What It Is Like to Be a Young Politician in India

This election, I complete ten years as a member of parliament (MP) and looking back, this period has been very humbling and gratifying. I have had to climb a steep learning curve.

When I entered politics, despite having come from a political family, my understanding of politics was naive in many ways and wet behind the ears. Very quickly, I learned how elections, the parliament, its proceedings worked and what the roles and responsibilities of an MP were. Three years ago when I became a minister, my perspective again changed. I learned that being an MP and a minister are two completely different things. Overall, I have learned more about my country, its people and cultures in a way that I would have never learned being anything else.

Breaking into my role as an MP and minister was a particularly insightful experience. I learned what the difference is between fighting an election and being an activist on the ground. Before I entered politics, I was actively involved with some NGOs here in Mumbai. I thought that after having been an activist on the ground, being a politician was the natural progression. But in reality they are actually very very different things. When you become an MP and a minister, you are in the realm of governance. The big difference between simply being idealistic and activist and being in a governing role is something young people today need to understand. It explains what has recently happened in Delhi. You can have idealism, but there is a big difference between that and being able to govern and administer. These are things one needs to be aware of. One needs to be able to take a political movement through an election to transform it into a governance system. This something the Aam Aadmi Party hasn’t understood.

The biggest thing about entering politics as a greenhorn is learning the ropes: how does the parliament work, how do you pass bills, how do you learn about issues beyond the ones you are concerned about. Because what you are concerned about doesn’t necessarily matter that much. People are diverse and so are their opinions, their needs and expectations from parliamentarians. As a politician I need to be well-versed with most of these issues.

People’s perception about politicians is often very different from reality. Most politicians I know work very hard. They leave home early in the morning and come back late in the night. They barely meet their families. While the power and fame are rewarding, at the same time you do put in a lot which often goes unnoticed.

A lot of the work we do goes unreported. For example in my ministry, we’ve achieved a lot in telecommunications in these ten years in terms of connectivity and mobile coverage. Over a decade ago, India had 10 lakh internet users and now we have 25 crore. Or consider that India’s per capita income has gone up from Rs 24,000 to Rs 70,000 in ten years. So the first thing about being a politician is that a lot of good goes unreported. We need to communicate that effectively while being ready for criticism. One also needs a lot of patience and the understanding that people take time to catch up with these issues.

One needs to be patient also in listening to people and giving them an ear or by helping them solve their problems. I can’t help every person who comes to me, often I’m just unable to because I don’t always have the powers. But I can provide a sympathetic ear and try to redirect them to somebody else in a better position of power who can help. That on its own is a big thing.

As we move from election to election, we are seeing a lot of young people entering the parliament. This is very encouraging. What I have learned in the last 10 years is that young politicians from different parties tend to work together on many issues. For example, recently when the RTI was to be amended, I and many of my young MP colleagues worked together cutting across party lines to send the RTI back to a standing committee to be debated and mulled upon before changes were made. This trend of younger people working across party lines in a bipartisan way to get things done, is a welcome change in politics.