Until now,political parties generally ignored the young and first-time voter. In the upcoming Parliamentary elections,the focus is on garnering the youth vote. The young today make up a sizable chunk of our electorate. Sixty-five per cent of the voters are under the age of 35. There will be a 100 million first-time voters this election.
Except for the brief period when Rajiv Gandhi ruled the country,politics in India has generally been considered the preserve of the elderly. Our Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is 76 and Leader of Opposition L K Advani is 81. Singh’s predecessors were equally elderly. Morarji Desai demitted officer when he was 83,Charan Singh at 78 and both Jawaharlal Nehru and Narasimha Rao at 75.
The first lot of Congress posters in Delhi displays a trinity of Sonia Gandhi,Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi. Now some king sized posters have appeared in the Capital where the only photograph is that of the handsome,dimpled 39-year-old scion of the Gandhi family. Is the Congress telling us subtly that Rahul is to be its Prime Ministerial candidate sooner than we thought? After all,his father was only a year older when he became Prime Minister. Or,is Rahul being projected simply to appeal to younger voters? Rahul,himself,has often played upon the theme of youth and even called for a youth quota in the distribution of Parliamentary seats. The clutch of personable young MPs seen in Rahul’s company,such as Sachin Pilot,Milind Deora,Jitin Prasada,Sandeep Dikshit and Priya Dutt add to the party’s youthful image.
L K Advani may not have age on his side,but he has nevertheless been active in wooing the young voter. The BJP has recruited thousands of youth volunteers all over India. Advani has launched a youthful Web site,chats with youth online and was recently photographed at an Ahmedabad gym lifting dumbbells to display his fitness.
The BJP once felt it had an advantage over the Congress in presenting a youthful face and prided itself on garnering a larger share of the youth vote. Many BJP leaders such as Arun Jaitley,Sushma Swaraj,the late Pramod Mahajan,Ananth Kumar,Venkaiah Naidu and Rajnath Singh were student leaders who emerged during the struggle against Indira Gandhi’s emergency rule. The BJP’s Gen Next received far more prominence than its peers in the Congress of comparable age. But the BJP’s Gen Next is now in its fifties and not-so-youthful. Compared to other chief ministers,the BJP poster boy chief ministers — Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Narendra Modi — are relatively younger. But the new trendsetter is Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah who is just 39.
How the youth votes will decide which Government comes to power. But it is yet be established that the youth votes as a block and that there is any such thing as a homogeneous youth constituency. Nor is it certain that the youth necessarily votes for a youthful candidate. Most importantly,surely a youthful attitude is more important than simply a youthful appearance. The youthfulness of a political party should be judged not by the youthful look of its leaders,but by its ability to keep evolving. To accept and adopt new ideas and concepts and reject old dogma which is irrelevant and out of place in today’s world. By this yardstick,unfortunately,very few of our political parties are truly young at heart.