Generation Shift In Indian Politics
OPINION
OPINION

Election 2019 Will Witness Generational Change

Generation Shift In Indian Politics
This Lok Sabha elections, 500 million young people will vote in the country, 15 million of them for the first time

This had to happen, sooner than later. India is used to politicians furthering their social and economic clout while professing to be “in service of the people.” Now, several private institutions are producing professionally trained politicians. “Serving public” may soon be like “customer care.”

Khadi, the homespun cotton that Indian politicians generally don is optional for the young wannabe with varying political beliefs prescribed kurta –pajama-jacket uniforms. They are attending training courses that will fetch them degrees, diplomas and certificates at convocation ceremonies.

The Parliament’s Bureau of Parliamentary Research and Studies runs an internship course for the young. But now a plethora of private institutions has come up to train the young to ‘connect’ and ‘engage’ with the people. Concept of “public service” may not be prominent in the syllabi, but thankfully, the Indian Constitution is.

They charge between Rs 300,000 to Rs 1.6 million per course, promising to make “better leaders.” The corporate touch is inescapable and so is the nudge from some of the political parties who want to “catch them young.”

It is not difficult to see that besides electoral politics, the graduate can become a lobbyist, a counselor, a PR man or an analyst. These are among the areas of interest for business houses, investors, visiting suppliers and deal-makers and foreign embassies. Or, join a NGO.

Whether this kind of education and training could produce a politician willing to get hands dirty, dine with the poor in their homes and join the rough and tumble of party affairs would seem seriously doubtful to an old-timer. But if there are cyber warriors, why not have cyber politicians? Haven’t harnessing knowledge, skill and technology, and using sociology and psephology, produced strategy room analyses, surveys and Exit polls for nearly four decades now?

This has not ended, but has slashed the role of the hands-on reporter who hits the election trail, talking to the tea vendor or interviewing a bus and rail rider to fathom the ‘ground’.  As this reporter gets tech-savvy the interviewees, too, are getting smart, saying what the TV cameras want. The current campaign is hugely being driven by the social media.  

This is inevitable as India urbanizes, educates and acquires economic heft. Political activity has evolved although it requires moving out in the blazing sun to a rough rural terrain. The cyber-boys and girls would need that at least during elections and when mass movements are launched.

Going by past experience, with each Lok Sabha election, roughly a third of the 543 lawmakers are replaced or are defeated and new ones ring in. Besides growing use of technology, the current run-up to the elections is a hugely transformational exercise. To assess it, one has to jostle with personal views, political preferences and professional objectivity required of a scribe.  

Out, at least from the LoK Sabha elections are  Lal Krishna Advani and  Murli Manohar Joshi two of the founders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Appointed ‘margadarshaks’ (advisors) five years ago, they are now, as a television debater tellingly put it, ‘darshaks’, just onlookers.

Three other Ram temple movement leaders who witnessed demolition of the historic Babri Mosque in Ayodhya city in 1992 – Uma Bharati, Kalyan Singh (now Rajasthan Governor) and Vinay Katiar — are not among the contestants. The tumultuous event they led and much that happened in its aftermath have seriously challenged the idea of an inclusive India. How these five will face prolonged court trial for their role is best left to the future.

Three scores of BJP lawmakers have been changed. The process began in 2014 with an age bar of 75. Modi denied ministerial berths to Advani and Joshi. Now the generational shift in the party has reached the next level.

Sentiments apart and even discounting speculation over lack of personal equations among other reasons for their exclusion, the BJP needs to fight incumbency. All this is inevitable in India that is seen with justification as a gerontocracy.

This is also true of other parties. Elders have been forced to be flexible as they tackle pressures from young aspirants, many of them family members – even grandchildren. Former premier H D Deve Gowda and Sharad Pawar have had to change their Lok Sabha constituencies to accommodate young wards. Her retirement plans well-known, former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi has returned to the election arena.

Mulayam Singh Yadav, having lost control of Samajwadi Party to son Akhilesh, has accepted the same party nomination. This is after the perennial prime minister-in-waiting bid farewell to parliament and surprised everyone by wishing a victorious return to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Times are changing.

Part of this change is the idea of crowd-funding of election, not exactly new, is attracting the young. Kanhaiya Kumar, former leader of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, has adopted it. Parties and their nominees unlikely to be funded by moneybags may follow him now and in future. This ensures public participation.   

Young leaders are emerging even as ‘win-ability’ compulsions force them to field the old. While Akhilesh has won the family turf war, acrimony has surfaced in the other Yadav clan in Bihar between two sons of jailed Lalu Prasad. The two northern states are crucial for the Opposition alliances to challenge Modi/BJP.

Rahul has found state satraps scuttling Congress’ alliances with other parties in Delhi, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. His gambit of contesting a second seat in Kerala, while boosting his party in the South where he hopes to do better than the BJP, has antagonized the communists, already angry with him for failure to align in West Bengal.

It is difficult to blame any single party. But many have seriously wondered if the Congress as the biggest opposition entity has frittered away the opportunity to show accommodation to others, thus conceding space to the ruling alliance.

The once-reticent Rahul’s in-your-face attacks on Modi have won him admirers and expectedly, counter-attacks from BJP and its social media acolytes.  In contrast, sister Priyanka’s striking presence and a conversational style appeal to listeners.

Some issues are out from the BJP’s armour. At his rallies, Modi doesn’t promise to build Ram temple anymore; nor does he defend government’s policies. It’s all hyperbole.

And some issues are passé for both sides. None talks of corruption, Rupee’s demonetization, triple talaq for Muslim women and lynching of Muslims by cow-protecting vigilantes. The opposition is silent on the Rafale aircraft deal. Call it prioritizing – or opportunism.

Overall, the opposition has fallen short in forging credible state level alliances, leave alone a national one. It is a difficult task given conflicting ambitions and support bases when transfer of votes from one party to another is not easy. The opposition does not have a tall leader who can parley across the parties.  It is advantage BJP.

With opposition alliances in many states gone awry, analysts say there is lack of clarity in opposition strategy and eventually, too much will depend on post-polls give-and-take. In 2004, that had helped the Congress race past a shocked BJP. But now, BJP is the predominant force led by the most formidable team of Modi and party chief Amit Shah, geared 24×7 into poll-mode, with full intent to retain power at any cost.

But with incumbency factor looming large, the numbers may elude Modi as of now. To get the numbers, Modi is trying hard to build sentiment, hoping to trigger a wave.

This explains his below-the-belt rhetoric. When critics are called “anti-national” and asked to “go to Pakistan” and the neighbour itself, accorded undue, exaggerated place in domestic discourse and is predicted to “die its own death,” one wonders what message electioneering in the world’s largest democracy is giving to others.

(The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com )

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