Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Towards another lost generation?

My father was born just a few days before Independence Day in 1951. He belongs to the first post-independence generation- the generation which drew its first breath in independent India, which grew up amidst the idealism and high hopes of the Nehruvian era. His was also the generation which started working in the 70s- the period when ill conceived socialist policies consigned India to two decades of economic stagnation, the effects of which are being felt to this day.

Tragically, my father and many of his generation were in their forties when the Indian economy went into a state of transition in 90s. The painful transition, coupled with the Asian crisis in the late 90s derailed the careers of countless people from that generation. Many of them lost the way in the new world, the rest survived but never managed to reach the heights they promised to. Now in retirement, thousands of them simply do not have the life savings to comfortably take them through the last leg of their lives because their savings have been reduced to peanuts in these hyperinflationary times.

Nehru- The embodiment of an age of idealism

To me, my father and people of his age represent a lost generation that got the worst of both worlds. They spent most of their working lives in pre-liberalisation India and were too old to reap the benefits of the economic developments in the new century. The current economic climate could do something similar for the generation born in late 80s to early-mid 90s.

Over the last two years, the euphoria and optimism of the late 2000s have sudenly vanished. The vast majority of Indian companies have shelved new projects and put a freeze on recruitments, with the result that new jobs have suddenly dried up. The tragedy is that the current impasse is not due to a weakening economy, but on account of a paralysis of governance. Unable to build a consensus in its own ranks, much less with its coalition partners and hammered on all sides by charges of corruption of a magnitude unprecedented in Indian history, the Congress Government is tottering. Battling for mere survival, Dr. Manmohan Singh and co have failed to enact key reforms that India desperately needs if the high growth rates of recent years are to be sustained.

My greatest fear is that the current climate of political uncertainty could continue for a few more years to come. I see little possibility, if any, of the situation improving between now and 2014, when India goes to the polls. Should the Congress find itself unable to form a government then- a very real possibility- its hard to see who else can. The BJP at this point in time appears a pale shadow of the force it once was. Unless there is at least one party with no less than 120-150 members of parliament, chances of stability are nearly non-existent and its hard to see any party other than the Congress or BJP which can muster anything close to that number.

The epitome of a dysfunctional government

Should my worst fears come to pass, India could witness a period of political instability characterised by a succession of unstable coalitions, not unlike the late 90s. It will inevitable translate into an underperforming economy and a stagnant job market. In these ultra competitive times, a bad start to one's career could spell disaster. Thousands of people from the generation that was born in the late 80s and early 90s, who are at the beginning or will begin their careers in the coming years, are going to find it difficult to find good opportunities to start with.

A poor start to their careers will leave thousands of youngsters at a distinct disadvantage even after the economic scenario improves, with thousands of younger and fresher minds competing with them. Make no mistake, many of them might never recover from the wretched start to their careers, which will be through no fault of theirs.

The disaster can be averted if our political class can put the national cause ahead of narrow self interest. Sadly, history provides little cause for optimism.

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