Personal destiny or nation? – The choice we must make

“Kleptocratic India, The Enemy is Within!”* is the title of a thought-provoking article written by Mr. M. G. Devasahayam, a former Army and IAS Officer, who in June 1975, was posted as the District Magistrate of Chandigarh, when Indira Gandhi ushered in the long, dark night of Emergency. The then District Magistrate of Delhi, not wanting to hold a hot potato in his hand, had sent Lok Nayak Jaya Prakash Narayan (JP) into his custody soon after his arrest. The author believes that the Emergency “ushered in, and ripped apart, India’s delicately crafted and carefully nurtured democratic fabric and the institutions of governance.”

Tracing the rot in the breakdown of the elite All India Services, when a “committed bureaucratic-police coterie had been smuggled into the Prime Minister’s Household (PMH), and positioned in the Home Ministry, Delhi Administration, and Police” the author delineates the steep decline in the governance of the country, and quotes the Supreme Court’s observation about the “nexus between law makers, law keepers, and law breakers.” It is an article that all Indians must read and absorb; thinking about the future of this nation, that in 2014 was fast moving towards becoming a ‘failed state’ until the people rescued it by drumming the Congress out of office.

But then, did the rot really set in with the Emergency? How did Indira Gandhi come to believe that she could take such an extreme step and get away with it? Is only the ruling elite of India responsible for the current state of affairs? What has been the role of the individual citizen in permitting this “Trojan Horse” to infiltrate and subvert the collective conscience of the nation? I think we need to look at ourselves a little more closely, and not only from the end of the Nehru era but also right from the time when we seriously began to entertain the idea of a nation free from foreign rule. From the time we achieved our independence in 1947, we have turned from a nation of brainwashed patriots to a population of introverted selves. All that we, as an independent nation, have ever cared for is personal destiny: all the other destinies have become burdens. We have failed to see what is really happening; and just as we also failed to evolve new political parties to meet the needs – and dangers – of an increasingly self-centred society, so also we have lacked the honesty to throw away the old masks. Obsession with self is everywhere, and it is reflected in the over 1000 political parties that have sprouted to “fleece the farmers and small investors of their flesh and bones.”

Truly speaking, what we achieved in 1947 was not real freedom but a craving for freedom. Our freedom is a myth in its simple, primary sense. Unlike the Americans (whom we wish to emulate in every way), who have created their own myth of free will, where one can choose oneself and will oneself, we have extrapolated freedom from all living reality. It is a thing in the mind, a dream world we secretly retreat into from our daily ordinary reality. That is what permits our extraordinary tolerance to national decay, of somehow muddling through, our Marxist conservatism and our Nehruvian conservative socialism. Our society, and its actual state, is nothing; merely the dead real world, not the living imaginary one; and that is why we have evolved a rhetoric that always means more than it says, both emotionally and imaginatively. The real tyranny comes from the totally accepted belief in the system, the existing social framework.

The communication industry, consisting of the press in the early days, and later of the visual media, sap and leach the native power away, insidiously imposing their own conformities, their limits of vision; denying any existence of what they cannot capture. As John Fowles observed in his magnificent novel ‘Daniel Martin’: “Our cinema and television, through frequently repeated experience, create a paradigmatic effect by analogy, much beyond the immediately seen – indeed, all spheres of life where a free and independent imagination matters.” The much-proclaimed transience of television images and reports is no consolation; one might as well argue that since no one drink can by itself cause cirrhosis, tippling holds no danger. In spite of their vaunted virtues as disseminators of popular art and instant democracy, there has begun to smell something rotten in the state of both these dominant media.

Fowles again: “There is something ominously stereotyping, if not positively totalitarian, in the machine and its servants.” But, just as there is no doubt that many Chinese who did not like Mao and the Communist Party, yet felt that treason against their country was a worse crime, we have inured ourselves to these feelings. The latest case is of Nishant Agarwal, a young 20-something techie, working on India’s vital defence systems, falling prey to the same malaise of preferring personal destiny to that of the nation. The #MeToo campaign currently raging on social media, brutally exposes the rot that has set in the film and television industry. Fowles was perhaps writing about Hollywood and the British Film industry when he wrote: “The commercial cinema is like a hallucinogenic drug: it distorts the vision of all who work in it. Its madams, pimps, whores and bullies masquerade publicly as ‘distinguished’ directors and stars, famous producers and agents, simply showing how much there is to hide.” But his description fits Bollywood and all other Indian ‘woods like a glove. It is perhaps too early to write the history of the period. But when it comes to be written, the media and the communication industry will come in for serious indictment.

The hucksters had wilfully blocked a connection between national reality and national awareness of it. But the public, who allowed the block to take place, and to endure, will also stand indicted in the dock. We tolerated the choking phlegm of pundits and pontificators, editors, interviewers, critics, columnists, media humbugs, puppet personalities, shyster lawyers and attitude-hijackers; a combined media Mafia, squatting on an enormous dung heap of empty words and tired images, and conjoined, despite their private rivalries and jealousies, by one common determination: to retain their own status and importance in the system they had erected. At the top of this heap we can also find the nepotistic and narcissistic collegium system of the higher judiciary.

The fact is that no one really listens anymore, nothing registers: an audience of one billion is an audience of no one. The speed of forgetfulness is approaching the speed of sound. We hear and see, and the next moment it is expurgated. To criticise the glamorisation of the worthless, the flagrant prostitution of true human values, the substitution of degree of exposure for degree of actual achievement, now invites an immediate accusation of harbouring obscurant ideas, of being out of touch. Natural processes are all being cosmetically de-naturalised. The real function is not to inform, but to excuse one from thinking. One feels a pervasive cancer at the heart of one’s world; but still hesitates to submit to a surgical intervention that would extirpate the affected organ, preferring the cancer to a freedom from it.

We have perfected the art of compromise, which in reality is a refusal to make a choice – out of cowardice, apathy, and a selfish laziness. The act of going on vacations on election days for some is thought to be “intellectual” as voting is something the uneducated, illiterates do! Now with the NOTA option there are some who will take the trouble of going to the election booth but express their angst through this choice, little realising that the refusal to make a choice in itself is choosing the greater evil.

The Great White Hope of the Congress party refuses to take any responsibility either to help his party out of the morass in which it is stuck, or even to help his family in retaining its hold on power. Being born mummified, his failure to adapt is a result of the huge superstructure of wealth, tradition, family, that he has to carry; but the analogy is better made with the last of the brontosaurs, whose armour dragged them down. When he looks in the mirror, he does not see the reflection of an extinct creature, but instead paints an ideal, dream-self on the glass and begins to see himself in that image.

In the coming elections the country is going to choose its rulers from among a-thousand-and-more political dispensations that are no different in their ideologies, of which the disorder known as kleptomania is the central core. Narendra Modi, in the four years until now, has proved that this disorder is absent from his make up. It is up to us now to seize the moment and make a paradigmatic shift in our political evolution. Another five-year term for Modi will ensure that the Brontosaurs do not get hatched in some forgotten Jurassic park. If we choose correctly and make this shift, we will give ourselves a fair chance to evolve into a civilisation that our ancestors had striven towards before the invasions of the trolls that came from the West.

No form of life or political idea has survived on the basis of enforced equality. The whole of evolution depends on the freedom of the individual to develop in his own way. All history, human and natural, demonstrates that – again and again. The country’s last chance of walking out of this enforced equality is in our hands. Will we seize it? Or will the kleptocracy prevail once more?

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