..of a Young Restive Nation…
A friend asked me last week what was the greatest tragedy in Indian politics? I told him it was the fact that India’s population has a median age of 25 years while the average age of a Cabinet Minister is 65 (pl see graphic below). The two widely discussed contenders for the post of Prime Minister are 62 and 42. Neither has experienced first-hand the life and times of a modern India – fuelled by IT services, marked by malls, rising salaries, Hinglish and travel.
And I am not sure either of them truly comprehend the hopes, aspiration and fears of the 90s generation. This is the generation that saw a spectacular boom in the economy which grew four times in just under a dozen years! This is the generation that has rarely seen absolute poverty, has no memory of “waiting” lists for telephones or scooters and only the faintest idea of life without TV.
The young India born in the 90s is also one of the best connected. They are generally distrustful of media – and will probably trust a post on facebook more than a news-paper article.
This is not to say that this group is homogenous. It is not. But there are certain things that a 90s child born in Srinagar shares with someone born in Thiruvananthapuram or, for that matter Guwahati or Gandhinagar. The first is a yearning for change. And accompanying that, a great deal of dissatisfaction with the status quo. Dissatisfaction with status quo is of course the mark of youth.
But never before in India’s history has the “youth” comprised more than half the population. When such a large segment of the population is “dissatisfied”, it is a grave threat to the status quo. This is bad news for the establishment. But very encouraging for all of us trying to bring about change.
I am not sure our leaders really and truly understand the 90s generation. This is not to say that mainstream political parties in India do not have “young” leaders or MPs. They do. But almost without exception, these “young” leaders are part of an “old” family, their seat being treated as a family heirloom being passed from one generation to the next. They hardly represent the India I am talking about.
Instead, we have is an ageing leadership badly out of tune with this generation. And while the various “youth” icons may fit in the bracket chronologically, they are out of sync too.
Out of sync and incapable of giving voice to the hopes and dreams of this generation.
But coming back to the 90s, lets not make the mistake of seeing this generation only in malls or in multiplexes. Yes, these are certainly popular hangouts for the young (& not-so-young). But behind the lights & the glitter are large groups of children of the 90s, still struggling with the “basics”.
Basics such as sufficient and clean drinking water. Or decent education.
Education that can prepare them for a rapidly changing world. A world of increasingly sophisticated technology that demands ever-increasing skills in almost every sphere of economic activity.
Or basic healthcare. And very importantly, basic security and safety – not within gated communities, not in the anonymous high-rise flats “guarded” by sleepy chowkidars – but in far-flung colonies at the outskirts of swelling cities, in tightly cramped dwellings and villages that sit incongruously cheek by jowl at the edge of urban landscapes.
These “basics” are not the only thing denied to these youngsters.
They are also denied a world of opportunity. Opportunity of realizing their dreams and their entrepreneurial ambitions, choked by an urban infrastructure that just cannot keep pace; ringed by outdated laws and regulations that become excuses for extortion, bribes and harassment.
Lacking adequate skills and a supportive environment, these youngsters continue to stumble from one under-paid, unsatisfying job to another – which is a true shame, considering the enormous talent gap that exists.
The 90s generation is our prized demographic; it can be our most precious export. But we need to be thinking of them and planning for them – planning for the largest democracy on earth that will have the world’s largest pool of young citizens hungry for change.
Where are our policies for this generation? Where are the political voices that articulate their dreams and aspirations? Where are the formations that bring together ideas which resonate with the 90s generation – ideas of pride in “Indianness”, ideas that shine with self-confidence, ideas that bridge the rural-urban and rich-poor divide?
Who is helping these youngsters dream?
This is what keeps me awake these days. This is what I am going to focus on in the next phase of my political activism. Bringing together leaders and trying to bridge the divide between many like us fighting for a better India.
This is an urgent necessity. Urgent because of the crisis we are facing; necessary because this crisis is fundamentally a crisis of leadership.
This should have happened yesterday. I hope now is not too late. I have talked about this before on my blog. And I have written about this coming together as a “Coalition of the Willing (CoW)”. How will this coalition come together? What will it agree on? What will be its key themes? This is the work I am engaged in at present.
Trying (and hoping) to bring the various groups together and creating a powerful force – a platform that will bring together leaders willing to dream. A dream of a rich, prosperous India, an India that will once again be the envy of the world, a “Sone ki Chidiya”.
And a coalition willing to craft a narrative built on hope, self-confidence and belief – not on tears, victimhood or entitlement.
A narrative that was so powerfully articulated by a MahaPurush more than a century ago:
“Ye are the children of God..
the sharers of immortal bliss, holy and perfect beings…
Come up, lions! and shake off the delusion that you are sheep;
you are souls immortal, spirits free, blest and eternal.”
This is what I dream of. This is my hope for a young restive nation. This post is dedicated to my lifelong inspiration, Swami Vivekananda. Jai Hind, Jai Bharat!