I recently came across this excellent tweet thread on Indian politics and electoral dynamics. One of the things which struck me was that BJP was founded in 1980, but was able to form a long-term government only in 1998. Political ventures take a long time to bear fruits. The changes we want to see, need to be prepared for much in advance.
Today, I see a general apathy towards political activity, at least in youth, or the limited circles I am part of. "Politics" is considered a dirty thing and nobody wants to get into politics as a choice. We all discuss why the government is not doing anything, and why every political party is corrupt, but we hardly do anything about it. I am guilty of this as much as anybody else.
I think somehow we have come to believe that governance and political activity is not for "us". It is something which "other" people will do. One of the often heard comments is that politics is too "dirty" and "corrupt". You have to be a certain type of person to succeed in that game. In fact, during the election result telecast of recent Karnataka Assembly election, the panelists were casually discussing that participants spend around Rs. 5-10 crore together on each assembly seat. Although the Election Commission has a limit on the amount that can be spent (the limit for this years Karnataka Assembly election was 28 lakhs per candidate), I think it is openly known that these guidelines are not followed. So, no wonder people self-select themselves if they can play this game or not.
I wonder if this was still the case when people like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Jayprakash Narayan were young. JP was invited by Pandit Nehru to join Congress when he returned from the US after completing his studies in Berkeley. I don't hear such things happening today. Was that because India was fighting the Independence struggle at that time and people really wanted to involve good people in the movement. And now when we have the country to ourselves, we are much more lax in our attitude?
Wasn't there a time when at least few of the bright young people wanted to get into politics and become the Prime Minister? I no longer hear young folks saying so. Why is that?
Well, just to be sure, I am in no way implying that being a politician is easy. Convincing large number of people to think that you are the right person for the job and vote for you is no mean feat. You need to have empathy for the different sects of people and persuasion skills to make your voice heard.
But so are many other endeavors. For example, doing startups is tough. The failure rate is more than 90% and only a few turn out to be massive success. But still, I see many young people wanting to start a business of their own and bring a change in the world. I remember a time when nobody thought that doing startups was cool. Parents considered it a very risky proposition and didn't want their boy or girl to join a startup. Many early employees of Flipkart still recount their story - how joining a startup in early 2007-2009 was considered a crazy move by their parents and peers.
But no longer so. People know how startups can change society and reward them personally also. Of course, only a few will venture this path - but at least a few do. I think the success of companies like Ola and Flipkart has a lot to do with changing these sentiments.
But why are there no young people excited to join politics?
When I ask this question, some people point me to what happened with Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Many of my friends used to actively volunteer for AAP in its early days when Arvind Kejriwal still hadn't won the Delhi election - and AAP was a movement against corruption. The passion with which people talked about AAP was really inspiring. AAP was seen as a party which would disrupt the political system and inspire honest well-meaning people to participate in the political process.
Though that story turned out a bit differently. Many of my friends are now disappointed with the way things have turned with AAP and sadly its the end of a dream. But if one experiment has failed, why are not more experiments being made?
People often think that whatever happens in politics doesn't affect us. We just need to focus on our career and if need be, shift to a different location where the situation is better. Well, let me tell you - you are still affected. I have felt this myself.
I am a native of Jharkhand (erstwhile Bihar), but most of my professional career I have spent in big cities like Delhi, Hyderabad and now Bangalore. Even if I want to return to my state now, I don't have any company or opportunity which can gainfully employee me. Although Jharkhand is a mineral rich state, the corruption in political setup and administration has ensured that there are no software companies or MNCs which set up shop there. It doesn't have multiple flourishing MNCs or tech ecosystem like Bangalore does. And the price I pay for this is that I have to stay away from my parents and family. People of Karnataka in that way are better off. They can find good employment opportunities in a place close to their home - where their parents and family live. So, if you think that our political apathy doesn't affect us - think again.
But changing cities within a country is still easier. What about changing countries? The same scenario is repeated between countries. People leave India and settle in the US, because the US provides them better opportunities for their talent. Who would not want to stay in their own country if they have the same opportunities as the US? China has done well in this regard. They now have a tech ecosystem which is equivalent to the US and this has led to many Chinese expats returning from the US.
There are glimmers of hope though. I recently came to know that BJP is inviting young leaders from different fields into their cadre. These people are funded by the central fund for contesting elections. So, this allows people fight in elections even though they don't have the ability to raise funds required to fight an election on their own. There are good people like Yogendra Yadav and Jayaprakash Narayan who have started their own political parties and hopefully will attract more youth.
I think the key issue is that of support infrastructure. Today, if there is a young guy/girl who is interested to do something in politics, how does he go about it? Are there any grass route level organizations through which he can begin to test the waters and figure out if politics is really for him or not? I personally don't know of any such bodies/groups - and would be happy to learn more about it.
Let me contrast this with the startup ecosystem since this is the only other high-risk venture I know about. Doing startups is also a fairly risky business - but today we have lots of support infrastructure for people who want to get a better understanding of it. There are many events organized around startups. People can join existing startups or join as an entrepreneur-in-residence in existing venture/angel funds. There are many successful founders who share their experience in meetups. Of course, the journey is still long and arduous - but there are pointers on where to start. But when it comes to political activity, there is a complete void, or maybe I am just not aware of such channels. At least this shows that they are not so accessible. What can be done to make political activity more approachable? What type of organizations should be created to support this?
The word Politics comes from Greek: πολιτικά, (Politiká) which means "affairs of the cities". It is a way to organize people and reach a common decision which the society as a whole follows. For any human society to organize itself and follow a certain path, politics is necessary and so are politicians. It is how societies govern themselves. Note that originally, it didn't have any negative connotation of 'corruption' or 'backstabbing' which this word has come to denote.
How can we make politics accessible to more people and get more bright young people excited about it? I think there are many of us who want to do something about it - but just don't know how to go about it. It is imperative that we as a nation figure this out, before its too late.
Subscribe to Essays
Get the latest posts delivered right to your inbox