Fri, Aug 27, 2004 - Page 9 News List

Young Indians waiting for their political chance

By David Rohde  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , KNOWLEDGE CITY, INDIA

"I made my mind up that someday I will get to that position," he said. "I believe in hard work."

Anamika Chakraborty

Three years ago, Anamika Chakraborty's family moved from Assam, an impoverished northeastern state that endured a 20-year Marxist insurgency, to Calcutta, a city long associated with India's Communists and its cruelest poverty.

For the last quarter-century, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has ruled West Bengal, the state that Calcutta lies in, the longest term of rule by any political party in India. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the state was dismissed as a socialist anachronism.

But a new generation of reformed Communist leaders is eagerly recruiting foreign investors, declaring the city a high-technology hub and allowing foreign corporations to pay for the maintenance of city parks, which are now immaculate.

American-style shopping malls and private housing developments have sprouted across the city. Huge billboards advertising housing developments named Fortune City and Princeton urge India's growing middle class to move in, enjoy the swimming pool and "smash, splash and have a bash."

Chakraborty, 25, a Brahmin who was strolling through a market with her cousin on a weekday night, said she was completing a MBA program in New Delhi.

She dismissed state-run corporations as wasteful, praised the reformed Communists for halting almost daily strikes that once crippled Calcutta and said labor unions should be involved in a process of "give and take." Privatization's backers in Indian politics, she said, were the ones truly aiding younger Indians.

"For the young Indians, those striving for jobs, they have done a lot," she said.

Chakraborty's goal is to work for a foreign corporation, but she also fears globalization. Young Indians who wear Western clothes, listen to Western music and demand to move out of their parents' homes early surround her, she said. Yet in her own life, she has decided to wear saris and other traditional Indian clothes, not American ones.

She is determined to be both thoroughly modern at the office and to remain traditionally Indian at home. She said the most important decision in her life will remain with her parents, as she plans to accept an arranged marriage.

"These things are changing," she said, referring to traditional Indian culture. "These things should not change."

Munna Kumar

Asked what type of politician he liked, train sweeper Munna Kumar, 15, seemed puzzled.

"I once heard Nitish Kumar," he said, referring to a local politician. "He came to my village."

At 15, Munna is a lower-caste train sweeper in Bihar, a northern state of 83 million people that is widely considered India's most backward. He, like 70 percent of Indians, lives in a rural area where farming remains the primary means of survival.

He dropped out of school in the second grade to help support his family. His parents, who are both house servants, have five daughters and two sons. His home has no running water. He occasionally watches television in friends' houses.

Each morning, he boards a train in his small town, Khagaria, and rides for four hours to the state capital, Patna. Along the route, he sweeps the train, then each afternoon makes the four-hour journey home. His earnings, usually less than US$2 a day, go to his parents.

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