The involvement of youth in nation-building and their contribution to establishing a robust democracy is not a recent concept in India. Swami Vivekananda, an eminent spiritual leader of the nation, called upon the youth during the 19th century to channel their collective energy toward nation-building and serving their motherland. He firmly believed that youth served as the foundation of a nation, possessing immense value due to their abundant energy, enthusiasm, and fresh ideas. He stressed the importance of directing their energy appropriately to advance the country and consistently motivated the youth to contribute to the nation’s improvement, urging them to unite and initiate various endeavours in the pursuit of nation-building.
This belief in the Indian youth’s role in nation-building extends beyond India’s borders, as our nation possesses unique qualifications to aid global prosperity and address the universal challenges we face today. Swami Vivekananda also highlighted India’s universal acceptance and tolerance in his historic speech at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893. He proudly spoke of India providing shelter to the persecuted and refugees of all religions and nations, including remnants of the Israelites and members of the Zoroastrian nation. This universal perspective and acceptance make India’s youth particularly suited to contribute to global democracy and address the multifaceted issues faced by nations worldwide.
As globalisation progresses and technological advancements bring the world closer, diminishing geographical boundaries and distances, the importance of our youth setting an inclusive and understanding example in nation-building and democracy becomes increasingly significant. India, with its diversity, multiple languages, and cultures, yet united by ancient traditions, culture, and values, offers Indian youth a unique opportunity and privilege to lead by example in addressing the multifarious issues faced by all nations. To achieve this, enhanced and continuous mutual interactions between people from different regions, backgrounds, and ways of life are crucial.
However, for the youth to lead and participate in global democratic development, it is crucial for nations worldwide to provide equal opportunities for their involvement. Inclusive political participation is not only a fundamental political and democratic right but is also critical to the development of stable and peaceful societies and policies that address the specific needs of younger generations. The role that youth can play and the responsibilities they take on as the most important and dynamic segment of the population today will help create and shape the future of our “One World.” To be adequately represented in political institutions, processes, and decision-making, particularly elections, young people must be aware of their rights and given the knowledge and capacity to participate meaningfully at all levels. Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs) and other electoral stakeholders play a crucial role in encouraging young people to participate in formal decision-making processes.
India, known as the “Mother of Democracy,” places high importance on the voices and participation of young people in democratic and governance decision-making. The inclusion of young voices ensures that policies are comprehensive and address the needs of all sections of society. Moreover, as young people take on important roles in promoting democracy, combating corruption and dynasties, and opposing rigid provisions, they will face numerous and complex challenges. Addressing these issues is critical because only then will we be able to increase youth participation and build a shared future that allows them to be successful and meaningful Agents of Change.
Youth participation in democracy brings forth the importance of representation and diversity. In a nation as diverse as India, it is crucial to have diverse perspectives at the decision-making table. The inclusion of young voices ensures that policies are comprehensive and address the needs of all sections of society. Moreover, they bring fresh ideas, innovation, and technological adeptness to the table. With the rapid advancement of technology, the young generation is well-versed in navigating the digital realm, making them invaluable contributors to policy formulation and governance in the digital age.
The participation of youth in democracy goes beyond casting votes during elections. It involves active engagement in political processes, such as joining political parties, advocacy groups, or civil society organisations. This engagement enables young individuals to voice their opinions, contribute to policy debates, and drive change from within the system. The government can promote such engagement by involving youth stakeholders throughout the policy cycle to ensure age diversity and more responsive and inclusive policy outcomes, both in-person and through the Internet.
The pandemic has highlighted the importance of young volunteers and youth workers in ensuring societal resilience in the face of shocks and disasters. Governments and institutions can help strengthen volunteering and youth work by enacting national laws, strategies, and programs that include a shared vision and coordinated action for developing youth skills and competencies.
Various nations have implemented national strategies and policies that promote youth participation in policy and governance. For instance, the Slovak Republic’s National Youth Strategy focuses on nine policy areas, including education, employment, health, entrepreneurship, social inclusion, and volunteering. Additionally, nations like Brazil have lowered the voting age to 16. In Gaia, Portugal, the municipal corporation has developed a municipal youth plan to support public policies that promote equal opportunities and social cohesion, as well as to implement local youth policies in an open and collaborative manner. However, it is crucial that these strategies are evidence-based, transparent, accountable, and effectively implemented.
India, with its demographic age group of 13-35 years comprising more than 40 per cent of the total population, recognises the significance of its youth in nation-building. The Government of India has been taking active steps to empower the youth through various initiatives. For example, the National Youth Parliament Scheme engages youth in the country’s affairs and promotes patriotism.
The scheme includes facets like the Neighbourhood Youth Parliament (NYP), Youth For Development Programme, and National Youth Advisory Council (NYAC), all conducting discourses and projects around social issues, civic education, education, sanitation, and rural development. The objective of the Programme is to develop leadership qualities among the youth to enable them to contribute to nation-building. The Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan’s initiative, the National Youth Corps (NYC), also creates a space for young men and women to serve in nation-building activities. These initiatives aim to create disciplined and dedicated youth who actively contribute to inclusive growth and serve as role models.
The youth of India can also play an active role in local governance by being aware of the issues around them and advocating for aggressive development. Young politicians like Chandrani Murmu, who became the youngest Member of Parliament at the age of 25, set a precedent for others to involve themselves in governance, especially those from economically and socially disadvantaged sections of society.
The Government of India also offers internships and training programs to provide practical exposure to the operations of the government and policy formation. These opportunities enable young individuals to understand the formulation and implementation of foreign policy and contribute effectively.
Furthermore, the Government of India has provided multiple opportunities for youth participation in policy and non-policy competitions on the “Be Involved” section of the Government of India website. These platforms encourage active participation in nation-building through discussions and discourses.
In addition to Government-led initiatives, independent youth-led initiatives also play a crucial role in nation-building. The government of India actively supports such initiatives, including those focused on voter education and public policy education, as they empower and prepare local people to address pressing needs.
These examples demonstrate how nations can enable their youth to participate in democracy and governance. India, in particular, has taken the lead in mobilising its youth and providing platforms for them to realise their responsibilities towards the nation. By empowering the youth and fostering their active participation, we can collectively work towards a better future for all.