In A Politics of The Past, India’s Youth Remains Unheard

A Colony in Malviya Nagar

On Sunday morning, the mood in the streets of Malviya Nagar is mellow. The fruit vendors are walking with their stalls, dukandaars are setting up shop, but nobody is in a hurry. Mr. Anand Prakash, a 90-year-old retired banker, lounges outside his house on a plastic chair, two steps away from the road, basking in the bright sun with a half-open copy of the Sunday Times.

“I like Modi because he believes in the Hindu dharma.” Mr. Prakash says with a firm resoluteness. “But I don’t like the BJP much. There are bigots in the party. But Modi is good. He speaks well. He has good thoughts.”

During the 1947 partition between India and Pakistan, Anand Prakash was a 21 year old with his life ahead of him. Originally a resident of Lyallpur in Pakistan (now called Faisalabad), he migrated to Amritsar during the partition and is now a resident of Delhi.

“I want to go back to Pakistan once before I die,” Prakash says, “I can’t go alone, though, I’m scared of the kattar (bigoted) people there.” He pauses. This is an emotional topic, but he chooses not to dwell on it, and continues.  “I like Modi, he’s from a poor family, he works a lot, and he works for the Hindus,” he repeats.

The older India, now alive only in memories of Mr. Prakash and others like him, has lived the partition, not just heard or read about it. They care deeply about the religious undertones of our politics, and their shared history shapes our current political climate. In the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, both BJP and Congress have promised, if elected, to build a Ram Mandir atop the ashes of a demolished Babri Masjid.

Such strategies aimed at the Hindu vote-bank might appease Mr. Prakash, but for young, first-time voters, a politics grounded in religious sentiment can feel irrelevant, and even alienating. A 2017 survey conducted by CSDS-KAS revealed that a staggering 46% of India’s youth (15-34 year-olds) have ‘no interest at all in politics.’ For a young nation, such indifference is a cause for deep concern.

In the evening, the tranquility of a waking Malviya Nagar is overtaken by the excitable spirit of the young. There is no space for Mr. Prakash to sit outside his house – the roads are packed with noisy vehicles. In a crowded street, Nabeel and Gitika, both 24, are enjoying a plate of steamed momos.

Nabeel and Gitika

“The issues that they are talking about are simply useless. They focus on religion, there are a lot more important issues for us like jobs,” says Nabeel, who currently works at an MNC, “I know graduates who are working jobs that pay Rs. 10,000. This is a crisis, but our politicians are still busy raising the Babri Masjid issue.”

For Geetika, a BPO employee who was only able to study until 12th grade, education is the primary issue. In the Delhi Assembly elections, she votes for the Aam Aadmi Party, but on the national front, she is also frustrated with the focus on religion. “They don’t talk about education. They attract voters based on religious sentiments for elections,” she says.

By next year, the median age of an Indian citizen is set to be as low as 29, making India the youngest nation in the world. However, in a political climate dominated by religious concerns, young voters like Nabeel and Gitika find themselves increasingly unrepresented by mainstream voices. The issues that matter most to them (jobs and education) are not the focus of election rallies. It is hardly surprising, then, that they don’t bother to spend their Sunday morning reading the Sunday Times.