Considering that more than 40 per cent voters in India are youth, one would have expected a number of scientific studies by psephologists and political analysts on the interest and participation of youth in the electoral process.

Unfortunately, no data are available in the reports of the Election Commission of India (ECI) specifically relating to youth participation in the electoral process, in terms of the total number and percentage of persons of different age groups comprising the electorate or standing as candidates and winning or losing the elections. Despite intensely surfing the Internet, I could not come across evidence of any such exercises having been undertaken, nor of any findings drawn on the experience of political parties to reach out to, and connect with, young voters.

Involving the youth

For instance, over a period of ten years or more, Mr Rahul Gandhi has been touring the length and breadth of the country, going to remote areas and freely mingling with the rural people, in a determined bid to rouse the youth to get involved in nation-building effort. If only someone had kept a record of his visits and exchanges of ideas, it would have provided a rich harvest of insights into the thinking and attitudes of the young voters of the country, both at the local and the national levels.

At the time, Mr Rajiv Gandhi took the bold initiative of amending the Constitution to lower the voting age to 18, a mood of justifiable excitement suffused the country about the sea-change it was going to bring about in the quality of representation, the functioning of the governments and, indeed, the character of democracy itself.

The rationale for this move lay in the ardent belief that young voters, with their energy, idealism and courage to meet challenges head on, would gain an upper hand in legislatures and show the door to old-style politics and politicians, putting an end to the rampant skullduggery and thuggery strangulating the polity.

Egregious effrontery

The reality has, sadly, been to the contrary. From such rudimentary research as is available, the turnout of young voters in elections is found to be as low as 20-25 per cent (as against an average national turnout percentage of 58 for all categories of voters). This state of affairs is reflected in the number of MPs in the age group of 25-40 being only 71 out of 545.

Neither the enlargement of the voter base by the induction of millions of young voters nor the entry into Parliament, and the Ministerial ranks, of the younger generation, however limited in number at present, has made any difference to the quality of governance. With scams exploding all around them, one would have expected the younger Parliamentarians and legislators to form proactive watchdog groups and tell off the shady and tainted oldsters to get lost. Instead, many of the younger lot have begun showing egregious effrontery in parroting the same old rubbishy excuses to justify the rot. Some of them even seem to have caught the contagion and be ready to beat the entrenched oldsters in their own game, in tune with the motto: If you can't lick them, join them! The youth of the country should realise the lasting shame and disgrace of letting the country become a stinking cesspool of corruption and the freebooters in politics destroy the very foundations of the polity. Continued apathy on their part would also result in their own future being ruined beyond redemption.

The same warning applies to the younger members of Parliament and State legislatures. Evil flourishes not because of evil-doers, but because of those who either connive with it or close their eyes to it. In the face of wanton havoc to principles and ideals being wrought around them, it is sin for the younger legislators to seem mute spectators or collaborators.

Here is a wake-up call which they will ignore at their peril.

(This article was published on April 6, 2011)
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