In Age of Anger: A History of the Present, Pankaj Mishra argues that the roots of our current age of anger lie in the economic and political revolutions of the late 18th and early 19th century in Europe and the traumatic social and political changes they brought about. Hailed as an ‘intellectual history of popular discontents’, Age of Anger is a ‘highly topical polemic describing a global pandemic of rage’.
Juggernaut publisher Chiki Sarkar spoke to Mishra about the book, and how he imagines India will be like in the next decade:
You write that the thinking behind this book began with Narendra Modi’s victory in 2014 and ended with Trump coming to power in 2016. Two years on, have your views about India changed in any way?
No, if anything, my earlier hunches that Modi was going to reshape India radically in all kinds of ways have been justified. I feel less hopeful today that we are going to escape his legacy, a vitiated politics, which is going to survive regardless of whether he is in power or not. Political movements and personalities can alter cultures and societies in draconian ways, and I think Modi is a transformational figure in the way Indira Gandhi was.
You think modern capitalism and its false promises of advancement for everyone has failed. What do you imagine should replace it?
An economy that is is more alert to the environmental costs of rampant consumerism and the political risks of offering impossible promises. This is not as impractical as it seems. The problem is that politicians and technocrats today deal in fantasy. They raise unrealizable expectations for many while cannily achieving them for themselves and a few others. A greater sense of reality will be good for all concerned.
You see the rise of radical and populist politics because of a generation of angry young men and women, disenchanted by the world they live in. Tell us about the angry young men and women of India. What paths will they take?
The generation that is in its 20s and 30s, which voted for Modi in large numbers, will shape India, for better or worse. Electoral politics in India absorbs a lot of rage and frustration in India, and social structures here are still very strong, and so for this reason I don’t expect India to descend into the kind of hell we see in large parts of the world, where both the state and society have been deeply damaged. I do think that the frustration of the many would flow into unexpected movements. That agitations and eruptions of the kind we just saw in Tamil Nadu and have also seen elsewhere in recent years would become more common.
How do you imagine the next decade in India will be?
The most interesting and crucial in its history, undoubtedly. You would have a generation that is recovering from Modi, most likely unhappy with him, because the economy is unlikely to create enough new jobs or grow adequately, yet unable to break free of the ideological spell he has cast, the new culture he has created, and so vulnerable to another kind of ultra-nationalist who specializes in identifying various enemies of the people and demonizing them. I feel we have only just started on a long phase of a politics of anger and despair.