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Explaining the sound of Indian leaders' silence

by Suprio Guha Thakurta  Dec 31, 2012 14:08 IST

#Delhi gangrape   #InMyOpinion   #ministers   #MPs   #parliament   #Protests  

When I was 12 years old, I wanted to go and watch a movie (Mera Naam Joker, if I remember) at a friend’s place (we didn’t have a television set). My father did not give me permission (yes, we had to ask our parent’s permission for everything). I was upset as I could not figure out why and my father never explained. We also had to come home every evening before the street lights came on. This was a non-negotiable rule. Many an evening I have run at full tilt from a friend’s place to meet the deadline. I again never really understood what the logic was.

I presumed it had to be with the fact that we had to hit the books and this was our father’s way of ensuring we were at home in time. There were a number of these little rules that seemed arbitrary and irrational, which caused a lot of angst in me. My problem was less about the rules than the lack of explanation as to why I had to follow them. My father is a good man. He is honest, worked his socks off raising three kids. I just wished he had talked to me more.

Over the last few weeks, as I have been recovering from chicken pox, I have looked at the events that have gripped our nation. I have made few comments and tried to listen and observe. From day one, as I looked at the protesters faces on the television screen (we now have two at home) I could see myself 25 years ago. That could have been me. Yelling, protesting, and screaming. They were angry and seemed they had a good reason to be. What I couldn’t understand is why no one was talking to these kids. All they seemed to want is to talk, be heard. Seemed like the obvious thing to do. But no one did. And I guess it’s a bit late in the day now.

Hear us now: Has India's political class failed its youth? AP

The average age of our MPs in the Lok Sabha was 53 years, when they took oath. The average age of our 32 cabinet ministers, who in all practical terms run the country, is 64.5 years.

India is home to 1.21 billion people (2011 Census statistics) and has more than 50 per cent of its population below the age of 25 and more than 65 per cent below the age of 35. Right now, its median age is 25 years and it is expected that in 2020, the average age of an Indian will be 29 years.

Ah. A bit of light emerges. Is it feasible that a bunch of 65 year olds (even if they are fine men like my father) will even begin to understand the needs and desires and emotions of 25 year olds?

But, hold on. What about the young Turks? There were 79 MPs under the age of 40 when the 15th Lok Sabha was founded. Why did they not come out and talk. Surely, they understand what the young are feeling.

Here we come across something more disturbing: A disaggregated analysis of the political background of MPs with age suggests that there is a direct linear relationship between age and hereditary MPs: a greater proportion of younger MPs have a family political background. Here are some facts:

-  All MPs whose age is under 30 are hereditary

- More than two-thirds of MPs under 40 are hereditary

- 27 MPs are ‘hyperhereditary’, and 19 of them are in the Congress party. By hyperhereditary, it means mean that they have several family members who have made a career out of politics.

- All 11 Congress MPs under 35 years are hereditary.

More pieces are falling in place.

But wait, what about women. Why have we seen so few women MPs come out and join the cause?

From the same source quoted above which is an output of Patrick French’s research into his book India: A Portrait

- An alarming 69.5% of women MPs came into politics through family connections.

I now at least have an understanding of what seemed like a mystifying silence. I don’t have much hope, given the facts, of anything changing. But like everyone else I can wish. I wish that in 2013 some of our leaders, even if they right now are unable to understand the actions of their sons and grand daughters, will think back to their youth and their frustrations with their parents. And that some of them will remove the barricades they have built around themselves and will go and meet some of these anguished citizens of our country. And they will let the future of this country talk. And that they will listen.

I hope.

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