Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has promised to facilitate a youthful government at the Centre following the 2014 general election. It is a mission none can quarrel with. By 2020 India will be the demographically youngest country in the world with 64 per cent of its population in the working age group. It is only in the fitness of things that any incoming government reflects the aspirations and dreams of this section. Talk of a young future government is also a shrewd tactic to pull in fence-sitting first-time voters. The question to ask is: why has Rahul woken up to this reality nearly a decade after he himself entered Parliament with a crop of eager freshers in tow? The Congress’s youth force kindled hopes of regeneration in a party that desperately need to let go of its deadwood. It wasn’t anybody’s argument that the younger MPs should commandeer the key ministerial portfolios which undoubtedly needed to be handled by men and women of experience. But certainly there was a case for inducting young talent into the Union Council of Ministers — both to teach the newcomers responsibility and to benefit from their fresh, contemporary thinking. With an average ministerial age of around 61, the 2004 Manmohan Singh government was a stunning let down; it could have passed for a retirement home.
As it turned out, Team Rahul was consigned to the sidelines because of Rahul himself. There was tantalising mystery around the ambitions of the young leader. Sonia Gandhi’s son turned down invitations to join the government. But because of who he was — the deemed heir-apparent — none among the young MPs could aspire for a serious ministerial job when he didn’t want one for himself. The situation was remedied in UPA-II with a string of appointments to junior portfolios. But the young ministers were utilised badly and languished for lack of guidance and support. Four ministers accounting for an average age of 73 made it to the Cabinet in the last expansion of the Council of Ministers. The Labour and Employment Ministry, requiring critical understanding of strategies for the youth, was assigned to 86-year-old Sis Ram Ola. Not just this. There is still no clarity on what role Rahul has envisaged for himself. Will the UPA go into its third election under the Congress vice-president? Unlikely, given his continuing reluctance to shoulder responsibility. Persisting confusion in this regard can only lead to disillusionment in the party cadre which has got its hopes high on Rahul’s words. At 43, the Congress VP is no spring chicken and he must make up his mind either way and quickly if the ‘youthful’ government is to be formed — in itself an unlikely prospect given the UPA’s dismal prospects in key electoral States.