BJP is not alone in being lured by the ‘catch them young’ mantra. A resurgent Congress too has experienced generational change. Rahul Gandhi has taken full charge and has brought in his sister Priyanka Gandhi formally to give it his best shot.
They shared impeccable chemistry. He might have actually loved to borrow a quote from his friend and former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee but he has chosen to embrace silence instead.
Remember, Vajpayee made this famous (Na tired, Na retired) statement ahead of 2004 Lok Sabha elections, giving a new life to longevity in politics. The statement shut up his critics who wanted Vajpayee to cede mantle to LK Advani.
Vajpayee was then 79 years old. Advani is 91 today.
The six-time parliamentarian from Gandhinagar will not contest election this time. BJP President Amit Shah has replaced him as the party’s Gandhinagar candidate. Advani had the unique distinction of being the eldest parliamentarian in the 16th Lok Sabha.
That is now history!
BJP has shown the door to many veterans who have crossed the 75-year age mark.
The party has given a ticket to 28-year-old Tejaswi Surya from South Bangalore, ignoring the claim of the wife of late leader Ananth Kumar. The BJP has been though consistent in its penchant for the young.
The 2014 verdict saw BJP bench its ageing leadership. The NDA cabinet had a token presence of 75 year plus ministers and that too was short-lived.
The choice of chief ministers in BJP-ruled states confirms the push for youth in leadership.
Youth Affection Is Universal
But BJP is not alone in being lured by the ‘catch them young’ mantra.
A resurgent Congress too has experienced generational change. Rahul Gandhi has taken full charge and has brought in his sister Priyanka Gandhi formally to give it his best shot.
Designated officially as general secretary, Priyanka is clearly seen as unofficially the number two person in the party.
The obvious casualty has been the old guard.
The recent state assembly victories for Congress triggered the rise of Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sachin Pilot in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, respectively. Scindia expanded his footprint after being given the charge of half (West) of Uttar Pradesh while Priyanka Gandhi was handed over UP (East).
This meant easing of veteran Ghulam Nabi Azad from the affairs of state even as UP boasts of a significant Muslim population.
In Uttar Pradesh, the slow but sure marginalisation of the pecking order in the Samajwadi Party is underway. Akhilesh Yadav has his stamp on everything – from stitching the strategic BSP alliance, choice of candidates to drawing the campaign charter.
In the south, the deaths of J Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi have spawned a generational shift with relatively younger leaders taking on the mantle.
The story is no different in the west where from an NCP to a Shiv Sena, the youth play is paramount. Or, in Bihar where RJD leadership has passed on the baton to the next gen dynasty leader.
The all-pervasive youth push isn’t though hard to decode. With an eye on young voters, political parties of all hues want to been seen as promoting youth over experience.
But There Is A Catch!
The Lok Sabha has been getting older ever since independence. There is no guarantee though that the trend will hold in 2019.
According to PRS Legislative Research data, the first two Lok Sabha had the highest proportion of young MPs under the age of 40. That proportion has thereafter fallen continuously.
For the record, the 16th Lok Sabha had a record 47 percent parliamentarians who were above 55. This represented a 4 percent jump over the previous election.
253 of the 543 MPs in 16th Lok Sabha were above 55. In contrast, the number of parliamentarians below 40 stood at a mere 71.
Age being a plus in 16th Lok Sabha was evident in the high percentage (39 percent) of parliamentarians in the age of 56-71. Mainline parties are yet to release their all candidate lists but there is a clear push for the young. For instance, CPI has fielded Kanhaiya Kumar from Begusarai in Bihar making its preference clear.
If you map the parliamentarians’ age with the demographic profile of the voter, it throws some interesting pointers. India no doubt is predominantly a young country.
Around 90 crore people are eligible to vote this time, the Election Commission has said. The number marks an increase of about 9 crore compared to last time. It is estimated that about 13 crore voters this time will be first-time voters.
The actual number of people who do vote, however, is generally far less.
Even though 2014 saw the highest turnout ever in independent India's history at 66.4 percent, it meant a huge number of 27.3 crore people did not vote.
According to the Election Commission, during 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the estimated population in various age groups stood at: 15 to 19 (10.1 percent), 20 to 24 (10.3 percent) followed by 9.3 percent for 25 to 29 age group.
This indeed is a formidable block aggregating about 30 percent of the population in the 15 to 29 age group.
Unimpressive Registration Stats
But if you look at the age wise voting registration data for 2014, the block does not impress as much.
According to EC data, the gap between the percentage of population and registration in the electoral rolls as of 2017 is revealing.
In the 15 to 19 age group, the gap is 40 percent while in the 20 to 24 it is 75 percent. It gets worse in the 25 to 29 at 88 percent. For the 30 to 34 age group, the gap stood at 96 percent.
This means the youth quotient is obviously overstated. It is possible that the gap might have got reduced during the last about a year.
Will this have a bearing on the choice of candidates on the basis of age? There is no clear answer but what is for certain is that young voter does not necessarily vote for a young candidate.
But an unintended consequence of the focus on the young has obviously led to a determined outcome: age does not always stand you in good stead.
Time perhaps to rewrite the age-old maxim – you don’t tire or retire in politics, you simply expire!
Rakesh Khar is senior editor, Special Projects, Network 18. He writes at the intersection of politics and economy.
First Published: IST