“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 happened to be posted as the District Magistrate of Chandigarh in June, 1975, when Indira Gandhi ushered in the long, dark night of Emergency, and into whose custody-in-jail Lok Nayak Jaya Prakash Narayan (JP) was sent by the District Magistrate of Delhi. 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 citizens of India must read and be concerned about the future of this nation which is “fast moving towards becoming a ‘failed state’.”
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? And, are 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 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 brain-washed patriots to a population of in-turned 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. Just as a soldier cannot question orders, the hierarchy of command and all the assumptions that underlie it, so have we evolved a language of conformity and fatalism.
The communication industry consisting of the press in the early days and later of the print and 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. 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.
There is something ominously stereotyping, if not positively totalitarian, in the machine and its servants. The cinema, like television, is atrophying a vital psychic function: the ability to imagine for oneself. But, just as there is no doubt that many Germans who did not like the Nazis, yet felt treachery to their country a worse crime, we have blinked ourselves to these feelings. 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. When the history of the period will come to be written, the communication industry would have to be seriously indicted. A connection between national reality and national awareness of it had been wilfully blocked by the hucksters. But the public, who allowed the block to take place, and to endure, will also stand indicted in the dock. We allowed a clogging spew 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.
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 light. To criticize the glamorization 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 elitism and pretension, of being out of touch. Natural processes are all being cosmeticized. The real function is not to amuse, but to excuse one from thinking. One feels a pervasive cancer at the heart of one’s world; but still prefers it to the surgical intervention that must extirpate the attacked central organ, freedom, as well as the cancer.
We are proud of our genius for compromise, which in reality is a refusal to choose, and that in turn contains a large part of cowardice, apathy, selfish laziness. 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 armor dragged them down. Other people look at themselves in the mirror, and either live with the reflection or do something practical to improve it. We paint an ideal, or a dream, self on the glass and then wallow in the discrepancy.
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 kleptomania is the central core. The Aam Aadmi Party has come as a breath of fresh air in this cesspool. It is up to us now to seize the moment and make a paradigmatic shift in our political evolution. No form of life can survive on the basis of enforced equality. That is a biological fact. 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 waking out of its coma is very rapidly disappearing!