The Panchayati Raj Act has now officially is been in force for 28 years, surprisingly acquiring the status of a mature adult. Let us dive into the new age of grassroots politics being marked by the advent of young pioneering leaders evolving their wave in this showground.
The Panchayati Raj Act came into force from the year 1993, giving a justiciable and constitutional dominion to these institutions adding to the rhetoric of a strengthened democracy. As in the words of Gandhi, “Independence must begin at the bottom. Thus, every village will be a republic or Panchayat having full powers. It follows, therefore, that every village has to be self-sustained and capable of managing its affairs even to the extent of defending itself against the whole world. It will be trained and prepared to perish in the attempt to defend itself against any onslaught from without. Thus, ultimately, it is the individual who is the unit.” Gandhi stalwartly backed the idea of Gram Swaraj intending to ensure the grass-root democracy in India so that people living in the approximate mass of 10 lakh villages.
But Gandhi also encouraged the increased active participation of people in the political arena and for a fact also he viewed the Youth as an agent for social transformation. Quoting Gandhi’s views, “Even as we sit here in this gathering peacefully little do, we know that there is a war being waged. A war where the youth of nation will actively participate… a war of good vs evil, a war of virtues vs vices, a war of knowledge of science vs wisdom of the soul, a war of material prosperity vs peace of mind, a war of education vs character building, a war of professional management vs social commitment.” But the stark reality in the 21st century is very different in its structure, while the youth is seen as the vital demographic during the elections, they are rarely promoted in the political arena as leaders; the role of rural youth in politics is rarely spoken about.
Notably, Bihar has 40.24% of panchayats in the ages 21–35. Chhattisgarh has 44.80% of panchayats aged between 21–35 and Orissa has 60.80% of panchayats aged between 21–35. But despite these exceptions, most states have a huge chunk of the age group between 36-50 dominating the Panchayati Raj system. We also need to consider another thing here that a young contender is demarcated as under the age group of 35, thus the figures do not accurately tell us whether much of the youth is active in the rural governance or not. Belonging to a small village in Himachal Pradesh, you tell largely that the involvement of youth in rural politics is very negligible. While experiencing the rural air, I witnessed some common conceptions amongst the age groups of the humble village scape. The wise old men believe that politics isn’t a place for the youth because it requires a certain amount of experience and erudite vision which can only be achieved by the virtue of being older and being guided by intuition rather than the hot blood of the youths. Surprisingly, the youth masses depict the same allegory, that politics isn’t suited for them and above all, it is a mud hole of filth. I concluded that the masses in the rural arena have a common conception that their youth isn’t capable of guiding them and the ideal turf for them revolves around the qualities of being electric and thrilling rather than being wise and stable.
Speaking practically a large chunk of the Indian youth do not choose to live in the villages rather, they aspire to migrate to the Urban scape. As per a study in the year 2017 India had 139 million internal migrants, the majority of them being under the age of 30. The reason for migration is clear revolving around better employment opportunities or the dignity of labor and better infrastructure offered by the Urban cities. But that doesn’t any good to the development and transformation of the Rural showground or the politics associated with due the mentioned brain drain. But recently India has witnessed a wave of a large sum of youths from rural areas stepping into the Panchayati Raj politics. Taking the example of Kerala Panchayati Raj elections, a large proportion of youth actively partook in the due process and many emerged out as artistic political leaders.
The Indian School of Democracy is a non-partisan organization that aims to nurture principled leaders from myriad political and social backgrounds, with a set of firm principles, vision and values that reside in the idea of Sarvodaya. To undertstand the triad of youth, politics and countryside DU Beat contacted Anita Manoharan, the Program Lead. While speaking to DU Beat she stated,
“First of all to understand the youth we did a lot of focus group discussion, to measure their magnitude of interest. Our generation has a much greater commitment of making a change rather than the previous one, these days the young people have been in the forefront of the movement and protests, to be honest, this is a group which is very lively with its energy. We want to work at the local level to build a strong foundation for the youth in the political arena and help them climb further steps. Particularly at the village level, there are more interests and opportunities, for example, the 33% of women reservation quota assures women representation in politics at the very ground level. We want to engage with more young pioneers of politics at the Panchyati, Gram Sabha and Zilla Parishad level.”
But the grassroots level especially talking about rural India is marked with impediments such as knowledge, gender, caste and economic stigma, which play a significant role in its politics. Anita recognizes these practical impediments in the rural status quo and stated that their organization is very well aware of the big knowledge gap in the ecosystem which they try to abridge with their various programs. Totaling she said,
“We have an English Bent perception in our minds which equates leadership capabilities with the language, but trust me this doesn’t work at the rural level. We’ve met many young leaders at the rural level who are performing their duties beautifully exhibiting their headship assets. Speaking about women they have a dual battle to fight, one for representation and one against patriarchy, in today’s world young women leaders face an encounter of balancing their domestic duties with the public responsibilities. Policies such as 33% women reservation haven’t reached its full implementation metric, the women are the nominal statures while the power rests within the men of their family, the challenge here for the female masses is to assert and direct their identity into the patriarchal political setup. Caste is still a very strong pattern in present-day rural politics playing a pivotal line. We need to encourage the development-oriented politics in the youth rather than the identity based therefore that we need to acknowledge the different perspective of realities in the leadership framework encompassing every stakeholder, not just by using empathy but their aspirations of betterment amalgamated with their young energetic minds.”
“There is a Sapna and Aag (Dream and Fire) in the youth but they lack the basic direction and knowledge which we tend to provide them through our various programs, we believe a lot in the power of the young people, we believe that this mass would be leading our nation in the not-so-distant future, therefore, it is very vital for them to take the charge and step up rather than being the arm-chair critics,” added Anita while speaking to DU Beat.
Feature image credits: Himachal Watcher