India In The Emperor’s New Clothes
By Sourav Mitra
If you could get India to don the fabled Emperor’s new clothes, you would discover the stark self-deceiving illusions that serve as the foundations of our collective national consciousness:
1. India is not a democracy. It is a conglomerate of feudal oligarchies distributed across the Centre and the states. Despite proud and strident claims of being the largest democracy in the world, India cannot be a democracy. A democracy is a rule of the people, but in India, the multifarious political leaderships seldom hear the people and heed them even less. It is the will of the powerful few that always plays out. If you argue that our electoral system is ample proof and guarantee of our democratic status and that the leaders are all elected by the people, I will have to remind you that there is no political party that does not break its election promises. The breaking of election promises is the clear, disturbing, and unnerving sign that the will of the people, manifest in the support of those promises, has been hijacked by the will of the powerful few, thereby removing the veil of democracy with which we try to cover our feudal oligarchies. Every political party comprises of a few decision-making members of a clan or clique of leaders to whom the rest of the party pays prostrating obeisance and almost blind support until they are short-changed or betrayed in terms of the fruits of governance. The rule of the few is called an oligarchy. And the subservience of the rest harks back to feudal ways. And as today no single party has a clear majority in government, we are left in the custody of a conglomerate of feudal oligarchies, all bickering in the cusp of compromise and betrayal.
2. India’s great diversity is not the driver of our feverishly proclaimed “great unity”, nor can it be the source of our much-proclaimed pride. Our great diversity is the seed of our great divisions, antagonisms that often border on hatred, and shame, no matter how fiercely we deny it. India wallows divided by its myriad languages, religions and castes and their respective cultures. The effects are sometimes invisible, sometimes explosive and sometimes somewhere between invisible and explosive. The unstoppable sub-division of the original Indian states into smaller ethnic and sub-ethnic pocket-states seeks to grant oppressed minorities their liberty from ethnic injustices and unequal rights. Only in tiny pockets of truly cosmopolitan society where the distribution of ethnicities are not polarising enough, and people are left with no other choice, do we find a semblance of helpless, but refreshing unity. This diversity has been known to disrupt families, stonewall careers, and even destroy, trouble or at least disturb whole societies. Unspoken animosities bristle in the subconscious mind, until conscious personal decisions are taken to raise the sometimes elastic, sometimes inelastic thresholds of tolerance. And politicians never miss an opportunity to bleed this diversity in the hunt for votes.
3. India’s world-revered religiosity is not the most magical salvation trick that man ever made up. It is, in fact, an immaculate sham. If not, all our religious sects would not be so tainted with scandals of corruption, crime, misdemeanour, jingoism or terror and this self-proclaimed god-fearing nation would not degenerate into the depraved level of corruption and crime it has. So much so, that the India Against Corruption movement was terminated by its own obvious futility. How could our nation-robbing leaders let any upstart conscience-keepers try to deny them their birthright, the intoxicating reason for their entry into politics — unearned income and disproportionate assets. (As an adjective ‘nation-robbing’ is more appropriate than plain ‘corrupt’, because it highlights the victim of their exploits). The great hullabaloo about governance is only a cover-up for the under-handed deals that reap all the dirty money. It is not so much corruption bogging the government as government bogging corruption. Organised religion today is no more than a money-making racket. Every chant and every incantation has one eye on the money. Who’s soul do we expect to be saved by this travesty of faith.
My attempt to make India wear the emperor’s new clothes is not to open it up for derision, but to incite concerned Indians to move in the right direction and install a true and pure democracy that will nurture our diversity benevolently and remove corruption and crime as a career alternative from every level of society.
Those who decry the metamorphosis of the anti-corruption agitation into a political movement need to answer one question: do you want a corrupt India or a corruption-free India? If you want India to be corruption-free, and if apolitical agitations are proving to be only as effective as waving a twig at a tyrannosaurus, would you not seek an effective alternative? I perceive politics as the only way to cleanse the system from within. But there will be infinite obstacles and pitfalls. Corruption is propped up by favour-seekers willing to pay bribes and kickbacks for such favours. The incumbent politicians and their devious supporters will never surrender their Ali Baba cave positions without a fight to the death. Will any anti-corruption party survive their ruthlessly mercenary manipulations? Time will tell. But until then, the misdirected intolerance of anti-corruption politics must transmute into electoral support so that an attempt is made to displace self-serving politics with nation-serving governance. Please forgive me if this hurts like an impossible dream.
Sourav Mitra is a reluctant chartered accountant