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Youth Diplomacy In India Needs A Serious Booster Shot

India is losing out by not involving youth delegates enough.

11/07/2017 8:32 AM IST | Updated 11/07/2017 8:32 AM IST
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Foreign policy and putting India forefront in the changing world order are among the key thrust areas of the Modi government. The launch of the ambitious Global Solar Alliance and the establishment of International Yoga Day by the United Nations demonstrate the soft power India still yields globally. It is important to note that the active foreign policy of India is matched by its economic agenda. The extraordinary focus on the "Make in India" initiative and the mandate of Indian embassies abroad to organise road shows and investor meetings have kept many Indian Foreign Services (IFS) officials on their toes.

Prime Minister Modi has also highlighted India's biggest strength in its large young population (nearly 40% of the population is below 20 years of age) during his numerous public addresses overseas. The government launched the National Skills Mission and subsequently a national policy on skills development and entrepreneurship in 2015 to further strengthen its youth development agenda. To sum up, it won't be wrong to say that Prime Minister Modi's foreign policy and plan to strengthen India's influence globally is based on three important pillars—the growing economy, Make in India and most importantly youth.

It is rather puzzling that despite youth being one of high thrust areas of the incumbent government, the active participation of young people in diplomacy is somehow very low.

It is, therefore, a little puzzling that despite youth being one of high thrust areas of the incumbent government, the active participation of young people in diplomacy is somehow very low. It is no secret that youth diplomacy generally is equated with organising bilateral youth and cultural exchanges with friendly countries in the South block. Over the years, India has organized bilateral youth exchanges with countries such as China and Russia. In 2016, India also signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on youth exchange with many other countries such as Bahrain, Kuwait, Nepal, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Vietnam among others.

India had launched its first National Youth Policy in 1988 and subsequently revised it in 2003 and most recently in 2014. The National Youth Policy 2014 envisages the active participation of youth in international sports, politics, and governance but doesn't specifically lay out any plan on the participation of youth in international diplomacy. This may also partly reflect that youth diplomacy as such somehow has been missed in the policymaking apparatus.

India had sent its first official youth delegate (Bremley Lyngdoh) to the 55th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in 2000 under the Prime Ministership of Atal Bihar Vajpayee. This was a bold step that appeared to mark a shift in youth diplomacy. However, this practice was discontinued and since then India has not sent any official youth delegate to participate and represent the voice of Indian youth in UNGA. One the other hand, more than 55 countries—including our neighbours Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh, as well as strategic partners such as Russia, Australia and the USA—have continued to send their official youth representatives to participate in UNGA post-2000.

So, does this necessarily mean India is somehow losing out by not involving youth delegates in diplomacy? To answer this question, we shall look south towards Sri Lanka. This little island nation is not only the frontrunner in youth diplomacy but has established a significant presence in shaping the global debate on youth issues. Sri Lanka hosted the first ever World Conference on Youth in association with the United Nations in 2014; the discussion and outcomes of this formed the basis of Baku Declaration on Youth in 2015. Sri Lanka has been sending youth delegates to UNGA regularly since 2012. The recent appointment of Jayathma Wickramanayake as a new UN Youth Envoy (she was also Sri Lanka's official youth delegate at the 67th General Assembly at United Nations) further showcase the relevance of active youth diplomacy by Sri Lanka.

India, with the world's largest youth population, should ideally be at the top spot for discussing youth issues in any multilateral forum.

India, with the world's largest youth population, should ideally be at the top spot for discussing youth issues in any multilateral forum. Having a strong presence in youth diplomacy could reap many other tangible benefits to India in the near to long term. There are very few Indians such as Dr. Shashi Tharoor (Under Secretary General) and Dr. Ajay Chibber (Director General, Independent Evaluation Office) who have risen to the top posts at the United Nations. In this rapidly changing global order where India is increasingly seen as an important centre, we definitely need more Indians at the top multilateral posts in the future. Needless to say, active youth diplomacy may play an important helping hand in this regard.

Secondly, there seems to be a developing consensus that we need more private sector experts at the mid-career level within the government to bring in desired expertise. This also applies to diplomacy, where matters are becoming increasingly complex given the changing nature of trade agreements, strategic issues and the developing trend of forming consensus on almost every issue at the multilateral level. Youth diplomacy may also enable young people to transform themselves into functional experts in asserting the country's position on complex positions such as climate change, sustainable development and antimicrobial resistance, among others in line with India's future diplomatic needs.

There seems to have been some progress in this regard with the commencement of BRICS Youth Forum in Guwahati in 2016 and the upcoming Indian-ASEAN Youth Summit in August 2017; both the summits are being organised in partnership with the government of India.

However, this momentum has to be continued with more energy, rigour and focus, allowing Indian youth to frame their voice at multilateral institutions such as the United Nations and the World Bank. An active push to youth diplomacy in collaboration with the Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Youth Affairs may go a long way, as might including youth delegates as a part of the official delegation to this year's General Assembly. It's time the world heard the voice of the Indian youth.

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