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Engaging Youngistan: Shashi Tharoor’s letter to first-time voters

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By EMN Updated: Mar 26, 2014 10:49 pm
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[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he 2014 elections are a critical juncture in the history of our nation. They are being described as a ‘youthquake’, with an unprecedented share of first-time voters coming forward to exercise their democratic right. An estimated 150 million young Indians like you will cast their votes this year, and there are about 90,000 new voters in every constituency in our country (over a lakh in Thiruvananthapuram). The average age of our population is a young 28, and half our countrymen are below the age of 25, while 66% are under 35! In a decade’s time, when China reaches an average age well above 40, India’s people will remain young at 29. Even as the workforce in China and the West shrinks, our human resources in India are developing at a staggering rate that will leave us with a substantial edge over the rest of the world. The India of tomorrow is your India, and this is your century.These elections, then, are not merely about casting votes. They are your way of shaping our nation’s future, and yours. Voting is a way of involving yourself in the decisions that matter: decisions about professional opportunities in our country, the investment climate we build, the way in which revenues are raised and spent, and the policies that will affect your own advancement. Over the last few years, in a welcome development, Indian youth have increasingly been getting involved in politics. Innovative UPA Government policies, from the strengthening of Panchayati Raj institutions to establishing the effective Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme as well as promulgating the revolutionary Right to Information (RTI) Act, have created conducive ground for mass mobilisation and awareness. Change is in the air, and many youth have demonstrated this through your backing of the Jan Lokpal Bill, the massive outpouring of support for the Delhi rape victim known as Nirbhaya, and by demonstrations to strike down Section 377, to name only a few examples. There is no doubt that young Indians are taking a greater interest in the running of our country and reshaping the way we look at government and how government looks at us.
But when you cast your vote in 2014, I appeal to you also to vote for an Idea of India, to borrow Tagore’s famous phrase. Our nation is at a crossroads where the decisions of its youth will determine India’s future course and destiny. The India envisioned by our founding fathers was a land of certain key values, the most important of which was our abiding pluralism. This has in fact been an ancient tradition; India is the country where St Thomas brought Christianity long before it reached Europe. It is the land where Jews sought refuge after the destruction of their First Temple by the Babylonians. When the Zoroastrians fled persecution in Iran, it was to India that they came. Alexander’s Greek successors were absorbed into our population, as were the Mughals, Arab traders, Mongol and Scythian warriors, and others of innumerable ethnicities, denominations and faiths. Practically all the religions of the world co-existed in India peacefully for centuries until the colonial era politics of “divide and rule” exacerbated minor schisms into major political factors. Upon gaining Independence, however, our founding fathers sought to cast aside these artificial, imposed divisions to restore to India her original character; one of pluralism, diversity, and equal freedom.
In recent years, however, an ugly ideology has taken root among certain sections that visualizes India through the narrow parameters of religious identity. No matter what its varied pretensions otherwise, it remains at its core an intolerant strand of thought, which wants to reinvent India in an ugly and bigoted form – a step that can only lead to calamity. Divisive characters of every variety are welcomed into this intellectual and political fold, which utilizes the freedoms of our society to propagate its own regressive agenda. Sustaining pluralism is never easy, but this new ideology takes advantage of our youth’s enthusiasm and eagerness for political and economic change, by concealing its principal motives under a camouflage of ‘progress’. It promises development but it is important to note that this is development for a privileged few only. Today you are the young, educated youth of our country and there may be impatience for jobs, results, and delivery of promises. But the great challenge of our nation has been inclusive growth where we must not only grow ourselves but take with us everyone who has not had the opportunities we have enjoyed by accident of birth, education, or geography.
So when you cast your vote in 2014, I ask you to consider the India you would like to see in the twenty-first century. If it is an India that belongs only to certain citizens of a particular faith or of a few privileged sections within that faith, a sectarian ideology – one that our founding fathers all invariably endeavoured to fight – will succeed in shaping an unequal nation. But if, as I hope, you wish to preserve an India where pluralism remains a cornerstone of public life, and where no matter what your religion, name, colour, caste, dress, food, or anything else might be, you can still enjoy the same rights and freedoms as everyone else and be an equal citizen, I am sure you will see the choice you must make.
The ultimate message we must take at this time from history is that impatience and restlessness, even at moments when mistakes may have been made and problems abound, must not lead us to the wrong ideology. Ideology shapes thoughts, and thoughts lead us to action and reality. In shaping your own reality and future, I ask only that you make an informed decision that can carry on the great tradition of unity in diversity that our nation has cherished through the annals of time.
I personally remain a faithful believer in the wisdom and farsightedness of our youth. I am convinced that you will vote for the right Idea of India, and ensure that the 21st century India you are poised to inherit is one of which you, and all of us, can remain proud.
Courtesy: NDTV

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By EMN Updated: Mar 26, 2014 10:49:25 pm