With the 2019 general election around the corner, all the major political parties in India are making an effort to engage the youth of the country and involve them in their political campaigns. I had the privilege of closely observing the functioning of a national political party, the Indian National Congress, during my internship with the Indian Youth Congress (IYC). This is the same internship described by Sparsh Agarwal in his article for Livewire last month. While my intention is not to invalidate Agarwal’s experience or his claims, I feel compelled to share my contrasting experience with the IYC internship.
As he notes in his article, a team led by Krishna Allawaru, joint secretary of the All India Congress Committee and the national in-charge of the IYC, visited my college to share internship opportunities with students at Ashoka University. Both Agarwal and I went through the same selection process and were interviewed by the same panel of representatives. Unlike him, however, my interview process was smooth and encouraging.
It is true that Allawaru left before the interviews began. This, however, was hardly surprising, as it was never implied that Allawaru would conduct the interviews personally. Instead, we were interviewed by a three-member panel that comprised members from various IYC departments. In contrast to Agarwal’s experience, the panellists were humble and seemed interested in everything I had to say. In fact, before my interview, I had some concerns about the work culture of a political party, however, after my interaction with the panelists, I felt confident about going ahead with the internship.
In his article, Agarwal implies that his interviewers seemed more interested in his family background than his own merits and accomplishments. However, just because the panel enquired about his socioeconomic background does not necessarily mean that it was a criterion of selection. A person’s socioeconomic background helps the organisation understand the applicant better and puts their achievements and accomplishments into perspective. Asking about a person’s socioeconomic status might also help them build a team of individuals with diverse backgrounds.
However, regardless of these differences, Agarwal is spot on when he argues that the unpaid nature of the internship, as well as the INC’s other new programmes such as the fellowship, don’t account for the very real economic constraints most young Indians face today. It is certainly preventing a number of potential candidates from joining the programmes, and decreases the morale and dedication of the interns and fellows already working at IYC, myself included. However, it is also true that the Congress is facing a severe cash crunch at the moment. This, perhaps, is one of the main reasons, a seemingly fair one to me, that the internship doesn’t come with a stipend.
Even though the acceptance letter encouraged recipients to display “open-mindedness, structured thought process and diligence to reflect in your day-to-day work,” I was not sure about what to expect from working with a political party. As it turned out, the letter accurately described the IYC’s work environment.
During my time there, I became a core member of the IYC’s national social media team. Various senior members of the party visited regularly and I had the privilege of attending a number of meetings with the top office bearers of the party. As interns, we were always encouraged to express our opinions and voice our disagreements. If someone disagreed with something, then there were serious deliberations and decisions were sincerely reconsidered. There was always room to challenge the official stance of the organisation.
All the interns had autonomy and freedom to work on topics that interested them. The only requirement was that we make sure our work tangibly benefitted the organisation. The team I worked with consisted of people from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds and all our perspectives were taken into account before any decisions were made. The organisation emphasised the responsibility it was giving us, for instance, while working on communication strategies, we were asked to pay particular attention to the moral implications and factual accuracy of our work.
I do not mean to imply that everything about the Congress is perfect. There may be thousands of issues with how the party functions. However, the very limited point I intend to make is that there is at least some truth to the claim that there has been a ‘paradigm shift’ in the Congress. This shift is characterised by a significant influx of youth into the top institutions of the organisation and a democratisation and decentralisation in decision-making.
My experience made me realise how, at least in the IYC national social media team, youth – particularly interns – are playing a significant role in formulating the Congress’ communication strategy and its official stances on core issues. Almost every permanent team member I spoke to feels that there has been a significant democratisation in decision-making in the recent past. It would be safe to assume that such initiatives are being taken at other levels of the organisation as well. This will hopefully go a long way in engaging the youth in real politics.
Fahad Mohammad Hasin is undergraduate, studying political science at Ashoka University.