It’s High Time to Stop Neglecting the Youth Ministry

Policies for the youth take a backseat until the elections, when they are used as a votebank.

Published25 Jun 2016, 01:11 PM IST
Blogs
3 min read

In February of 2013, Narendra Modi, arguably, commenced – what would turn out to be – one of the most successful presidential-style campaign in the history of India through a speech to an auditorium of selected students at Shri Ram College of Commerce – an unusual departure from a typical setting of a political rally where the grounds are packed with tens and hundreds of thousands of people somewhere in rural India.

In a speech full of rhetoric of development and good governance, Modi, with the media following every word, catered to his crowd and focussed on the youth of the country.

He recounted a conversation with an ambassador of a country where the ambassador asked what were the major challenges that India faced. Modi answered by saying the biggest challenge was how India used that opportunity.

The ambassador, intrigued, asked what exactly that opportunity was, and Modi fittingly replied that it was the youth, “Europe buddha ho chukka hai, China buddha ho chuka hai.” The auditorium full of optimistic youth burst in applause at the potential of a politician focusing on the youth.

In May of 2014, a little more than a year after Modi’s speech at SRCC, a new government was sworn in with the new youth minister, Sarbananda Sonowal, taking charge at the age of 52.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal. (Photo: PTI)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal. (Photo: PTI)

Sonowal recently resigned to take charge as Chief Minister of Assam with Jitendra Singh taking charge of the ministry at the age of 60. Modi congratulated Sonowal after the Assam elections on his monthly radio address, Mann ki Baat, for his commitment towards sports and how he handled the campaigning in Assam as well as facilitation of sports and events all over India.

Modi failed to even acknowledge that Sonowal held another ministry.

But the blame can’t be put on the Modi government when the problem has been persistent from the very beginning.

If you look at the past few ministers, Sunil Dutt died in office when he was appointed to take over the ministry at the age of 75 and MS Gill was 71 when he was appointed. The youngest minister of youth affairs was during UPA’s regime when Jitendra Kumar took charge of the ministry at 40.

In contrast, the UAE just appointed its youth minister who is 22.

The problem does not stop at just the individuals leading the ministry. The youth affairs ministry itself is coupled with the sports ministry – as seen in many countries – with the sports department taking priority in India.

Policy and opportunities for the youth take a backseat until the Election Commission announces elections where politicians and parties prop up the ‘youth’ cause to capitalise on a fairly significant vote bank. (1/3rd of India’s population is between the age of 10 to 24 and 41 percent of its population is below the age of 20.)

1/3rd of India’s population is between the age of 10 to 24. (Photo: iStock)
1/3rd of India’s population is between the age of 10 to 24. (Photo: iStock)

Unfortunately, the ‘youth’ factor is forgotten after the votes have been cast.

Yes, you could argue that there has been a shift with the new government as it incorporates new ways, like social media, to reach out to a larger and younger audience. But what is the point of reaching out to the new generation when the approach towards youth affairs is the same as it has been in the past?

It makes you think how India’s youth – often jobless and ignored – would feel if the person in charge of the ministry oriented towards youth was actually young.

Modi ended his talk at SRCC by expressing a wish that the country should stop thinking about the youth as “new age voters,” but accept them as “new age powers.” Until now, the Modi government has failed in ushering that change.

However, Modi has a chance to redeem himself if he appoints a minister in the upcoming cabinet reshuffle who is actually young and does not only relate to the youth of the country but raises their voices of concern and guides our policy and approach to a path that benefits one of the youngest demographics in the world.

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