Monday, August 8, 2011

Absent institutions

in India, Bhakti or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays a part in its politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world. Bhakti in religion may be the road to the salvation of a soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.

                                          --B.R Ambedkar (closing address to Constituent Assembly)

When I look at the give aways that the recently elected Jayalalitha government is indulging in, I am reminded once again of the populist nature of contemporary Indian democracy. Successive governments have found out that it is easier to appease their wards with freebies (such as a fan, a tv or free electricity) than making an effort to do something positive. Arguably, one source of this populism could be India's vast poor and unaware, and hence, gullible, population. Under the surface however, I think, this populism has more to do with the feeling of helplessness that Indians experience over not having any other viable alternative. In contemporary India the disillusionment of the average Indian goes so far as to consider that if the government does something right, it is incidental, a serendipitous aligning of the personal interests of politicians and civil servants with the interests of the country. Given this, the Indian public at large, I believe, has stopped being willing to sacrifice comforts that a momentarily vulnerable and generous government bestows upon them - if only for votes - even if such a comfort means greater pain somewhere down the line. Because, even if they do sacrifice, they do not trust the government to invest that capital into the country's future. So, they take as much as they can get, even being aware that it is going to be at the cost of the future.

Indian public institutions are for the most part viewed with suspicion. The negative light in which they are usually cast in Indian films give us a taste of the popular sentiment. In the average film, whatever the problem maybe, the protagonist casually deals with it as an individual, outside the law; where an attempt is shown to be made by the protagonist to seek the system's help, the problem is cast aside with disdain by the system, thus forcing the option of a non-legal route on the protagonist. That the means used by the protagonist are in violation of the law of the land is not even an issue, more often than not the violator is considered a saint rather than a criminal; the message in summary comes to this: the triumph of right, of justice, due to the sacrifice of an individual in spite of a callous, uncaring, often corrupt system. The resentment of the public has reached to such levels recently that blatant killing of corrupt officials (Tagore, Telugu, 2003), or the taking over of governance by private individuals (Sivaji, Tamil, 2007) seem perfectly reasonable options to the viewers.

Problematic also is the unhealthy obsession Indians have with 'leaders'. While celebrities and symbols have played an important role in most cultures around the world, I believe that Indians are obsessed  with the idea of a 'leader'. Sometimes I cannot help but think it a wonder that India has not devolved into an autocracy in the time since its independence (though it almost did end up being one under Indira Gandhi). 

That is the contradiction India today has within itself: tired as Indians are of the system governing them, their first instinct is not to deliberate upon the manner in which the system could be reformed, but to look for, or rather, worse than that, helplessly pray for a 'leader' who would deliver them from the system (while doing the best they can, by hook or crook, while under it). It is one of the reasons why, I think, Indians are so easy to stir up to become a mob: at the first hint of a leader providing direction, promising deliverance, they are ready to follow - some times not even caring what the cause is - casting aside concerns of law and order.

India would be a much better place if Indians shed their pessimism, and do what they can to slowly change the cogs of the system - uninspiring work though it is - rather than hoping for a revolution under a 'leader'.

1 comment:

  1. i think one needs to forgot the idea of realising a coherence between individual achievements and societal respect... to make ppl even try to make a change... we need to understand and imbibe the qualities of the rebel who has lost