Will 2013 be a game changer?

By Patricia Mukhim

It is a frightening prospect to be a young country. Half of the country’s population is below the age of 25 with more than 65% under the age of 35 years. According to Wikipedia, more than 50% of Indians are below the age of 25 and more than 65% hovers below the age of 35. It is expected that, in 2020, the average age of an Indian will be 29 years, compared to 37 for China and 48 for Japan. By 2030, India’s dependency ratio should be just over 0.4. Dependency ratio is a measure of the portion of population composed of dependents (people who are too young or too old to work). The dependency ratio is equal to the number of individuals aged below 15 or above 64 divided by the number of individuals aged 15 to 64, expressed as a percentage.

A young population can be an asset only if there is a clear road map on how they are to be meaningfully engaged. I doubt if this country, much less this state has such a mission plan. We are addressing the issue of youth in bits and pieces and we have crafted a policy without even consulting them. And now Government has put up the youth policy on the internet without giving a thought to the large constituency of youth who have no internet access. What’s the percentage of internet penetration in Meghalaya anyway? I hope that when we talk of youth we do not only have in mind the gadget savvy, articulate youth who has already stolen a march over his rural peers, courtesy his urban and urbane privileged antecedents.

The Facebook page of this newspaper has become a platform for the restive urban youth. You can see how cynical they are about democracy, politics and elections. They have a very poor opinion of our political leaders. They suspect their intentions and doubt their ability to lead. For want of an alternative forum to make their voices heard, they are forced to subscribe to the ideas and actions of those who propound violence as a way to address the anomalies of democracy. A section of this youth population is rightist fundamentalist and parochial and look at problems from a very simplistic prism. They do not recognize the shades of grey that make problem solving a complex task. There is another category of youth which is socialist-leftist in their inclination and believe it is possible to bring in an egalitarian and just society, but have not spelt out how to realize this noble goal. And then there is yet another section that pursues their goal with purpose and integrity. These are young entrepreneurs that engage with the government and contribute their ideas from time to time.

The sad events of the last few days resulting in the untimely deaths of two promising youth from the region should shake our politicians out of their soporific moments. And the tendency to sleep through important assembly sessions is what ails the state. Here is a dynamic, young, population raring to go, but being led by an aging, decadent legislature and quite a few in the executive playing the role of ‘unwise elders’ by their very act of clinging on to the chair when senility has hit them hard and the faculties are all but working.

But will the next election be able to produce a set of young legislators with the drive to be on the treadmill of work for long periods of time without their energies flagging? Or will the same old, tired faces return? If we cannot move with the times, then time itself will be our biggest enemy. We will be creating more and more disgruntled youth who spout venom at every conceivable forum. A large section is willing to buy the argument that they are unemployed because someone has taken away their job from them. But that’s because they have not been conditioned to think positive and to adjust their lenses differently. For too long they have been fed on hatred, and act out their hatred during situations such as the present one. Burning a vehicle is an outward expression of inner frustration although we may call it an anti-social act. The youth have lived on rhetoric for so long that they have got stuck in that senseless groove. So when anyone gives a call to arms they rally round that call without thinking of the larger consequences. Needless to say this is a dangerous situation of the blind leading the blind.

Any government that is alive to the fact that a restless population needs public platforms for expression would have created that platform. It is easy to see that the young want to have their say and no longer care to listen to speeches from those who have gone before them and messed up things. In Meghalaya if I recall, we have a forum called Community Relations Council which has all but died through disuse. Many do not even remember it existed. So when you have a communal conflict brewing you do not have a peace committee that comes up spontaneously to douse the flames of passion. It just goes to show how myopic our governments are and how reactive and thoughtless they can be.

The present imbroglio is also part of the run-up to the 2013 polls. Between now and the polling date there will be many such showdowns between pressure groups and government. How the government handles the situation will also be the basis on which some of the key electoral players will be elected or rejected. There are too many contenders in the field who wish to kick their rivals out even before the final war begins. They will be playing their own petty games. In Meghalaya we have had examples of pressure groups claiming to be apolitical but whose actions are all but non-political. How can pressure groups spawn political parties or candidates if they are non-political? This is a question we the public need to ask. Secondly we should refrain from terming every organisation a non-governmental organisation (NGO). There are distinct features in an NGO which distinguishes it from an interest and pressure group.

Normally when there is a crisis in the state an all party meet is called for. But in this case the UDP which is a coalition partner of the present MUA government has been quick to take advantage of the situation. UDP President, Dr Donkupar Roy the very next day after the conflagration claimed that the UDP if elected would bring all round peace and even pointed out that during the UDP-led MPA regime there was no law and order problem! Can politics get cheaper than this?

2013 is therefore crucial for Meghalaya but unless we are careful we will become legal tender to be bought and sold. A lot of money is already floating around and candidates with evidently no known sources of income have begun to dole money in the constituencies they choose to contest from. We cannot be blind to such activities because those who use money now will become the very same corrupt politicians who will appropriate all the resources of the state to fatten their bank balances for the next election and the next and the next. Meanwhile, the youth will rise in revolt and that will be the end of Meghalaya.

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