At the recently concluded India Today Conclave 2014, Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party fielded several questions and barbs from the audience. One question that he was repeatedly asked by various who’s who of the country (yes, the conclave is for the elite, by the elite and of the elite) is whether he was in the race to become India’s Prime Minister.
When he refused to confirm, he was then criticized for not helping matters as it was sending confusing signals to the voters as to who then should they vote for; who then is going to solve India’s plethora of problems; and if he isn’t in the race, then all that is left to vote for is Mr. Narendra Modi (implied in their queries cum observations). To these, Kejriwal clearly responded by admitting that he didn’t have the answers, leaving the audience feeling ‘let-down’. What came out was that ‘people’ wanted to repose their trust in some individual to govern the country just the way we do with commercial contractors and sub-contractors.
Which brings us to this ever-important question of why do we, especially Indians always expect individuals to rescue us from the mess we have ourselves created or helped create by way of our ignorance, apathy, gullibility and collaboration with the ‘system’?
India’s Culture of Hero Worship
I see this as a serious problem, roots of which perhaps lie in the culture of hero-worship ingrained in our collective DNA. And most of it has to do with our local fables wherein gods & goddesses arrive on earth to destroy evil and demons. Till the gods decide to oblige, people need to put up with the status quo and suffer. This is further reinforced by our cinema wherein a lone hero comes and vanquishes the villains even as hordes and hordes of people just watch the fight either from the fringes or balconies, windows, behind door curtains. And once the ‘clean-up’ is done, this ‘impotent’ crowd rushes out to celebrate the ‘victory’. So whether it is a dacoit threatened village, smuggler infested slum, rural musclemen, urban gangsters or corrupt politicians, the masses keep suffering and praying for a miracle. And once their prayers are answered, a ‘hero’ descends on the scene to do the job. The same is true for the culture imported from the west. Right from childhood we are fed a diet of Superman, Spiderman, Pop-Eyes & Rambo – all individual heroes with unbelievable powers to vanquish terror and misery.
A Colonised Mindset
Second, and equally important aspect of this could be the fact that we, as people, are more comfortable being told what to do than taking our own decisions. Could this be because of the ‘clerical’ mindset ingrained in our culture since British days? Being a clerk is always safe as you never have to take decisions on your own and are simply following orders given by your masters. So you can never go wrong and can never be blamed for anything. While this attitude may have suited India’s British rulers, it has been a disaster for us, as people. We love to shirk responsibility. And so we’d rather stay on the margins and let someone else shape our destiny. In ancient times, we used to go to temples seeking solutions to our problems from gods, represented by the priests. Now we run to spiritual gurus to seek solutions to problems that are our own creation. This is at personal level. The same approach can be seen working at the national level wherein we’d rather allow a handful to determine our destiny and are happy fooling ourselves about our misplaced notion of exercising our ‘democratic rights & powers’. It is sad to see the inability of our highly educated people with coveted degrees from sterling institutions to throw out the clerk sitting inside them.
You look at literature, folk tales, cinema, popular culture or anything else & you’ll find the same stuff being repeated over & over. Seldom would you find any example of collective wisdom & collective action. Nor would you find any trace of ‘Systems & Processes’ that can deliver the ‘order’ that the masses yearn for. Thus, this looking up to a ‘hero’ (I am already getting a neck sprain looking up to someone all the time) and worst, waiting endlessly for his or her arrival.
Reinterpreting Indian Culture
When we read out stories of Lord Rama to kids, we tell them that he was a privileged man and an incarnation of god. And being god, he finished off Ravana, the evil person (from the North Indian perspective). What if we told them that Rama’s wife, whom he loved so much, was abducted by an evil person called Ravana of Lanka and instead of waiting for help from his dad or some other politically connected bigwig of that time, he decided to rescue his beloved all on his own and in the process built-up a team to conquer Ravana; that it all started with him being driven by his very own personal pain of separation from his wife and his strong urge to punish the kidnapper and not with a general agenda of ridding the country of a learned man with evil thoughts and sick agenda troubling the people; that he decided to help himself and the rest as they say is ‘his-story’?
Or for that matter, why can’t we interpret Goddess Durga’s ten powerful hands holding various weapons as collective power of women instead of some sort of an individual heroic character – women who joined hands to assert themselves and eradicate suffering! I’m sure that this would, over the years, give us the confidence & capability to achieve what we want to achieve ourselves with no one doing us any favour whatsoever.
Coming back to the question of ‘Who Should Govern India’, it is time we stopped waiting for heroes and their magical powers to take the country forward. We must focus on delivery of good-governance through robust systems, processes and institutions and do our bit in achieving this goal. It is high time we saw a paradigm shift from individuals’ capability to collective capability reflected in the system of governance.
Remember, as an individual, Manmohan Singh was considered a learned, clean and honest (of the non-bribe taking sort) man in whose basket we dumped all our hopes for good and corruption free governance and got busy with our own quest to earn as much as we could.
Look what we got!
By Amar Sharma