India’s polity has shifted from hope to fear, and PM Modi knows it | Opinion | opinion | Hindustan Times
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India’s polity has shifted from hope to fear, and PM Modi knows it | Opinion

A recent CSDS-KAS survey numbers could have profound implications for the future of Indian democracy. The engine of Indian politics doesn’t seem to be aspiration, it is anxiety – and no one recognises this better than Narendra Modi, who has understood that his followers don’t want a Ceo-in-Chief to lead them; they want a parent, or better still, a priest.

opinion Updated: May 30, 2017 06:59 IST
Aman Sethi
A young girl and other devotees offer prayers at the Pashupatinath temple in Bhopal on Mahashivratri.
A young girl and other devotees offer prayers at the Pashupatinath temple in Bhopal on Mahashivratri. (PTI)

The animating impulse of Indian politics, pundits of all stripes insist, is youthful aspiration: fearless young people throwing off the shackles of caste and class to Whatsapp their way to what the Prime Minister likes to call “vikas”.

Parties like the Bharatiya Janta Party understand this, the argument goes, and are handsomely rewarded; the opposition doesn’t, and is doomed to failure.

But a recent CSDS-KAS survey paints a rather different picture: Young Indians aren’t hanging out in caffeinated incubators plotting their next startup; they are living with their parents (65%), and swotting for the next round of government recruitments (65%). Only 19% want to start their own business.

The youth aren’t breaking social taboos of caste, class and gender either, they are praying to god (78%), and preparing for an arranged marriage (84%) with an obedient wife(51%) from the same caste (36%).

And they are anxious – about everything: the health of their parents, family problems, maintaining their tradition and culture, their jobs and their looks.

The survey found 55% of youth to be highly anxious, and 26% to be moderately so.

These numbers have profound implications for the future of Indian democracy. The engine of Indian politics isn’t aspiration, it is anxiety – and no one recognizes this better than Narendra Modi, who has understood that his followers don’t want a Ceo-in-Chief to lead them; they want a parent, or better still, a priest.

The Uttar Pradesh elections are a vivid illustration of this trend. Analysts have argued, including in these pages, that the result is a vindication of the so-called 60-percent formula: where the BJP focused Non-Yadav Other Backward Classes (OBC), non-Jatav Dalits, and the usual constellation of upper castes, and ignored the Muslim and Jatavs who make up close to 40% of the state electorate.

It is possible that the BJP reached out to this particular caste-spectrum, but to what end? Why do these social groups want a stake in the state – particularly a state like ours, which is incapable of providing jobs, a school education for children, or healthcare for elderly parents – something that 87% of young Indians apparently worry about.

It turns out, one arm of the Indian state is yet to wither away: it’s coercive arm remains robust, and what’s better – has jobs to offer.

From 2003 to 2007, the ruling Samajwadi Party recruited 22,500 police constables to stuff local police stations with their supporters. When the Bahujan Samaj Party won the following election in 2007, Mayawati cancelled 17,400 of these posts. When the SP returned in 2012, they reinstated all posts, and announced plans to recruit another 41,160 constables and firemen.

Yogi Adityanath, UP’s newest Chief Minister, is yet to recruit any policemen, but then he already has his own personal vigilante force, which has assumed policing powers. And let’s not forget the anti-Romeo squads.

Ultimately it is hard to escape the conclusion that the problem actually lies in the Indian family – a regressive and patriarchal construct that oppresses women and turns the young into an exaggeration of their parents’ worst traits. It hence no surprise that our current political climate continually reinforces the importance of family values.

Perhaps path to a new politics is to draw the youth out of the stifling embrace of their homes and seek out a world of their own.