I’ve been wondering about the link between low Minimum Ages of Voting and its adverse impact on political leadership standards.
Most people will agree that we had a very high standard of political leadership when there was limited franchise and this trend continued for a time after we adopted Universal Adult Franchise set at 21 years of age; but couldn’t hold on much longer. Ever since we amended our Constitution to lower the Voting Age to 18 with the 61st Amendment Act in 1988, the quality of leadership has suffered much more rapidly. Of course we can’t see it so clearly because this was also the period of economic rebirth (I believe PVN Rao would never have been voted to Central power by young voters at the time, if he had stood) and the BJP’s tenure at the Center which would not have happened if it were not for the Sri Rama Janmabhoomi movement and the Mandal Commission. Therefore both these developments, the economic revival and the BJP in power, that were underwritten by high quality political leadership, were unusual in their circumstances in that these cannot be attributed to the lowering of the Voting Age.
The lowering of Voting Age is predicated on a strange argument and this is enshrined in the 61st Amendment Act itself.
Article 326 of the Constitution provides that the elections to the House of the People and to the Legislative Assembly of every State shall be on the basis of adult suffrage, that is to say, a person should not be less than 21 years of age. It has been found that many of the countries have specified 18 years as the voting age. In our country some of the State Governments have adopted 18 years of age for elections to the local authorities. The present-day youth are literate and enlightened and the lowering of the voting age would provide to the unrepresented youth of the country an opportunity to give vent to their feelings and help them become a part of the political process. The present-day youth are very much politically conscious. It is, therefore, proposed to reduce the voting age from 21 years to 18 years.
So as one can see the basis for change was three fold. 1. That many other countries had made similar changes 2. That some State Governments in Hindusthan had adopted 18 years for local body elections 3. That youth were more literate and “enlightened” in addition to being “unrepresented” and therefore this lowering would provide them with an opportunity to “vent their feelings” and help them become part of the political process.
The fact that different countries have had varied political experiences different from our own did not seem to bother the amenders and those that supported the amendment. Local body elections and National elections were placed on the same footing and no serious implications from this Act to the latter seem to have been considered. Finally, what seems to have clinched the deal is that the Vote would help the youth “vent their feelings” – the more mindlessly vented the better for our politicians.
This worrisome trend is universal and one is hardly surprised to find most vocal and organized supporters of low Voting Ages are liberals. The current trend is to lower the Age still further to 16. I’m almost certain we in Hindusthan will follow suite with contesting political parties salivating at bigger prospects of more youthfully “vented feelings”.
We live in times where we are told an undefined “youth” – not achievement, experience and shouldering responsibilities of life – represents greater wisdom. Elders are not merely supposed to “give ear” to the youth but also understand and comply with their wishes. The question of responsibility does not arise since that is always someone else’s problem. By lowering Voting Ages in direct proportion to the eroding values of our society, we ensure not just low quality political leadership, but high quality political and social disasters. Ironically, it is only the wily politician who realizes this truth, whilst the die hard liberal perceives it all quite differently as if on another planet.