Column: India’s change of guard

Sep 08 2013, 19:20 IST
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SummaryUntil recently, ageing stalwarts dominated most fields in India. Now, young entrants are gradually taking over

In August, Raghuram Rajan was appointed Governor of the Reserve Bank of India. On one level, this was a routine announcement that many had anticipated—after all, Rajan is arguably the best-known Indian economist of his generation. On another level, however, his appointment can be seen as part of a broader generational shift. Rajan, just 50, will be the first RBI governor born after India became a republic in 1950.

Similar changes are taking place in all walks of Indian life, including politics, the arts, sports, and social development. And India will be better for it. Although the country is one of the youngest in the world, with an average age of just 26 years, until recently ageing stalwarts incongruously dominated most fields, from politics to the arts and even business and sports.

But now younger entrants are rising everywhere, bringing with them energy and new ideas. In politics, as the country prepares for next year’s general election, the leading contenders to replace 81-year-old Prime Minister Manmohan Singh are the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Narendra Modi, 62, and Rahul Gandhi, who is just 43. Either man would be the first prime minister who was not born in the British Raj.

The arts were one of the first areas to witness this generational change. For a long time, Indian literature, especially in English, was dominated by a clique who wrote mainly for a niche audience and literary recognition. Then, a few years ago, a group of young writers—such as Chetan Bhagat and Amish Tripathi, both former bankers—changed the rules of the game by writing for the mass market.

Rather than write for literary critics, they began to use a simpler language, including Indian turns of phrase. They also chose new themes: Tripathi dipped into ancient mythology to write a trilogy about the god Shiva, while Bhagat began to write about the lives of India’s young, upwardly mobile middle class.

Predictably, the purists pounced and the critics ridiculed. But people have bought their books in the millions, and film deals have followed. As a result, the market for books has dramatically expanded and publishers have been forced to change their entire business strategies.

Something similar has happened in the music industry. Previously dominated by a small cabal of singers and music directors, the market has been transformed by TV talent contests, similar to American Idol, which provide a national showcase for the wealth of India’s talent.

The shows have made participants,

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