Home >Opinion >Online-views >Opinion | Why Narendra Modi should be really wary of millennials

Two days after the assembly election results were announced, I received a short video on WhatsApp. The 55-second film is very sophistically executed. It shows a number of young urban male and female faces, with supers (captions, in non-advertising language) that read: “I thought we were going to win anyway." “I thought I didn’t need to get involved." “I thought I’d rather stay quiet than be called a bhakt." “But no excuses." “We’ll come back stronger. We’ll come back harder." “The future of the nation is at stake." “Bring on 2019."

It was interesting to see the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) reacting so quickly to defeats, and with a message aimed squarely at young Indians.

Around 65% of Indians are below 35 years of age. That’s “millennials"—65% of 1.25 billion. Take off 70% as people who are too young to vote, or do not have voting cards, and it’s still 245 million Indians. That’s a lot of people.

And, given the results of the five state elections, Narendra Modi and his think tank need to keep that number in mind—in fact, top of mind.

Just consider this statistic. At least 22 assembly seats were decided in the Madhya Pradesh election by a victory margin of less than the votes polled under Nota (none of the above). Twelve of these seats decided against the BJP, which fell six short of the Congress’s tally of 114.

The “Nota" vote is an expression of disenchantment with the system. It is an act of rebellion. My guess is that a very large chunk of the Nota votes would have been cast by the young. It is also more likely that it will be a disappointed BJP voter who pressed the Nota button—he would not move his thumb to the Congress, but would want to send a message to the party he had trusted.

The job situation is dire. Farmer distress is a reality, and cello tape fix-its such as loan waivers are not going to solve the problem.

The millennials are not a homogenous lot. That could never be in a country as diverse and complex and self-contradictory as India. But if there is one idea that binds them together, it is “aspiration". And aspiration always comes with its flip side: disappointment.

The urban English-speaking millennial, educated in “progressive" schools, has been trained to be a “left-liberal"—which means hating Modi, even if she doesn’t particularly know why. This person does not know where she is going, feels part of a global movement that exists only on social media, and buys books of Frantz Fanon and doesn’t have the time to read it.

She is looking for her identity.

Her parents were the greatest beneficiaries of economic liberalization. All of them did better than their parents. And they loved their parents for forcing them to be what they were, and they wanted their children to be just the way they wanted to be.

The children—the millennials—grew up without any civilizational legacy, without knowing about the Mahabharata or the Mauryas, and worried more about fashionable issues like climate change. (Remember when AIDS was the real fashionable issue in the 1990s, when it was predicted that one in every five Indians would have AIDS by 2010?)

The other millennial is the semi-educated unemployable youth with free-floating anger. The ignorant gau rakshak, the sex-starved misogynist who doesn’t want girls to wear jeans, the militant vegetarian who shuts down meat shops in much of the Hindi belt during Navaratri.

He knows nothing, neither about himself or his civilization, and is an insult to his country of birth. He is a foot soldier who is quite simply an idiot. This is the millennial population that Modi has to seriously think about.

This is a more urgent issue than caste divisions, Ram Mandir, minimum support price, interest rates, whatever. These are 250 million Indians who are most certainly the future of our country, and they have no idea where they are going.

Their inchoate ideas have to be distilled, filtered, channelized, not for a political party, but for a nation, which is on a cusp. And there are two ways to go from a cusp.

Sandipan Deb is a former editor of Financial Express, and founder-editor of Open and Swarajya magazines.

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