Sociologists call this generation—those between 20 and 40 years of age—the ‘Millennials’. They succeeded the Lost Generation (distinct from the Baby Boomers who were born soon after World War 2), which dominated the country when india today magazine began publication on December 15, 1975. Generation X, as they are also known, came of age under the shadow of Emergency. Job opportunities lay largely in the public sector and the central government’s oppressive hand could be found everywhere. There were queues and waiting lists for practically everything, whether you wanted a telephone connection or even to buy a car.
Sociologists call this generation—those between 20 and 40 years of age—the ‘Millennials’.
On the other hand, the Millennials or Generation Y, as they are also dubbed, grew up in an age of reform and relative prosperity. The oldest of them was 10 years old when the Indian economy was freed from the shackles of the Licence Raj. India dumped the Hindu rate of growth of three per cent and expanded at hyper speed. The middle class burgeoned and blossomed, and private entrepreneurship came into its own.
Evolution, Harvard physician Harvey V. Fineberg once observed, was all about passing on the genome to the next generation, adapting and surviving through generation after generation. As he put it, “From an evolutionary point of view, you and I are like the booster rockets designed to send the genetic payload into the next level of orbit and then drop off into the sea.”
The next generation that we spawned did not just adapt and survive, but flourished. With ’83, the biopic of India’s cricket world cup win, now the flavour of the season, it would be apt to quote Kapil Dev, who captained the heroic team: “The next generation has always been and will be better than the previous one. If it is not, then the world would not be moving forward.” Well, the world is not just moving forward, but at a speed faster than what the Haryana Hurricane would ever have bowled during his career.
If their parents taught them to work in factories, the Lost Generation decided their children will be allowed to explore their creativity in full. What speeded the RPMs of the Millennials’ progress was the explosion of the Internet and the rapid advance of technology, particularly in how people communicate and interact. It gave rise to social media that enabled constant connectivity along with anytime, anywhere entertainment. It was the cannon that allowed the Millennials to blow up the hesitations of history and carve a pathway to phenomenal success. As Eric Yuan, CEO and founder of Zoom Video communications, puts it, “Millennials grew up realising they could get a job done without ever having to go to office.”
The Internet has been the cannon that has allowed the Millennials to blow up the hesitations of history and carve a pathway to phenomenal success
Yet it is not as though the Millennials have had it all easy. They were at an impressionable age when 9/11 shook the world. In India, they lived under the shadow of three wars—the Kargil conflict, and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars that followed. They felt the fear of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, the global economic meltdown and the ensuing recession. They lived through as tumultuous and tough times as their preceding generations did. But they also had exemplars to show them how to break free. Their role models included N.R. Narayana Murthy of Infosys, Elon Musk of Space X and Jeff Bezos of Amazon, who demonstrated how to generate wealth rapidly, even without an inheritance, and retain it.
For India, the convergence of communication technologies was fortuitous. With a third of the country’s population being between the ages of 20 and 44, the demographic dividend of being a young country has paid off richly. Right across the spectrum, be it politics, business, science, sports or the arts, the Millennials have made a difference with their high energy and can-do spirit.
It is particularly noticeable in industry, where young entrepreneurs have grown their companies into unicorns or companies with a valuation of billion-plus dollars, straddling not just India but wielding influence across the world. In 2021, even as Covid raged, as many as 42 start-ups turned unicorns, with a combined valuation of $82 billion. India has now emerged as the third-largest ecosystem for start-ups globally, with over 59,000 of these companies sprouting up in the past five years. Only the US and China are ahead.
Not surprisingly, when india today for its 46th anniversary special decided to identify ‘The Next 100’ between the ages of 20 and 40 who symbolise India Tomorrow, it was the young entrepreneurs who dominated the list. Not to be left behind, though, is a clutch of young politicians across parties, who are making their presence felt on the political landscape. Joining them is a set of entertainers who now have a following that would be the envy of superstars of yesteryears. There are many other fields the Millennials are excelling in, from science and the arts to sports. In the following pages, we present a selection of individuals who we think deserve a place in The Next 100. It is only a representative list, but it is enough to showcase the immense talent in this generation. We also feature in this issue a cross-section of voices from Generation Z, the successor to the Millennials, on how they view the nation. India has come a long way after 75 years of Independence but has an even longer way to go. Both these generations exhibit the guts and the gumption to achieve the glory that India seeks before its 100th anniversary.