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

    A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

    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.
    Testing Bamboo as Building Materiali
    X
    June 27, 2016 9:06 PM
    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapides’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora