Who are the youth?
The miserly turnout at the Yuva Hunkar Rally raises pertinent questions on the possibility of unifying India’s youth under one identity umbrella, elaborates Sushil Kutty.
Jignesh Mevani's Yuva Hunkar Rally hoped to rally the millions of youth in India who are supposedly against the Narendra Modi government for failing to create jobs and for creating divisions in the body politic of democratic India. But the rally in Delhi, which was to be followed by hundreds of rallies across India, failed to draw even 300 of India's young.
That begs the question: who are the youth of India? India's population is said to be around 125 crores. Of this, nearly 70 per cent are under the age of 35 and categorically, everybody under 35 is, therefore, a youth. The Yuva Hunkar Rally was about the absence of jobs and the lasting validity of the Constitution. But, how many of the 70 per cent are unemployed? How many jobs are created every quarter-year? How many of the youth are Dalit, which is Mevani's core constituency? How many even have an inkling of what is written in the Constitution?
The answers to these questions will ultimately determine Mevani's reach and effectiveness across the youth populace. The Congress Party has thrown its lot behind Mevani, who himself has been accused of being a Congress stooge. For Mevani, the Constitution is a weapon with which to beat Prime Minister Modi and his caste is his armour as well as the honey that draws the powerful towards him. Take his caste away from him and Mevani will have nothing to cry or crow about.
On January 8, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi told the Indian diaspora in Bahrain that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was playing havoc with the Indian Constitution. Both Rahul and Jignesh share another trait. They believe in doing politics with 'love'.
Rahul stated this unambiguously on the day he was crowned Congress president and Jignesh came out to boldly affirm it on January 9, at the Yuva Hunkar Rally. Most important though, both of them have PM Modi in their crosshairs.
The points of convergence between Rahul – who is a youth 47 – and Jignesh are already out in the open. A few more, and it would not be long before Rahul and Jignesh are joined at the hips. That said, now it remains to be seen if the Congress president's post will sustain in keeping Rahul young. In all probability, five years of carrying the burden of running the Congress will age him faster than leading a life in poverty.
Anybody who has seen a Dalit Holi will attest that it is no holds barred. Everything goes into the playing of Holi, from colours to sewer water. The recent incidents of violence in which the Dalit was attacked or he had gone on the attack proved that the Dalit can give as good as he can get.
If Jignesh Mevani is an example then the Dalit has gone on the attack along with his comrades-in-arms – human rights activist Akhil Gogoi and student leaders Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid. Mevani will say he swears by "love" but recent incidents have shown an aggressive attitude which has deeply ingrained itself in the Dalit psyche.
Mevani, Gogoi, Rashid, Khalid, and Kanhaiya Kumar were all at the Hunkar rally to "train their guns" at the Modi government, but the "many others" who were supposed to join them were not present. There were more empty chairs at the Hunkar Rally than there were people to carry forward the 'hunkar'. More slogans were heard than words of substance on the issues the rally had aimed to champion.
If Shehla Rashid, Umar Khalid and Kanhaiya Kumar are youth icons, then the only compound they will be able to fill with the youth will be on the JNU Campus. They are of an ideology which is on the wane. The likes of Xi Jinping, Kim Jong Un and Pinarayi Vijayan are not helping their cause. Slapping every other youth leader opposing Modi with the Che Guevara tag will also not provide any assistance. There is no more fertile ground for firebrand communist leaders, not even in the Americas.
In the very short term, Jignesh Mevani might benefit from his proximity to Shehla, Umar and Kanhaiya. But in the long run, his association with the left hardcore will dent his Dalit identity unless it is a Dalit takeover of the entire country. Neither Ambedkar nor Kanshi Ram nor Mayawati lived that pipedream.
And to return to the question, who are the youth of India, only a very small section of them are communists, though a sizeable lot are left of centre. But those who are left of centre are either Congress or supporters of the regional parties. In Tamil Nadu, for instance, the youth are either with the DMK and the AIADMK or in the fan clubs of superstars Rajinikanth or Kamal Hassan. In Kerala, the youth vote for the Congress as well as the Left Front, depending on whose turn it is to rule the state.
The problem is the youth of India are not one single, unified block thinking the same thought, living the same lives, feeling the same for each other; India's yuva are divided just along the same lines as were the middle-aged and older fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters – divided in ideology, in castes, in religion, language and region.
The yuva of India are a mishmash. Only an issue that catches the imagination of the entire country, that angers and hurts all of them irrespective of caste, religion, station, language and region, can bring all belonging to the youth category on the same page. It has happened before, with the Bofors and scams of the Manmohan Singh regime. Job creation is a pan-India crisis, the need of the hour.
If Jignesh Mevani stops attacking individuals and carries out a year and a half long campaign – right up to the 2019 general elections – on the one issue of a 'Casteless India', he will find resonance in all of India, among all the youth. Left to themselves, the majority of the yuva of India would prefer to move out of the restrictions that are bound by the idea of caste.
The rampant use of the smartphone and Social Media are breaking caste barriers at the core 'youth' level. Unfortunately, Jignesh, Hardik and Alpesh are all caste leaders, belonging ultimately to their own castes. They may deny it but they are. And that is the truth and the only truth.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)