City City Bang Bang, Columns

Of Politics & The Young

This is the time for the young to focus on studies and make something of their lives. Not to get involved in politics and waste valuable time. These are distractions that are best avoided. It is so easy for the young to get manipulated by vested interests and become instruments of political parties, some of them anti-nationals. There will always be time enough for all this, when one has gathered more experiences and has a more mature view of life.

Its great advice, and its being dished out in plenty. The irony of course is that the love for academic immersion that is sought to be imposed on this generation has been so woefully absent in the very generation giving this advice. Unlike school, college in India, barring a few exceptions, has never really been about serious studying. It is true for most people that the distractions offered by college had less to do with politics and much more to do more earthly pleasures. And truth be told, if this generation had stayed true to this time-honoured script and spent its time cutting classes, watching movies, hanging out at the mall and spend time pursuing sundry romantic relationships, nobody would be complaining. It is only because their attention has turned to politics that this problem has arisen.

And even then, had the particular brand of politics been a different one, would the same complaints have arisen? Had the young stood up against corruption in the CWG, would the same pious declarations have been made? In any case, the ruling party sees no problems in politicising even younger students as it goes school-to-school hard-selling CAA and branding it opponents as traitors. The party has no problems with its youth wing, and the ABVP has been chalking up many impressive performances of a violent kind, cheered on by the very people who decry the involvement of youth in politics.

It is hardly as if this is the first generation that has taken an interest in politics. From the times of the freedom movement, where the Vanar Sena comprising young children participated in the effort, the Navnirman movement of 1974, to the Mandal agitation of the 80s, youth political movements have been common. It is true that in

post-liberalisation India, the young had largely become more docile and conforming, having been caught in the blissful stupefaction brought about by the combination of consumption and entertainment. To that extent, one can understand the discomfiture caused to the older generation who had become used to a tamer set of young people, when the young suddenly rediscover their inner ebullience.

It should hardly surprise anyone that the young of today have become more politicised. The young today receive the kind of exposure that earlier generations have taken a lifetime to receive. It is virtually impossible to avoid the political, not only because of the volume of information and opinion that is in circulation, but also because so many aspects of our everyday life have become more visibly political. Fashion, entertainment, even brands, are all taking up more overt political stances, making it impossible not to look at the world through a political lens. The young in particular are in general more passionately engaged with issues larger than themselves as gender, sexuality, and the environment become concerns that they feel compelled to take positions on. The rise of Malala and Greta Thunberg is a phenomenon quite unlike anything seen before, but it is only a small pointer to the extent to which political engagement has become a characterising feature of the current generation.

It was believed by many that while the political impulse might be strong in today’s youth, the willingness to back it up with any action that involves a cost to the self would be low. Social media makes outrage cheap and plentiful, but physical sacrifice and pain of any kind that involves more than tapping out a message on a screen more improbable. This dismissive view of the extent of engagement with politics has been revealed to be a lazy one. The young have shown resilience and the stomach for a long and difficult fight.

That this causes acute discomfort to the older generation is not surprising. Paternalistic moralising has always been the preserve of all older generations through time. While all political parties in general do not know how to accommodate the aspirations of the youth and are able to inject youthfulness only through dynastic succession, the BJP is at its core, an organisation founded on a paternalistic view of the world. Rooted as it is in an idealised imagination of the past, it looks upon the

modern with suspicion. Modernity is welcomed in the form of infrastructure, but feared when it appears in the form of thought. The job of the young is to listen and follow; indeed, the job of all its supporters is also the same. The young might be valued for their muscle, but not for their minds. The attempt to recast Valentine’s day as Parents Respect Day might be a small symbol, but it is a potent one. To place parental obedience as a counterpoint to romantic yearning takes a worldview that is unmindful of the reality of the times.

In fact, it could be argued that the young have far greater reason to protest today than ever before. Apart from the immediate issue at hand, the collision between spectre of growing unemployment and the spiralling aspirations of today is potentially a flashpoint that could go off anytime now. Previous generations have all but destroyed the institutions that were put in place by the framers of the Constitution, and the costs will be transferred to the next generation. What we are seeing today is the sight of the young attempting to take control of their own destinies. They will not be stopped easily.