India has the biggest population of young people of any country on the planet, with China far behind because of the “one child per couple” policy enforced there since the 1970s. Unfortunately, the young are only very sparsely represented in positions of authority or institutions of governance, in both of which greybeards function in profusion. Should such individuals accept that times have changed, and therefore so should attitudes, the fact that youth is under-represented at decision-making levels ought not to be a serious hindrance to results.
Unfortunately, several of more advanced vintage get locked into attitudes that are not simply 1970s but 1890s vintage. Given that the country is still functioning under a civil service structure that last saw major innovations in the 1890s (when Indians began to be gingerly accepted into at least its peripheral functions), this is no surprise. Given the fact that the mere fact and length of usage of customs and procedures that were archaic even when introduced more than a century back gets passed off as “tradition” in India, it comes as no surprise that for the past two decades, the best of the young have — with rare exceptions — stayed away from the administrative services. The antiquated modes of cadre selection, still extant, have resulted in the entry into the IAS and other elite services of many who focus less on public than on personal interest.
Now that he has vanquished his political rivals in the 2014 polls and secured for the BJP a majority in the Lok Sabha, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s primary problem will come from within his own flock, exactly as was the case when he took charge of Gujarat in the closing months of 2001. Angered by the murder of 58 karsevaks trapped inside a train compartment off Godhra station, mobs indulged in violence, with the Chief Minister’s request to the Centre to immediately call in the army going unanswered for two crucial days. As a consequence of the lessons learnt during that unhappy — and never repeated — episode, Modi took action against possible excesses of several organisations active in the mayhem, a fact which led the state units of the VHP and the Bajrang Dal to turn hostile to him for the remainder of his period as CM.
Given such a record for independent judgement, it is unlikely that Modi will pander to those in his party who would like to see state agencies enforce Victorian codes of conduct on the people of India, the way the Congress-NCP government is seeking to do in Mumbai by banning dancing in bars and the keeping open of restaurants till the early hours of the morning. The Wahhabi-Victorian mindset of the Maharashtra government is taking away whatever chance Mumbai has of becoming a global financial hub.
In any such location, late nights are the norm, while standards of behaviour are sometimes such as would get frowned upon by the Sri Ram Sene or by its behavioural twin, the Muttawa or religious police of Saudi Arabia, both of whom would applaud Maharashtra’s Home Minister for his narrow-minded ways.
Narendra Modi represents a 21st century vision, hence it was a surprise to see some in his team call for a return to the 19th century, for example, by downgrading the teaching of English. The fact is that knowledge of the international link language in no way negates the syncretic and tolerant culture of Sanatan Dharma. The use of state power or law to enforce Wahhabi-Victorian codes on a population unwilling any more to accept the restraints of the Nehru-colonial model is wrong, and hopefully will not be attempted now that the effort is to tether India to the 21st century rather than drag the country back to the 19th.
Votaries of the freedom-respecting spirit of Sanatan Dharma will therefore welcome the recent remarks of both RSS spokesperson (and now BJP activist) Ram Madhav as well as Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, that the human rights of those of alternative sexuality should be respected.
Narendra Modi got votes from those seeking a 21st century India, and such citizens expect that the new government will ensure that India’s Information Superhighway gets sharply expanded, so that modern languages and technology become accessible to even the poor, rather than remain the preserve of the well-off. They expect transparency in government, much more than has been seen in the past.
Such goals are more important than seeking to return Indian society to mores favoured — at least publicly — by Queen Victoria, and which still anachronistically permeate far too many laws of the land.