Youth Participation In Electoral Politics

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India is the seventh-largest country by area and second population after Chania. India has the world’s largest Democracy. According to the 2001 Census, 18.95% of people in India are youths but their involvement in politics is insignificant as compared to that of other generations. A democratic country cannot progress properly if the new generation is not participating in politics. It has been 59 years that India was declared an independent country. Since then the country is undergoing major changes like social, economic technological, etc. But politics of India and political participation have not been changed. The existing political parties are driven by selfish interest and they have no interest to stand up to youth leaders. Present politics and political parties are filled with aged, old men and women even retired persons. There is no age limit for political leaders. If we see Indian politics there is many initiatives and reservation policy to increase the political participation of women, lower cast, etc. But there are no initiatives to increase youth participation. Every youth is the most important and dynamic segment of many developing countries. Since independence Indian youth played an important role to build up the nation. The new generation has the power to change the nation and give it the right position. It is regarded that young minds will be more innovative. So, we need to provide adequate opportunities to the youth to represent their ideas and policies. The only way to express these ideas and policies is their strong political participation.

Definition and nature of Indian youth

In my paper, I want to examine the role of Indian youth in electoral politics. I want to find out what is the current status of youth participation and what can be done to make them active in electoral politics. Before this discussion, let us first examine the definition and characteristics of Indian youth. Generally, youth are those people whose age between 15- 24 years. Age is the easiest way to define youth. About education, youth is indicated those people who may leave his/their compulsory education, and about employment, youth is indicated those people who find his/her first employment.

According to the 2001 Census, out of 1029 million people, 195 million are youths. Approximately 19% of people are youth. The median age of Indians is 24.1years. Out of 19% of youth large number are engaged in study in college and university labels. In the professional field, a large number are engaged media like television, radio anchoring, etc. Not only that a very large number are engaged in the defense sector like an army. So, the participation of youth in electoral politics is very limited. But the present day it is not the real picture. India’s unemployment rate is increasing. So, we cannot talk there is limited youth to participate in politics.

Views of Youth Participation in Politics

Some political observers seemed that youths are not participating in politics to the desired extent. Noted sociologist, Y.B. Damle, distinguished between ‘student youth’ and non-student youth. He noted that for the student youth, the pressure of career and the desire for prestigious jobs make them join politics. The non-student youth are so much preoccupied with making a living that for them also ideology-based political action is not possible. (Damle, 1989). Many political observers in the 21st century would agree with Damle’s assessment. Thus Latha Narayan, an academician, holds that ‘The youth have opted to compromise rather than fight injustice. Their energies are mainly spent in the ‘self-survival process rather than in building the nation. She further observes that politics is equated with unfair power games, and hence, a significant number of the youth shun it. Bollywood actor Imran Khan says that ‘Young people want to bring in change but they feel their voices are bound to get lost in the political rhetoric. They prefer to opt-out rather than be a part of the same structure.

All observers, however, do not agree with the view that youth are politically apathetic. Thus, Manisha Natarajan claims that in the 5.5 lakh panchayats in rural areas several lakh young men and women are serving as office bearers in various capacities like panch, sarpanch, etc. Seventy percent of them are below the age of 35. So, there is no substance in the allegation that youth are apathetic to politics. But when we see the overall picture of participation in the various elections and political events there is a clear picture of youth participation. Present politics and political parties are filled with aged, old men and women even retired persons.

Participation of Indian Youth in Last Lok Sabha election

The number of youths among the voters is increasing but this is not getting represented in the last Lok Sabha election. It still had a disproportionately large number of old people. In Lok Sabha 253 of the 543 (47%) MPs are over the age of 55, according to a report by PRS Legislative Research the largest number of MPs to be elected to the Lok Sabha who are above the age of 55 in the history of the country. In the previous Lok Sabha, the percentage of MPs over the age of 55 was 43%.

Strategies Adopted to Increase Youth Participation

To improve youth participation, the election commission, governments, educational institutions, the corporate sector, and NGOs have taken some steps. These are laudable steps, steps in the right direction.

1) The Election Commission has taken the following steps. The Election Commission is proposing to reduce the voting age from 18 to 16 years. The Election Commission has also distributed Form 6 among students in schools and colleges for enrolling first-time voters. On National Voters Day(25th January 2012), the Chief Electoral Officer of West Bengal, Sunil Gupta, said that forms for voter registration in schools and colleges will be available for one month from 1st February 2012. The Election Commission aims to enroll more young voters. The Election Commission has also decided to reach out to young voters through social networks like Facebook and Twitter. The Election Commission has decided to observe January 25 each year as National Voters Day. On this day, new voters will be felicitated and given a badge containing the message “Proud to be a voter. Ready to Vote”. Voters will also have to take the following pledge:

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2) The Central Government is asking the states to introduce online voting in municipal elections. This is a new procedure, which was tried out, in the municipal elections in Gandhinagar.Here1500 voters registered to vote via the Internet and 1000 voted.

3) Various educational institutional like school and College authorities are also taking initiatives to increase youth participation, Organizing voter registration camps, student union elections, etc.

4) Many Voluntary organizations are contributing to increase youth participation. Society for Participatory Research conducted a pre-election awareness campaign in India in 2006. A pre-election awareness campaign aims to sensitize voters about the importance of participating in the electoral process as a way to ensure a responsive, accountable, and democratically elected government.

Instead of that, some additional steps should be taken to ensure better youth participation in elections. These are as follows

1) The Election Commission has rightly decided to recommend the reduction of the voting age to 16 years. But the mere reduction of the voting age is not enough. As we have seen, some first-time voters are a confused lot. To get them to participate, I recommend that political education should start right from middle school (Class VI) onwards.

2) Indian Constitution should be amended to include voting as a fundamental duty.

3) Students’ union elections should be held every year in colleges. This is because the union elections give educated youth their first taste of democracy. They learn to vote. They also learn the art of political persuasion, leadership, electioneering, and governance through student unions. Many of our political leaders have come from the student movement.

4) The Election Commission should highlight Section 49(O) of the Electoral Rules. According to this rule, a button on the voting machine should be given in which there will be an option of not voting for any candidate. Any voter who does not wish to vote for any candidate may press this button to get his views recorded.

Concluding Observations

To conclude, the right to vote is a precious political right that has been won through generations of hard struggle by millions of Indians. It is our responsibility to ensure that we judiciously exercise this right to strengthen Indian democracy. Political apathy is dangerous for any democracy as it may strengthen the forces of fascism. In fact, the recent Panchayat elections in West Bengal have revealed. fascist tendencies in the ruling establishment which the State Election Commission has failed to curb. Opposition parties alleged attacks on them by the henchmen of the ruling party. The youth have played an important role in this election. Our young citizens should never be apathetic to voting in elections.

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