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Random musings on #politics #youth and #citizenship

I haven’t opined on Indian politics for a while. To tell you the truth, I’ve been ruminating, taking it all in. And here are some randomly picked thoughts from the thousands that buzz around my head.

#1 Let’s stop comparing AAP’s Delhi election win with the 2014 general elections!

I’m really tired of the over-analysis, the conspiracy theories and the general building up of expectations. The truth is that any new government will take time to settle and move forward. And really, can we compare Delhi’s politics with India’s? My quick thoughts: The AAP win is a good jolt for the BJP and hopefully has sent them scrambling to their desks to actually bring out the many policies that are “being worked on” at this time. For AAP, my big question is: Is there a method to Kejriwal’s politics or is it a case of learning to swim so you don’t drown! I’m hopeful, but given his huge mandate, I’m afraid citizens will have to play the triple role of whistleblower, class monitor and audience-giving-polite-applause! Not something we’re used to doing really!

#2 Young people’s politics is confusing and their apathy disappointing

I’m constantly apalled at the strong streak of conservatism among the young today. On Valentine’s Day, I met a young neighbour and asked after her V-Day plans. She didn’t have any. And what’s more, she told me her parents were devastated and upset about her being single and not so ready to mingle! Survey after survey of youth in India have pointed towards a tendency to support the status quo. The Yuva Nagarik Meter survey brought out in Jan 2015 showed these disturbing trends among Indian youth, trends that are consistent with other surveys in recent years:

  • Youth are ignorant about basic civic issues like democracy, rule of law and human rights
  • They are dimly aware of citizenship: “Only 35 percent of high school students consider themselves citizens of India. Nearly three fourth do not know that the legislature is responsible for enacting laws,” as per a Huffington post report
  • They have internalised stereotypes on gender and social justice- 50% are intolerant of migrant workers from other states, many believe that “household help do not have the right to demand minimum wages”

#3 Youth apathy combined with high expectations impacts poll results

I’m not surprised therefore, that we are seeing more absolute mandates than before when elections happen. I think young people are impatient for change but might not really want a radical rethink of positions. Also, they (and it’s not just the young) are given to pass quick judgements and move on if their expectations are not met.

#4 How much does your politics alter your perceptions?

I’m not a BJP supporter and certainly not overawed by the PM’s rangeela personality and flavourful brand of politics. I have a number of friends who are in the opposite camp as well. Many of these left-leaning friends of mine have been upset about something. They claim that previously ‘moderate’ friends who voted for Modi on the plank of development must speak out against the BJP’s divisive politics. There’s a fair amount of hurt going around and the PM’s very recent press statements on religious freedom will, I suspect, add flame to the fire rather than settle things down.

I’ve been arguing with the moderates and leftists among my friends, who tend to shout down anything Modi says or does, on the need to give a fair hearing to the positions brought forth by the current government. Critique them by all means (if possible, constructively), but being obstinately obstructive might not really help! And I’ve been trying hard to follow my own instincts, that tell me that an unconsidered extremist position is a bad one, whether your politics is conservative or liberal is besides the point.

We need a new social order to harness the power of frugal innovation or ‘jugaad’ to improve communities- July 17, 2012

Shashi Tharoor puts it succinctly in this article. India has a lot more going for it than the macro economic indicators suggest. He talks about frugal innovation or what we know better as jugaad. This is a cornerstone of the Indian psyche. Whatever be the situation, Indians will find a way around myriad obstacles to get ahead.

It puzzles me that this jugaad mentality of finding innovative solutions to problems both simple and tricky does not extend to community issues. We Indians are comfortable thinking in terms of the family unit. In the days gone by, the biraadari, loosely translated as the community, was based on certain elements that bound families together. Caste and sub-caste played a strong role here and this had a correlation with the occupation and therefore lifestyle, that included eating habits, dress codes, language, mannerisms, social structures and codes of conduct, etc.

After independence, India has struggled to establish a democratic society despite the fact that most Indians associate themselves with a biraadari or kaum; that is what drives their identity, that is where allegiances lie, the people within the biraadari are ‘us’, everyone else is ‘them’. This sort of thinking has posed as an impediment to the establishment of a nationalist thinking as well as to the nurturing of democratic values.

Modern societies, especially in the urban context, are diverse and multicultural. People from an astonishing array of backgrounds live together in new forms of community, like apartment blocks and gated colonies, or work together. It will take us time to establish common ground that is not based on the traditional concepts of biraadari. I see this where I live. Despite being educated, serving or having served in government service or the armed forces, or in senior positions in corporate organizations, I observe that people often feel most comfortable forming groups that have caste and region as the binding factor. Religion, of course, and language, are very strong elements in social interaction across age groups. Younger people do deviate from this trend, and world view, political leanings, income class and aesthetic tastes become differentiators basis which we decide who our friends are. Perhaps this is because they are idealistic and still willing to trust most people; they haven’t been stung by the bug of cynicism and social interactions are not about seeking safe havens, but about creating excitement. I would like to think that a new social order is emerging in urban India, but to be honest, the robustness of this new order remains to be seen.

I have no doubts, however, of the urgent need for this new social order. The creation of new common ground for people to come together is essential so that we can harness the power of innovation for the community, not just to further individual aspirations.

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