India: A Revolution from below

India: A Revolution from below
Anita Cheria and Edwin
This elections will have a crucial difference: the third generation of Indians will vote. Assuming that Indians have children at the age of 18—and many do before that—we needed 54 years [18 x 3] after independence for this to happen. With this ‘grandchildren of the revolution’ voting, it marks an important milestone and coming of age of the silent revolution that is overtaking India. This is a revolution of the consciousness and changes the way India looks at itself and the rest of the world.

This has far reaching consequences—just as the advent of the retirement of the first post independence generation in the late 1970s and the early 1980s, with its huge pension funds and disposable income, marked the coming of age of the Indian middle class as the consumer class. It is no coincidence that the consumer revolution took place then.

If we have 18 as the generational age, then those born before 1965 are Generation 1, those between 1965 and 1983 Generation 2, and those up to 2001 are Generation 3. The mindset of each is very different. The pre-independence generation—Generation 0—have either retired or are rapidly reaching retirement. Those in decision making positions, at the moment—newspaper editors among them—belong to Generation 1. For them, there still exists an Indian National Congress, a one hundred year old party. For Generation 3, there exists only a Congress(I)—and many don’t even know what the (I) stands for, and couldn’t care less—and that is just as old as them. And they are actually, factually correct. Even conceding that the Congress(I) is the inheritor of the INC legacy, to carry the analogy a little further, though one agrees that the descendants can inherit the mantle of the ancestors, one does not say that the son is as old as the father!

Even a decade ago, newspapers, indicative of the thinking of the older generation psyche, used to talk of the Opposition parties and the Congress—subtly reinforcing the notion that the Congress(I) is the natural ruling party. We regularly heard of opposition ruled states—surely a contradiction in terms! But it was ‘understood’ to mean non Congress(I). The Congress was seen as the ‘natural ruling party’.

But for Generation 3, it is not so. From 1983—in 23 years—they have seen just 12 Congress(I) years. They have seen a total of 10 prime ministers, only 4 of them from the Congress(I). Contrast this with the just 2 years of non-Congress rule till 1983! Each political party is weighed on its own merits. For them, the halo of the Independence struggle does not rest with any of the political parties, and their sense of nationhood is not so insecure as those of the Independence generation—Generation 1. For Generation 3, Indian nationhood is a ‘given,’ a take-it-for-granted state of affairs. Remember when politicians routinely asked for all ‘patriotic’ Indians to vote for their party? And when opposition parties were all anti- national? Voting for a particular party is no longer a test of one’s patriotism.

On the economic front the changes are equally drastic. Living through the socialism of the license raj there is naturally no emotional attachment towards any ism other than what ‘works.’ [And to the dismay of the elders not to idealism either!] In that sense they all belong to Dewey’s school of philosophy. The intense preoccupation with egalitarianism or ideology, as those who have shared a common test of fire—such as the independence struggle or a war—is no longer present. Instead, though there is much idealism, as the youth have always had, it is tempered firmly with realism. The feet of this generation are firmly planted on the ground. The lack of ideological fanaticism is pronounced in many different ways. This generation was born at the time of the cold war, true. But more than ideological conflict, it saw the utter cynicism of all ideology. The Russian—Soviet Union’s, if you will—imperialism in Afghanistan, a prostrate United States just after Vietnam, support of the west to the so-called genocidal Pol Pot, a Tinnamien Square in China... all these have left this generation with a profound disinterest towards ideology, and a mature skepticism about all ideological conflicts. They know that once a deed is done, no matter how selfish, some ideological fig leaf can be found to justify it. This is not growing up without being idealistic, nor is it a lost childhood. This generation is idealistic but is also just a shade more pragmatic, and just a shade more honest—with itself and the world.

This healthy irreverence with regard to customs, traditions and the nation itself are signs of a growing self-confidence. Only a self-confident person can laugh at oneself. In international relations this self-confidence means that they are not in the thrall of the ‘only super power in the world.’ They would like to go and learn—and make money—there. But it is not the promised land. They can also see it for what it is—the world’s largest debtor and the largest military dinosaur. Iraq did happen, but then so does Bosnia, where it is impotent, and even in Iraq it had to pass around the bowl afterwards—75% of the American Iraq war was paid for by its ‘allies’. It sees the ‘super-power’ addicted not to war, but to Vietnam—Somalia, and now Iraq.

This generation does not have any misplaced sense of nationalism. Instinctively they know that when there is a call for patriotism, it is only for the benefit of a few. Quite heretical to the older generation, but cannot be wished away. Take the enthusiasm with which they have embraced the foreign onslaught in the consumer market. The criteria is the quality of the product, not where it is made—though the place of manufacture also plays a deciding role in the perceived quality of the product. Just because a product has the ‘made in India’ label, one does not buy shoddy goods. This generation calls halt to the subsidy and ‘reservation’ given to the Indian business class for the past five decades in the name of patriotism and self-reliance.

These are not forecasts. If we look at Generation 2—they are just getting into decision making position—these attitudinal changes are already visible. The extent to which the electorate changes non-working governments, the amount of plurality—despite communal and fascist hysteria—with the union government with one party, the states having another and the panchayats still another, all these are proof enough. Some political parties realize this too: the BJP campaigns on emotional issues, but delivers on bread-and-butter ‘good governance’ issues. Though it has not delivered on its USPs—article 370, the temple or the common civil code—that is not considered, though their delivery on issues of good governance—infrastructure for one—is their key asset. Equality—both for citizens and for coalition partners—is a non-negotiable: TINA simply does not work anymore. The lionising of the ‘uncharismatic’ Chandrababu or Krishna by the media—though their impact in the rural areas was not as good—was no accident since techno-managerial, quick fix, media savvy solutions are what Generations 2 and 3 can understand.

This generation dominates technology rather than be overwhelmed by it. They are perfectly at home with computers, cellular phones, space travel, ‘love marriages,’ free love, as well as ragas, Indian customs and arranged marriages. It is no accident that the kurta and jeans is their fashion, along with the t-shirt. What they are saying is that they can take the best of all cultures without being swept off their feet by any of them. Multi-channel television—with instant news and visuals from all parts of the globe, no matter how remote—are routine. These are all the ‘givens’ for this generation. It is not that they have ceased to wonder, but they do not wonder about the same things as the older generation.

This generation thinks nothing of spending Rupees one thousand for pair of shoes—and many have more than a pair—and having a car before they are out of the teens. This is not restricted only to the elite but also to sections of the middle middle-class. They think nothing of demanding—and getting—six and seven figure incomes.

Since it is the cutting edge of technology, most of the changes are seen in the information technology industry first. The average time that a professional stays in one company is two years. And there is no difficulty in getting another job. Rather than being a job hunter, the professional becomes the hunted, and a quite pricey one at that. Companies vie with one another to entice and retain the best professionals. Income hikes of one hundred per cent per annum are not unknown. The professional accepts this gracefully as birthright. No more standing in front of the ‘boss’ for a festival allowance. This generation gives work everything they have and also live life as one big festival.

They do not want to own everything that they use. Not in the sense that the elders do. Just as their elders did not want to ‘own’ the bus that they traveled in, this generation does not need to own their cars, washing machines or even their houses. Hire purchase and debit purchase—often called credit purchase in a typically charming Orwellian fashion—anathema to the older generation is a way of life with them. A home in every resort? No problem. Timeshare is the answer. Ever heard of a holiday paid for in instalments before?

As in all societies in transition, it is perhaps the women who have travelled most. Working outside the home? A career? Driving a two or four wheeler? or being a pilot, business manager...? The changes there are much more fundamental. Much more liberated, and not only in their choice of clothes or profession, they now can choose either to stay at home or go out for work. They do not have to assert their right to the career by working outside the home. They take time off for babies—sometimes years—and are gratefully accepted back into the work force. The winning of beauty contests, or posing in their birthday suits are only indications of self-confidence.

Unthinkable—even immoral and unethical—to the old, these are commonplace to the new. What are the implications of this revolutionary change? Does society have the space for the potent revolutionary forces that are sweeping the nation into not only the twenty first century but also the third millennium? One cannot get away from them, for they are everywhere. This mindset will only increase. When the present political leaders succumb to foreign pressure, do they realize utter disbelief that this generation has? Do they realize the explosion that is just waiting to happen? For this generation, superpowers are just other countries. The increasing confidence is seen in demanding the best—and getting it. Evidence of this can be seen from the no longer deferent Indian tourist to the increasing flexing of Indian economic muscle to keep even the US on tenterhooks: notice how they play off Airbus versus Boeing with élan—and will perhaps add a punitive clause for all purchases from the US in the event of ‘sanctions’ in future. The wish-list of the excluded and the resultant anger when denied is just waiting to explode in a generation that is not attuned to waiting patiently and saving forever before their dream comes true. The new generation has infiltrated the system, and are forcing the system to make space for them. The revolution is here. And in each election, their share of the vote will only increase.