Byline by M J Akbar: Children of change will have their say
Revolutions are famous for eating their children. There is not much mystery in this menu. The eneegy, rage and even chaos that is necessary for comprehensive upheaval is anathema to stability. When stagnant kings have fallen, the new order needs calm as much as the old order it has replaced. Lenin famously wondered whether it was possible to make revolution without firing squads; the self-evident answer was 'no'. But the range of the squad guns extended to those comrades whose romanticism threatened anarchy, as much as the leftovers who fantasised about the restoration of monarchy.
The dialectic of democracy is a bit different. Revolution has been replaced by evolution. But there do come moments when the confrontation inherent in change is no less dramatic. We saw one during the Anna Hazare moment in the uprising against corruption.
Dr Manmohan Singh is widely renowned as the uncle, if not the father, of the economic revolution of 1991 and 1992 that laid the foundations of New India. His government is being shredded today by the children of his own revolution, by men and women in their twenties who are aghast that their reformed India is still plagued by the maladies of old India, most viscerally the fatal cancer of corruption. The contemporary young have provided the surge that has led India to the doorstep of international economic leadership, and they want the benefits of this growth to rescue the impoverished base of the country, and strengthen the middle class to which they belong. Instead they see wealth being sucked up the needle-point apex of the pyramid, captured by a coalition of capital and comprador politician. They are angry at the thought that the national symbol has become a bloated leech.
The young may be impatient— that is their template mode. But they are not unduly intolerant. They have space in their attitude for some leeway. In any case, democracy is a pretty laidback sort of beast, and the young enjoy the relaxed ride it provides. The beast does transfigure into a fire-spouting dragon once every five years or so, but that electoral conflagration has curative powers, nourishing and cleansing. Democracy, more crucially, is a daily fact. It is life without fear, a non-negotiable need of modern India. We did not win independence from the British in order to surrender our freedom to a gruesome local elite on the excuse of economic progress or stability. Some observers find this confusing, even contradictory, but their cynicism reflects the master-slave syndrome that sustained production systems of colonial Europe. India's economic growth does not require bondage of the worker or the silence of the middle class.
The young, however, are fascinated by change. Their willingness to take a risk with the unknown, or less known, is higher. It is not an accident that Dr Manmohan Singh is the only Prime Minister who has been re-elected after a full term since Rajiv Gandhi gave a vote to the 18-year-old. Dr Singh achieved this because he won the young with the promise of sustained economic achievement. Singh was their king.
Within a year of reelection, that kingdom is frayed. The bitterness of the young is that much sharper because Dr Singh's promise was that much higher. He was a symbol of their aspirations, because he was honest and transparent. They accepted his argument that coalition politics demanded the occasional compromise, until they discovered the extent and magnitude of compromise. What we are witnessing is the first genuine revolt of the Indian middle class. Do not measure their strength by numbers alone, although those numbers are not small. They control the discourse of the nation, and they set the agenda. Their frustration in Bengal may not be because of corruption, since that is not a problem with the Left. But individual honesty is insufficient without a quantum leap in job opportunities. A person born fifteen years after the Left came to power in Calcutta is a voter now; how much patience can we expect of him? It is important to note, however, that the demand on the alternative in Bengal, represented by Mamata Banerjee, will be intense, if only because the expectations are colossal.
The children of change, whether in Delhi or Calcutta, are making their demands clear, and doing so with impressive clarity. If they are left hungry, they will dine on the powerful.