Text of BBC Hindi Special programme Aapki Baat BBC Ke Saath with this year's Magsaysay award winner Arvind Kejriwal and former president of Indian Youth Congress and currently a minister in Haryana government, Randeep Singh Surjewala
Nagendar Sharma: Is the youth of India ready to face the challenges of 21st Century?
Randeep Singh Surjewala: I think it is ready. By available estimates, by the year 2010, our country’s population would have more than 63 percent people who would be below 40 years of age. Today, look at any field—business, sports, academics, or even the democratic institutions in the country—you would find the youth everywhere. Yes, the youth would have to create opportunities for themselves to be a part of decision making of the nation, nobody would give us readymade chances, we would have to grab them, and let us not forget any nation which does not give importance to the youth cannot move forward.
Arvind Kejriwal: I agree with Randeep that the youth of India is ready to face the challenges of this century and nobody would offer these chances on a platter. This couplet works for me concerning the youth: we are the suns of our times, if we glow we would even illuminate the stars. It is for the youth to take up the challenge.
Listener from Patna: Why do politicians prefer to use the energies of youth in disruptive activities rather than asking them to be a part of nation building?
Randeep Singh Surjewala: It depends on the youth whether they want to be a part of the constructive or disruptive process. No political party can forcefully coerce the youth into unwanted activities, after all youth are not herds of cattle. Also such an impression is created because there is a sense of indifference towards the political class of the country. We should remember that if the political class does not give due importance to youth, there would be a danger of political parties moving towards irrelevance. In a democratic set-up, there has to be space for protests, dharnas and dissent, but then between youthful vigour and sensibility, a balance has to be struck. Today it is the time of Gandhigiri and we have to devise ways to channelise the youth energy in a positive manner and not be cynical about the whole thing.
Listener from Allahabad: Sir a writer of 19th century had written that even if the youth were to stay away from politics, the politics would not leave them. Is it correct today as well?
Arvind Kejriwal: I think it is correct. There is politics is every aspect of our life. For example, from how much money is being spent by the government in your locality to whether unemployed would get jobs or not, all this is a part of the political set-up. Being a citizen, you pay taxes and in return it is expected that you would get certain facilities as a tax payer, whether you get them or not is a different matter. Therefore, to think that one can remain aloof from the political set-up by not being active is a fallacious view. I also think that blaming political parties alone for misguiding the youth is not a correct perception. If you are talking about the youth of 21st century, then nobody can be so naïve that they can be used easily.
Listener from Delhi: If politics is not bad and there is room for improvement in it, then why is it that the youth today does not want to join politics as a preferred career? Young people want to be doctors, engineers, business executives, other professionals, but not politicians.
Randeep Singh Surjewala: The reluctance of the youth of our country today to come forward in bringing a change in politics is because the sense of responsibility in serving the country is missing among them. Individual career aspirations and the hunt for a secure white collar career is another main reason which is fuelling irresponsibility in the youth these days. It is strange that we, the youth of this country, want a clean system, we demand accountability and efficiency, but if we are asked to be a part of the fight, then we would prefer our safe careers. I fail to understand why is it said that the youth should leave politics, instead we should be asked to change it!
Nagendar Sharma: But, Randeep, it is a widespread notion among the youth that politicians promote corruption and criminalisation. Then in today’s world, how do you expect politicians to be the role models for the 21st century Indian youth?
Randeep Singh Surjewala: I am sorry to respond in this way, but in the end who elects politicians with a criminal or corrupt background—isn’t it the public of the country? The voters would have to be the watchdogs for a better scrutiny of whom they are going to give the responsibility of representing them. The tragedy is that the youth wants everything to change in the country without themselves being a part of the movement for change. The indifference of youth would only help in continuing the status quo in the political system of the country. Why is it that the young professionals like doctors, engineers, software professionals, finance consultants do not even go out to vote? Why is it that we close our eyes if an illegal construction is taking place in our locality? Why is it that we do not want to stop on the road if we see an accident? Why is it that we want to throw garbage on public roads? The world knows that India is a young country and by the next general elections of 2009, 63 percent of our electorate would be in 18-35 age group, but how many young professionals are ready to stand in queues to caste their votes in summers or rainy season or foggy winters? I am not blaming my generation but since the youth is in majority in this country now, our responsibility has to be greater.
Listener from Delhi: Randeepji, even if we were to accept your strong argument and be a part of the political process, then what is the guarantee that the common youth would get a chance to come forward? Congress party has good and educated youth leaders, but they are all dynastic leaders.
Randeep Singh Surjewala: Family name or the name of your dynasty may help you to gain entry into any particular profession, including politics, but you cannot be successful in it merely
because of your family name. OK, I agree that if your family has been in politics for the first time, you are at an
advantage but nothing further than that. Just like in law and medicine, if you are not efficient, no client would come to you despite the fact that you might have a big and famous family name attached with
you, same is the case with politics: If people you represent do not find you up
to the mark, it would not matter what family you belong to. Grand father, father, mother, brother or sister can guarantee you a single chance in politics, nothing more than that.
One should not forget that in politics, the public would subject you to regular examination and to pass
that, mere family name is not sufficient.
In Indian politics, how many dynasties have succeeded in continuing in politics for many generations? The answer is very few, and Nehru-Gandhi family is the only one which has done it with continued support from the people. Main reason behind this is the sacrifices this family has made for the country. Those who call the Congress a dynastic party, can they name any other family in the world, leave alone India, where two Prime Ministers belonging to a single family had to lose their lives for the cause of the country?
Listener from Delhi: Mr Kejriwal, Surjewalaji is saying that youth should change the political contours of this country. You are a young activist, you have given up your job, why don’t you join politics?
Arvind Kejriwal: No, I do not want to join politics because I feel that today’s political system cannot provide the solutions to problems faced by citizens of the country. I live in this country and I pay all the taxes which I am required to—property tax, sales tax and income tax. However, in return, I am not asked about my social needs—the road that is built near my house is decided by the executive and legislature without my involvement, now this is what I call politics. Becoming an MP or an MLA is not politics; it is, according to me, deciding about the people whom you represent without taking them into confidence. Now here is where reforms are required and this is where youth should be active. Till the time such a centralised structure is changed and people’s involvement is given importance, it does not matter who is in politics and who is not.
Nagendar Sharma: Mr Surjewala, you are saying India is a young country, but the fact is that for any leader to be considered mature in this country, he or she will have to be over 70 years of age. So isn’t it correct to say India is country of the young, ruled by the old, a country where cabinet ministers walk with the help of walking sticks?
Randeep Singh Surjewala: This question is not confined to Congress party alone. All senior and elderly politicians in the country should voluntarily decide on an age beyond which they would act as guides, continue to advise and criticise their respective party functioning, but would leave active work for the younger lot. If all political parties, including my party, do not adopt some sort of a procedure like this, then the political class is at a risk of losing relevance in the country.