The 2014 election is a landmark of its kind. It is different in many ways and we have to savour every little difference to grasp the new texture of the historical. The future seems to have arrived and, as a novelist explained, this future is a different country where people do things differently. As a sociologist and a gossip one must ask where does the difference lie. The answers flow in unexpectedly.
To begin textbook style, this election confronts the demographic dividend. The demographic dividend, or DD, is a dull label for the fact that 70 per cent of our population is under 25. This means that this is a generation that read about the national movement in NCERT books, was born after the Emergency and sees nationalism and the Nehruvian epoch as nostalgia. This is a generation that has none of the significant memories that forged the idea of India and of Indian unity.
It is not nationalism alone that feels quaint. It is also the socialist era: the ration card scarcity, the long lines and the boredom of waiting that marked the Fifties and Sixties. This was a time where tightening the belt was a patriotic act.
It was a generation which was seen as lacking ideology, which lacked a sense of the political but which struck back by reinventing the political. A sense of consumerism reworked the ideas of citizenship and recreated new possibilities of political. But a historian cannot stop here because the changes are deeper. Beyond demography, the political itself has changed as fact and memory.
The biggest change is that the Congress party has become an embarrassment. It is no longer seen as a national unifier but as a family legacy, mediocre in intent and limp in its history. The decline of the Congress is the background.
Yet politics means more because the Aam Aadmi Party has reinvented politics. In fact, the youth blew life into both, the Modi movement and the rise of the AAP. AAP is a new hypothesis, it is a party which like an amoeba is inventing newer versions of itself.
If AAP is fluid, the Bharatiya Janata Party moves like a juggernaut, desperately scared of failure. The BJP looks like an energetic dinosaur next to the AAP which behaves like a creative virus infecting the most unlikely people.
Yet there is a negative side we need to examine. While celebrating the inventiveness of the political, we also confront the decline of some other kinds of the political. The party as an institution seems archaic. In fact, at points it appears paradoxical. The Modi movement literally portrays him as a man without a party. The old guard of Jaswant Singh, M.M. Joshi or even L.K. Advani stand humiliated and Modi seems indifferent to that. In fact, the biggest casualty of the Modi movement might be the BJP. It seems more and more irrelevant in Modi’s presidential style of behaviour.
In terms of value, there is something more tacitly frightening. The amount of intolerance we have today is converting politics into the zero-sum game.
Earlier politics appeared to be a battle between rivals not enemies. Many of them were friends outside battle. Today our politics seems more exterminist.
Our sense of difference is also worrying. When one watches media or political debate, one senses the witch-hunt. The media seems to want to hunt down people whom it sees as politically incorrect. The media witch-hunt of those it sees as anti-national or corrupt shows that media in its hunt for news has lost its head.
Society amplifies the hysteria of the media by considering every difference, each piece of diversity as sedition. Today books, movies, plays seem to require the consensus of right-wing or extra-constitutional parties to emerge. Whether it is Valentine’s Day or Wendy Doniger makes little difference. The BJP’s cynical effort to recruit is a sign of its rampant McCarthyism.
India was once proud of its diversity, convinced that the tribal was also a part of the modern. Today our middle class wants to flatten the difference and in doing this it threatens the marginal, the radical and the eccentric.
Thirdly, despite everything Arvind Kejriwal might have campaigned for, the rapist and the criminal are part of the normalcy of politics. We treat rape, murder and corruption as initiations to politics. Somehow the logic of electoral politics cannot stand the clean and honest.
Finally, this election has a collection of strange silences. Issues like the fate of agriculture, the debates on biotechnology, the suicide of farmers and the death of soils plays little role in the election. Medha Patkar, who led the anti-Narmada protest, is now a battler for the slums. But big livelihood issues are missing. The minority question seduces but the fate of marginals is forgotten. Development has to look at marginals. Any social audit has to represent them. Otherwise democracy would be empty.
The bigger silence is about unemployment. There is little news of retrenchment in the IT industry, and even less is said about media people losing jobs. Unemployment and inflation are background words. They are not problems in themselves, merely invectives to hurl at the Congress party. No party has a global concept of itself. The Congress is dispirited. Modi thinks his ego is global but there is no sense of real politics of South Asia or of the wider region.
All in all this is a strange election, full of surprises, replete with anticipations, an inkling that the new is being born but the midwives are a bit slow. A wonderful time to be in, full of rumours, waiting for a future that might surprise us all.