The Z Factor: Oh, those pesky youngsters!

I say this on behalf of my fellow millennials (and with due respect to the elderly): There is a quiet revolution taking place in drawing rooms all across India.

I have lost count of friends who have narrated long accounts to me of their strife at home. Where parents seek to uphold conservative traditions, the young – especially those returning from a Western university – are throwing old norms out the window. They reject the shackles of a narrowly defined identity, whether of religion, caste or otherwise. They are “global citizens,” they say. Their identity must be secular, multi-ethnic and all-encompassing. (“Why should I not fall in love with a non-Hindu, dad,” she says. “Pesky secularism,” thinks dad to himself).

Meanwhile, the Congress party seems to be facing its own problems with the youth. Aftershock state election victories in the Hindi hinterland in late 2018, the party took the studied decision to install the old guard back in charge: Ashok Gehlot as Chief Minister in Rajasthan and Kamal Nath in Madhya Pradesh. Many of my fellow millennials were quite appalled at the time; they have become increasingly allergic to the dominance of the elderly, given the experience of their own personal battles at home. Sachin Pilot is a particular hero for many of them: He is dashing, articulate, progressive, and was instrumental in felling the BJP in Rajasthan.

Now, one of the youth’s figureheads, Jyotiraditya Scindia, has defected from the Congress party – sulking that his aspirations were not met in that party. One might relate several facts and figures to downplay Scindia’s personal clout as a leader (he didn’t even win back his own Lok Sabha seat in 2019). But as somebody who is considered a ‘next generation’ politician – no matter his ripe age of 49 – him being ignored did not impress young voters.

After all, the party’s reflexive answer to the resignation of the equally ‘youthful’ Rahul Gandhi was to reinstall his mother as interim president – seemingly indefinitely. The Congress Working Committee remains the preserve of the old and invincible. (One of my friends suggested that they hang up a sign outside the door before they meet: “Those under 50 not allowed, unless a Nehru-Gandhi.”)

Part of me empathises with the Congress party in its decision-making dilemmas. Let’s face it: young people are a pain. They have starry eyes, see idealistic dreams, and aspire for sea-change wherever they go. They want progress, modernity and advancement. They challenge traditions too much and badger the elderly with questions that have no answers. How can this new generation be trusted with their own lives, let alone the leadership of the nation?

The unfortunate truth is that India is an unreasonably young country – and unless Donald Trump starts giving them permanent visas en masse, to go to America and serve that economy and nation, the pesky youngsters are here to stay. According to one estimate, 45% of India is younger than 25.

There is a bright side to it. The younger one is, the less likely one seems to be to accept Hindutva nationalist politics: A 2019 YouGov-Mint Millennial Survey found that more than 52% of those born between 1965 and 1980 support the BJP, while only 47% of those born in the first half of the 1990s support them.

The bad news for the Congress is that those are still very healthy numbers for the BJP. And support for Congress is actually lesser among the young millennials than the old, which means some younger folks may even be leaning towards the BJP out of spite.

In a country so young, there is no choice but to reflect the young. The Congress has an opportunity to tap into their progressive, globalist aspirations, or wilt away.

(c) 2020, Deccan Herald