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Deconstructing NaMo-Mania and mental health of average urban middle class youth
Sunday October 27, 2013 11:37 PM, Shubhram Goswami

The jubilant mood marked by intolerant self-righteous jingoism of the huge majority of the urban middle class youth population of India since Narendra Modi has been officially declared as the prime ministerial candidate of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is unmistakable. His acceptance is almost universal specially among the corporate professionals and those pursuing professional education including engineering, management and so on, more so in the tier-I and tier-II cities but not restricted only to them. His rising popularity among this specific class of citizens over the years was beyond doubt, as they increasingly grew intolerant to any criticism of their leader, be on 'developmental' or 'communal' grounds, especially so if anyone from the same class dared to speak against Modi. He was immediately branded as a traitor and a cynic.

The developmental success of the state of which he was the Chief Minister was beyond question for them. In fact, it was development of Gujarat, they claimed during idle chatters, that should be the justification for giving him another chance, and a bigger role, irrespective of his complicity or direct involvement in the genocide of 2002. As they uttered 'development', they were mostly unclear about what they were talking about other than industrial investment and growth numbers. It had to be pointed out later and the debate continued. However, they were never much interested in the details of development at the first place anyway. What they felt most proud about their leader was his patriotism, decisiveness and practical problem solving approach; yes, we all heard cries and whispers justifying the 'decisiveness' he showed post-Godhra. And suddenly there were more and more Wikipedia searches about Sardar Patel, Swami Vivekananda, GDP, Per Capita Income, China, Maharaja Hari Singh, Madrasa, SIMI and the greatest internal security threat, the Maoists too. Sometimes discussions followed and there was always complete unity in the conclusions drawn.

NaMo had arrived and he was successfully setting the agenda for his fan base, guiding them on what to search, how to interpret the results, what conclusions to come to and what needs to be done to make India the 'sone ki chiriya' it was once known to be. He reiterated the foreign threats that didn't want India to succeed and thus need for the youth to be united and have no doubt in their minds. Everybody among them wanted to be as decisive as NaMo. Everybody liked his symbols and slogans. As it unfolded, even the progressive intellectuals and elements in Media had no other option other than targeting only Modi, as if the party he belonged to was a lesser evil, at least "Modi should never be India's PM", asserts one of the popular groups in Facebook. As Narendra Modi addressed in one of his biggest rallies in Hyderabad soon after his nomination as the prime ministerial candidate of the NDA he made sure that the message was put across to this particular constituency of his fans in the simplest possible way, without nuances or any explanation. "IT (Indian Talent) + IT (Information Technology) = IT (India Tomorrow)" read one of the biggest billboards in the meeting.

The middle class of any society is always in search of upward social mobility that will put them at par with the upper class in terms of wealth and social status. They are otherwise sandwiched between the elite enjoying all the power and prosperity and the economically downtrodden being exploited to ensure aggregate economic wealth of a country. Classical liberalism, even within capitalism, can try to ensure the survival of the poorest section since there is the option of certain state welfarism even though it hypocritically ignores the need for structural change and undoing historical injustices. The welfare approach however stifles the middle class aspiration of rapid upward mobility as the opportunities remain limited as long as government manage or mismanage the productive sectors of the economy through certain regulations. Neoliberalism on the other hand ensures that the opportunities hitherto out of reach of the middle class unless they had proper 'contacts' or the guile to 'bribe' the right person at the right time and place, look like as if they are at arm's length. All that is required is 'good governance'. Whether those opportunities will also be available for the poorest sections is never a question that the middle class is bothered about. On the contrary they are happy enough to form alliances with the ruling elite to crush the poor further; if that ensures the upward mobility they dream of.

This dream of prosperity of course has no limits since it is driven by artificially created wants. In fact these are the dreams that the elite sell them using all kinds of propaganda machines available, most notably the media. Under neoliberalism all structural issues related to class and caste, those specifically related to the modes and relations of production, property rights and so on are taken to the back burner. The poor himself is engulfed by the edifice of neoliberalism in such a way that he is left bewildered. His resistance becomes a commodity for mass consumption, in media and in "fests" organized in five start hotels. His conviction, political thought and action gets questioned and ridiculed if he drinks commoditized water out of thirst. The authenticity of his misery gets denied if he somehow owns a mobile phone or a television. If you consume, how can you complain? His poverty and spending habits become subjects of market research for selling products and services which were once considered to be state responsibility. He becomes part of the 'sector' with maximum growth potential. As the root causes like rights to property, basic infrastructure, employment with minimum wages, social security goes out of the ambit of state policy, 'poverty alleviation' primarily becomes a question of designing appropriate financial products for 'Bottom of the Pyramid clientele'. It becomes a business to invest in.

The middle class consent to this whole process is difficult to believe as wholly a 'manufactured' one as once famously propounded by Chomsky, at least in the contemporary Indian scenario. The apathy was always evident. However of late the callous selfishness with which most middleclass youth react on being confronted with reality points to either a complete degeneration of morality in our social lives or an escapism to 'outer space' as famously referred by Arundhati Roy. Mention of inequality irritates them like never before. In spite of the usual dilemma in front of the middle class youth of making sacrifices following certain idealism vis-a-vis pursuing their career in a society where education is expensive and in most cases can be obtained only in credit, what is striking is their desperation for a lifestyle which was almost unimaginable even twenty five years back. Is this because their survival is at stake in the neoliberal world order where they have no other option but not to care or simply because they don't want to resist the temptation of following the mirage? May be Paash's these lines can't be relevant any more,

"Most dangerous is that eye
Which sees all but remains frostlike,
The eye that forgets to kiss the world with love,
The eye lost in the blinding mist of the material world.
That sinks the simple meaning of visible things
And is lost in the meaning return of useless games…" (From "Sabse Khatarnak"/"Most Dangerous")

In India the middle class population has been the prime beneficiary of neoliberalism. Especially the middle class youth seems to be enjoying the abundance of materialistic choices or products like never before. But how then, can we explain this sudden orgy of venerating a fascist and an overtly communal leader, among the bright, successful middle class youth population of the country? In spite of the majoritarian Hindutva brigade at work for almost a century and dangerous appeasement of certain fanatical sections of the minority community by the Congress party, post-independence India never saw such an unequivocal support for a divisive, authoritarian figure among most of its educated middle class youth. If one tries to deconstruct the phenomenon, one has to accept that there are multiple interlinked factors at work. Those obviously include the Babri Masjid demolition and what followed. That there was a process of communalization of social relations at an unprecedented scale starting from the late 80's and it happened almost across socio-economic class and region is un-doubtable.

But how could not the supposedly most intelligent section of the youth population, the new class entering into the IT/ITES, multinational corporations and again, those with supposedly a modern and global outlook, could not avoid getting trapped? Why, at least could they not look the other side and ignore, if not resist? Can the general state of mind of the average urban middle class youth explain this perversion to any extent? What is in that mind? Is it jaded? Is it happy or depressed? What are the ambitions in that mind and how it measures success? In fact, how it defines happiness? What kind of liberty does it seek? Has 'work hard and party harder' failed? Has 'art of living' failed? Does it have anything to do with the same individualism, cut throat competition and careerism that the free market offers as panacea based on its findings on human nature? Can it even be one of the root causes of the rising fanaticism and jingoism we see today among the educated urban middle class youth population; escapist, self-deceptive yet somewhat remedial for the psychosis? Let us connect the dots.

The melancholy brought in by the individualistic, consumerist life that accompanies the opportunities the middle class, specially the youth, so ardently desired for can indeed be traced as one of the root causes of the malady which is now quite severe in the form of NaMo-Mania. The reasons for this growing unhappiness and loneliness are of course quite evident and lot has been written about it even in daily newspapers. In capitalism, this too is an "Externality'! However the symptoms as well as the consequences of this middle class malady can actually be traced to their perpetual search for alternate forms of intellectual fulfillment and satisfaction. National glory derived from GDP growth numbers, centuries scored by Tendulkar, size of population following Hinduism in the world or lethal weapons procured by the country can all contribute to this sense of fulfillment equally. TV News debates on internal crisis and war mongering can contribute by providing sadistic pleasure like watching TV soaps every evening. Any form of resistance gets branded as treason. Dissent becomes sedition. Suspicion, hatred for the 'other'; bigotry and fanaticism becomes the drug the middle class youth desperately craves for. Pride is sought in the ancient past and the most ancient is also accepted as the most virtuous. The list can indeed go on.

For the new Indian middle class youth that we are referring to intermittently, increasingly there is no scope for social interaction and engagement in communitarian activities due to lack of time and space. The public space and the commons are increasingly diminishing. In so many cases today, an engineering or MBA student, an IT employee or a sales manager at a soft drinks company live away from their families and towns or villages. Their occupation or profession gives them no time and scope for meaningful engagement with reality beyond their immediate habitat or office space. Professional education too demands rigorous engagement and is bound to be ROI (Return on investment) driven. Under the circumstances, the scope and willingness to meet and interact with people with different opinion or from different socio-economic background or class is also minimal. The exposure to any sort of nuanced alternative point of view on any topic of social interest is almost non-existent the youth. Thus the television and the internet becomes the only place to seek 'opinions' that can provide some intellectual fulfillment without questioning the role of the class they themselves belong to, without demanding any sacrifice.

At the same time, it becomes completely natural for this class to unequivocally support state policies that demand further immediate sacrifices from the poorest of the poor for the 'long term' betterment of the country. And thus, slowly but surely, the minds of majority of this urban middle class youth population becomes the breeding ground for the hybrid fanaticism propagated through what has become popularly known as Hindu nationalism, a phony nationalism that cares for the county's boundary but not for its wretched countrymen. Religious fanaticism and bigotry often made ambiguous with coated spiritual blabbering, aggregate economic superiority of the country without giving an iota of thought for redistributive justice, simple minded 'analytical and practical solutions to problems' suddenly finds a large coterie of buyers.

This simple mindedness demands neither any contribution nor any objective thinking from the middleclass. It does not demand any social responsibility apart from an occasional "joy of giving" or a "candle light march". It tells them "Forget if you are rich or poor. All you need is faith in yourself. If you have the passion to work then just get up and set forth and you will find the way" ( It fills the middle class youth with the sense that in their country opportunities are equal for all and everything depends only on hard work. It frees them from any guilt of getting a head start over million others and makes them parrot 'rags to riches' stories.

In many cases overcoming the age old prejudices which otherwise should be a part and parcel of modernity becomes much more difficult for a youth enjoying cosmopolitan materialism, but staying far away from his immediate family, to get rid of. For him preserving the regressive elements of the social or family environment that he comes from becomes a part of "not forgetting his roots". This in many cases, though not all, explains the growing religious fanaticism among educated youth of the Hindu community but partly also among well-educated Muslims. This indeed is a complete reversal of a progressive phenomenon of pre-liberalization India when many first generation youth from poor and lower middle class backgrounds even though started working away from their families after obtaining higher education, never felt it necessary to stick to the conservatism and prejudices of where they came from without introspection. Their duty towards their families or parents was more about taking care of them by giving them economic and mental support all through the rest of their lives. In most cases there was a yearning for going back to the place from which they came from and change a few things for the better.

On the contrary, the tendency now is more towards following the great Indian dream that is to be found many a times even outside India, but not to forget the roots by preserving all that is regressive about it. The rapid degeneration of the idea and possibility of a community and a family life over the years, but particularly during the neoliberal era has facilitated this phenomenon beyond doubt.

Thus it seems, to cut a long story short, that for the new Indian urban middle class 'Haan mein crazy hoon' youth, Narendra Modi not only promises to cater to almost all the crackpot desires that he or she craves for, but also shows him the way how to follow them without an iota of guilt. He injects a debauched sense of pride by successfully creating, marketing and selling a basketful of myths and symbols like all fascists do. The content of his vision does not matter to his audience as long as the symbols are visible large and clear in sequence. Sadly the pathological urge to escape from reality that is inducing the middle class youth of India to take the drugs Modi is administering on them will finally lead them to the 'desolation row'.

Shubhram Goswami is a Post Graduate student of Rural Management (2nd Year) in Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar (XIMB). Previously worked as a software professional in Oracle Financial Services S/W Limited, Bangalore. Personal interests specially include understanding and working with local economy based community enterprise systems like cooperatives in India that counter the neo-liberal model of development and can provide sustainable alternatives.

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