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BOOK REVIEW

Simple Solution for Our Complex Problems

Ananya Mitra


What Young India Wants by Chetan Bhagat, Rupa, Rs 140.

Chetan Bhagat is undeniably one of India's most popular novelists and storytellers. Many of his books have been adapted into Bollywood blockbusters. His stories are written on the background of young and emerging India. His characters depict the different shades of upwardly mobile urban Indians. Undoubtedly, his readership is on the rise and so are his followers in the social media. So, when his book What Young India Wants, Selected Essays and Columns came out in 2012, I picked it with much enthusiasm. Non-fiction work from the pen of master writers of fictional prose often provide important insights into the mind of the writer who delivers in such a prolific way. I browsed through the pages and read about his prophesies about a strong, emerging and powerful India in the new millennium - an India of robust and enterprising young Indians.

Two years have passed after that. A new government is in power at the Centre. The response of the Indian state to all our misfortunes has had a sea change and the changes are imminent. The vestiges of Nehruvian socialism or foreign policy have been done away with. We have now entered a phase of aggressive reform in the social and financial sector. Market forces have been unleashed as if that could be the only panacea for all out ailments. More reform, most importantly in the labour sector is on the cards. The state now offers us a rhetoric, a rhetoric of powerful and strong India. And now I go through Bhagat's book once again with renewed interest once again to find the subtle politics which goes in the making of the new India.

The year 2012 is important in the history of modern India. It saw the crusade led by a septuagenarian self-styled activist on the streets of the most important Indian metropolis, the seat of Indian financial and political power. The emerging new India's middle class flocked in thousands in the protest rallies which started against corruption in the delivery mechanism of the state. Popular movements were seen against the sexual violence committed on women. The protests ultimately culminated in a political consolidation, as if the political voice of young and emerging urban middle-class asserted in creation of a new identity of 'citizen' which challenged the bipolarity of two main power contenders of Indian polity.

If one goes through Bhagat's book, one cannot but notice the way in which he develops this assertive identity of the new Indian citizen. He lashes against the failure of a corrupt bureaucracy of the Indian state leading to all sorts of corruption and mismanagement, the servitude to power in Indian psyche which regards women in power but not the next-door girl, the useless and futile state spending on subsidies and all such things. He gives a sketch of his journey as a technocrat from a humble middle-class background and his experiences abroad in sharp contrast to that in India which led to his ideas about a new India. Being a technocrat whom he calls 'nerd' he crosses sword with men of liberal arts whom he nicknames as 'lerd'. The 'lerds' are not sure about anything and to them it is important to discuss about the problems the country faces rather than finding solutions, whereas the nerds offer a definitive solution to all the problems with mathematical precision.

And as if this is not enough, Mr Bhagat finally resorts to fiction, his own area, in the form of two tales highlighting on the one hand the enterprise of a community to change its lot, and the initial pessimism of a young student on his failure in getting admitted to a premier institution giving way to hope and optimism on the other.

True, India has problems in the health and education sectors. True, India has a corrupt and inept bureaucracy. True, we are far behind in many socio-economic parameters regarded and respected by market forces. But in a country as India with so many diverse identities in terms of language, religion, race, caste and economic profile do we really have a readymade solution at hand? Rhetoric sounds good in the urban middle-class cases like us but is that enough? Can dependence entirely on market-driven reforms and a committed bureaucracy of the state deliver the goods let aside an egalitarian social order for our masses?

In the end Bhagat says that his essays are by no means perfect, they can at times be too simple or idealistic. And this candid confession shows the mind of a writer who cannot be sure but thinks he should speak out. Thanks for speaking out loudly Mr Bhagat. But the problems are not that elementary, are they?

Tags: What Young India Wants, Chetan Bhagat, Indian youth, neo-liberal India


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