By Gurusaravanan M, Chairperson, Institute of Grassroots Governance & Inbarasan K G, General Secretary, Institute of Grassroots Governance
According to the India Youth Development Index 2017 released by Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development, Government of India, Tamil Nadu is ranked 2nd in the overall ranking with a good score of 0.632 whereas it ranked 14th in the Youth Political participation Index and 7th in the Youth Civic participation index in India. It clearly shows that the youth of Tamil Nadu is considerably low in political participation, especially the youth participation in the elections.
To prove this fact, one can see the below info-graphics prepared by Institute of Grassroots Governance (IGG) showing the Youth participation in Parliament to Village Panchayats of Tamil Nadu.
The Tamil Nadu State Youth Policy defines persons in the age group of 15-35 years as ‘Youth’ in view of its demographic profile. Although the eligibility to become a Member of Parliament (MP) in Lok Sabha is 25 years and the present 17th Lok Sabha indicates ‘Zero’ Youth Participation in Tamil Nadu which is that no MP’s comes under the age bracket of Youth.
The eligibility to become a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) is also 25 years and in case of 15th Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly, 3.4%, i.e., only eight MLA’s are Youth out of 234 Members of Legislative Assembly shows the meagre representation of Youth in the Political Participation at State assembly.
Contrastingly, when we look at the figures of the recently concluded Local government Elections in Tamil Nadu, they show that 1817 Village Panchayat Presidents are in the bracket of ‘Youth’ in the age group of 21-35 years out of 9622 Village Panchayat Presidents in 27 districts of Tamil Nadu, thereby indicating that a good number of youth are coming forward to the leadership positions at the Village panchayats.
Out of 1817 Village panchayat presidents, the young women participation number is 1440 and it is a comparatively larger number than young men. A couple of reasons for the increase in Youth participation is may be due to the age factor i.e. 21 years as age eligibility to contest in local government election as well as the availability of 33% reservation for women in local government as per 73rd & 74th Constitution Amendment Act.
States like Tamil Nadu which give 50 % reservation of Women in Local Government is also seen as a major pull-factor.
Based on our experience with the Village panchayat presidents, it is to say that the major constraints faced by the young village panchayat presidents in Tamil Nadu are the financial situation for their survival as a Village Panchayat president. The honorarium provided to the village panchayat presidents is also very less i.e., Rs 1000 per month, Rs 500 per month as travelling allowances and Rs 100 sitting fee for 2 sittings per month.
Let us now hear from a Youth Village Panchayat President Mr Raja from Arangur Village Panchayat, Mangalur Panchayat Union, Cuddalore District, Tamil Nadu.
Mr Raja, as a Youth Village Panchayat President, said that the Youth Club was a motivating factor for him to enter into the political sphere. He started a Youth Club in 2013 along with few of his friends for the village development which helped him learn more about the ground realities and needs of his people in the Village Panchayat.
He mobilized 150 youth in his village and each one visited a household and they spoke to over 700 + and got to know their problems and needs. He says that, whenever he does any development work, he wholeheartedly does it for the people of his village and he doesn’t project himself in all the work that he does. He believes that everyone should follow this kind of leadership which will give fruitful results for the development of Village Panchayats.
Seeing his efforts through various activities of the youth club, people from all the communities recommended his name to contest in the election. Although some people from other communities were against him, he was able to win the election with the support of youngsters. To contest the Village Panchayat president election, he spent only Rs 6000 for all the election expenses and that entire amount was contributed by his friends.
He is of an opinion that many youngsters are still fond of cricket; cinema etc and not many will understand the plight of farmers and real problems faced by people at the grassroots. So, there is a clear need to mobilize youth to participate in the political process at the grassroots level.
Initially, he used to blindly criticize the government for the lack of efforts and later, he understood that it is the leader at the local government level who does not often work efficiently for the development of Village Panchayats. This leadership lacuna was one of the major reasons in him becoming a Village Panchayat President.
He advocates that the youth should be self-sustainable and opined that if more number of youth is employed, they will be in a position to contest in the elections for MLA /MP. He totally believes that it is purely with the participation of youth and their leadership capabilities that we can bring developmental changes at the grassroots.
He is providing accountable and transparent governance to the people of his Village Panchayat through his efficient interventions. His major focus areas are strengthening the Self Help Groups for women and increasing the youth employability in his village.
India has witnessed massive corruption and misappropriation of funds in the past decades due to the adoption of top-down approach of development. People of our country have still not utilized their powers and rights enshrined in the 73rd and 74th Constitution Amendment Act for the bottom-up approach of development.
The numbers in the infographic are alarming in nature where less participation of youth in state assembly and parliament creates a developmental dilemma. But the satisfying aspect is the numbers at the grassroots sphere of local government, these 1817 Village panchayat presidents should be recognized and be part of the developmental process in Tamil Nadu.
These numbers have been constantly ignored in the developmental sphere and these elected leaders are seen merely as an implementation authority. This kind of scenario must be changed and elected MLAs/ MPs should work together with these Village Panchayat Presidents to take forward the agenda of Bottom-Up development.
People in Tamil Nadu know about their MPs and MLAs and they also should know about who’s at the grassroots local government. Sadly, the numbers and details of these youth is also not mentioned in any government website for people to know their elected leaders at the grassroots except the name mentioned in the election commission website.
The story of Mr Raja as a Youth Village Panchayat President is a great example of instilling good governance at the grassroots. In the times of many who give money for getting votes, he instills the spirit of righteousness in the political sphere. But not many people are not aware about it. This is why youth participation in local government matters!! The huge numbers of youth should not be ignored and more numbers of youth should participate in future so that there can be a vibrant democracy at the grassroots.
On this International Day of Democracy, Team IGG had come up with a report titled “Analysis on Demographic status of Elected Village Panchayat Presidents of Tamil Nadu 2020” as one of our efforts in strengthening grassroots democracy of Tamil Nadu. In this report, one could also see the participation of youth in every district wise. To read the complete report, click here.