The World's Youngest Democracy

This article was the first place winner in the Democratic Transitions category of CIPE's 2011 Youth Essay Contest.

“India is the world’s largest democracy” is now a phrase which I am sure you are bored of hearing. There is, however, a much less bandied about but equally true phrase: “India is the world’s youngest democracy.”

Today, 54 percent of India’s population is below the age of 25. Over seven out of 10 Indians are below the age of 35. The Population Council of India estimates that there are 315 million people between the ages of 10 and 24. It is estimated that there were 350 million Indians in the politically crucial age group of 15-34 in the year 2000. This number may rise to 485 million by 2030. By 2020, the average Indian will be 29 years old as compared to 37 in China, 45 in Western Europe and 49 in Japan.

This swelling population of young people in India was at the forefront of the recent protest led by Anna Hazare for an anti-corruption watchdog. The movement, which attracted global attention, has been described differently by different people. Some have called it a revolution, some a “people’s movement,” and Anna Hazare himself described it as a “second freedom struggle.” While commentators disagree on the lasting significance of the movement, they unanimously agree that the Indian youth were at the forefront of the movement.

For the first time in decades, young educated Indians were active, enthusiastic participants in a political movement. This is significant because it is this very section of the population that has been the most indifferent to politics since India’s economic reforms of 1991. From Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan (Ramlila Grounds) to smaller towns across the country, young Indians fueled the movement, be it on Facebook, Twitter, sending mass mobile messages, or distributing leaflets and pamphlets about the movement in public places. Suddenly, wearing caps with “I am Anna” written on them became fashionable with young Indians. Their enthusiastic participation has shown that Indian youth are indeed eager to actively take part in politics and nation-building.

To play a role in Indian politics commensurate with their numbers, however, will mean that the youth have to go beyond political demonstrations and become politically aware and empowered citizens who actively engage with democracy.

In this essay, I shall explore the following:

  1. What do we define as “youth” and “role?”
  2. The current role of the youth in Indian politics.
  3. The causes for the youth’s disinterest in politics.
  4. Ways in which young Indians can play a major role in politics and democracy, including how to empower the youth to play that role.

Article at a glance:

  • In addition to being the world’s largest democracy, India is also the youngest – 54 percent of the population is under the age of 25.
  • Unfortunately, many young people are struggling economically. They focus on day-to-day needs rather than on democracy and politics.
  • Youth organizations should harness the power of technology and social media to get young people involved in elections and engaged in government.
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