With almost 50% of India’s population under the age of 25, the crucial role played by the youth in shaping India’s politics should be undeniable. Yet this role has not been clearly visible for years. Although, average age of MPs in India is 57 years, politics in India is undergoing a revolution with more and more engagement of youth in political public sphere. But what are the aspirations of today’s youth for the world’s largest democracy? Are they walking on the footsteps of the ideology and political affiliations of their parents or voting on the basis of their own understandings? Is there any ideology present behind vote preference at all ?
For most of the Indian youth this year’s general elections were more than mere vote politics. For college students like me and my friends, politics became a part of our ‘coffee talks’ while sitting in cafeteria during break and soon memes and links of recent videos on YouTube, news being forwarded in our WhatsApp groups became a common scenario. While a lot of people weren’t talking about politics at all and those who did were considering themselves as ‘woke’. It was crucial to understand how young Indian youth was navigating politics? Were the aspirations and conversation that would consider them as ‘woke’ had to do with politics at all? For me, politics has always been personal in a way that I could not be ‘not interested’ in what has been going around the world. A lot of my friends call me ‘woke’ and brush conversations around any incident capping it as ‘political’. However, I myself feel that if knowing and talking about what is happening around yourself and what affects how we live, eat, drink and see things is political then so be it. After all what is the point of running away from the reality calling it not of your interest?
Thus, I feel there are two types of people- the ones who are not interested in ‘politics’ and the other ones who although do not want to associate everything with politics but can’t keep their hands off from what happens around them. I would consider myself from the latter category and interestingly my parents also. Although we tend to surround ourselves with people of similar interests and opinions, I find my friends belonging to both categories. But why I am defining my friends categorically after all? In the 2019 general elections I saw many first time voters around me, some were like I said were being woke- watching videos, checking up on what is happening and deciding whom they should vote while others weren’t interested in either formulating the aspirations or thinking who will form the next government. While I like my parents never really had affiliations or inclinations for any party and decided whom I should vote solely by my own opinion. I wanted to know how other young people like me form their political opinions and ideology or decide whom they will vote? Do their parents have any role at all in this?
“Well there is a lot to say. I have felt my father has changed a lot and since elections time I have seen him changing from a conservative person to a liberal feminist person like me who provides me a democratic atmosphere where I can put forth my opinion, you know! being from that ‘woke’ generation,” said one of my female friends who herself is a big crusader of being politically active. On being asked about the very minimal interest of youth in politics, another friend said “Well idk! I think it’s because of the stigma politics has around itself. They don’t want to know because it doesn’t add up to their life. But for me everything is political in a sense.” When I asked my friends about their parents’ role in forming political opinions majority of them had similar aspirations that goes beyond political affiliations and are not really confident about either of the mainstream political parties. Their preference seemed to be more surrounding individual candidates and not the party, which is after doing background research about whether the candidate is addressing issues like women empowerment, climate change, unemployment etc. Thus, framing the youth under binary politics of the two main national parties would not give a true picture. Politics in not only India but also around the world is going quite a revolution with young, liberal leaders from non political background coming into mainstream political sphere. With leaders and activists like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in US, Kanhaiya Kumar, Jignesh Mevani, Adithya Thackeray, Shehla Rashid coming and challenging the elite political structure, youth feels powerful and confident about their say in national and international matters as well.
Different people around me have different opinions and ideology which sometimes are very different from what their family follows and sometimes not. For instance one of my male friends like his father supports a clear right wing ideology however, his mother is a liberal left wing supporter. Everyday he gives us insight of how political debates in his house turns into heated family arguments. Interestingly, one of my friends who calls herself somewhere between the left feels alienated in the debates in her house where all of the other family members support right wing politics. “It becomes very hard you know! every time I try to clear them in the end I have to stop because you just can not do or say anything.” Luckily, my friend had the liberty to vote for whom she wanted without any questioning. But do all young people have that choice? There are two binaries in this question. If their parents do not wish to interfere in their preference and they themselves have made up their choices; or the youth is not interested and go with their parent’s choices.
“That’s the catch. When it comes to voting, what their parent’s preferences has been for years kicks in. And that’s when it’s like ..there’s no knowledge,” said one friend.
Whatever may have been the diverse thoughts, beliefs, affiliations or ideologies of these young minds around me, there was one thing for sure that remained the same – the aspirations and concerns. It is just we all were finding hope for them to be addressed differently and will continue to do so. With new faces like us talking about us we feel optimistic about the future. Although youth wants to and work towards bringing change whether through activism or social media or navigating our ways into mainstream politics, there is a slight hope and slight skepticism of our place within it.