For this first-time voter, there is no other place like India
On November 4, 2018, while browsing Quora, 19-year-old Ayush Anand Malik stumbled upon a question that caught his attention: “What is the difference between India and the United States of America?”
One of the answers that listed reasons for American “superiority” called it cleaner, more powerful, and better governed. It got Ayush worked up. “I felt I need to say something about my country,” he said.
“There is no other place like India,” Ayush wrote on Quora, with 13 bullet points highlighting attributes that make India better than the US according to him: strong family ties, community bonding, respect for elders, and joyous festivals.
A first-year engineering student at the Institute of Engineering and Technology in Indore, Ayush travels to his college every day from Dewas, a town 40 km from Indore, where he stays with his parents. Originally from Darbhanga, his father has lived in many places as a migrant factory worker - from the Middle-east to Nepal to Madhya Pradesh. The sole earning member in the household, his father makes Rs 15,000 per month.
“That’s not enough to run a family of four,” said his mother, Rani Malik, who manages the house and takes care of their two children, Ayush and his 13-year old brother , Ambar Anand. She occasionally turns to tailoring to make ends meet. .
His Indian dream
The family expects Ayush’s degree in computer science to open the doors to a better life. He hopes to land a job with an IT company through campus placements, but he is keener to pass the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering exam that will lead to a higher paying and more secure public-sector job. “My mother wanted me to become an engineer. Her cousins who are engineers have done well in life,” he said. One of them is settled in the US.
When Ayush isn’t attending his lectures, he browses social media, plays cricket and watches movies. He is a fan of the Marvel superheroes series, but nothing beats Bollywood and south Indian cinema for him. His Instagram bio reveals him to be a fan of Hindi film actor Akshay Kumar, south Indian actress Keerthy Suresh and cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni. His bio also announces the brand of his dream car: “LAMBORGHINI.”
From newspapers to social media
For Ayush, Instagram is fun, Facebook is boring, and WhatsApp is untrustworthy.
For information, he relies on newspapers. Since Class 10, Ayush has been reading local papers every day, spending at least 30 minutes reading one. Like many technology students and professionals, he goes to Quora to debate about India and the world. “It has all types of people with different views. They present a variety of arguments. Some look right, some wrong. That’s good.” He has expressed his opinion on the platform on wide-ranging topics, from farm loan waivers to the controversial Rafale deal. “I look at the questions. If there is something I see about which I know and have something to say, I write.”
Different polls, different votes
It was his father who ignited his interest in politics. Ayush occasionally watches TV news with him, and their views mostly concur. But, in the recent Madhya Pradesh assembly polls, Ayush and his mother voted for the BJP and his father for the Congress, which eventually won the state.
Each of them voted according to their interests and expectations. Ayush and his mother were swayed by the state scholarship scheme, Medhavi Vidyarthi Yojana, which is funding Ayush’s engineering education. His father wasn’t happy with the local leaders the BJP had put forth in the state elections, he said.
“There is no compulsion in our family to vote for the same party. Everyone votes independently,” he said. But for the upcoming general elections, there is a clear consensus: Narendra Modi for Prime Minister. “Modi is a very good leader. He takes risky and bold decisions on his own. His foreign trips raise India’s stature in the international community,” Ayush explained.
The work done by this government is visible, he says. “Take Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan,” he argued. “Earlier, Indore and Dewas were full of garbage. Then Swachh Bharat began, raised awareness among people, and was complemented with efforts from officials. Now look how clean the area has become,” he said. In 2018, Indore topped the Swachh Survekshan rankings, the second year in a row, to earn the title for cleanest Indian city.
Ayush goes on to count more achievements. “Inflation is under control, corruption has gone down, India’s defence capabilities have become stronger.”
But there are some things the Modi government didn’t get right, he says. “Demonetisation was a good idea but was not implemented well. Same with GST [Goods and Services Tax].”
The biggest problem in the country, he says, is caste-based reservations.
“Some people from my school who studied with me but scored less got admission into better colleges. I scored 40 marks more than a student in the JEE [joint entrance examination]; he got into an NIT [national institutes of technology] and I am still here,” said Ayush, who belongs to the upper caste Kayastha community.
“If at all reservations should exist, it should be based on economic condition, not caste,” he said.
Ayush shared on Quora his analysis of the Centre’s new reservation policy that provides 10% quota to the economically backward. He believes that the bar — annual household income less than Rs 8 lakh and some exclusion from land ownership — is too high. Rani Malik agreed: “Families who earn that much are not poor. We don’t even make Rs 2 lakh per year. Kehne ko general hain, but hum hain bahut neeche (we belong to the general category in name, but we are very low in status).”
Mind the language
Another thing that troubles Ayush about contemporary India is the new political language. “Leaders say anything they want. Just recently, some RLD [Rashtriya Lok Dal] leader referred to Modi and Smriti Irani as bull, calf and cow. Why? This is wrong, no? You cannot use such language for the Prime Minister. Whatever [the context], he is the Prime Minister of our country,” he said.
The problem is not with just the Opposition, he added. “Even BJP leaders use such language, and that’s not good.”
He wishes Rahul Gandhi didn’t attack Modi at international forums. “Criticism is important and fine as long as done within the country. That doesn’t throw a good light on the nation,” he said.
Ayush’s faith in public institutions is strong. He is concerned about the ongoing tussle within the CBI and the government’s handling of it; he thinks the former RBI governor Urjit Patel should not have resigned and that the government and the central bank must work together; and he contends that the Supreme Court should have the final word on everything.
“These things reflect badly on India’s international image. Outsiders will say Indians keep fighting among themselves,” he said.
‘Not just for Hindus’
Ayush’s idealism is also reflected in his views on the place of religion in public life: “All religions are equal,” he said. “I have Muslim friends. In Nepal, we stayed in a house owned by Muslims for around 2-3 years. We lived like a family. Even in Dewas, we initially rented a house from a Muslim. There is no difference,” he said.
Ayush does not believe the Modi government favours only Hindus. It is because of its proximity to the RSS, he said, that the BJP is perceived as a Hindu party. “There are some BJP leaders who make statements that reflect the party as communal, especially some local politicians in Rajasthan,” he said.
“Some people instigate communal violence to show the government in a bad light or for whatever reason,” Ayush said. “Normal logon ko apni life se fursat nahi hai. Woh kya dusron se ladenge? (common people are too busy living their own lives, how will they fight with others?).”
What does he think of the demand for a Ram temple in Ayodhya ahead of upcoming Lok Sabha polls? “Citizens have nothing to gain. Maybe the temple increases tourism opportunities, what else? I think they should open something towards charity there, like a school or hospital. No mandir, no masjid.”