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Where were the Millennial issues?

Where were the Millennial issues?
The generation of Millennials (born between 1980 and 2000) are said to be redefining the world in the form of base expectations, inspirations, and actions. As a generational force, the impact of the Millennial generation is being felt in the evolving societal framework (especially in the cultural, corporate and commercial space). Given their chronological bearing that makes them eligible for voting (18 years), the recent State elections in the five states were expected to reflect some sort of a political espousing, posturing and issue-clustering that perhaps reflects the constituency of the Millennials. But did it?

The civic idealism, pragmatism, tech-savviness and impatience with the status quo, which defines the Millennial mind is at stark variance with the existing rigidities in the narrative of all political parties in India. The simplistic bogey of "youth" politics, is an insufficient equivalent of the more profound instincts of the Millennials, who put a premium on "new ideas" and not just, the much-bandied "age" of the candidates.

The recent Presidential elections in the US showed that the Millennials in the Democratic Party overwhelmingly preferred a 75-year-old Bernie Sanders to a younger, Hillary Clinton. It was not the age, but the spirit of inherent "liberality" that is associated with the politics of Bernie Sanders that swung the choice (28 per cent of Millennials describe themselves as "liberals"', as compared to 21 per cent for both the "Gen X" and "Baby Boomers"). Even though over 24 million Millennials voted in the final leg and the majority of them voted for Hillary Clinton instead of Donald Trump, yet the result swung in favour of the Republican nominee, perhaps explaining the current restiveness amongst the Millennials in the American mainstream.

In India, echoes of "development" politics did find indirect cues, from Samajwadi Party's, "Kaam bolta hai" and "Vikas ka Paiya, Akhilesh Bhaiya", to BJP's, "Saath aayen, parivartan layen, kamal khilayen", to BSP's, "Betiyon ko muskurane do, Behnji ko aane do" – yet, these was essentially insipid, personality-linked and lacking new themes that could be considered transformatory for the Millennials. Similarly, Akali Dal's, "Raj nahi, sewa" or even the more contemporary AAP's, "Saada Khwaab Navaa Punjab", were equally vacuous and generic for a generation that seeks fresh and vivid thoughts and concrete plans. Unfortunately, the accompanying political discourse in these state elections was at its lowest with innuendoes and direct attacks that ensured polarisation, divisiveness, and personality vilification.

Often, the Millennials are uncharitably described as disinterested and disconnected from the political mainstream, whereas, the spirit of civic activism that is at the heart of their social disposition is knowingly or unknowingly, intensely political, albeit, not in the conventional sense. However, it is important to realise that the Millennials don't think that the formal governmental-political structure is the only way of partaking their civic responsibilities. So, no political party or individual spoke the Millennial language or can claim to own the Millennial heartland – it was the more familiar undertones of castiest, religious or "nationalist" credentials that were routinely invoked. Metaphors of "suit-boot-ki-sarkar" or "kabaristan-shamshaan ghaat" or even "tilak-taraju-aur-talwar" are as antiquated and retrograde, as can be. Clearly, the Millennials in India are not a composite and bankable political constituency, as yet – reflective of the rural and urban divide in popular aspirations that have not yet bridged the gap between "India" and "Bharat", unlike the West, where the Millennials are more homogeneous in their political thought.

Transparency, responsiveness and accountability are the leitmotifs of the conventional Millennial generation. Whereas, all our current political parties all perennially prone to palace intrigues, platitudes and shifting-of-blame – the quintessential Indian refrain of resorting to a, "it's a political conspiracy or chaal", at the first instance of getting caught, is reflective of the yawning gap in philosophies of the mainstream political parties and those of the Millennial mindset. Also, the current politicos benefit from the transitory phases of Millennial emotions and concerns – if the horrific "Nirbhaya" case resulted in the massive outpouring onto the streets in 2014, the stark reality of the underspent "Nirbhaya" budgets in 2016, barely warranted a Millennial outrage. In an era of rising intolerance, the modes of communication (especially, social media) to express Millennial dissent or contrarian view is susceptible to immediate retaliation, clamp-down and shaming by the powers-that-be, the famed "argumentative Indian" is giving way to the hyper-nationalist-Indian, who brooks no alternative to the regimented outlooks.

Even the initial "disruptive" appeal of the AAP in traditional politics (born out of a modern civic movement), which was rooted in political iconoclasm and the unabashed celebration of "today" (e.g. promise of free Wi-Fi), as opposed to the usual optics of defending any contentious history, icons or past actions, has over time morphed into the morass of "sameness" that hardly distinguishes the AAP politics from that of most other political parties. The initial promise of "social change" that was decoded enthusiastically by the auto-drivers, housewives, slum dwellers and the bored middle class, has become desultory with the ineffectiveness of its "street-politics" that has defined the imagery of AAP, without effecting tangible benefits or change.

So, it was yet again the victory of fear and hate over free thought and new ideas. But, the next round of national elections in 2019 will have the bulk of voters with no personal recollection of landmark events like the partition, emergency, 1984 riots or even notions of a once-peaceful Kashmir. This history-agnosticism can be both positively transforming and dangerous, as the Millennials would be spared the memories of history that are sometimes important to remember and sometimes, to forget.

Hopefully, the future agenda and manifestos of the political parties would have to be incorporate the Millennial flavours of "today", and not one that constantly invokes the ghosts of the "past". Sadly, the recent elections were essentially a blast-from-the-past, and the Indian hinterland reverberated to the same old tunes – the more evolved concepts, ideas, and agendas of the Millennial generation were essentially missing, as they have perhaps not yet become politically meaningful and relevant to the current politics of India.
Bhopinder Singh

Bhopinder Singh

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