News

    India's Youngest Cabinet Ministers Look to Future

    Multimedia

    Despite the election of younger heads of government in such countries as Britain, France, Germany, Japan and the United States, the face of politics in India is still one of relative seniority. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has heart trouble, is 76. The head of the largest opposition party is 81. A much younger generation is beginning to enter the electoral stage in the world's largest democracy, but that is also raising questions about dynastic politics.  

    As India's new Cabinet was sworn in in May, all eyes were on one of its youngest members, 28-year-old Agatha Sangma. She was among a few young faces brought into government by the Congress Party to inject a sense of youth and energy after its resounding poll victory.

    Thirty-one-year-old Sachin Pilot is the newly appointed junior minister for communications and technology. His late father, Rajesh, was also a Cabinet minister.

    And, 39-year-old Rahul Ghandi, who declined a Cabinet position to concentrate on strengthening the party at the grassroots, is being groomed, according to analysts, to become prime minister one day.

    What all three have in common is each belongs to political families.  Political dynasties appear to be a trend that is not abating, but spreading beyond the influential Nehru-Gandhi clan to a handful of families across India.

    Sangma, India's youngest national lawmaker and minister of state of rural development, has been around politics all her life. Her father, P.A. Sangma, is a career politician who rose to become speaker of the more powerful lower house of Parliament. His daughter admits being perplexed about how to address elders in the ministry who are now her underlings.

    "I have grown up with some people who are now still part of this ministry and many a times I am confused," she said. "Should I call them 'uncle' or should I call them 'Mr. So and So?'"

    Sangma, trained as a lawyer, acknowledges an experienced political father as a mentor gives her an advantage, but only in the short term.
     
    "It is very difficult for really young people to suddenly come up in politics unless they have a political background. But I would not say that one should judge the young political leaders only on this basis because, yes, we have a name, but name is not the only the only thing on which will be able to survive," she said.

    Being a member of a recognized political family, she explains, sets the bar even higher as such lawmakers are expected to get much more done than their peers without a legacy.

    The second-youngest member of the Singh Cabinet, Sachin Pilot, agrees family legacy only gets a candidate so far.

    "Coming from a family of politicians or having a background in politics ought not to be a disqualification for an individual," he said. "An individual contests an election and there about two-million people who elect that individual back to Parliament, we respect that collective wisdom of that electorate which is two-million strong."

    Pilot believes Rahul Gandhi's performance in this year's national election elevated his stature. But he cautions there are no guarantees of the youthful Congress Party figure becoming prime minister.

    "I think the abilities are there," he said. "He has the potential [to become prime minister]. And it is very clear that he has been the star campaigner for the Congress Party in translating that effort into victory."

    Rahul's mother, the Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, widow of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, remains the Congress Party kingmaker.
     
    Rahul is now focusing on building the party's grassroots and trying to lure additional young activists into the political mainstream, including those from disparate backgrounds.

    The Pilot family is from the Hindu Gujjar clan, traditionally shepherds and considered a disadvantaged community.

    The Sangmas, who are Catholics, hail from a tribal village in the state of Meghalaya, part of the distant and underdeveloped Northeast region.
     
    "We feel neglected. We feel that we are not accepted in the country as part of mainstream India. And this is not something that is only the responsibility of the political leaders. The entire society has to evolve and understand that, we, at the end of the day are very integrally part of the same country," said Sangma.

    That is a refrain uttered frequently by many disenfranchised minorities here in the world's largest democracy. But India's two youngest government ministers are optimistic more of their peers, in terms of age and background, will find greater inclusion in the Indian political mainstream.


    Steve Herman

    Steve Herman is VOA's Senior Diplomatic Correspondent, based at the State Department.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora