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What future generations 'must assess' to change the future after 2024 polls

By Dr Mansee Bal Bhargava* 

Young voters can be the game changers in 2024. Are they realising this? Does it matter to them? If it does, whom are they voting for? So far, the voting of the youth is extremely poor for many reasons.
The ECI has only ~1.8 crore registered 1st-time voters (18-19 years) and 19.74 crore young voters in the 20-29 years age group. The ECI has also made some efforts to enhance youth participation in the electoral process through messages from icons, social media campaigns and radio engagements.
Voting is about future and ideally the future generation should be most concerned and engaged in the present electoral process unlike the current situation. The apathy of poor participation of young voters is primarily the suppression of the freedom of expression from the house to the politics. Ideally, the future generation have to also take the reign of the decisions made today as they will impact their tomorrow be it social, ecological, economic, cultural, technological, political, and international.
Voting becomes more crucial as youth representation in the political leadership through the parliament is weak. Of the 65% below 35 years of age and with 19.1% 1st-time voters, only 6% leaders and ministers are below the age of 35 years called as ‘young leaders’.
It is crucial that the youth orientation on critical appraisal of the current political and peoples’ affairs has more intellectual rigor especially beyond the social media rhetoric. Youth must know the current state of affairs, engage in conversation on critical topics with their peers, have a worldview, and take a clear position, and if required debate and dissent.
In my recent article on, ‘Youth as game changers in Lok Sabha polls?’ an overall checklist was presented before the youth to be aware of the current affairs of the country. I strongly believe the overall checklist of macro affairs percolates to the micro/ground level where we are impacted on a regular basis. That ‘we’ may not affect ‘me’ today. However, it is important to realise that I may be part of that we someday. That is why, as part of civic science and sense, youth must learn to discuss, debate and dissent the macro and micro affairs of the society.
As the country is ongoing voting, in this article a specific checklist or the government’s report card is put forth to share with my young acquaintances to decide what to vote for. The checklist (are listed spontaneous and not in a preferred order) is a bunch events and experiences that took place in the backyards, forecourts, and even courtyards of the houses and the politics.

Information and fake news

Today we are drowning in the sea of information to see, and more importantly seeing things in a blink of an eye and then not trying to let things sink in. The invasion of fake news into our mental space is a major outfall of this. Misinformation or disinformation that used to spread through word of mouth, traditional media is now million times hiked through digital means such as, edited videos, websites, blogs, memes, unverified advertisements and social media propagated rumours.
Out of all risks, misinformation and disinformation is the biggest risk in India as selected by experts, keeping it ahead of infectious diseases, illicit economic activity, inequality and labour shortages. In this situation, the youth are challenged with weak analytical ability to assess right/wrong and take a position. India uses more data than USA and China combined.
Nearly 80% of India's first-time voters encounter fake news on social media. The 2024 election from the IT bots to AI deepfakes, India is now a hot spot of fake news ranked highest in the world. For example, fake WhatsApp message circulated regarding 2024 election schedule, clarifies EC. The migration to online as alternate media, has also pushed political parties to woo the online voters, which are predominantly youth.
Political parties are also using influencers and troll army, which ironically are youth again, who are exploited for spreading fake news and for trolling. So, wondering, when the youth knows that they are fake news creators, do they eventually think of voting or they vote, and if they (will) vote, how do they decide, who to vote from the sea of fake news. Fake news is very much part of the election and we must take it more seriously than as of now. Every youth must think about the information they are consuming; and definitely do fact-check and not submit to the WhatsApp university.

Corona, lockdown, doses and Covid certificate

Well, the new cases of Covid-19 continue to surface in small numbers, but its old memories, the lockdown, the doses and the covid certificate still haunting, especially those who lost their dear ones. The government may have trumpeted the success of its covid management, it is certainly something that needs reflection during voting.
The government stats (is dynamic) show, total cases of 4,50,36,080; discharged to 4,45,01,890 (98.81%); and deaths of 5,33,580 (1.18%). India recorded 531794 Coronavirus Deaths since the epidemic began, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
However, the India's real Covid toll may never be known as the WHO figure is several (10) times more than the Indian Government. And then we all have not forgotten the horrifying queues in the hospitals for oxygen, for remdesivir (when WHO had not mentioned that as a requirement) in the shops, in the crematoriums/morgues for the dead, the last rites crises, and the innumerable dead bodies floating in the Ma Ganga.
The worst was the en-masse exodus of the poor migrants from the cities to the villages for kilometres to return home, in the panic of overnight declaration of the lockdown leaving them with no transport. According to the World Bank, the lockdown has impacted over 40 million poor lives in the country. Even worst was the Gujarat Modelled scams of the vaccination by the big businesses as well as conmen, including the booster dose.
It is now surfacing loud n clear that the vaccines have some serious side effects however, the lost lives cannot be returned and we all live with some extended health issues. Making vaccine compulsory was breach of the constitutional right to life (Article 21). And if all these weren’t enough, the administrative mockery of it was established by having photo of the PM on the covid certificates instead of the person vaccinated.
This overall covid saga has changed the lives and livelihoods of the people more because of its management than the virus itself and therefore, must be accounted in this election. Ironically, covid experience has not made it to the election campaigns just like health and wellbeing agenda left out. Every youth must consider making it a voting criterion.

Demonetisation

Demonetization is our generations' memorable socio-economic experience. The November 08, 2016, 8.00pm shook the country when demonetisation was declared by the Prime Minister all of a sudden. When the government withdrew Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes accounting to roughly 86% of the money value in circulation in India without replacing most of it, its impact was felt badly and will be felt for long time by every Indian citizen.
The negative impact of demonetisation was felt across all segments of the economy from small and large businesses, to agriculture and industry, and to every individual. Demonetization affected the economy through the liquidity side bringing a serious cash crunch and deficit. The sudden shift from old currency and increasing huge demand for the new currency augmented with changing rules every other day in the 2 months of the announcement created a serious chaotic situation.
The promise curbing corruption and unearthing black money seemed goofed up to institutionalising corruption and whitening the black money. The promise of ending terrorism seemed converting terror funding to political funding through the electoral bonds. The economic impacts such as, dip in the economy and the GDP, major layoffs in the private sector, less liquidity and less cash flow in the market, are criticised heavily.
Among the deep social impacts, the huge rush and long queues are the most criticised. According to the World Bank, the social impact of demonetisation is more on the informal economy especially because of the sudden announcement people lost jobs, savings, etc. The initial days when withdrawal was limited, it had hit each and every one of us. Demonetisation curbed the purchasing power of most of the people especially the poor. Even rich and middle-class people faced serious spending issues in marriages, hospitals, travels, housing.
With significant gap in the currency composition, especially after the Rs 2000 note also phased out in a short span of 7 years in September 2023, we are left with Rs 500 as the highest denomination. Demonetisation encouraged digital transaction to the extent that we are more in virtual money mode now, which is not a good sign in the long run. Ironically, the apathy of demonetisation did not make it to the election campaigns. Every youth must consider making it a voting criterion.

The rape culture

It is embarrassing that India tops the rape culture in the world. India’s women are haunted by sexual violence epidemic. The 2022 stats show that every 16 minute a woman is raped in the country. In a patriarchal society, rape culture is far more insidious and twisted in its understanding among the masses. Gujarat has recorded 6 rapes per day in 2023. Delhi is rape capital of the world. UP is out of control in rapes and gangrapes.
The mass rape case against Prajwal Revanna shows why and how sexual crimes by men in politics go unchecked for year and makes more men more confident in engaging in the heinous crime on women. Even worst is that the Minister of Women and Child Development, who is a woman herself has not uttered a single word in this case, forget the men PM-HM because of the political alliance.
Let us remind ourselves that it took nearly 20 years to give justice to gang rape of Bilkis Bano and yet the Gujarat High Court overruled the Supreme Court judgement to free the rapists and if that was not enough, the rapists were welcomed by the society, the polity, and the politics quoting them as brahmins can do this.
Not to forget that Manusmriti and the likes of Savarkar promoted use of women as a weapon by the men for power. From Phoolan to Nirbhaya to Unnao to Kathua to Hathras to Bilkis Bano to Manipur, time and again it is proven that women can/will be abused physically and socially by the sickular men. Brazilian women who travelled 60+ countries and she was raped in India. How embarrassing.
Worst is the blinded justice to women alias safeguarding men on the rape and molestation. From the rapists of Phoolan Devi to Bilkis Bano, men like, Dilip Senger, Ram Rahim, Bhrijbhushan, and now Prajwal Revanna, they all show a pattern of fearlessness of law. Latest in the row is the case of West Bengal Governor accused of sexual abuse case where he gets aways as Article 361 grants him immunity.
Among the 762 Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha MPs and 4001 MLAs, 134 of them have declared cases related to crimes against women; and ironically things are getting worse as there is a rise such crime by 85% in last decade. Every youth must think about the integrity of the candidate.
Each of the above events and experiences can be written as an epic like the ones below, but for now here is a checklist with shorter description for one to ponder about the consequences on the future generation and future of the society if those continue to rise and we continue to ignore them.

Religious dogmatism

The construction of Ram Mandir is a religious tourism project and yet expended for spreading nationalism in the country. There are two problems in projecting Ram Rajya, firstly, the temple of the men, by the men, for the men further stones the patriarchy as it is now about Shri Ram unlike the past which was about Siya/Sita Ram; and secondly, if Ram is to be truly followed, then the men of the country have to first embrace the integrity/character of Ram and not continue to be rapists, molesters, corrupts.
And logically, how does a temple in a x-city or x-life brings a change in my city, my life? Why this bloated nationalism of religion? The youth need to question the religious dogmatism and hate politics of using our emotions in Hindu-Muslim, Khalistan, Christian, Kukis, tribal people, etc. Every youth must think (million times) about the country’s unity in diversity instead of a Hindu Rashtra or Hindutva.

Silencing young voices

Besides weak representation of youth in the politics, there is a serious effort to silence the youth to rise against the wrongs or even just investigate the wrongs. Time and again there have been serious effort to silence the voice of the youth. For example, from youth leaders like Kanhaiya Kumar to Umar Khalid to even Hardik Patel, from journalists like Sidheeq Kappan to Mohammed Zubair, from environmentalists like Disha Annappa Ravi to human rights activists like Safoora Zargar, Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal. In just 4 months of 2024, there are nearly 150 cases of suppressing free speech.
The whole narrative of Tukde Tukde gang and Urban Naxal to demonise youth went too far to suppress freedom of expression. Top universities like JNU, DU, Jamia, AMU were silenced by all means. Every youth must think, if the youth can/do not rise now, where we will find the leaders in the future for the future.

Silencing women

Besides weak representation of women in the politics, there is a serious effort to silence them to rise against the wrongs. From Shaheen Bag to the Women Farmers to the Wrestlers protests, the women voices have been brutally suppressed in a situation when there is already a shortage of women standing for the right. Every youth must think, if the women will have weak or no voice, half of the country’s population is then non-existent. The moving to Shri Ram from Sita/Siya Ram is a strong manifestation of the same.

Deforestation

Creating land for development from the forest is on high speed. From Buxwaha to Hasdeo, then the interlinking of rivers. And if that was not enough majority of the forest lands of Bastar and Manipur are getting silently privatised through the government machinery to the favourite Gujaratis. Further the suppression of the protests by tribals and locals labelling them as Every youth must think, if we continue the deforestation, what biodiversity will be left and what will be left to breathe.

Article 370

The scrapping of Article 370 came with a heavy hand from the government including the longest internet shutdown and several other deprivations equivalent to human rights violation. Every youth must imagine themselves with internet shutdown for over 2 years, and the state of education and aspiration in that setting.

Farmers' protest

The way the farmers protest was mishandled is a sign that the government is not respecting its food producers. The rounds of deceit to supress the protest, creating all kinds of barriers to not allow farmers from Punjab, Haryana and UP to enter Delhi, giving no permissions to farmers of several states to protest are all a sign of disrespect. Every youth must think, if the farmers who grow food are not respected, will the youth get respect and can an agrarian economy grow keeping its farmers at unrest and unhappy.

Manipur violence

The communal violence continuing in Manipur is a total failure of intelligence and the government. Instead of making the Chief Minister resign, the system is powered with armed forces to increase the brutality on the common citizens let alone banning internet and media. It is over a year that the Manipur is burning in communal violence and the women paraded naked, but no sign of peace building efforts from the centre.
The PM has not yet visited Manipur since the incidence, the HM has visited only once. Neither of them and not even the President and CJI have apologized to the people of the state for the system failure including failing to safeguard the dignity of the women. Every youth must think, if this happens to their state and to their family will they still stay mum and not seek justice and accountability.

Ladakh climate protest

Like farmers protest, Ladakhis with Sonam Wangchuk are staging protest on addressing climate change. The government is indifferent to the voice of the people. Every youth must think about the impact of climate change and see if that matters to the political parties.

Food poisoning

Latest in the list is the food content. With all kinds of junk food promoted, pesticides promoted in agriculture, chemicals promoted in food production, the system is playing with the lives of the future generation.
On alarm bell on the food content by WHO, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has now allowed an increased quantity (10 times) of pesticides as compared to what was allowed earlier. They should be renamed as Food Poisoning Standards Authority. Every youth must think, on the substandard living offered to them.

Education apathy

India’s budgetary allocation in education is merely 2.9%of its GDP whereas experts recommend to increase it to 6.0%. The research budget is merely 0.29% of the GDP and is among the lowest in the country. Besides, the foundation of education leaves a lot to be desired in terms of quality.
The National Education Policy was a welcome sign; however, there was a hidden agenda to erase a lot of important learning and worst is the attempt to rewrite history. And if this wasn’t enough, the higher education for the premier institute students (read well-off family youth and children) is now mostly dependent on international education.
Worst is that those who do higher studies here are migrating to other countries for better/dignified work opportunities. So, how are we imagining to be Vishwaguru? Vishwaguru can only happen through education and not by economy.

Billionaire Raj

The 10,000 wealthiest individuals of the 92 million Indian adults own an average of 22.6 billion rupees ($271.91 million) in wealth, 16,763 times the country's average, while the top 1% possessing an average of 54 million in wealth. Data from Forbes billionaire rankings show the number of Indians with net wealth exceeding $1 billion rose from one in 1991 to 162 in 2022.
The 'Billionaire Raj' headed by India's modern bourgeoisie is now more unequal than the British Raj headed by the colonialist forces. Every youth must think about the policies that support to chase to the billionaireship in a country that is going poorer every day for its larger populace.

Hostility of politicians

All the above can be different, if right leaders are voted to govern (not to power as it is said). However, we have known since childhood that politics is a dirty business and politicians are corrupt. But now we see a strange trend and trading of politicians (horses as they are called) is out in the open.
This is done by either intimidating the politicians with ED, CBI, IT raids or were bribed/bought with money (thanks to the electoral bonds that money is in abundance with top parties). A stark pattern seen in the last one decade is that every corrupt neta from other parties becomes clean when they join BJP, like Hemanta Biswas, Ajit Pawar, Chagan Bhujbal and the list is endless.
And if that was not enough, we see the intimidation of politicians and disqualification by the ECI in Surat and Indore, making the BJP netas win uncontested. Latest in the row is the case of Gandhinagar where 16 netas were intimidated with threats and Gujarat Police to not contest, making clear room for the Home Minister to win uncontested.
Worst is when some netas in the past have changed party after winning election with maiden party, for example, Jyotiradiya Scindia changed to BJP after winning from Congress in MP in the last Rajya Sabha election. The ECI, SC and President must come up with a law that politicians cannot change party after winning an election through a party.
They should be made accountable and to serve the party and the people for the winning term. Changing party after winning is not only unethical, it is a breach of trust to the voters/people. Changing party should be allowed only when politicians file their electoral nominations. It is also a matter of electoral integrity. Every youth must assess the integrity of the candidate in this aspect also before voting.

Opposition free government

The sitting CMs, Arvind Kejriwal and Hemant Soren, when sent to jail with delayed chargesheets speak volumes about the political foul play. First it was Congress-Mukt(free) Bharat/India and soon the other opposition parties are also targeted through ED, CBI, ECI and more institutional weapons on hand.
If the ruling party plans an opposition free government, it is actually meaning abolition of democracy or tokenism of democracy. As already V-Dem institute has declared India as Electoral Autocracy. Every youth must realise that the role of opposition parties in any democracy is as crucial as the ruling.

Way forward

My checklist is long with still 20 more issues. Youth may argue that it is difficult to assess the above. For the very reason, one has to engage in the everyday local-national activities on a regular basis. And if that is difficult (and time consuming), one may look through some simple indicators at the macro level as they highlight the micro aspects which often get buried in the procedural clearances of the system.
For example, unrest with all the neighbouring countries for some reason or the other with Pakistan continuing the favourite enemy highlighted during elections. Then border issues with China (and now Nepal) seems endless. 
Latest is Sri Lanka and just some time ago with Maldives, Bangladesh, Myanmar. 
Then, international bodies like UN and EU and countries like USA and Canada expressing concern on our Democracy. One may argue on nationalistic pride, but when at local level things are suppressed to surface, these indicators are useful to assess.
Voting is for Future (I repeat) and future generation especially the youth of today must engage in the process. Youth must have/take a position to everything/anything happening to people/society around. Youth must ask difficult questions to the system and the society. Youth must defy conformism. Aisa hee hota hai! Nahi!
Youth have the power to change, they are the agency of change. History tells us. Even present tells us, look at the student’s movement globally over climate change. Likewise, leadership change can be called for. I am hopeful and therefore I invest in the youth.
---
*Entrepreneur, researcher, educator, speaker, mentor. From Environmental Design Consultants Ahmedabad and WforW Foundation (www.mansee.in, www.edc.org.in, www.wforw.in). This is the second part of article by Dr Mansee Bal Bhargava. Click here to read first part

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