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India is changing much faster than the Congress party realizes

Nearly five years ago, when the UPA won its second term, the future seemed clear.

India had a young population that was aspirational and growing. Rahul Gandhi had just led the Congress to a spectacular electoral recovery in Uttar Pradesh and was certain to be the party’s prime ministerial candidate in 2014.


The Congress second division was full of bright young politicians (Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia, RPN Singh, Milind Deora, Jitin Prasada, etc.) who would be the leading campaigners at the next election. In this situation, the Congress seemed like the party of the future packed with young leaders that an aspirational generation could relate to.


   In fact, as we know now, it hasn’t worked out that way. Whatever else it is, the Congress is certainly not the party of youth. Rahul has still to be declared the prime ministerial candidate. The young leaders remain in the second division. And the Congress’ leaders are, if not geriatrics, then certainly very old.


   Nor do India’s young people feel any special affinity for the Congress. The final figures have still to be calculated but the Aam Aadmi Party’s dramatic showing in Delhi seems to have been propelled by the support of the 18-20 age group, four lakh of whom were added to the rolls this year. In the New Delhi constituency, the average turnout was 66 per cent but for the 18-20 demographic it was 71 percent.


   Psephological research suggests that Narendra Modi commands a greater share of the youth vote all over India than the Congress. In fact, opinion polls demonstrate that Modi’s image is better with young people who have no real memory of the 2002 riots.


   What accounts for the complete failure of the Congress to capitalize on the youth vote that was there for the asking? Some of this is attributable to the party’s failure to promote its younger leaders. But mainly, it is that the public mood changed and the Congress failed to notice.


"Narendra Modi misses no opportunity to remind audiences that he was a ‘chaiwallah’ who struggled to make it to the top."

   Five years ago, the Congress worked on the assumption that the economic good times would continue and that the glamorous young politicians would seize the public imagination. In fact, growth has stalled and the economy has tanked. The mood of optimism that once prevailed among young people has evaporated. There are serious concerns about employment prospects, anger over inflation and a growing sense of despair over a future under a Congress regime. This discontentment has been paralleled by a growing awareness of citizens’ rights. Young people want to know why women are not safe at night. They resent the VIP culture of lal-batti cars and machine-gun wielding bodyguards.


   The Congress’ problem is that even when it tries to be the party of youth, it is the party of privilege. All of the young leaders who adorn its ranks are creatures of privilege. They went to good schools and foreign universities and then took over their parents’ political constituencies. No matter how bright or photogenic they may seem, they are essentially dynasts, symbols of an unequal political system that does not empower middle-class youth.


   It is this opening that the Congress’ opponents have exploited. Narendra Modi misses no opportunity to remind audiences that he was a ‘chaiwallah’ who struggled to make it to the top. Rahul Gandhi is a dynast, a royal, who, Modi thunders, would find it difficult to get a job as a driver if he was not born into the right family.


   The AAP is less crass and abusive but its appeal is the same. As Prashant Bhushan explained on television in the aftermath of the AAP’s victory, the party’s backbone is a hardcore of committed lower middle class workers who are determined to change the system. Say what you will about Arvind Kejriwal or Yogendra Yadav, but they are hardly products of privilege.


   When he spoke to the press after his party’s electoral reverses, Rahul Gandhi promised to learn from the AAP’s example and to involve young people in the Congress’ initiatives. It is a noble thought and a sensible idea. But no matter how much the Congress reaches out to young people, it will have difficulty projecting itself like their kind of party as long as it is run by dynasts and children of privilege. India is changing much faster than the Congress party realizes.




  • somnath hkarunakaran 21 Dec 2013

    Vir.. I think when you ay that young guys really don't have much iea of the 2002 riots..u r absolutely spot on....Congress should get out of the 2002 rut to gaet anywhere close to beating BJP...and also its high time old dead wood like Digvijaya Singh..etc be given way for a younger brigade...Time will tell if they have learnt their lessons.....

  • somnath karunakaran 20 Dec 2013

    Vir, Very true, I was all the time surprised that the young brigade that you mentioned haven't come up, if that was so, it would have been a different story, I think this reluctance to give the young brigade prominence is Congress's gravest fault. And the fault mainly lies with Guys like Digvijaya Singh, who was always commenting the moment Modi uttered something , giving Modi even more publicity.

  • RJ 18 Dec 2013

    Vir, you fail to address the central problem with Congress. There is no mechanism for congress leaders to grow in the party controlled by a family. Sonia doesn't appear to be invested in India's growth welfare beyond what is needed to keep her family in power. The rampant corruption is something Sonia accepts to keep the satraps happy in return for their support for her to stay in power. Congress personifies the rot in our system. So, how can this feudalistic party attract youth?

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