What Turks Theyre permanent understudies

Written by Nistula Hebbar | Nistula Hebbar | Updated: Nov 22 2011, 08:41am hrs
It was the 1990s, and Aditya Chopras debut film Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge had just been released. In many ways it heralded the death of the young, rebellious vibe of Deewar and the rise of the conformist hero, who begged, pleaded and waited for his light o love to get her fathers permission before reading their marriage vows.

Nothing wrong with loving your parents. But in politics, this got increasingly translated into a gerontocracy that continued to set the agenda, and a younger generation of political leaders content to stay as permanent understudies, willing to bide their time for a shot at the big time.

You may well ask as to why the above two paragraphs are at all germane to what has happened in the last fortnight or so. Quite simply, the month began with talk that AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi would soon be taking over as the working president of the Congress party. For many, this was a cause for the jitters (namely those identified too closely

with an old guard) and for others an at last moment.

This was also an opportunity to look closely at just who would constitute a younger leadership in the Congress, and whether Gandhis elevation as party president would be a chance for a generational coup. Going by the performance of the younger lot of leaders in the party in the last seven years or so, during which the Congress has been in power, you would be excused for not being able to recall a single one of them with any degree of firmnessas to what ideas they stood for or a single instance where they attempted to come out of the woodwork. With the exception of perhaps Sandeep Dikshit, who took the lead in breaking the logjam between the government and civil society activist Anna Hazare in August-September, the younger lot of Congressmen have been unable to come out of the shadows.

Many use the term young Turks to address these young members of Parliament, but etymology would tell us that the moniker is a misnomer. The original young Turks were a band of rebellious young men in Turkey who led a movement against the autocratic rule of the Ottoman Turks. In 1908, Mustafa Kemal Atatrk seized power and laid the foundations of what is now modern Turkey. It was a revolutionary band of young men, who looked at things in new ways.

In India, the term was used in the context of a group of leaders led by former Prime Minister Chandrashekhar, and including Mohan Dharia and Krishna Kant in the late 1960s, who in their support of Indira Gandhi, came up against the Congress syndicate oligarchy. After having supported Gandhi in the late 1960s, they left the Congress during the emergency.

Till now, the young lot of leaders in the Congress have not demonstrated this fire in the belly. All, blessed with parental legacies of political fiefdoms, appear to be waiting in the wings for a succession rather than a coup.

An argument often heard from a lot of the young MPs is that the world is a different place from the 1960s socialist India. A huge chunk of the middle-class is prosperous, content and conservative, after 20 years of reform. But this complacency is a dangerous thing. The Anna Hazare movement has demonstrated that there is a simmering anger below the surface of this contentment and prosperity. And it does not take a young man to rouse young people to take to the streets. Whatever our opinion about Team Anna and the Jan Lokpal Bill, and the political connections of those who came out into the streets, it remains a fact that there was a lack of young leadership or any new ideas coming from the ruling party.

As ominous signals emerge from the global economy, the prosperity and contentment of the 1990s and the early 2000s may well dissipate by 2014. The succession that GenNext of the Congress party is waiting for may be forced upon them, with impossible tasks and goals in tow. It is high time the young ones stood up and were counted, before they discover that they dont count at all.

nistula.hebbar@expressindia.com