The hall resonates with the voice of a man draped in the traditional white kurta. Wielding a microphone, he has no intention of indulging in a verbal assault. His meticulous preparation is complemented by his oratorical skills as he dissects the question on education posed by his co-participant while mooting practicable solutions, in a calm and reasoned baritone. His gaze isn’t transfixed on the inquisitor. Opening up his body to the audience while addressing them, he invites them to judge his intellectual sincerity. Flanked by his ‘party-men’ who desist from thumping tables, or ‘amplifying’ his critique through an incessant applause, one can be rest assured, that this chamber has no room for ‘theatrics’, and business will strictly involve an attack on ideas, and ideas alone.
The description painted above may seem as if it has been plucked from the dream of a wishful citizen, pining for a Parliament that enshrines India’s ethos of unity through respect for diversity of opinion. On an optimistic note this scene hasn’t been conjured out of thin air, but is a retelling of what transpired during the 11th National Youth Parliament, a miniature replication of our most hallowed institution, rejuvenated by the spring of youthful idealism.
A Historical Reckoning:-
Genesis:- The idea for establishing a platform for facilitating an understanding of parliamentary proceedings by the most vital stakeholders, that is the youth of the nation, was conceived at the Fourth All India Whips’ Conference held in Bombay in 1962.
Gestation:- Subsequently The Ministry of parliamentary Affairs drew up a scheme of Youth Parliament Competition in 1965 for the Higher Secondary Schools in the Union Territory of Delhi.
Manifestation:-Eventually, the first Youth Parliament Competition saw the light of day in 1966-67.
A new Avatar:- In 1978, the ‘Youth Parliament’ scheme was extended to selected Kendriya Vidyalayas situated in and around Delhi.
Felicitation:- To commemorate forty years of India’s Independence and Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru’s birth centenary(in 1989) the scheme was launched at the national level in which Kendriya Vidyalayas from all parts of the country participated.
Intangible or Invaluable?
Does the Youth Parliament serve its purpose, or does it have a purpose at all?
The organisation of National Youth Parliament is the prerogative of The Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs as it is mentioned in the functions assigned to it under the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961 made by the President under Article 77(3) of the Constitution of India.
The objectives laid out by a paper delineating the specifics of the scheme on national youth parliament competition for Universities or Colleges published in 2016, highlights strengthening the roots of democracy, inculcating discipline, tolerance for contrarian viewpoints and fostering an understanding of the workings of Parliament, amongst the student community.
The term demographic dividend has been brandished as a panacea for eradicating the malaise that afflicts our nation, provided that a propitious state machinery proves capable of catalysing their dreams. Moreover, it is widely accepted that with 2.3 crore voters belonging to the 18-19 year age group, and nearly ten percent first time voters, the General Elections in 2014, witnessed unprecedented participation from the youth. A progressive polity, clamouring for systemic upheavals, it is imperative that the canons of change are well acquainted with the fulcrum on which the political see-saw rests. At the fore-front of this churning are parliamentarians who unfortunately aren’t appraised on their work as policy makers( A sad truth profoundly enunciated in this op-ed by Mr Praveen Chakravarthy: http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/no-one-loves-parliament/), instead being depicted as Machiavellian schemers, and derogatorily classified as ‘the politicians’. An exercise like the Youth Parliament can help shatter misconceptions about the kind of work Parliamentarians do(or don’t). Besides, by understanding the complex process occurring in the Parliament the voter can discern the multi-faceted role played by their representatives. Armed with a nous enabling a thorough evaluation of their representative’s work, the electorate can feel their constant participation in the system that starts with them as its basic constituent.
The Modalities:- How is it conducted?
An un-starred parliamentary question( number 1420) asked in the Lok Sabha for an answer on 29.07.2015 details the process behind the Youth Parliament events. The policy includes four formal avenues, namely:-
1. Scheme for Youth Parliament Competitions for schools under the Directorate of Education, Govt. of NCT of Delhi/New Delhi Municipal Council.
2.Scheme for National Youth Parliament Competitions for Kendriya Vidyalaya’s
3.Scheme for National Youth Parliament Competitions for Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas
4.Scheme for National Youth Parliament Competitions for Universities/Colleges.
The Ministry also implements a Scheme of Financial Assistance to States/Union Territories for organising Youth Parliament Competitions in the High Schools/Senior Secondary Schools of the States/UTs. The financial help extended for the last three years has been tabulated below.
During 2014, Youth Parliament Competitions were held in 34 Schools under the Directorate of Education, Govt. Of NCT of Delhi/NDMC, 125 Kendriya Vidyalayas, 64 Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas and 36 Universities/Colleges under the above mentioned Schemes respectively.
The metrics for Judging:
A stifling caution or the need for a sanitised debate?
The Ministry has laid down guidelines which prohibit discussion on controversial topics, without explicitly defining what constitutes one. Instead vaguely broad motions like state of educational institutions have been prescribed . While civility is the cornerstone of a meaningful discourse and incendiary remarks during the proceedings should be discouraged, a pre-emptive embargo on issues to be discussed may detract from the learning experience of the students. Debating on contentious topics by reflecting on hard-hitting realities is very much part of the parliamentary pathos, and should be ‘mimicked’ on the smaller stage, too.
On the other hand the proscribing references to any political outfit and maintenance of a dispassionate demeanour, without an allusion to any ideology is necessary for a sanitised debate. While the development of a world-view shorn of any ideology is not feasible (or not desirable, even), it is essential that the fettered processes within, should temper the dialogue, culminating in a consensus for an amicable existence, without.
Written by Rahul Mohan, an Associate with Swaniti Initiative.