Risk of youth bulge unrest in India

The inaugural piece of my new fortnightly monthly column in DNA

Yesterday, I wrote about how to spot the next revolution. Demographics was one indicator. Specifically the existence of a youth bulge (young people constituting a large fraction of the total population) has been found to be correlated with high levels of unrest and violence.

“What about India?” many asked. At 26, the median Indian is not only older than the median Middle Eastern Arab, but will cross 31 by the year 2026. Rising opportunities, growing incomes, a hopeful mindset, democracy and freedom of expression mean that the chances of mass unrest are slim.

But it’s important not to be caught up with the good news in the big picture, for the macro data masks the variation at the micro level. In the first installment of my new fortnightly column in DNA, I argue that the data are serious enough for us to consider youth bulge violence as a long-term risk to national security, and that the time to take mitigatory steps is now.

The dark side of the demographic dividend: So demographics might partly explain why the countries of the Middle East are unstable, but why should it concern us? Well, because the youth bulge phenomenon might put at serious risk India’s ability to benefit from the celebrated “demographic dividend”. If reasonably healthy and reasonably educated young people do not find enough opportunities then India has an abundance of grievances available to agitate them. While the 15-24 population of India as a whole will peak this year and then decline over the next decade, there are many parts of the country where the age structure indicates the risk of youth bulge unrest.

…the data are sufficient enough for us to regard youth bulge violence as a long-term risk to national security. Going by the National Commission on Population’s projections to the year 2026, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi will experience a net increase in young people. The numbers in the 15-24 age group will grow in Bihar, Assam, Haryana, Uttaranchal, Jammu & Kashmir, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Gujarat. States that cannot both reduce grievances and create enough opportunities are likely to get into trouble. [DNA]

You should also look at Dilip Rao’s insightful post at Law and Other Things that I cite in my article.

They are Ravana’s armies

…and must be defeated

The outcry over a bunch of thugs going about their thuggery donning the mantle of ‘Hindu’ armies of Rama might well distract attention from other, more pressing, security issues. But it is well-deserved. The UPA government’s dismal record on stamping down terrorism and bringing terrorists to justice has created a cynicism that is, in turn, breeding a mindset that it is somehow acceptable for citizens to gang up and use terrorism to combat terrorism. So it is extremely important—even if it is our hyperventilating and frequently irresponsible media that does it—to highlight these events and raise the threshold for their acceptance.

Because the vandals who broke into the Mangalore pubs did so, and publicly justified doing so for ideological reasons, it is important to take them head on. No, Ram’s armies didn’t molest women. On the contrary they went to war against the army of a king who committed a crime against a woman. And by no stretch of imagination can a prohibition against alcohol be justified on account of Hindu religion—the earliest traditions of which celebrated mystic intoxication through the routine consumption of Soma. Social conservatives in Karnataka might have reasons to prohibit the consumption of alcohol, but if they wish to impose it on their fellow citizens, they have to take the political-constitutional route. Barging into pubs and molesting women is clearly an adoption of the credo and tactics of Islamist extremists such as Srinagar’s notorious Asiya Andrabi. As they sink deeper into their paranoia and intolerance, Hindu extremists—whether Mr Muthalik or mindless idiots like Lt Col Shrikant Purohit and Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur—are becoming more like the Islamic fundamentalists they so hate. In doing so, paradoxically, they are departing from the fundamentals of Hinduism.

Repudiating their repugnant line of thinking is not only the right thing to do, but, as the BJP discovered after its unfortunate conduct over the Col Purohit-Sadhvi Pragya case, also politically astute. So it was good to see Rajnath Singh, the BJP’s president condemn it as “an unacceptable act of hooliganism”. Karnataka’s chief minister, B S Yeddyurappa says that his government will stringent action against the thugs and has also promised that a repeat of such incidents will not be allowed. He will be judged by his actions, but his feet have to be kept to the fire. On the other hand, he would do well not to pursue the stale old Bangalorean grouse against “pub culture”. The energies of the police force are better employed against thieves, thugs and terrorists, and not for enforcing virtue and preventing vice.

Now we’ve heard that before

The après moi le déluge routine

President Asif Zardari wants the world to bail Pakistan out—financially to the tune of US$100 billon—because, if he fails, Pakistan with its arsenal of 200 nuclear warheads could be toppled by al-Qaeda and its allies.

A remarkably familiar pitch it is. Until a few months ago, it was General Musharraf who was standing between Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and their takover by al-Qaeda radicals.

Well the truth is that bit about nuclear warheads is generally scare-mongering. So is that bit about al-Qaeda toppling governments (the slick, smooth-talking General Musharraf has been replaced by the slick, smooth-talking Mr Zardari). But the bit about a political crisis in Pakistan spilling over and causing problems for other countries is largely true.

To be fair to Mr Zardari, it is true that he is saying altogether new things, of a kind we’ve never heard from a Pakistani president or prime minister before. The questions are whether he really means it (he probably does) and whether that means anything (that’s the US$100 billion question).