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The Young Turks of Indian Politics

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May 2004
The Young Turks of Indian Politics

The Young Turks of Indian Politics

By SIDDHARTH SRIVASTAVA

They are the leaders of India's tomorrow. And universal in their high-pedigree is western education and, by default, modern thoughts. This can only augur well for a nation with the majority of population under the age of 35.

The general elections slated for April-May this year has drawn a spectrum of young aspirants who are linked by the following factors?exposure to the west, whether U.S. or UK, a lineage that boasts of a rich exposure to politics and a deep interest in the cornerstone of India's global competitiveness, Information Technology.

The uncrowned king of the lot is Rahul Gandhi whose political roots are near impeccable?great grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru, grandmother Indira Gandhi and father Rajiv Gandhi--all former Prime Ministers of India. Rahul's mother is Sonia Gandhi, the president of the Congress party that is pitted against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Rahul has studied at Harvard and worked in London. At 33, he is contesting for elections for the first time from Amethi, his father's pocket borough in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

In a recent interview to the Indian Express Rahul said that his aim is to make India like the U.S. where one is known and judged by one's work and not caste, creed and religion. "These factors do not matter in the U.S. and should not matter here," he said.

Rahul heads a long list of similarly placed and qualified young people seeking a position in the hallowed Parliament of India. Each one of them boasts of immediate family members who have or are holding high political office. Most of them are in their late twenties or early thirties and have had a rich exposure to some of the best institutions in the world.

They include Milind Deora (Boston University), Sachin Pilot (Wharton Business school), C R Keshavan, Rajeev Gowda (Wharton), R P Singh (Berkeley), Mavendra Singh (Oxford) and Sandeep Dikshit.

These apart, there are other "youth" leaders who have made a bit of a mark in national politics. Jyotiraditya Scindia has already had a run in the previous Parliament and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah was Minister Of State Of External Affairs. Both have studied abroad at top institutions.

Deora, Pilot, Dikshit, Scindia are sons of prominent Congress leaders. Mavendra is the son of finance minister Jaswant Singh while Abdullah belongs to the first family of Jammu & Kashmir politics with both father and grandfather former chief ministers of the state.

It is true that these young leaders have been provided the opportunity to run for politics given their family backgrounds. On the flip side given the exposure and atmosphere that they have grown up in, it does also make them equipped to take on the hurly-burly of Indian politics. India has a tradition of generations practicing the same vocation. For instance, current crop of Indian film stars like Saif Ali Khan, Salman Khan, Kajol, Rani Mukherjee belong to families long associated with films.

In industry too, it's a replicated story. Reliance, one of India's biggest industrial groups, has made rapid strides under the sons of the late Dhirubhai Ambani. In cricket, star cricketers such as captain Saurav Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif belong to families with a history of playing cricket. Doctors, lawyers, artists make it a point to pass on their clients and craft to their progeny.

The last time several foreign and private school educated people joined the political firmament was in the mid-eighties. The then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi co-opted several of his friends he met in the course of his education at the elite Doon school, England and then as a commercial pilot. But, it was their collective inexperience in understanding the nuances of Indian politics that ultimately led to Rajiv's downfall.

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Importantly the current youth brigade of political leaders is not having it that easy. It is true that most are standing for elections from constituencies considered their family fiefs. With time, however, they will have to prove their mettle, as the Indian electorate is increasingly sensitive to performance and development.

For one, the start is early. By the time they actually scale positions of real power that can make a difference in the macro context, individual experience will matter. Then, the exposure to the west is important as India makes rapid strides to emerge as a global economy. International management practices, work culture and ethics, importance of institutions, health care are aspects that require to be imbibed. If India has to progress further the leadership will have to provide the right mix of a modern as well as traditional outlook. Many of these youth leaders have also been involved in working for NGOs involved in the upliftment of the poor.

Another important aspect is that the Indian population is pre-dominantly young. A point of debate is that the aspirations of the youth may be better understood and presented by younger leaders, rather than the current incumbents. Both the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of India are close to 80.

Indeed, even the personal lives and how they've dealt with it, can impress younger minds. Pilot married the woman he loves, who happens to be the sister of Omar Abdullah. The National Conference and Congress are ranged against each other in Kashmir. None of the Abdullah family attended the marriage, but Pilot went ahead.

Scindia makes no bones about the fact that he loves his Rolex watch and his late father's BMW. For long, Indians have been made to believe that in a country with mass penury any show of wealth is wrong. It is true that one has to consider the social milieu of one's existence, but it is equally important not to be ashamed to be rich or aspire to be wealthy through fair means.

Rahul has no problems being with his Colombian girlfriend who often flies down to India. Not an issue unless one wants to pursue politics as a career in India. Recently Rahul holidayed with her in Kerala with political opponents taking immediate potshots that it is immoral to stay with a woman unless one is married to her. Live-in relations are quite common among urban youth in India, but the institutions as well as public postures remain quite the opposite. A case in point is that of the newly crowned Miss India who had to relinquish her title after it was found that she was living with a guy. To prevent harassment by the police as well as the housing society where her flat was located, she had declared that she was married, which ultimately resulted in her exit as Miss India.

Indeed, India is still a country of much double speak. Where what is preached is often not practiced. The earlier lot of Indian politicians wore Khadi, talked of swadeshi (indigenous economy) and derided English. At the same time they collected designer suits, drank Scotch whisky and ensured their children studied at the most prestigious English language schools.

The new lot brings about a refreshing change. Just be what you are?an appeal to the youth who matter the most.


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