George Bernard Shaw was once asked: “What is the most beautiful thing in the world?” He replied, “Youth — and what a pity it is wasted on the young.” Yet, after being dormant politically for decades, young people are starting to make their presence felt again.
We are living in a world faced with huge social challenges. Last year, the global population reached a historic milestone of seven billion people, of whom 1.8 billion were between 10 to 24 years of age. And 90 percent of this young population lives in developing countries. This generation is the most interconnected generation ever and continues to grow rapidly, and the challenges they face are ever more daunting.
In Bangladesh, the youth make up one-third of the population. Currently there are 1.5 million new voters in the country, which is 30 percent of total voters. And this young generation has the power to change the country.
Looking at the history of Bangladesh, the sub-continent and other countries, all the successful leaders are between 30 to 50 years of age.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was elected as an MP at the age of 34 years. He became a minister at 36. At the age of 51, he led the establishment of an independent state. Tajuddin Ahmad was elected as a member of parliament at the age of 29 and at the age of 46, he took over the responsibility as the prime minister of the provisional government.
Mahatma Gandhi, a top leader of the subcontinent, came to fame by initiating a non-violent movement in South Africa at the age of 25. At the age of 51, he led the non-violence non-cooperation movement against the British government. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the leader of the Pakistan Movement, was elected as a member of the Central Legislative Assembly of India at the age of 47. He was so popular in Maharashtra that the two persons who stood against him from Bombay (Mumbai) withdrew the nomination papers. Jawaharlal Nehru was a major leader of India at the age of 40 and became Prime Minister in 56 years. Subhas Chandra Bose was elected the President of the All India Congress at the age of 41, and he got the title ‘Netaji’ from the people. And at the age of 45 he addressed as ‘President’ by the people. Rabindranath himself told him, ‘Deshnayak’.
Mir Nisar Ali Titumir was martyred in the hands of imperialist rulers when he was 49 years old to fight for the establishment of an independent state. Surya Sen was executed when he was 41 years old. The commander who ordered his execution, in our eyes, is a criminal today. The Bengalees will never forgive him. At the age of 21, Pritilata Waddaadar sacrificed herself to the birth of the motherland. There is no need to wait for 70-80 years to become a leader of the people.
The thirty years between 20 to 50 years of age are the best time of a human’s life. At this time people have the courage and physical strength they do not have in their 70s. It can be seen even among the leaders of other countries. The American people do not like the older president. All successful presidents are middle aged. At the age of 44, Sukarno became the president of Indonesia. Egypt’s leader Jamal Abdul Naser took over the state’s dominion at the age of 38. Zhou Enlai became the prime minister of the world’s most populous country at the age of 51. When Fidel Castro took over the Cuban regime, he was called the younger one. Castro’s friend Che Guevara became the threat of entire Latin American capitalist and feudal regime before 40 years of age. Martin Luther King, who had ‘a dream’, at the age of 30, was enshrined great man. Though 80-year-old Ayatollah Khomeini led the overthrow of the Pahlavi royalty in Iran and had a revolution in Islam, most of his government ministers were between 25 and 40 years old.
But we do not need parables from other countries. All those who led on the Liberation War battlefield were under 40 years of age, several of them under 30. They had determination and courage.
The youth are exiled from the political arena today. All the parties want to keep their old leadership. But this is a form of failure.
Is there a lack of talent and qualifications among the youth in Bangladesh today? I do not believe that at all. Today the country is making economic progress. Growth is satisfactory. Most of the entrepreneurs are young. Many of the successful entrepreneurs are between 35 and 50 years old. Then why is there an absence of the youth in politics? Have the youth lost the ability to do politics? Or have they lost confidence in politics? Neither is true. There are many talented young people in the student and youth organisations of Awami League, BNP and many others in the last 30 years. Where did they go?
Whenever there was a possibility of developing a younger leadership, the older heads in these organisations removed them tactfully, fearful of losing their leadership. The youth have been carefully extricated from politics. They have been kept away from the responsibility. They were gifted motorcycles while the older leaders received air-conditioned cars. Even though the youth are the main asset of the country, there is little space for any young leader in important national dialogues.
The old and the wealthy are dominating Bangladesh today. Those in parliament are those who are sixty or seventy or very rich. Those who have money in foreign banks, or have a second home somewhere and some houses and villas in Bangladesh – these are now the leading politicians. The youth can barely be seen because money is still owned by the moneylenders.
As a citizen I am waiting for the day when the prime minister of Bangladesh will be a nationalist pro-progressive leader of 40 to 50 years of age. All the members of his cabinet will be between 35 and 50. The youth have dreams and the courage to achieve these goals through their skill and vitality. Older people will not be marginalised if we allow more space to the young. They will help young people to succeed by using their experience and will gain their respect.
Yes, youth will surely be a positive force in politics. In technology, innovation, medical, business, or any other field the youth have had a positive impact and there is no doubt that they are capable of making good decisions by themselves. But having some mentorship is necessary. Looking back at history, we can see that it was the guidance of Chanakya that Chandragupta became a great leader. My point here is that the youth need proper guidance to have a more prominent role in politics.
In our entire history we have never had such a large youth population, which is why everyone has begun to focus on this growing demographic.
Such a population will be responsible for the future of Bangladesh and so we need proper leaders. The older politicians are necessary to handle a few situations in Bangladesh but for the rest we need the input of the youth. A youth population with a clear vision of what they want for the future.
With the entry of the youth into politics we can hope there will be a revolution that will help us move past divisions of religion, caste and ethnic identity. People will renew their faith in democracy as they see themselves represented.
The youth always have a fresh view of life. They like challenge. They have the fire of hunger. They have confidence. And when all these things come together we will see a change.
And change shows that something is alive. Every country’s future depends on its youth. If we want real change, we must encourage the participation of the youth in politics.