Despite the Congress debacle in Bihar, Rahul Gandhi’s forays into small towns and villages seem to have hit responsive chords, possibly because there are huge numbers of the young who despise the old politicians and want leaders who are fresh and clean. Most young people in towns or villages are no longer resigned to their fates. This change is mainly propelled by some 350 million Indians between the ages of 16 and 35 — or some 35% of our population — who have mobiles in their hands and a motorcycle or car to ride. It is a revolution of impatient young people. Inspired by television, they want the good life and want it now.
Many students disdain government colleges but head for private institutes teaching computers, technical skills and English. They seek employment in call centres or seek to ply their own small businesses as building or service contractors, small manufacturers, owners of roadside eateries or running repair shops. Seeking new opportunities, many migrate from villages to neighbouring towns, leaving the elderly behind. As they earn and spend more, there is an explosion of demand for articles of consumption.
Their ambitions, triggered by TV and cinema, are both good and bad. That they still respect many of the underlying Indian values of family and religion is, of course, good. Their impatience and anger and their attraction to liquor, drugs and sex is, of course, not commendable. These young people want quick answers, a fast life and quick justice. This has huge political impact because India’s new youth have little time for the issues that so stirred their elders. They want stable economic progress where they can thrive. The Left are floundering precisely because the ideology of socialism is of little interest to them while the BJP is losing direction because Hindutva ideology offers few work opportunities. Regional languages are losing ground because they are not very useful for job opportunities. They know that Hindi and English are essential for jobs but a third language is an unproductive burden.
They are not as strongly bound by caste as their elders used to be. With better education the lower castes also face fewer obstacles. Young men may be more outspoken but young women are no longer as submissive as their mothers had been. Girls want better education that can make them economically independent and free from bondage to caste or tradition. Many are increasingly assertive against forced marriages, dowry and other injustices.
These young people do not respect the authority of the government because it represents the lazy, inefficient and corrupt world of thanedars, tehsildars, patwaris, doctors at primary health centres or teachers at village schools. They do not respect a legal system where the rich abuse the law to oppress the poor. They also have little time for their politicians because they regard all elected representatives as corrupt and and useless. They have moved beyond ‘roti, kapda and makaan’ and seek education and employment opportunities that can give them the good life.
These millions constitute a huge pool of restless energy that lacks a direction. If they merely follow their movie role models they could become an angry, destructive lot. But if this energy could be productively channelised, it could accelerate India’s progress. With education and motivation, they could become a great economic asset as populations age in the US, China, Europe and Japan. But they need young leaders who understand them and who they can relate to.
Murad Ali Baig is a Delhi-based automobiles analyst. The views expressed by the author are personal