The Discredited Indian Political Class and GenNext


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Analyzes causes for the anger of India's new generation in the context of the recent heinous rape of Amanat in New Delhi

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The Discredited Indian Political Class and GenNext

  1. 1. Solidity or Pure Wind: India’s Political Class and GenNext at the Crossroads - I Barun Kumar Basu George Orwell believed there was a close association between bad prose andoppressive ideology, “In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of theindefensible.” Thus “political language... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murderrespectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” India’s current politicalclass is a classic example of Orwellian doublespeak, right from “cattle class” to “theek hai”played in the spirit of a weekend East Bengal vs. Mohun Bagan football match with thepolitical class on one side and hapless citizens covering their own goal on the other againstthe State as marauder. Exposed to external influences, post-1991 GenNext is the product and beneficiary ofliberalization. They have access to job opportunities my son’s generation never had. Forthem, the Internet is just a mouse click away with staggering mountains of information.Social networking sites across the world have enabled Indian youngsters to imbibe thevalues of democratic nations, for better and worse. GenNext is also witness to thedismantling of totalitarian empires and the expression of human freedom worldwide. Thestate having shrunk in terms of the patronage it once had, GenNext also, no longer, is asdependent on the State for job opportunities. A rapidly expanding and aggressive privatesector has expanded the vistas of the State in trade and commerce and even gone overseasinto a New World of their own, basing them on GenNext that retains active contact withtheir ilk back home. State-sponsored enterprise has been miserably exposed to GenNext bybenchmarking with the private sector and global standards of efficiency. GenNext also readssordid tales of underhand benefits accruing to politicians and bureaucrats from subterfugeslike Private-Public-Partnerships and so-called joint ventures. Yet GenNext has risen andshone mainly of their own steam, is fiercely zealous of their rights (though not always theirobligations), not dependent upon state largesse and lives in an India they rightly believe hasthe potential to be a superpower, but for the frigidity of its political class, cutting acrossparty lines. There is politics in education, health services, and provision of water and railwaylines, scholarships, jobs, and trade licenses for the unemployed, indeed every walk of life.There is little reason for fulfillment and expectations of equity and fair play anywhere forGenNext. Vigilante groups affiliated to political parties that storm bars and nightclubs and bullyteenagers in the name of religious conservatism, rape of women who are GenNext’smothers, sisters and wives, legislatures that suddenly guillotine matters of the greatestsocio-economic importance such as anti-corruption laws, an antiquated, overloaded andunderstaffed legal system that offers little or no redress, the non-existence/failure ofadministrative grievance redressing mechanisms in governance and the repeated attemptsto undermine institutions such as the Information Commissions – all this and much more isbut a full bottle of bitter pills for GenNext, as it is for their seniors. However, such pills,unlike Valium, do not kill, but energize anger in GenNext in dangerous ways. GenNext faces steadily rotting State-operated university systems that deniesadmission to students with 95% and above in Class 12 in school but these very students top 1
  2. 2. the merit list for entry into the London School of Economics and Harvard University. Thosewith lower marks must make do with ramshackle underfunded colleges and indifferentteachers who lack even elementary teaching skills and commitment, least of all anyaccountability. The school education system spawns generations of students who are unableto comprehend the goings-on in the world around them; hence the likes of Baba Ramdevemerge as leaders. For lowest academic performers from university, there are noworthwhile vocational training colleges that would empower them to lead their livesrespectably, instead turn them to a life of crime or unwillingly work as semi-indenturedlabor or menials in a service agency even as rebellion rises to a crescendo in them. Even foroutstanding students, academic curriculum is but a deflated bladder that has too manyholes to repair and make it rise once again. Lessons on morality and ethics, basic laws, etc.that would influence and educate GenNext against any waywardness do not even figure inschool and university curricula. Yet we expect saints of our young, when our system createsmonsters. Therefore when such a rebellious GenNext member is caught over speeding onRajpath and promptly fined Rs. 500, but finds the constable ready to let him go in return forRs. 250 getaway bribe, the youngster is happy even as the corrupt system ensnares him andhe learns to live life king-size, bribing his way through life. There is none to guide him backinto a relatively more virtuous mainstream. It is but natural for GenNext to be peeved when prominent members of the politicalclass speak of traveling “cattle class” while others utter “theek hai” in moments of gravecrisis, as if the nation with 40% of its total voters being people below the age of forty yearsare no more than obedient cows that must bow to the arrogance of the leaders theyelected. Twitterati and FBians, litter our political spaces even as citizens are increasinglyreduced to mere statistics on Excel work sheets. That India now possesses a power-packedGenNext after India’s world opened up in 1991 did not matter to the political class that,nonetheless, retained its hard-handed arbitrariness eternally grouted in the colonial past.Disconnect between the rulers and the ruled could never have been greater. It stands entirely to the credit of our GenNext that they took to the streetsprotesting against rape, corruption and host of other burning issues and the media that ablysupported them with extensive coverage. Yet they sadly lacked any leadership. No mediastudio-hopping political gasbag or social butterfly mouthing pious platitudes every evening,save for sundry members of this class who ‘smelt’ another opportunity to play GoodSamaritan for their narrow political ends, was visible at any such gathering for the securityof home was the safest bet then.The author is a former Ambassador of India 2
  3. 3. Solidity or Pure Wind: India’s Political Class and GenNext at the Crossroads - II Barun Kumar Basu Supporters of women’s legislation in legislatures, university student unions,teachers’ and lawyers’ associations, were neither calming agitated crowds nor leading them,for most of them owed allegiance to some section of the same political class that birthedthem. To their credit, concerned parents sympathized with kids in the severe Delhi winterand, perhaps, ensured that the situation did not get out of hand. In her passing, Amanatprovided a core issue that mostly affected GenNext, as ex-US President Eisenhower aptlysaid, to “…….protect the rights and privileges of free people and who would preserve what isgood and fruitful in our national heritage.” Rape is certainly not our heritage nor cancorruption be allowed to become our national cottage industry. It seemed the entire political class, cutting across political lines, with few exceptions,was united in the preservation of the status quo for the benefits the system offered, eitherin power or in anticipation of grabbing authority in the near future, even as Amanat died athousand deaths in her hospital bed. As the silent candle-carrying mourning crowds movedalong streets and India Gate, the police was there “for you, with you, always”, ready withtheir water cannons and tear gas shells, truncheons and more. India Gate became IndiaFortress while Metro stations were shut down perhaps in anticipation of a bombing raid byunarmed and educated kids. The nation’s top political leaders met half a dozen students andparents in the wee hours of the morning; even then it was a “hum dekhengey” approachwithout promise of any concrete action. The insensitivity of the State was manifest in asenior central bureaucrat complimenting his police honcho on his adept “handling of thesituation.” And when finally the bigwigs decided to make their media presence felt, it wasjust a “theek hai”, by Orwell’s definition giving “….an appearance of solidity to pure wind”! When it became apparent that the youngsters would not yield, the political classeven chartered an air ambulance to jettison Amanat in a Singapore hospital and thenbrought her body back in a special Air India flight at the dead of night, that too mostsurreptitiously! Even when it came to compensating a dead citizen’s needy family, the Stateaccorded generous largesse to its fallen police employee while Amanat’s bereaved namak-roti family will vanish into oblivion soon. It was a travesty that the political class waged warupon its electors, governors pitched against their own citizens, using illegitimate force tosuppress legitimate demand to protect their lives, liberty and properties. If India’s GenNext moved forward in the last two decades after 1991, clearly India’spolitical class and their means of retaining authority remained firmly grouted in colonialIndia. It was sadly reminiscent of the beginning of the Church and a decadent nobility of thepre- and Tudor and Stuart eras in England fighting a losing battle with the resurgent middleclass over the next 400 years for a promising new order in society, polity and the economy,something India, at this take-off stage, can ill afford. America’s Declaration of Independence(1776) stated that “…. that all men are created equal, …… with certain unalienable Rights,that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness………..That whenever anyForm of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alteror to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principlesand organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their 3
  4. 4. Safety and Happiness.” Amanat may have passed into eternity but her legacy has raisedseveral disturbing questions, notably in the right of citizens to change governments“deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” This has, in turn, called intoquestion the capability and willingness of both the polity and its political class “to effect thesafety and happiness” of GenNext, indeed of the whole nation. History shows that educated mass but leaderless GenNext protests over burningissues could see coalescing of many fringe, and often violent, groups for political advantagethat may plunge the nation into a state of civil war. Equally, such continuing protest mayalso witness the further fragmentation of the Indian polity, though not entirely unwelcome,by the coalescing of hitherto apolitical but educated groups around cores of GenNext insupport of Charles de Gaulle’s “…….conclusion that politics is too serious a matter to be leftto the politicians.” In the worst case scenario, Elections 2014 may equally revolve aroundGenNext as India’s feudal political class desperately tries to ‘buy’ and corrupt GenNext withfree-flowing but ill-gotten moneys. If that happens, it would merge both Mohun Bagan andEast Bengal’s goal posts into one as the politician referee blows his final whistle hustling thisnoble land back to a dark and medieval age. In 1866, British Prime Minister WE Gladstonefamously asserted that “Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence.Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear.” GenNext is straining to jettisonconservatism and adopt liberalism. The warning signals are loud and clear for India’spolitical class to accept the fact that “political speech and writing are largely the defense ofthe indefensible” and that GenNext also derives its legitimacy from the parenthood of theentire nation and its electors. Therefore, the need to urgently address the multifariousconcerns of GenNext can, no longer, remain understated for India’s political class, cuttingacross political party lines, if the integrity of the nation and its development are to remainassured. Banking on short public memory dangerously conceals uncontrolled explosion toblowing point. What if 2% of residual memory for 50 failures each made for a 100% voteagainst the polity and the political class in Elections 2014? Where will India go from there? Ileave my readers to find appropriate answers.The author is a former Ambassador of India 4