“Who all were there in that party?” I ask Kashish while sipping my campus dhaba chai at 4 in the morning. My eyebrows furrowed as I try hard to recall the members of the Janata Dal (Secular) party.
Before she could answer, we see Sameer emerge from silhouette and stand towering over us.
“Yo, what are you two talking about?” He asks while scrolling through Instagram.
“Nothing much, she was just trying to recall some people from a party.”
“Arre, apna Raghu toh premium member pakka hoga. (Oh, I’m sure our dear Raghu is a premium member or something) He goes out every Saturday bro. Just check out his Insta story sometime.”
Kashish and I look into each other’s eyes and suddenly burst into peals of laughter. It’s been a year since then, but we still manage to get Sameer’s cheeks ruddy by reminding him of how he got a political party and a party confused. However, later, this compelled me to think of a rather scary proposition — is the youth really getting apathetic and detached from the country’s affairs?
It’s not surprising then that the confusion that Sameer had is not unique in nature. A lot of young people take pride in calling themselves ‘apolitical’ — as if it’s a valid identity or an existent political belief, and not their privilege. Politics itself has taken the form of a negative connotation that is considered overwhelmingly toxic if engaged with it. News is usually replaced with feed, and dissent at its best ends up as a Facebook comment. ‘Politics’ is always left for someone else to do, for them to complete and finish. ‘Politics’ becomes about someone else.
Albeit, this is rather scary when one studies the demographics of the Indian electorate. 15 million eligible voters are between 18 to 25 years of age. 15 million enough to make a democracy, and enough to erode one. Parties contesting in the 2019 election were quick to recognise their importance as a voter base. PM Narendra Modi acknowledged the importance of first-time voters born at the beginning of the century. In a speech, he said, “They are going to be the creators of the destiny of our nation in the 21st century. I heartily welcome all the youth, honour them and offer my respects to them.”
The Congress too took due care and consideration to include them. In their manifesto for the 2019 election, the Congress promised autonomy, reservations, funds, and students’ rights through a separate bill.
All promises and inclusion are pretty obvious when one examines the age demographic of India. According to a report published by Iris India Foundation, in collaboration with UN-Habitat, India’s median age is set to be 29 years by 2020. This number is also predicted to be in favour of the economy with a marked rise of 2% in GDP, and also comes at a significant time when Japan and China are ageing. However, what will it mean for India in terms of politics, parties, and in fact future, largely depends on how the youth continues taking an interest in politics.
But what exactly do we mean by engaging with politics? Is it just limited to exercising our franchise? If that’s the case, then the ‘political’ front looks quite encouraging. After the second democratic upsurge in the 1990s, an increase in electoral participation occurred across caste, class, and all genders alike — amongst which, youth were no exception. A cross-sectional survey of the youth population (18-33 years) too found that contrary to popular opinions of alienation and disconnect, the youth are interested in political issues. However, what we need to understand is that merely ‘interest,’ doesn’t always translate to citizens being responsible, accountable watchdogs of democracy — it goes way beyond just exercising the franchise.
One of the crucial indicators of any responsible citizen is how well aware and informed they are. Earlier, newspapers used to be a part of the breakfast of Indian families. However, that has changed dramatically with the decline in habit of reading newspapers, and a consequent shift to apps. With the evolution of technology and better access to news, one would almost expect people to be more informed than ever. However, that too is unfounded by the 2019 Reuters Institute Digital News Report, which identifies the phenomenon ‘news avoidance.’
According to it, while technology has helped increase access to news, it has also made it much easier than ever to avoid news and remain aloof. Further, it has also been recorded in an online survey that whatever snippets of news the young audience consumes, mostly emanate from social media than traditional media. While there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with consuming news on social media; the onus to verify the claim, and filter fake news and misinformation, comes upon the consumer. Thus, in times of IT cells being operated by all major parties, what we can, and usually end up consuming, is a biased and polarised version of the news that can directly influence us while voting.
Also, what has been observed after the General Election 2019 is that the youth, like any other group, can be easily mobilized based on identity rather than issues. One of the looming issues that could have marked the election was unemployment. Unemployment is the highest it has ever been in the last 45 years with the overall unemployed at 6.1%. This should have been of utmost importance to young voters seeking jobs, yet a survey by Lokniti reveals that young voters gave importance to nationalism over unemployment.
While this analysis might tell us, and not tell us several things about the young voters, what remains undeniable is the power of 15 million of us to not only influence elections but to define politics. We need to take an active interest and engage with politics because that’s what defines us and our lives in turn. We cannot but be an active citizen — questioning, expressing dissent, raising demands and standing for our rights and duties, and making the politics about you, me, about us. About things we care about — unemployment, empowerment, women safety, climate change, farmers’ welfare, and not purely fall for canards and frequent rhetoric used by politicians.
Here, we stand at a crucial juncture in the face of the future where our choices will define our country in unfathomable ways. Remember for every vote and choice we make, we are building India brick by brick, and this is the foundation that will exist for several future generations. The choice is yours, the choice is youth!