing from the corporate sector, another additional bonus for candidate and political parties this election ropes in the thousands of migrants labourers who were forced by job loss to head their way back home.
Heterogeneity apart, unemployment and insecurity holds strongly among the youths in India. Fortunately or unfortunately, for the young India many role models have also sprung up, like the Varuns, the Mayawatis, the beautiful people. If Indian youths are to follow the American steps of “yes we can” one needed an “Obama”—a role model, who exalted not only youth, but hope, a confidence in himself as well as his fellow citizens. An “Indian Idol” who can rock the country to a rhythm of change. To say this is the meaning of democratic creed, as Obama said at his inaugural speech “This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed—why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall, and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.”.
The Sangai Express, April 2009.