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Mihir S Sharma: The Modi generation

Mihir S Sharma
More Columns by Mihir S Sharma

There are moments in a country's history, not many, when it pivots. On May 16, 2014, India moved rightward with far greater force and momentum than pretty much anyone had expected. By any standards, at any time, this would have been a spectacular victory. Not since 1984 has a party claimed a majority of seats in the Lok Sabha. But it is doubly spectacular, and doubly important: because of the nature of the contest, and because of the man who won.

For this is one man's victory, never doubt it. People will claim various things over the next few days. They will blame Manmohan Singh, or Rahul Gandhi, or Arvind Kejriwal, or Mukesh Ambani. All these are irrelevant to what happened here. What happened was the stuff of political dreams, and nightmares: a natural politician, of the highest order, who sensed exactly what his electorate wanted to hear and gave it to them. If this was an anti-vote, why was the Bahujan Samaj Party wiped out in Uttar Pradesh? Why is the Bharatiya Janata Party second in both Kolkata South and Kolkata North? It is convenient and easy to suppose that the Modi phenomenon is something transitory, something illusory, something easily explicable by general disgust at a few arrogant press conferences by the Congress, the venal amateurishness of the regional parties, the theatricality of the Aam Aadmi Party. But no. This is a moment in history: the scale and the nature of the victory militates against it being just ordinary anti-incumbency. Narendra Modi took a party that would have seen 180 seats as a thumping victory and gave it a majority. A year or so ago, when the Mission 272 website was launched, I laughed as loudly as did most everyone else. I, and most everyone else, could not have been more wrong. Because this was a moment in history, not just any election.

And so we must ask: what is this that happened here? What is there in Modi, that he has received the adulation and approval of a nation on a level denied to anyone since Indira Gandhi? In small towns and villages, the most aggressive pro-Modi voices are young men brimming over with anger. This is the youth bulge of North India; those too young to remember 1984, or even 1991 in some cases. India's history has finally caught up to their arrival. They were always going to make their mark on this country - bulge generations do, just consider the Boomers in America.

Modi speaks to these young men in a way nothing in their lives ever has. He speaks of an India where there is no unemployment, which some of them believe is already banished from Gujarat. He speaks of an India which is so intimidating that China and Pakistan will not dare cross it; and they believe that, if Modi can face down the media, he would terrify the People's Republic. He speaks of an India that does not feel the desire to visit America, because Americans will wish to come here. He sold these dreams, and they were bought. Not since Indira and garibi hatao has as much myth been manufactured in the Hindi heartland. Mr Modi has a majority, the most sweeping mandate he could desire. If he does not deliver in a few years, he will not just disappoint a few voters. He will enrage an already frustrated generation.

It is not just the anxious young men in our sprawling metros, either. It is middle-caste, even some Dalit men, in smaller towns, anxious to leave their past behind them, who see in Modi something - a will to power perhaps - that transcends origins. Who holds out to them the possibility that their sordid present will become a glorious future - because that future already exists in glorious Gujarat. It is not all about jobs, as some would claim; it is about self-respect. Waves always are. What many of these young men see as the deep national humiliation, the bruising of national machismo, that comes from being ruled for 10 years by an Italian-born au pair and an inarticulate elderly man, could only be erased in this manner, through electing the man who most forcefully articulated their contempt.

And it is an entire generation of upper-caste, influential, "middle-class" young people in cities, too. Young people who despise reservations, and see Modi as the only leader "untainted" by identity politics, for Hinduism is not an identity for young Hindu people. Young people who feel a quiet approval of the possibility that this incoming will have the fewest number of Muslims in India's history. Young people convinced their state is not run for them, but for faceless people in villages. Young people who refuse to accept a history in which India did not have a past as inventive as China's, or as glorious as Egypt's; or a history in which Nehru did not hold back India from the heights that Patel would have helped it climb. Young people who think that hate is what Modi endures from liberals, not what Muslims endured in Ahmedabad, and still do. Young people for whom the Congress will never be, now, more than a joke - other generations were politicised by Babri, or by Mandal, or by 2002; these fellows were politicised by jokes on the internet.

These young people have never seen a government with a majority. They do not fear a powerful leader; they long for one. It is difficult for some of us to be reconciled to the prime minister-elect because of the 2002 riots, and the aftermath in which he minimised the violence and attacked the media that reported it. But, for the Modi generation, that is exactly the definition of strength.

Every pillar of the liberal establishment has already declared that India will survive Modi unscathed. Perhaps. Whether it will survive both Modi and the Modi generation unscathed is another matter.




mihir.sharma@bsmail.in

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