For over four decades now, it’s been apparent to all but the completely blind or the utterly senile that India is a blundering, doddering mockery of a democracy that has totally lost its way.
A soft state, to borrow Gunnar Myrdal’s terminology, where the government institutions have become so weak and corruption so endemic that the Indian state has failed to provide the most basic needs like security, water, food, transport, shelter, toilets and uninterrupted electricity to its citizens.
Six decades after independence, India’s Silicon Valley Bangalore reels under massive blackouts because of acute electricity shortage, at least four million of Mumbai’s 16 million people live in filthy conditions that people here in America wouldn’t subject their dogs to and hundreds of thousands of Chennai residents inhale the noxious stench of the Cooum day and night.
And seven million Mumbai commuters travel every day in packed cattle cars that even the most depraved Nazis would flinch from using to transport Jews to Auschwitz or Belsen for the final solution. In the last five years alone, Mumbai commuter trains have killed over 20,000 people.
Let the clowns shout Mera Bharat Mahan and the Alisha Chinais croon Made in India till their throats are hoarse but we say Tera Bharat Bahut Gandha Hai because India’s political institutions have all but decayed and atrophied with the fading from the scene of India’s first generation of political leaders, the Nehrus, Sastris and Patels.
In their place rose a new degenerate political class in the late 1960s – coinciding with the rise of Indira Gandhi and her shameless, bootlicking minions in different states – for whom politics became the shortest path to the desired trinity of power, pelf and privilege.
The apogee of the political decline was reached with the Emergency between 1975-77 and ascent of vermin like Sanjay Gandhi and court jesters like D.K.Barooah whose contribution to the Indian political lexicon was the asinine slogan India is Indira, Indira is India.
As institutional structures were replaced by individual fiat, the first casualty was the public interest.
Four decades ago, the foremost political scientist of our age Samuel Huntington wrote prophetically in his classic work Political Order in Changing Societies:
A government with a low level of institutionalization is not just a weak government; it is also a bad government.
Study after study in state after state has documented that very little of the vast sums apportioned to the poor actually reach the intended beneficiaries in India, whether it’s Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh or any of the other states.
Neither the Sarkaria Commission nor the Shah Commission, Grover Commission, Maruti Affairs Commission, Bofors inquiry or the numerous other commissions that spent people’s money to look into improprieties involving the high-and-mighty have yielded anything but employment for a few retired judges.
Plunder and pillage is not the mere monopoly of the netas but has seeped downward to the lowest official. As an obiter dictum, we might add that we have seen government doctors extort money with impunity from the poorest of the poor in villages on the rare occasions when they actually deign to take time away from their private practices in the towns and cities to be present in the rural Primary Healthcare Centers.
While the Congress party has long been hijacked by interests representing the agricultural and industrial bourgeoisie and the lumpen elements of society, the opposition in India has hardly been cut from a different cloth. Merely different names. They are the Rangas to the Congress Billas.
The rise in legislators with criminal backgrounds (murder and kidnapping rank high on their resumes), particularly in the Hindi heartland, parallels the increasing violence in society and inside the hallowed portals of the legislatures as destruction has replaced debate in the political arena.
Any hope that the opposition (read Janata Party/Janata Dal or BJP at the center and regional parties like DMK, AIADMK, Telugu Desam or CPM) would provide a credible alternative to the Congress has been completely belied. They’ve proven to be the same predatory wolves in just a different garb.
Anyone who has seen the Tehelka tapes or watched the antics of Jayaram Jayalalitha, Karunanidhi, N.T.Rama Rao or the present weak West Bengal government would be hard-pressed to argue that the opposition presents a credible alternative to the Congress.
To millions, expectations that the deaths of Sanjay Gandhi or Indira Gandhi would set the stage for a course correction have proven to be illusory.
The present occupant of the Prime Minister’s kursi, the hopelessly inept Manmohan Singh, seems to be a mere placeholder for the utterly moronic Rahul Gandhi.
While it’s true that India’s second and third generation political leadership has completely forsaken the people, the masses have not covered themselves with glory by abandoning the political sphere, thereby allowing lumpen forces to step into the vacuum.
India’s middle class has long been obsessed with getting exit visas to U.S., Canada, New Zealand and Australia or finding software/call center jobs, the poor preoccupied with survival and the upper classes engrossed with making it to the Forbes 100.
The raison d’etre of Indian IITs and other higher institutions has been merely to subsidize America’s higher education.
And after walking on the polished tiled floors of one or two malls, our software and call center coolies in Chennai, Bangalore and Noida dare to proclaim to any idiot who’ll listen to them that they and their country have arrived.
Arrived where? To a land where violence is endemic, poverty ubiquitous and public defecation a sanitation nightmare and a common eyesore.
We’ve often wondered why smart people like Saket – whom the Indian state dubbed hardcore naxalite – eschewed the democratic path and turned to violence. Although we’ll never know Saket’s real motivations because his head was blown to smithereens with his brain spilling out on a grassy patch on a desolate Chikmagalur hill, it’s possible that the firebrand revolutionary long gave up all hope of achieving anything meaningful within the existing political framework.
Many summers ago, the Chinese dictator Mao Zedong wrote:
Politics is war without bloodshed; war is politics with bloodshed.
As any sane observer of the Indian political scene will vouch, India’s political arena is no longer a battleground merely for competing corrupt interests.
The hallmark of the 21st century has been the addition of large-scale, unprecedented violence to our body politic. A bloody violence that has reached the compound walls of India’s Parliament, the teeming bazaars of Ahmedabad, cemeteries of Malegaon and the five-star hotels of Mumbai.
India’s failure to protect its premier city offers a textbook example for fellow democracies on how not to deal with militant Islam.
The litany of errors is long. Unlike their counterparts in the West, or in East Asia, India’s perpetually squabbling leaders have failed to put national security above partisan politics. The country’s antiterrorism effort is reactive and episodic rather than proactive and sustained. Its public discourse on Islam oscillates between crude, anti-Muslim bigotry and mindless sympathy for largely unjustified Muslim grievance-mongering. Its failure to either charm or cow its Islamist-friendly neighbors — Pakistan and Bangladesh — reveals a limited grasp of statecraft.
As the course of India’s violence-driven politics has made it clear, the country is at war not merely with Pakistan or China but far too often with itself lately.
In Kashmir, Northeast India, Jharkand and parts of Andhra Pradesh, India is at war with India.
This is not a sustainable course for a nation that yearns for a place at the table of leaders.
Dhube also calls our attention to the distressing fact that India’s death toll of more than 4,000 from terrorist violence since 2004 makes the country second only to Iraq. What a shame.
India’s middle class may fret and fume while sipping their Bloody Marys or watching pirated copies of Dostana or Aegan and boast about the country’s resilience in bouncing back from the latest bomb-blast, the uppah class may sigh and shake their snooty faces and the lower classes may bewail their fate but in reality all that the Indian citizens can do now is just bleat, Bhaiya, Aaramse Maar Meri Gaand to anyone who wishes to take a crack at their exposed backsides.
Like the stupid Emperor in Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tale, neither the Indian leaders nor their bovine subjects have any clothes on. Will some child please tell them the truth?