The 61st Constitution amendment of 1988 that brought down voting age in India from 21 to 18 had reasoned that the present day youth were literate and enlightened and therefore deserved the opportunity to give vent to their feelings. It was also observed that ‘they were very much politically conscious’. The amendment was brought to include the unrepresented youth in the country’s political process.
The amendment took care of millennials, understood to mean those who were born between 1981 and 1996 and partly generation Z, born between 1997 and 2012. But there is a new generation of ‘I-Gen’, the name derived from i-phone, whose members are perhaps even more enlightened and devoted so social causes than those targeted by the 61st amendment.
It is 34 years since the voting age was lowered to 18 and the biggest difference is that today’s I-Gens are born in the internet era, which is a milestone in human history, impacting every aspect of life on this planet. Pre- and post-internet youth have so much to differentiate between them and today’s adolescents have been exposed to a lot more of experiences that have influenced their thinking. They have no idea of life without mobile technology and social media, both unknown to the previous generations.
Studies have shown that today’s super-connected kids are more environment conscious, tolerant, respectful and inclusive of diversities, but more individualistic. Of course, they have their own problems related to mental health, social interaction and less experience in interacting with others as they spend more time texting and other activities on social media as well as games. But they have all the attributes that merited the inclusion of millennials and Gen-Z in universal adult franchise. It is, therefore, high time for further lowering of voting rights to cover at least the 15-17 age group.
I-Gen members have shown that they are ambitious, dreaming and daring as well as endowed with more problem-solving capabilities than those belonging to the previous generations. There are at least a dozen successful Indian entrepreneurs who made it big before they attained the present voting age.
OYO founder Ritesh Agarwal was only 17 when he set out building his empire, valued at over $10 billion. With a personal worth of more than $1 billion, he is supposed to be the second youngest self-made billionaire in the world. Similarly, Nithin Kamath of Zeroda, the third biggest stock trader of the country after ICICI and HSFC, began his stock trading when he was just 17. Today Zeroda has over 7 million users, a large number of them belonging to Gen-Z and I-Gen.
There are many more successful teenage entrepreneurs in India, such as Advait Thakur, who heads a global technology and innovation company specialising in IoT related services and products; Tilak Mehta, one of the youngest Forbes panelists and a TEDx speaker, whose Paper N Parcels won him an youngest entrepreneur award; Akhilenda Sahu, recognized as the world’s youngest serial entrepreneur; and Farrhad Acidwalla, whose Rochstah Media success prompted CNN to interview him at the age of 17.
The first time when the age group 15-17 got highlighted was during the covid pandemic when the vaccination drive was extended to cover the members of this group. It was estimated that there were 7.4 crore people falling into this age group for the purposes of vaccination. This is a substantially big age group, which needs to be considered for inclusion in adult franchise. Their inclusion could bring a new dimension to the country’s electoral politics, as they have significant clout in determining the outcome of elections.
A back of the envelope calculation shows that the addition of 7.4 crore new voters to the electorate would mean addition of over a lakh votes on an average to every Lok Sabha constituency. A large number of candidates elected to the Lok Sabha had margins of less than 50, 000 to 1 lakh votes and such largescale addition to the voters list can tilt the balance in any constituency, Given that the new voters are given more strongly to social causes and inclusive traits, IGen could turn out to be the decisive factor in future elections.
Prime Minister Modi keeps talking about ‘yuva shakti’ and the qualities of today’s youth. “Today’s youth does not want to walk on the pre-decided road. They want to step into the unknown world. Their destination is new, their goal is new, their path is new and their desire is new. Once our youth gets determined, they work hard to achieve that goal. They start working day and night on it.”
It is high time that these young people get their well-deserved right to participate in the most crucial decision making process in running the country. (IPA)