Who moved my narrative? Curious case of Indian elites

The British ruled their colonies ruthlessly and evidence of their loot and torture in India is widely available. During my childhood I always wondered how a handful of Britishers came to India as traders and managed to take over the country and then rule it for over 130 years under the banners of East India Company and the British Empire. It made me wonder how a country with 13 million people in 1806 controlled a country with over 200 million people. And that too using just over 150000 troops with just about 25000 British soldiers and officers.

Just imagine even if 1% of Indian population decided to unite and take up arms against the British then India could have easily raised an army of 2 million and destroyed the British footprint in India. But our princely states and regions were plagued with internal disputes and self-preservation. It is quite evident from the historical events that the British successfully exploited the fault lines by propagating Aryan vs Dravidian (without proof), accentuating caste based divisions, fueling religious fears and most importantly convincing the average Indian mind that India did not have a rich heritage and all good things came from outside. The obvious question in my mind was how did they do it?

They developed and controlled the Narrative.

The British effectively exploited India through their Narrative. They understood the power of information in a large place like the Indian Sub-Continent with so many different languages and customs. Given the fact that the East India Company was engaged in overseas trading it had access to the Elites (Kings, Queens, Nobles) and the local manufacturers or traders. This access enabled them to gather information, develop intelligence, suppress facts, propagate fiction as facts and most importantly develop Narrative to suit their political agenda and military strategy. This information arbitrage and control of narrative paid handsome dividends till the British exited India in 1947.

Exit of the British from India became inevitable after the WWII and the British wanted to withdraw as soon as possible. This created an unprecedented opportunity for the Indian Elites (Nobles, Businessmen, Bureaucrats, Politicians, and British friendly Intellectuals). They were close to the power centers in Delhi and other important cities like Calcutta (Kolkata), Madras (Chennai), and Bombay (Mumbai). They quickly realized that the common Indian who had not known real freedom had no clue what to expect after independence from the British rule.

Starting 15th August 1947 these Elites successfully stepped into the vacuum created by the British and took complete control of information distribution and narrative development. They essentially adopted the British approach to administration and legal framework. The British administrative rules and bureaucracy was focused on favoring the rulers and not the common people of India. This allowed the Elites to grab lands, business contracts, jobs and even admissions in premium institutes. Additionally, the British legal framework was designed to delay or deny justice to the local population and by continuing with it the Elites ensured that the common people couldn’t win even if they played a good game. The Elites also continued the policy of discrediting all things ancient or native Indian as it helped them in making common people feel inferior.

The control of Elites over information and narrative continued for decades and suddenly Internet changed the dynamics. Information access became simpler and the Elites could no longer control the distribution of information. Penetration & usage of Social Media has broken the backbone of Elites as they are finding it difficult to control the narrative. Ordinary citizens with subject matter knowledge are starting to challenge the Elite through well researched facts and call their bluff when the Elites try to spread half truths. Smart phones with cheap data are putting a lot more people on the information highway and for the first time they have the freedom to seek full information, develop a narrative, and broadcast a point of view without being dependent on a media organization.

For the first time in the history of Independent India, the Indian Elites are clueless about how to regain control over information and the narrative. It is frustrating them. It is making them desperate. It is making them angry. It is making them abusive. And it is leading them to create fear psychosis by shouting “Idea of India is in Danger”. In my opinion Idea of India is strong. It is fluid. It will evolve. The common citizens of India can collectively decide what the Idea of India is rather than a select few Elites sitting in their Ivory Towers.

Relevance of Elites is in danger as their control over information and narrative is fading away.

Originally published on Medium on 26th May 2019.

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