In an age of playing safe and having political opinions couched in fancy words, there are very few people having the nerve of not mincing their words and churning their thought process, which stands in stark contradiction to the political narrative supposedly now imposed on people. To emphasize on the imposition part, a slight reference to what happened in early 2017 will be sufficient, when a girl of my age from Delhi University made headlines across every media channel. I could not comprehend as to what the media houses and politicians would probably want to achieve, by labelling a young brave girl as an anti-national, who had the courage to speak her mind.
For a while I thought it will all subside, yet it went on, at an unimaginable scale. A girl who chose love over hatred and stood against violence on campus was named and threatened with life to remain silent. This called for some deep-seated introspection of the paradigm of freedom of speech and expression in democratic India. The same girl went on to become an author of two wonderfully penned-down books rooted in the idea of humanity, freedom and hope for a better future of the country.
“The Young and the Restless: Youth and Politics in India” is Gurmehar Kaur’s second book. She symbolizes a beacon of inspiration for the youth to work to speak against the wrong, in face of opposition from those in power, and continue making a difference in their own way. The book examines the lives, thoughts, social and political ambitions of eight young leaders from a diversity of political spectrum across India.
The author adopts a nuanced politically conscious approach in describing various facets of development and issues in politics of the country like militancy, environment, caste, education and so on. The book opens with an alarming message on the lack of political representation of the youth, on political and electoral forums, despite India being the youngest country in the world. In a country which has 65% of the population below the age of 35 only a meagre 12% of the current Lok Sabha members are below the age of forty. The average age of our parliamentarians is 60. This comes across as a strange paradox making us wonder whether fresh or radical ideas will ever coming up in the temple of democracy or not.
The first chapter opens in Kashmir, a place deeply personal and special to the author. She touches upon militancy, and several other problems in Kashmir, and what could be a possible solution to the long lasting issue. The issue is discussed twice in the book. The rest I leave to the curiosity of the readers. Throughout the course of the book, the author delves into student activism and visits the much-debated school of political thought—be it feminism, left-wing politics, socialism or right-wing nationalism. At every point the reader can relate to the book, for these are the conversations we engage in, as the youth of the country with an intent to enlighten ourselves and make a difference. This is what that makes this book so relatable.
The entire book is a collection of a series of interviews with young politicians touching upon the common problems like environment, secularism in this time, caste-based violence and the approach of the youth in tackling the same. The book also covers a slight investigation into the attitude and thinking patterns of the people of India on specific issues. What perhaps is common— between the author and most of the people in the book—is that they derive their activism and sense of service to the nation from compassion. This establishes the fact that it isn’t necessary to come from a political background to make a difference.
As the book unravels, the readers will discover that the book does not advocate political antagonism against any political party, rather it collects the views from diverse political backgrounds within the fold of solving complex issues without over-intellectualizing it. The astute understanding of each of the youngster mentioned in the book, resonates with their personal journeys, which led them to embark upon the paths they are onto currently.
The feisty conversation with Shehla Rashid (whom I could not resist mentioning in this review), the woman who held her ground against all odds, demolishing the other side with her conviction, is an epitome of change and courage. It covers the discourse of left politics and her personal journey of growth and challenges along with it. The crucially contested ideologies of right and left have been given a correct place and perspective in the book.
The thread of nationalism—defined as loving your people—runs through the whole book. The author, having being questioned about her nationalism umpteen times, cements the thought in the book that true nationalism lies in loving the people of your country and forging a bond of unity. Stifling dissent, polarizing masses, advocating religious bigotry in the name of nationalism is not what the ideas of nationalism stand for. The acts of patriotism and nationalism ferment from the beginning of opposition against the unjust State.
Quoting the example of true patriots and leaders– such as Bhagat Singh and Nelson Mandela becomes inevitable— as they stood true to this definition of nationalism which germinated from opposing the unjustness and ruthlessness of the State. The past few years have been considerably difficult for citizens who chose not to align with the dominant political ideology at the centre stage of politics. They are labelled as anti-nationals, corrupt, pseudo-liberals so on and so forth.
Just because one refuses to consume the popular or destructive narrative flowing within the circles of mainstream masses does not mean they love their country any less than the others. The book in totality upholds the autonomy to think, question and process the rationale outlook.
The book reminds us of the paramount role we ought to exercise as citizens. The author aligns with her own stream of thoughts and questions directed at getting views of the youth representatives on burning issues in the country. On reading the book, the reader would realize that there is a dearth of such fresh and liberal ideas in mainstream politics. Holistically the book is a confluence of various political ideologies with a deep-rooted critical analysis, a reference of which the readers will find in an interesting conversation between the author and Aaditya Thackeray.
The biggest take away from the book is that it inspires to push forward the streak of restlessness by infesting in us the drive to enhance our pool of knowledge by analyzing the policies of the government rather than being blindsided by them. Presenting an opinion without an iota of fear, makes it a good read for the ones who relentlessly hope.