An identity crisis
An identity crisis, India, the world’s largest democracy and an emerging power of the 21st century, is celebrating 67 years of Independence.
India, the world’s largest democracy and an emerging power of the 21st century, is celebrating 67 years of Independence. But “The Tryst with Destiny” – Jawaharlal Nehru’s famously proclaimed words to usher in the dawn of freedom, which contained a categorical promise to the people of India to end poverty and disease and inequality of opportunity – seems coming from a distant past. There is so much to be proud of, yet so little pride in the countrymen today. Hardly anyone you meet in your daily life seems proud to be called an Indian. Even the very term ‘Indian’ has, in our day-to-day conversations, come to mean something base, adulterated, substandard, undependable, unpunctual, lackadaisical, and deceitful.
“Indian Standard Time” means behind time; “Indian style” means vulgarly extravagant; “Indian attitude to work” implies perfunctory; “Indian etiquette” is taken as a disregard for the norms of civic life; “Indian way of doing things or getting things done” is to bribe or be bribed. Why is it so? Why have we all become so disdainful of ourselves? Why do we sneer at ourselves with such vehemence? Why have we lost all pride in being Indians so soon after getting freed from colonial rule? We used to take pride in our education, our academic brilliance, the social and economic ladder we climb and even in our caste, but where are we all now? Merit is replaced by mediocrity; the lower your position in the society the better it is.
The Indian State is rotting; the democratic structure is crumbling within itself; political institutions are decomposing; politics is becoming predatory; politicians are becoming corrupt and plunderers; small men of small ambitions, small minds and small concerns have risen to the ranks of rulers. This is what has always caused the collapse of every empire in the Indian history, and history seems to be repeating itself.
As moral and intellectual pygmies are rising to offices of state once held by giants, they are dwarfing the entire nation. Celebrations over, the politicians will now be back at the game they play in pursuit of power and all that goes with it. They have neither time nor inclination to spare a thought to the idea that power ultimately is meant to serve the people, and to build a new India where freedom should mean something for the poorest of the land, where the helpless can live a life of dignity and self-respect, without fear and want. In fact, politicians of all sorts have hijacked the democratic system to run it for their own convenience.
The bureaucracy, a rusted version of the steel frame, remains distant from the people, almost callous and indifferent and generally insensitive to their pain and despair. The judiciary, the last hope of the citizen with a grievance, has on occasions shown a flicker or so of conscience, and dispensed justice; but seeking redress has become costly for those who need it most. What is worrying is that even judges have become corrupt and people have lost faith in their judgments. With the latest amendment to the Judicial Act, now the politicians will have a say in the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and the High Courts. If any organ of the State chooses to block their way, the politicians always try to bend it to their will – by means fair and foul.
If one thing more than any other has convinced us of the moral and intellectual weakness of the Indian intelligentsia as it is today, that is their piteous yearning for a leader. The cry for a leader was heard as soon as the British rule ended. They wanted a leader, or its alternative, a dictator. Nehru was accepted as more of a statesman and idealist than a leader. While Indira Gandhi was a despot, her son Rajiv, instead of being a leader, turned out to be a prince charming. P V Narasimha Rao was trying to be an odd combination of everything put together. In the process, he was neither a leader nor a layman. That was probably his personal as well as national tragedy. Atal Behari Vajpayee was a born leader, but he was handicapped by the ideologies of his party. The less said the better about Manmohan Singh. He never wielded power and lacked leadership qualities. Disappointment after disappointment did not weaken Indians’ desire for a leader and the hope of his emergence as if by a miracle.
Narendra Modi emerged as a messiah for the educated Indians. He had proved his leadership qualities in Gujarat and was readily welcomed by the intelligentsia. But I always believe that a true leader must also be a statesman like Nehru. Just 70 days in office, he has already made more foes than friends within and outside the party. Besides, the RSS is becoming his nemesis by openly declaring that India is Hindustan and all Indians are Hindus etc. A country, which is committed to secularism by its Constitution, can never approve of such loose talk by the head of a Hindu organisation. The tragedy is not that the evils afflicting society and the emerging system are not known, but the indifference of the leaders across the spectrum to the damage they are doing to the political system is abysmal. Enjoyment of power is wrecking the system from within.
There is a crisis of competence and a lack of integrity in almost all fields of activity –more markedly in political. The public is now fed up with politicians as a class. The phenomenon has been noticed in parts of the Western world. In that famous book, ‘Yes Minister’, there is this delightful passage: “If civil servants could remove politicians on grounds of corruption and incompetence, it would empty the House of Commons, remove the Cabinet and this would be the end of Democracy – and the beginning of responsible government!”