This year will go down as a watershed year in post-independence history. In 2014, the BJP swept to power in Delhi with an unexpected majority in the Lok Sabha polls. The year ended with an even bigger surprise, with the BJP securing the highest percentage of votes in the Jammu and Kashmir elections.
Both these outcomes would simply have been inconceivable at the beginning of the year. Added to this is the near annihilation of the once invincible Congress, which has been reduced to the third and even the fourth position in some provincial elections after being reduced to a mere 44 seats in the Lok Sabha. It will be a while before the Congress comes out of its denial, accepts the need for complete overhaul and starts its slow trek, back to political power and economic management. If and when it does succeed in getting back into political office, it will certainly not be on the basis of the outdated and rejected "Left of the Centre" Fabian socialist agenda. Therefore, it may be fair to conclude that 2014 finally brings down the curtain on the Nehruvian era in India’s political economy.
The composition of our elite across the entire spectrum of politics, business and commerce, academics and media has changed from being rank anglophiles to indigenous and regionally diverse. Yet Indian English, in which it is acceptable for the air steward to ask you to "upright your seat" will remain the link language.
The changing composition of the Indian elite will also be reflected in the changed attitude towards its religious, regional and linguistic affiliations. This is increasingly visible in the younger generation being less shy of discussing and displaying their identities across these three dimensions but, by and large giving greater space to the others to display and practice their own beliefs as long as everyone is pursuing their individual agendas for material progress and higher levels of living. Thus, these multiple identities are accepted but do not drive individual behaviour specially in the rapidly urbanising populations.
This has two very important ramifications. One, that political parties, which have hitherto based their electoral appeals on any one of these identities will find themselves being marginalised by those like the BJP and the AAP that base their appeal on meeting the material aspirations of the younger generation by offering better governance and more efficient economic management. Two, our education and cultural institutions and practices will have to increasingly focus on highlighting the common features across these three identities in order to strengthen the glue that would bind the Indian middle class together.
The present state of benign neglect to these issues and leaving it to either Bollywood or archaic quasi politico-cultural institutions to create the glue which holds the country together will not suffice. A similar effort will have to be made to inculcate stronger notions of India as a nation state in the training curriculum of our covenanted services, whose members are likely to be more "provincial" and "religious" in their make up. The post-Nehruvian India will have to be created through a conscious effort, unlike the Nehruvian India, which we inherited from our colonial masters.
The post-1991 generation, which perhaps voted for the first time in these elections, has grown up in an India which is not characterised by scarcities, shortages, a closed economy and lack of opportunities. They have grown up in India which is characterised by economic openness, greater influence of global economy domestic trends; higher and rising role of the private sector; unacceptable governance deficit whose negative impact is exacerbated by the faster growth of the private enterprise; and an explosion in communications and media that make for unbridled aspirations.
The post-Nehruvian and post-Indira Gandhi Indian perceives oneself as a part of the global community and has zero patience for those who attempt to hoodwink them with populist rhetoric and doles that demean oneself. The present generation demands the provision of public services that will enable it to compete with their peers across the world and ensure comparable living standards for themselves.
The post-Nehruvian Indian state will, have to accept far greater monitoring and accountability from its far more aware and informed population with its middle class aspirations. It will have to do whatever it takes to put in place a globally comparable physical infrastructure, public health and education system in India because these are required to generate the much needed employment opportunities.
With the abolition of the Planning Commission, this government has taken the first symbolic step in stepping forward in to the post-Nehruvian economic era. It now needs to follow this up with bolder steps to put in place a real capability that will allow India to create, access and utilise globally front line technologies that will be combined with India’s bountiful young talent to pitchfork India in the ranks of leading economies globally.