Armed with one of the largest youth populations in the world, India has the opportunity to capitalise on an important resource that can lead to the establishment of a powerful and dynamic economy. However, as India grows younger, its leaders still tend to belong to the fifty-plus age category. The conditions created in the political arena are arguably a major barrier to the transformation of vibrant youth participation at the college level to the national and state level. Yet, in recent times we witness the rise of certain leaders who are proving to be the voice of the young in India, representing this massive section amongst the old leaders in Parliament, some of whom will be highlighted in this article.
Student politics at institutions like Jawaharlal Nehru University has produced several leaders over the years who have proven their mettle in the arena of national and international politics, notably S Jaishankar and Nirmala Sitharaman. Another student leader that has shown immense promise and potential is Aishe Ghosh. An injured Ghosh, who had received serious gashes on the head became the focus of national media in early 2020. The attack on Ghosh was part of a wider controversy allegedly caused by members of a right-wing student organisation Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). As the president of JNU, she was catapulted into national politics, and Ghosh was successful in voicing the left. Post-JNU, she also joined the Communist Party of India (Marxist), fighting the recent state assembly elections in West Bengal. Although Ghosh lost that seat, her rise must be discussed as she represents a ‘left’ that is fighting a strong right-wing central government.
In this context, the electoral victory of Arya Rajendran must also be discussed, which saw her rise to the position of the mayor of Thiruvananthapuram making her the youngest mayor of the country. A fellow comrade of Ghosh, Rajendran was a representative of CPI(M) in the 2020 civic elections which was won by her by a considerable margin. A prominent icon of youth in the left-wing culture present, she has been able to counter the major criticism of the CPI(M) in India. The flak highlights the limited role of youth in their political decision-making, despite massive participation on the part of college students. Her ascent in such a brief period of time reignites the faith of youth in political ventures, as it assures that there exists a place for the young in India in decision-making positions.
Videos of Hardik Patel riding horses that present a macho figure routinely do rounds of social media platforms. This young leader from Gujarat has seen a rapid ascent in the politics of the state that is arguably unprecedented. Patel gained national fame when he was able to unite the highly divided Patidar community on a common cause of OBC status for their community. He led the Patidar reservation agitation that essentially brought the state government to its knees resulting in legislation that heeded their demands. This movement defined the success that subsequently saw him achieve a phenomenal rise in the politics of Gujarat. Patel eventually joined the Indian National Congress, establishing a vehement opposition to the Bharatiya Janata Party which he ironically joined in 2022.
The state of Maharashtra is also viewing the rapid rise of a young enigmatic leader– Aaditya Thackeray. A constant target of accusations relating to dynastic politics, Aaditya is the grandson of the Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray and the son of the former Maharashtra chief minister, Uddhav Thackeray. Carrying the name Thackeray can impinge a lot of expectations that have been arguably well met by the successor to Bal Thackeray’s legacy. The first in his family to fight elections, Aaditya handled the environmental, tourism, protocol, and higher education departments in the Maha Vikas Angadhi government, focusing on the Aarey colony and banning single-use plastic. As infighting infests the Shiv Sena, Thackeray has provided the Shiv Sena with the support that has strengthened the hold of his father on the party. His image as the youth icon in Maharashtra is sustaining the space for the politics Shiv Sena is known for, making his rise remarkable.
This article aimed to emphasise young leaders from different political spectres of India that represent the youth in a political scene dominated by aged leaders. They provide a fresh perspective on policies and points of discussion that have largely been absent. The presence of youth leadership has been seen to bring a different dimension to the party organisation. INC’s leadership under Sanjay Gandhi and later Rajiv Gandhi further substantiates this argument, where it can be seen that these leaders tried to bring changes in the economic and social policies of their party that arguably would have been rejected by their old leadership. The dynamics that youth brings into politics make it essential to follow the progress of leaders with the potential of Ghosh, Patel, and Thackeray. They promise a vigour that has the potential to rejuvenate the national political scene, thus highlighting the importance of youth.