Discussion To Lower The Minimum Age Of MLAs, MPs Must Begin: CEC

Coming straight to the nub of the matter, let me begin at the very beginning by first and foremost pointing out that just recently none other than the Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat has himself candidly admitted that the discussion to lower the minimum age of MLAs and MPs now must begin. Rawat also rightly pointed out how there’s a dichotomy between 18-year-olds being allowed to vote but not to contest. This is a kind of discrimination which can never be justified under any circumstances. I am very clear about it.
                                 To be sure, Alex Ferguson who is the legendary manager of Manchester United Football Club once said about young players that, “If you’re good enough, you’re old enough”. Why can’t this apply to our elected representatives as well? It certainly can if centre resolves to do so!
                                   Truth be told, under Article 84(b) of the Indian Constitution, the minimum age for becoming a candidate for the Lok Sabha is 25 years. Similarly for a candidate to the Legislative Assembly of a State, Article 173(b) prescribes a similar age limit of 25 years. Why can’t this be changed?
                                       As per recent census figures, more than half of our population is under the age of 25. Does this age limit for contesting elections to important institutions of democracy make any sense at a time when people under the age of 25 are excelling in all other fields and even emerging well on the political field? You tell me!
                     Let me be direct in asking:  Why when an 18-year-old is considered mature enough to cast his/her vote to decide which candidate should be elected is he/she considered not mature enough to contest? Why till now no initiative has been taken to cure this malady? Why do we forget that it was the initiative earlier of late Rajiv Gandhi who is our former Prime Minister who had decided to reduce the voting age from 21 to 18 years to the Lok Sabha and to the Legislative Assemblies of the States by the 61st amendment to the Constitution in 1988 by amending Article 326 of the Constitution?
                              Let me also be direct in asking: Why can’t similar initiative be taken after such a long time of 30 years later in 2018 to lower the minimum age of MPs and MLAs to contest elections? How can this be straightaway ruled out? Can anyone deny that there is a lot of merit in the argument that the age to contest elections should also be reduced just like that of voting was reduced in 1988? Why then can’t it be worked out just like earlier the voting age was reduced?
                                            How can it be denied that none other than the present Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat himself very categorically stated on the question of reducing the minimum age for MPs and MLAs that, “The discussion for lowering the minimum age of MLAs and MPs must begin. Those who choose our representatives are aged 18 whereas those who are chosen have to be 25. There’s a dichotomy. No such proposal is currently under consideration, but there should be a debate on it. As the younger lot (aged 18 to 25 years) votes, their concerns gets addressed to an extent. But won’t they be better represented if they are allowed to contest elections and be part of decision making itself?” Absolutely right! There is a lot of merit in what Rawat has said!
                                    No doubt, Centre must honestly put all the thinking head together and give a serious thought and consideration to it. It cannot be just brushed aside as something insignificant because it is none other than the Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat who has himself favoured this historic and path breaking idea! Now the ball is in the court of the Centre to work over it and bring a Bill in Parliament by incorporating the suggestions given by the CEC OP Rawat as early as possible so that it is implemented at the earliest.
                                            I do, however, agree that before it is implemented, there must be thorough debate, discussions and deliberations on it. It should not be implemented in haste. All the sides of the debate must be given equal prominence. Only then can a logical answer be derived from it.   
                                       Yuva Sena President Aaditya Thackeray who is the son of Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray had also in December 2017 demanded that the age for contesting elections to legislative bodies be lowered to 21 or 18 years. He argued cogently that, “if one can vote at 18, why can’t one contest elections at 18 or 21? In some countries, one can contest elections at the age of 18. Our youth is responsible and energetic enough to be the change and do good things.” Absolutely right!
                                        He further argued that it will help in deeper engagement of young and passionate people with the system and make it more vibrant. He also felt that lowering the age will help youngsters become part of the legislative system. Absolutely right!
                                        Why should the youth be barred for 7 long years to contest elections for the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies? Why can’t the system be changed for the betterment of our youth? Why when changes can be made in other fields like age to vote was reduced to 18 in 1988 then why can’t age to contest elections be reduced 30 years later in 2018?
                                  It must be brought out here that even the National Students Union of India (NSUI) has also demanded that the age to contest elections should be reduced from 25 years to 18 years. This is certainly a revolutionary idea and the time has now come to implement it. Speaking at an event in Dehradun, NSUI national President Fairoz Khan forcefully argued in favour of reducing the age limit to contest elections and said that, “We are a country of the youth and it is only apt that the country should be led by young leaders. If a person can vote at the age of 18 years, why shouldn’t he/she also be allowed to contest elections at the same age? Depriving him/her to contest election till attaining the age of 25 is against the principles of natural justice.” There can be no denying or disputing it!
                                   Who can deny that most of the countries around the world have reduced the age limit for people’s representatives to 18 years? Why then can’t India also follow suit? Who can deny that in UK anyone over the age of 18 years can stand for election to Parliament?
                             Who can deny that the age to contest elections was reduced in UK by the Electoral Administration Act of 2006? Who can deny that the position is identical in Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark and Germany? Who can deny that even in USA, the founders of the Constitution had initially set the age limit at 21 years which later was raised to 25 years?
                                       Who can deny that these are all prominent and developed countries whom others always look forward to for implementing any changes? Why can’t India take a cue from these countries and bring about similar changes in its own laws by amending the Constitution to reduce the age limit for contesting elections to 18 years? Why when Ram Jethmalani could become a lawyer of Supreme Court at the age of 17 about 75 years back and fight people’s case in courts then why can’t he become an MP or MLA at the age of 18? Why bar Ram Jethmalani from becoming an MP or an MLA just because his age is not 25? But this is what he has gone through in his life when he was young! Why should the coming generation also suffer for no fault of theirs senselessly? You tell me!  
                                     All said and done, the change in age limit to become an MP or an MLA can be done in  India also just like  other countries had done a long time back. What is required is nothing but a strong political power to initiate the landmark changes with far reaching consequences! The incumbent PM Narendra Modi enjoys majority and there is no reason why he can’t do it if he really wants the younger lot to enter Parliament and State Assemblies which he has always spoken in favour of!
                                  Moreover, there are many Opposition leaders who too fully and firmly support this historic and great revolutionary idea and what is needed now is just an initiative on the part of the government to forge a consensus on an all important issue which will ensure that younger lot gets a chance to come early in Parliament and State Assemblies by becoming MPs and MLAs! It brooks no more delay! None other than the Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat fully and firmly backs this historic suggestion which only serves to further make the job of the government more easier! Merit and not age should alone determine the election of representatives as MPs or MLAs! Only can then we call ourselves a democratic country in the true sense! To say the least, it is high time and at least now a serious discussion must start on the dire need to reduce the age limit for becoming an MP and MLA before implementing it in reality! Let us earnestly hope so!
Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,
s/o Col BPS Sirohi,
A 82, Defence Enclave,
Sardhana Road, Kankerkhera,
Meerut – 250001, Uttar Pradesh.