India’s demographic dividend


March 09, 2016

Sudent union leader Kanhaiya Kumar (centre) shouts slogans as he addresses students and activists at Jawaharlal Nehru University, in New Delhi on March 3 (AFP)

Young people appear to have made up their minds to lead game-changing initiatives. The latest to capture the imagination of the people is Kanhaiya Kumar whose fiery speech saw him being pitted against Modi

An interesting pattern appears to be emerging in Indian polity. A little over three years ago, when the December 2012 protests over the rape of the young physiotherapy student took place, it was the young people who came out into the open. Their unprecedented action stunned the then government adequately enough to force it to bring about the fastest changes ever in criminal law for the protection of women. Since then, the young people appear to have made up their minds to lead game changing initiatives rather than staying completely apolitical.

In the last couple of years, young people or ‘leaders’ seem to have emerged almost from nowhere, one after another, to deliver the toughest of messages to the powers-that-be. If it was a member of the powerful landed gentry in Gujarat, Hardik Patel, who lead the agitation seeking reservation in employment and education, it was a set of students of the University of Hyderabad who brought into prominence the plight of students from backward communities, following the suicide of Rohit Vemula. The latest one to capture the imagination of the people is Kanhaiya Kumar.

Kanhaiya, like Hardik or Rohit, is a student leader from the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), who stands accused as an anti-national in the eyes of the ruling dispensation. He has also been slapped with the charge of sedition, like Hardik. But, that is where the similarity ends. After spending three weeks in jail, Kanhaiya came back with a bang, delivering a speech that many political observers had not heard from a public figure for the longest time. With that speech, which went viral and topped global trends, Kanhaiya over took the only man who was known as the country’s orator-in-chief, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This young man from the backward state of Bihar established that he was somebody that nobody could ignore.

Kanhaiya spoke on the same day as Prime Minister Modi waxed eloquent in parliament and Rahul Gandhi did a day before. Indeed, if some of the messages on social media are any indication, a request went out from supporters of the Prime Minister asking people to vote for Modi in a newspaper poll on the best speech of the three. This was quite a come down for Modi, who, it seemed, was facing competition for the first time. Ofcourse, Modi’s army of social media soldiers won this battle, but not without a fight. Clearly, Kanhaiya’s speech has appealed to all sections of people for the simplicity with which he has connected issues that have gained prominence in the last couple of years.

Kanhaiya represents the All India Students Federation(AISF), which is a student body of the Communist Party of India (CPI). But his speech was unlike that of a Communist leader. It encompassed issues which appealed to various sections of society and his style of delivery made it possible for many to see how closely linked each of the issues were to the current battle between those who back freedom of expression and those who prefer thought control. He lucidly connected the dots for the young and the old alike - dealing with issues ranging from social biases to unemployment, nationalism to gender equality, linking all of these to the importance of the right to freedom of expression and civil liberties and how these were being transgressed by the ruling dispensation.

He, of course, did not lose the opportunity to drive home his commitment to nation building, effectively countering the charge that he had raised anti-national slogans. His line that he wanted freedom not ‘from’ India but ‘in’ India will, possibly, remain a quotable quote for along time to come. To be fair to the young man, his speech was not entirely embedded in standard Communist fare. In fact, many in the Left parties would not agree with his placing Dr B R Ambedkar, the man who wrote India’s Constitution and an icon of the Dalits, on par with Karl Marx. However, they still want him to campaign during the forthcoming elections in two states where the Left parties hope to regain some lost ground. This is only a reflection of the dearth of talent within the Left parties in India.

Today, everybody would like to advise Kanhaiya as to what he should do next. Should he remain tied to his organization and get fossilised, so to speak? Or should here main steadfast to his viewpoint so brilliantly expressed at the late night rally at the university? Whatever he may choose to do in the future, his recent actions have given the young people a voice who are now beginning to raise issues which have remained dormant for decades. The ground realities are appearing in sharp focus through people like Rohit Vemula, Hardik Patel and, now Kanhaiya Kumar.

It was a student movement which threw the biggest challenge at the most powerful Indira Gandhi. The established political leadership, then, was unable to even start a dialogue to understand the pressures that young people faced. A similar approach, this time, will not help the ruling dispensation. Obfuscation of issues will lead nowhere. There is a need for conversation.

How the cookie crumbles

There was once a man named Vittal Mallya who so assiduously protected shareholder wealth that he gained the reputation of a penny-pincher. He purchased many breweries in the country, practically at distress prices at a time when a powerful minister had thought of introducing prohibition in the country. Vittal Mallya knew that the policy would either not be implemented or would fail sooner than later. That is how, it is said, the name United came to be associated with the empire of spirits and the breweries companies that he created. Vittal Mallya, for those who don’t know, is the father of Vijay Mallya who is now the poster boy of the banking industry’s non-performing assets (NPAs) crisis.

It is not that Vijay tops the list of those who are known corporate loan defaulters. His total dues, along with interest, would amount to R100bn (RO572 approx), which is not much considering that the bank’s NPAs total up to a grand R11tn. It is just that it his flamboyant lifestyle, which got him the moniker of the ‘King of Good Times’, is causing people to compare the different approaches of father and son. Unlike his father, Vijay went on a spending spree, picking up fancy brands for fancier prices. He purchased a British company, paying twice for buying the same company. First, to circumvent a rule he is alleged to have paid money to a non-resident Indian who reneged and then he paid again to finally purchase the same company at a phenomenal price.

All the profits from this lucrative liquor business were ploughed into purchasing companies which would turn Vijay the liquor baron into Vijay the industrialist, an image the he thought would bring him respect. It’s a different matter that all the monies went into dud companies.

It is not unusual for family businesses to have one generation do things differently from the other. This story is no different, except that it might leave the King without an empire.

Tailpiece

The Congress party, whose leadership is yet to deliver results even as it fights its own party men in different states, appears to be enamoured by a strategist who was known to have played the most critical role in the 2014elections that helped Narendra Modi occupy the chair of the Prime Minister. Prashant Kishor is the man who shifted allegiance and strategised the campaign for the Janata Dal (U)- Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) – Congress alliance in Bihar to help Nitish Kumar become the Chief Minister of the eastern state.

Now, Kishor has been given the task of strategising for assembly elections in the eastern state of Assam. Soon, it will be Punjab and then the most critical of the mall, Uttar Pradesh where assembly elections are scheduled next year. It is not that Congress party men are unhappy about it, especially if Kishor can bring them victory. But what happens to Kishor if the party faces defeator his strategy fails? Will he be blamed for all the ills of the Congress as an organisation as well? We shall keep a watch on this interesting phenomenon of an ‘external’ strategist.

[The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Muscat Daily or Apex Press & Publishing]