Among the first things chronic politics watchers would have noticed this Friday morning was a tweet in Hindi by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. Best effort translation: They are worshippers of Jinnah, we pray to Sardar Patel. They adore Pakistan, we love Mother India.
It’s easy to express abhorrence, or endorse it, if you so wish. Or call it a communal dog whistle. Which it is. But a student of politics would look deeper. The lazy part is to merely express abhorrence or endorsement. If you translate it into politics, you might discover something more profound.
Stirrings in the Hindi heartland, generally 2004 onwards, had given us the first indications of the rise of an aspirational India. For example, the change in Bihar beginning 2005, when Lalu Yadav’s party was defeated after 15 years by Nitish Kumar, despite his ossified caste vote banks.
People of Bihar, overwhelmingly young, had spoken. They were no longer willing to vote based on their grievances of the past. They now had expectations from Nitish for the future.
The rival political messages underlined to us the tussle. Lalu said in his campaign, the battle for social justice has resumed. It’s time you all season your lathis (sticks) in oil (apni lathi ko tel pilao). Nitish, on the other hand, was saying no, you can no longer get equality by seasoning your lathis in oil. You would get it from education, jobs, with an ability to speak and work in English. His counter: This is time not to soak your lathis in oil, but fill ink in your pens.
The pundits laughed at him. He had to be nuts to be arguing the case for pen is mightier than lathi in caste-ridden, hopeless, stone-poor rural Bihar. He won a famous victory and has pretty much been in power since. There was a new stirring, a change in the heartland. By 2009, when UPA returned to power with much larger numbers than in 2004, we were confident enough to hail the rise of an aspirational India.
Politics of grievance, we said, had now been replaced by the politics of aspiration. What else could a predominantly young India ask the Gods for? Growth had been brilliant the preceding years, and India was poised to encash its demographic dividend. This was a sentiment that spoke out in the majority given to Narendra Modi in 2014. The young Indians, still riding a wave of optimism, and bitter with UPA-2, bought into his promise of growth, jobs, prosperity. They weren’t just voting against Pakistan, or a new republic where Muslims were to be ‘others’ and ‘allowed to live’ only if they knew their place.
Year on year after that, we’ve gone backwards into the angry past. The youth in the same Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where we’d seen this yearning of aspiration, are now frustrated, burning government property, even a train, which doesn’t happen often these days, and are thrashed by the police in their hostel in Allahabad University in the middle of an election campaign.
And why wouldn’t they be angry? It takes us a bit of effort to understand what is the issue with this exotic acronym RRB-NTPC. It stands for Railway Recruitment Board-Non-Technical Popular Categories. Just how popular, do the math. The Railways have seven lakh vacancies in these categories where, presumably those with non-specialised education can apply. For each job, 354 have applied. Which means, for each one that wins, 353 will be the losers. Who wouldn’t be furious with odds like these? And this isn’t for All India Services.
These are for clerical or sub-clerical jobs. Non-technical, you see, and popular. Similarly in Uttar Pradesh, there are mass protests over what is called UPTET (Uttar Pradesh Teachers Entrance Test). The odds aren’t much better there either. That a poor, backward and large state like this is carrying so many vacancies in its schools until its election weeks, is a different story altogether.
The grievances of the protesters also tell us the story. One of these is that the examiners or selection system has given precedence to people with higher qualifications. It means that once you lay down a minimum qualification, everyone should be treated the same. If it still confuses you, please put out a call for just five jobs, even for office helpers or security guards. You might still get 354 applicants for one, and most with qualifications higher than you asked for: Engineers, MBAs, masters, doctorates.
At ThePrint, we asked for applications for our editing desk on social media. It was probably a whack-a-mole error but an eye opener. For the three or four positions a tiny newsroom like ours needed to fill, we received almost one thousand applications. And you know what, it still isn’t such a challenge to make a shortlist. Because most are much too overqualified and, doubly sad to say, too old already. It tells you the story of massive, deep and chronic unemployment, and most importantly, unemployability of these crores of young people with degrees in any job other than non-technical popular category clerical ones in the railways or some other such. This is a demographic nightmare. How do you counter this anger, especially if you are the incumbent seeking re-election?
Call for a choice between Jinnah and Sardar Patel, who died before more than 95 per cent of your voters were even born, is the new ‘let them eat cake’. The interesting thing is, while that remark bombed for Marie Antoinette, it might just work here. Here is how the proposition is set: We know you are jobless, hopeless. Which is how you, your parents and grandparents have been for 70 years.
That’s because they made lousy political choices. Your generation has to rectify it. I may not be able to give you employment or riches. But can’t you forget those for a while, desh aur dharm ke liye (for the faith and the nation)? Are you a nationalist? A true Hindu?
The fate of nations and civilisations, however, isn’t determined by who wins an election or two. It’s defined by what its people, especially its young people, are thinking. Aspirations for the future or moaning over the past? Yogi has confected a heady cocktail, garnished with echoes of ‘thok do’ and served under saffron lights. Of course, data then comes free to spice up this deadly brew.
Even if he succeeds, the reality on the ground won’t change. Go driving around Indian small towns, villages, the less prosperous areas of your metros, especially in the afternoons. You can’t miss clumps of young people whiling away time at chai and cigarette/paan shops, or just on the roadside with the odd motorcycle. They have nothing to do. Mostly they aren’t even playing cards or carrom. Or even talking with each other. Increasingly, now you’d find each one fixated on their cell phones. Consuming the one thing that comes almost free: Data. Cricketer Virender Sehwag had the prescience to pick up this trend earlier than most, as he might have done with the swing or flight of what was bowled to him. Some years ago, he had tweeted, the youth of the past ate atta (wheat flour). The youth of today makes do with data.
That is the only antidote available to tens of crores today in lieu of jobs, income, self-esteem. It brings them entertainment, propaganda, pornography, mythology, time pass. It’s the new cake, and they are eating it for now. But at some point soon, when this mass frustration breaks the dam, India will have hell to pay. Then it won’t matter so much who won which election. India’s unemployed and unemployable masses are now the biggest risk for national stability and security.