The expansion of the Union council of ministers last week was a lacklustre affair. Considering the fact that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has nearly completed four years in office, the leadership should have gone in for a major shuffling of portfolios to give a new look to this jaded cabinet, infuse dynamism and combat the anti-incumbency feeling stoked by galloping inflation.
But even so, the UPA leadership needs to be congratulated for the induction of the young and vibrant Jyotiraditya Scindia and Jitin Prasada as ministers of state for information technology and steel respectively. Equally significant was the omission of the other member of the young brigade, Sachin Pilot.
Jyotiraditya’s induction is timely as the Congress suffers a serious leadership crisis in his election-bound home state, Madhya Pradesh. Digvijay Singh, who has ruled the state for 10 years and is a darling of the Delhi media, is a hated figure in the state.
The recently dispatched state Congress president, Suresh Pachauri, who has always been in the quiet corridors of the Rajya Sabha, doesn’t yet understand the murky electoral politics.
Given this scenario, the Congress party reckons that Jyotiraditya Scindia, who has been drawing fairly good crowds in the state, needs to be utilized during the assembly election campaign.
In Rajasthan too, the Congress party has a serious problem with its leadership. Ashok Gehlot, a backward caste leader isn’t acceptable to the numerically strong Jats and Rajputs. Sachin Pilot would have emerged a future leader in the state, but he has severely damaged his prospects by leading the Gujjar agitation from the front. Giving prominence to Sachin Pilot, the Congress party reckoned, would polarize the Meenas, the influential caste opposed to reservations and Jats and work in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) favour.
In declining to be a minister in the government, Rahul Gandhi — the generation next leader of the Congress party — has signaled that he is aiming for the top job and like his father Rajiv Gandhi, hopes to be sworn in as prime minister after the 2009 general election.
In the present coalition era, Rahul Gandhi will have to gain acceptance among the UPA’s coalition partners to secure the top job. To thwart his plans, the National Congress Party (NCP), a UPA constituent has already stated that it wants the Congress party to announce Manmohan Singh as the UPA’s prime ministerial candidate in the next general election.
Rahul Gandhi who has disappointed earlier with his puerile and imperious ways is showing signs of maturing. In the last few months, he has been doing ‘politically correct’ things and gaining acceptability among people. However, as the Congress party finds the going tough, Rahul Gandhi may have to wait for quite a while to realize his ambition. Still, with age on his side, he could well afford to do that.
Today, young adults in the age group 18 to 30 years constitute nearly 40% of our voting population and their number is on the rise. Paradoxically, as India is growing younger over the decades, the profile of its elected representatives has grown older.
The average age of Lok Sabha members has gone up substantially over the decades. In the present Lok Sabha, it stands at 52.7 years, which is higher by six years, compared with the age of MPs elected in the first general election held in 1951. The average age of members of the Rajya Sabha has also gone up from 50.83 years in 1952 by nearly eight years. This trend is quite disturbing and political parties will be well advised to field younger candidates to connect with the youth and their aspirations.
The Congress party is looking youthful with many young faces among its elected representatives and now in the union council of ministers. More than a conscious strategy, this may reflect compulsion — many of the Congress’ leaders have aged.
In stark contrast, the BJP’s second generation leaders pretend to be ‘young’ even as they are near the age of superannuation. The BJP leadership structure resembles generation-spanning television families much like the one seen in soap opera Kkyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi.
There is a huge premium on age and seniority and discount on raw enthusiasm and energy. This threatens to create a chasm and a disconnect between the party and the nation’s youth.
Still, even as the Congress manages to look younger, none of the Congress’s young leaders is self-made. All of them are there by virtue of what their parents have done. It is not just the Gandhi dynasty that rules in the Congress; every leader of significance in the party perpetuates a dynasty.
Why is it that our political system does not encourage and allow emergence of genuinely new youth talent in politics? Why is it that we have no Bobby Jindals or Barack Obamas in our politics? There are no easy answers, but this is a pertinent question to ponder.
G.V.L. Narasimha Rao is a political analyst and managing director of Development and Research Services, a research consulting firm. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org