The youth of this country must move beyond just being vote banks to ‘thought banks’.
In order to have our voices heard, we must intervene at various levels – electoral politics is one, but not the only way forward.
As I checked my phone later in the night to see the hashtags in trend on twitter, I figured #JallikattuProtests leading the way. One look at the tweets, and one could see that the spontaneity of the online movement coinciding with the offline infectious spirit at the Marina Beach in Chennai. As a youngster involved in socio-political endeavours myself, this was a moment of shared ecstasy with my brethren in the south, doing their bit to register their voices – this time in protest.
This article is not about agreeing or disagreeing with the factual and opinionated stances on Jallikattu. It is not about how Congress banned it and then today wants to gain mileage out of it by siding with the protesters in a hypocritical shift of political allegiance, or about a BJP minister pushing for a ban and then the party distancing itself from her statement. This article is a self-aggrandising pat on the back for youth - like the group at the Marina Beach in Chennai who literally took the matter into their hands to influence policy decisions at the top.
As often repeated at various forums, I believe that as one among the 65 per cent of India’s young population, with less than 11 per cent representation in parliament, we as a populous, aspirational section need to move beyond just being vote banks to ‘thought banks’ (as Sanjay Paswanji says in another context). Jallikattu protests led the way towards this transformation with elan at the beginning of this New Year.
It is very interesting to see how the opinionated, argumentative and aspirational youth of this country has been taking up issues of concern – national and regional – in its own hands and influencing the government to take decisions on the agenda it sets. Recently, we saw the row over Amazon selling objectionable doormats and how the young tweeple coaxed the people’s favourite Minister of External Affairs of India, Sushma Swaraj, into getting the online firm to fall in line. In the recent past, we have seen youngsters leading the way in deciding issues of interest - be it the Nirbhaya case or the India Against Corruption movement. These incidents suggest a defining trend.
India is on the cusp of a revolution at multiple levels, and as a youngster it is very refreshing and encouraging to see lot many more fellow citizens taking up causes and making it their own, while advocating a change in status quo. And this is a very positive development. In a country of a billion plus population, 55 years plus politicians should not be allowed to dictate what the youth wants. And in order to have our voices heard, we must intervene at various levels – electoral politics is one, but not the only way forward. The recent uprising at Chennai’s Marina with such a passionate appeal for a cause is an affirmation of this argument.
In any country, policy is the most important aspect of citizens’ interface with the government. Thanks to Right to Information (RTI) Act and the explosion of information and opinions on social media, setting the agenda is no longer limited to political parties putting out their priorities on their five-yearly party manifestos. Increasingly, through government programmes and/or citizens’ outreach module within political factions themselves, setting agenda for elections has been made open to public consultation to a large extent. In the recent past, we have seen the Bihar government, for instance, rolling out the BadhChala Bihar campaign to negotiate people’s aspirations, the Assam government initiating Mission Assam, Vision Assam to understand what the people want, the Jharkhand government leading the way in state-of-the-art redressal of citizens’ grievances, and perhaps, many more. But again, all these exercises are an act of preset priorities by those either in power or aspiring to be in power. Thankfully, a cross section of the youth has begun to move beyond these established engagements.
In that respect, the protests at Marina to clear the way for a traditional festival to be held, to help the farmers celebrate, and not let the ping pong policy of previous governments affect the decisions of the Tamil community, was more about a proactive setting of agenda by the youth of Tamil Nadu. And this development should be welcomed with open arms by youth activists across the spectrum.