The new Indian voter is angry, armed and dangerous
The new Indian voter tasted success, and is angry on being interrupted by a sloppy, corrupt system. It is armed with information, technology, and desire to get its way democratically, writes Abhijit Majumder.india Updated: Dec 31, 2013 14:31 IST
Morning, December 22, 2012. Anti-rape protestors had reached the gates of Raisina Hill.
Public anger fulminated at the yellow barricades, threatening to storm India's power district which houses the President, the Secretariat, and the Prime Minister's Office, when heavily armoured policemen brought out the canes, teargas, and the water cannons.
The State had spent its patience, but angry citizens were beginning to draw from their reservoir of resolve.
That moment, that image arrived. And Reuters photojournalist Adnan Abidi captured it: A swathe of angry youngsters, as if choreographed by history, raging and flashing their middle-fingers, lobbing a challenge to all that lay beyond the water cannons and the khaki wall of lawkeepers.
An entire generation could produce this photo at interviews or immigration.
It is an angry generation, but it is not angry in the confused, helpless, and gloomy manner of the Deewar-streaked '70s. It is not even the Rang De Basanti anger seven years ago which still did not see a cogent, lawful solution at the end of the candlelit tunnel.
This generation - an estimated 150 million of them will vote for the first time in 2014 - is canny, confident, and clear about what it wants to achieve. It has far more tools to swiftly organise into groups, beam its views, and adopt and alter strategies. Government after government has realised that the new lot is far more connected and informed than they thought.
It has little in common with the 'roti, kapdaa and makaan' generation, but it has something in common with Amitabh Bachchan in Deewar: "Main pheka hua paisa nahin uthata (I don't pick up coins thrown at me)."
Rahul Gandhi's new slogan on 'eat full roti, work for 100 days' was roundly ridiculed on social media. A growing number of youngsters feel such slogans and sops are condescending, and the language harks back to the days when promise of sops won a party elections and the poor remained poor.
This generation knows its entitlements. It was born into the free market and floppy disc world of the '90s; has seen the floppies give way to CDs, MP3, and Cloud. It grew up being told it was talented and capable, and on stories which were not of kings and queens but of Indians winning in business and other fields all over the world.
Then there was the slowdown. Jobs and opportunities started shrinking, prices began a spidery climb. They were told global forces were behind all this.
It would have been believable. But it has become impossible for an opaque and duplicitous political class and an acquiescing media to keep corruption, apathy, and incompetence hidden from public.
Right to Information findings or damning amateur videos taken from a smartphone get on to the internet and social media within minutes, are hauled across the collected gaze of millions, uncomfortable names come up and begin to trend, and the mainstream media are often forced and shamed into gingerly following up.
From hostel districts of Bhopal to middle-class pockets in Delhi and from shantytowns in Meerut to Bastar's tribal heartland, I have seen young people connect with one another and converge within a couple of hours for an Anna Hazare or a Narendra Modi rally, to join an anti-rape protest, or to support a local cause.
Most politicians are still doing the caste math or betting on the urban-rural divide, when technology and its wonderkid, the humble mobile phone, are fast washing away those lines.
Today there are close to 90 cell phone connections per hundred Indians. There would hardly be a village which does not have a cell phone or a TV set. A young man in a village or a small town accesses the same urban content and very often has more fervid urban ambitions than a metro teenager.
From India's staggering diversity, a unity of purpose is emerging, especially among the young. Recent elections have shown that people across the country have started voting above caste or communal lines for the party or candidate they trust. The politics of social engineering is fast becoming less and less relevant.
And then there is the larger context of disenchanted young population in democracies like India, Brazil, Russia, and Turkey - growing economies interrupted, their youth given a taste of success and then held back by corruption, nepotism, non-performance, and lack of speed and transparency.
Unbridled protests swept these nations in the past year or so. Tipping points seemed to be relatively regular events: Crackdown on a protest fast and a gang rape in India, rigged elections in Russia, increase in public transport fares in Brazil, proposal to shave off a park for development in Turkey.
But these have uncorked explosive frustration with corruption and State arrogance. The protests showed the deep withdrawal the young in these nations suffer when confidence and hope are taken away.
Another signature of this generation is irreverence. Whether it is Putin, Erdogan or the Gandhis, nobody is above scrutiny. Uneasy questions on entitlement of the super-elite and their children vis-à-vis citizens' entitlements have gatecrashed our discourse.
But unlike the Arab Spring, the youth in these countries do not want to overthrow the system. They just want to make the system work.
And that is why the Indian Establishment has panicked. Station after metro station was shut down in Delhi to stop the spread of protests, water cannons and teargas brought out, lokpal passed in a hurry, the PM and head of the ruling party made to brave a frosty yearend dawn in Delhi to receive the body of a gang rape victim, and a party shied from forming the government falling merely four seats short.
This generation is a problem. It respects democracy. It would not just make trouble; it would come back and vote. It is the new Indian voter.
(The writer is resident editor, Hindustan Times, New Delhi)