There seems to be unanimous agreement among politicians and media commentators that a generational change in Indian politics is taking place across parties and it is a most desirable development. A major demographic change has created a substantial percentage of the voting population among the youth. And it is a generation that has unprecedented access to information through the Internet to developments worldwide. But is a generational change in politics in fact occurring?
That depends on whether the new leaders are to be judged by the empathy they have with the aspirations of new voters or by their respective ages. In the current popular mood favouring a generational change young politicians are being viewed as the hopes of the future. But if the mindset of these young politicians is considered in the context of the aspirations of the new generation of voters one wonders if they really represent a generational change. They may be young in years, but how young are they in their thoughts?
A generational change in politics rests on two aspects. First, it must cater to the immediate aspirations of the emerging generation. Secondly, policies must anticipate political trends to usher the desired change even if common perception does not recognize its need. It is this insight after all that distinguishes leaders from the mass. Considering these two criteria is a generational change in India’s politics under way? Do the young politicians who are seen as symbols of a generational change in politics reflect in their attitude the needs of new voters?
Do new voters want to perpetuate reservations on the basis of quotas given to separate social identities which mock the notion of an Indian identity? Do they prefer doles and sops given by government or jobs that enable them to stand on their feet? Judging global political trends, does the way forward for the nation lie in perpetuating opposition to Pakistan and Bangladesh or cooperation to end terrorism and reclaim the cultural unity of peoples across borders? And if this be the case, are the young politicians offering hopes of a generational change by formulating policies to achieve this?
There is no evidence of young politicians even addressing any of these issues.
Congress leader Mr. Jairam Ramesh has suggested that all leaders should retire from politics after attaining the age of 70. Mr. Yashwant Sinha likewise has pointed out that leaders who attain the age of 80 after five years should opt out of the next general election. He has not however, perhaps with good reason, ruled out these leaders being inducted into the Rajya Sabha. Nor has he a word to spare about sons and daughters of senior leaders being made candidates to contest the elections. Perhaps this too was omitted with good reason.
If Mr. Jairam Ramesh’s suggestion about retiring political leaders at the age of 70 had been followed by all nations the history of the world might have been different. In the last 70 years arguably two statesman who altered the course of world history assumed political power after the ages beyond 70.
Konrad Adenauer became Chancellor of Germany at the age of 73 and ruled his nation for the next 14 years until the age of 87. He changed the course of European history by embracing democracy, allying with America, and cooperating fully with Germany’s traditional rival, France. Through his vision he facilitated the emergence of the European Union.
Deng Xiaoping assumed power at the age of 74 and exercised it for the next 14 years till the age of 88. He changed the course of world history by discarding Maoist thought, introducing capitalist economy and transforming China into the world’s second most powerful nation. Had both leaders been forcibly retired from active politics one wonders how the world might have emerged.
Therefore it would be prudent for euphoric champions of ushering generational change in politics to focus a little more on political mindsets and less on age. They might consider who better represents the desired generational change in Indian politics: India’s oldest opposition leader, Mr. LK Advani, or India’s youngest Chief Minister, Mr. Akhilesh Yadav?
A comparison and evaluation might prove to be instructive.