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India's young turn to self-made icons known for their achievements

  • Sanya Panwar, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Sep 03, 2015 19:52 IST

The young may often scorn and wonder at the old, but when it comes to finding inspiration in life, the youth in India turns to self-made, middle class icons with quite a bit of grey in their hair.

Be it politics, sports or cinema — achievement, maturity and consistency are qualities as valued as any in a youth role model, belying the notion that young relate only to young, reveals the fourth edition of the HT-MaRS Youth Survey, conducted among over 5,000 respondents in 15 Indian cities.

Little wonder then that Narendra Modi, Amitabh Bachchan and Sachin Tendulkar are the top icons for India’s young, even though the average age of this eclectic group is a little over 58 years.


The competition was much, much younger — from Rahul Gandhi, who is relatively youthful among India’s grandfatherly politicians, to a lively and fresh Virat Kohli — but perhaps they will have to wait a few more years for their turn at inspiring the Indian youth.

On the popularity stakes where politicians are routinely outclassed by sportspeople and cinema stars, Prime Minister Modi is a pleasant exception. His legions of followers on social sites, his love of technology, his natty sense of fashion and an inventive air of hope around him make Modi a youth icon in a country where more than 65% of the population is under the age of 35. See: Biggest political icon

The third most popular world leader on Twitter after US President Barack Obama and the Pope with 5.5 million followers and almost 20 million ‘likes’ on Facebook, Modi bagged 57% vote as the biggest icon in Indian politics, a first time entry on the list. See: Corruption, the biggest challenge facing India

Arvind Kejriwal came a distant second with 13%, followed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi (11%) and her son, Rahul, with just 8% of the votes.

Former PM Manmohan Singh bagged a dismal 0.3% of the votes. Regional biggies Nitish Kumar, Jayalalithaa, Mamata Banerjee and current foreign minister Sushma Swaraj —all got between 1-2%.

“The euphoria post his win and the images on magazine covers are a symbol that Modi is more than just the new PM. He’s also cool,” says Bangalore-based social worker Tinto Thomas, 25.

It’s difficult to pinpoint what lends to Modi’s coolness that makes the 63-year-old man tick with the youth. For one, his multifaceted personality helps.

Says Zaid Al Baset, assistant professor of sociology at St Xavier’s College, Kolkata: “There are three key components to Modi’s cool: He’s technology cool, he’s economy cool and he’s culture cool.” Modi, he says, has ideas the youth likes. But if he’s not careful, this could be temporary.

“The youth has a hard time finding high levels of intelligence as being cool if they’re not also conveyed with a sense of likability. While Kejriwal seemed intelligent and Rahul likeable, Modi, so far, has been able to capture both reputations,” he says.

And when the talk is about reputation, Tendulkar’s is the stuff legends are made of, a shining example of a middleclass dream achieved with sheer hard work.

He got 53% of all votes as the world’s biggest sports icon for 2014, reprising last year’s performance, followed by M S Dhoni (14.1%) and Virat Kohli (9.2%). Cricketers dominated the list, but he likes of Roger Federer (5.6%), Lionel Messi (4.3%) and Saina Nehwal (3.5%) too made the cut. See: World's biggest sporting icon

In cinema, the years may have taken the angst out of Bollywood’s angry-young-man, Amitabh Bachchan, but still the youth aspire to the 71-year-old actor’s exacting standards of excellence. See: Mirror, mirror... who’s the sexiest of them all?

“Big B shows no signs of slowing down,” says stand-up comic and actor Vir Das. “He’s always up to something exciting,” Das adds.

Bollywood’s three Khans — Shah Rukh (19%), Salman (10%) and Aamir (9%) — follow Bachchan, but matinee diva Priyanka Chopra is also a popular choice with 13% votes.

“This isn’t to denigrate other mega-stars, but to recognise that Priyanka exists in a somewhat different category than her closest female contemporaries. She does things her way, she takes risks,” says actor Gul Panag. Interestingly, Vidya Balan (7%) and Preity Zinta (3%) are the only other B-town female actors to make the list.

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