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Giving youth a chance, finally

Business Standard  |  New Delhi 

A Nobel winning economist once famously remarked that in the US human capital depreciated very rapidly so that old men had no place in the country's public life. India and other eastern societies have a different tradition. There is a premium on age and even a 60-year-old is regarded as being relatively youthful, at least in political life. Indeed, when others are retiring, a politician's proper career is just starting. This practice is based on the notion that wisdom comes only after a man (or woman) has lost his or her other worldly desires. It is not surprising therefore that most of India's political parties have old people at the helm, men and women who should be fondling their grandchildren on their knees but are in fact grappling with the affairs of state. It is a cruel socially sanctioned preference that makes this so.
But not any longer, it seems. Himself an old man, Pranab Mukherji, the Congress party's chief trouble-shooter, currently eminence grise, has worked out a plan that seeks to ring out the old and ring in the young. At the head of this column of youth will be the 38-year-old Prince of the Congress party, Rahul Gandhi, whose only achievement so far has been to have selected the right parents. It is reported that a resolution is to be passed at the AICC meeting on November 17 (why not November 14 or 19?) "" which will formally acknowledge that the party needs some young people. Only the most cynical will ask why this had to wait until Prince Rahul was ready and could not be done earlier. For the last 15 years, the party has been run by people around 60 and that includes Sonia Gandhi, who was about 55 when she became Congress president. The Mukherji Plan seeks to reduce the voting age of members from 21 to 18 and scrap the system of two-tier membership "" primary and active. Henceforth all members will be able to vote so that the old can't corner the offices. Another important change being contemplated is to do away with all those tedious resolutions and processes of moving, debating and passing them. The practice started when the Congress party used to be a debating club and could only pass resolutions asking the British to leave. It was a useful device that allowed everyone a sense of participation and left an official record of how the party thought on important issues. But, presumably, based on the perception that the young can't or don't think, the party intends to reduce the time spent on discussing resolutions. Windbags will feel a bit winded but that surely is the price of windiness. The Subjects Committee is also on the chopping block and it seems resolutions will be formulated at the extended CWC and then sent to the plenary for a final decision. How important this is must be obvious only to Congress persons.
So there we have it. The Congress is set to endorse youth and give it a chance. It will be interesting to see how the BJP, itself no slouch when it comes to nurturing the old, responds to this new challenge. Perhaps it will draw comfort from the CPM's experiment with youth. Not only has the party turned more conservative as a result, it is the old in it who are arguing for a modern outlook. But then this is India where maya is all.

First Published: Thu, November 08 2007. 00:00 IST