Last week, almost unnoticed, came National Youth Day, which is on January 12, Swami Vivekananda’s birthday. There were some ritual speeches and hashtags on social media, but most of the country barely paid any attention. And that is sad, since youth can make or break the future of our country.
Forty-seven years ago, when I was fresh out of college and about to proceed to the United States for post-graduate studies, a leading national newspaper asked me to do an article for their Independence Day supplement. It was 1975. The Emergency had just been declared; politicians had been locked up, the press censored; even one of my short stories, titled “The Political Murder”, had been banned. Around me, newspapermen and journalists were cowed and resentful. The freedoms for which our independence struggle had been waged seemed in peril, and yet weren't we, the literate minority, disqualified by our privileged status from objecting to measures designed, as the government claimed, to benefit the "common man"?
I was angry, cynical and confused — a combination of emotions appropriate both to my age, and to the times. This is how I began my article: "Independent India is 28 years old today. I was 19 a few months ago. In school they told me I was the citizen of tomorrow. Around me I saw the citizens of today, and wondered what purpose I was going to serve. They seemed worn and jaded and cynical. To my fellow-citizens-of-the-future, Independence Day merely meant early mornings in starched uniforms on parade grounds, relieved only by the comforting thought of no more classes. In college they were more sensible. They just gave us a holiday, and the chowkidar unfurled the flag."
But even collegiate cynicism had its limits. "Independence," I went on in adolescent passion, "conjures up visions of mammoth patriotic rallies outside Red Fort; a reminder of freedom and self-reliance and the hope of unexploited progress. But when the drums have been beaten and the cavalcade has passed, the cheering invariably seems to subside into a desultory grumble. Our capacity for unproductive complaint is seemingly limitless; but then we appear to have developed the art of destructive criticism to the proportions of a national characteristic. Perhaps it is because, as a former colony, we are used to bemoaning our lot without being able to do anything about it." Decrying "the strange spectacle of a nation without nationals, of Indians who are not involved in India," I lamented the absence of a "sense of belonging" to a larger idea of India. I argued: "That one is an all-too-dispensable part of the Indian reality is surely all the more reason why one should take one's role all the more seriously, instead of affecting the dislocated detachment that has become the untaxed perquisite of citizenship." That was my point: we had to belong, we had to care, we had to be involved in what became of our independence. This "sense of belonging" (the phrase with which I titled the article) would be vital "to me and those of my generation who now stand on the threshold of that which has, over the last 28 years, been made to mean so little."
Independent India is 28 years old today. I was 19 a few months ago. In school they told me I was the citizen of tomorrow. Around me I saw the citizens of today, and wondered what purpose I was going to serve. They seemed worn and jaded and cynical. To my fellow-citizens-of-the-future, Independence Day merely meant early mornings in starched uniforms on parade grounds, relieved only by the comforting thought of no more classes. In college they were more sensible. They just gave us a holiday, and the chowkidar unfurled the flag
From Shashi Tharoor's 1975 article for Independence Day
That generation is now in its prime, and it is only fair to ask whether our sense of belonging is any greater now than it seemed to be amongst those who were the age we are now. They suffered by comparison with their parents, who had fought for and won the very independence whose value they seemed to be frittering away. How do we seem now to the generation following ours? If, 28 years after 1947, independence had "been made to mean so little", does it mean much more today, 75 years after that magical midnight?
At one level, yes. The idea of India has come to mean much more today than it did then. Even if we are seven-and-a-half decades removed from the moment of that "tryst with destiny", we have weathered four wars and an Emergency, conducted 17 general elections and hundreds of state elections, changed our governments peacefully, defused separatist movements in places as far afield as Punjab and Mizoram, and seen Rashtrapati Bhavan occupied by three Muslims, two Dalits and two women, one of them an Adivasi. Bollywood, yoga and chicken tikka masala have conquered the globe; we have won two cricket World Cups and infected the rest of the cricket world with our IPL. And the mass media have brought us all together in the nationalism of shared experience: We have watched corrupt officials “stung” on camera, applauded stirring moments on the sports field, screamed a collective "Chak De!" and mourned together for the victims of Kargil and Pulwama. The Information Age has given Indians a greater sense of who we are: a raucous and disorderly people led by a soft-spoken economist, a multi-religious people united by the Mahabharata on television, a land of IIT graduates with a third of the world's illiterate children. "We are like this only," goes the wry line, as we acknowledge the paradoxes of our country – a land of which it is said that anything you can say about India, the opposite is also true.
So yes, young educated Indians had to care, and needed to be involved in what became of our independence. The future of our youth is also a national security issue: if we cannot give them opportunities to fulfil their destiny, India will be saddled with legions of unemployed and frustrated young men and women – a recipe for anarchy, if not revolution. It is our duty to help today’s young to seize opportunities that were not available to their parents at the same age.
Amongst these opportunities is the chance to advance in a globalized world, through technology, creativity and hospitality -- all subjects in which, with some training and education, Indians can excel. But young people cannot do this on their own. Indian society and industry, our universities and skill development centres, have to make it possible for them. Our governments, both Union and state, have to take the lead. Will they?
Don't boycott the game
The poor attendance at the third India-SriLanka ODI in Thiruvananthapuram (only some 7,000 tickets were sold in a stadium that seats 40,000), was attributed mainly to the boycott urged on social media by fans enraged by the insensitive remarks of the Kerala Sports Minister. I have nothing against those who were understandably outraged by the Minister's callous comment that those who can't afford to buy a ticket need not attend the match. But the boycott only hurt the future prospects of cricket in the state capital. The Kerala Cricket Association, which has nothing to do with the Minister or his insensitive comments, needed a good turnout to bolster its case for Thiruvananthapuram to be selected as a World Cup venue later this year. If the low turnout is held against us by the BCCI, only sports fans will suffer. As a cricket fan and as the local MP, I want top-class cricket to flourish in Thiruvananthapuram.
Boycotts are a democratic right, but they should target the person against whom the boycotters are protesting. The Sports Minister, who didn't bother enough to even attend the match, doesn't care if the gallery is full or empty. He was unaffected by the boycott. The protestors should have boycotted the Minister, not the game.