Secrecy, sycophancy and coterie
Like Communist dictatorship Congress democracy
THE news that Congress president Sonia Gandhi had gone abroad for surgery—for cancer, as was reported later—not only caught the nation unawares but also highlighted the awe that has been built around her personality. The Economic Times (August 5) rightly summed up the situation in its headline, ‘The woman who runs India is unwell & India does not know’ (Surprisingly, though, the headline and the story are not on the Internet).
This brings us to the big tragedy of contemporary India: there is an undeclared Emergency, an insidious tyranny that stops the truth from surfacing; if it somehow does, it is effaced like the ET story. The assertion seems nonsensical, for aren’t there countless news channels, newspapers, and magazines which are scarcely ever troubled by state coercion? Apparently, there is so much freedom—to mouth platitudes, to play to the gallery, to indulge in political correctness, to trivialise—that one may get the impression that individual liberty is real. The reality, however, is quite different—and disturbing.
Details are analysed and commented upon in the right earnest, the details like whether security and intelligence failure was responsible for Mumbai blasts, why Shivraj Patil could not check terrorism, what will make food security legislation a success, why MS Dhoni is not doing well in England, is Katrina Kaif going around with Salman Khan. On the other hand, the real issues are rarely touched upon by the media and the political class. Few talk about how Sonia Gandhi’s appeasement of the most retrograde sections of Muslims is imperiling security, how her National Advisory Council (NAC) is laying landmines in the economy by draining the exchequer, why did she allow the corrupt to hold high offices. Everybody knows that she is the real ruler—who runs the Central government if not the country—and yet nobody even talks about her responsibility. A Raja, Suresh Kalmadi, Shivraj Patil, SM Krishna, even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the PMO take the blame, but few dare to take her name. The Code of Omerta is seldom breached.
Sea of irrelevance
Opinion makers get so engrossed in the inconsequential things and marginal issues that they tend to miss the real thing—the diarchy which ensures two sets of people: those who have power but not the responsibility (Sonia and her cronies) and those who have responsibility but little power (Singh and his office). I suspect that the intellectual grandees concentrate on the marginal because discussing the reality would mean speaking the truth, and the truth is troublesome to those who matter in the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
This reminds me of American media theorist and cultural critic Neil Postman’s comparison and contrasting between the worlds of George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Postman wrote: “What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture…”
In India, truth indeed is being “drowned in a sea of irrelevance.” We see it happens everyday, everywhere. It is unprecedented in the history of Independent India that a large number of representatives of India Inc have castigated the incumbent government in no uncertain terms. Ratan Tata, Deepak Parekh, NR Narayana Murthy, YC Deveshwar, Azim Premji—long is the list of business magnates who have expressed their disgust with the state of affairs.
Similarly, many serving military chiefs have made public their dismay at the state of preparedness, especially vis-à-vis China. Our foreign policy, too, has been a disaster in the last seven years. On the economic front, the less said the better: inflation is rising; the business environment is getting polluted, thanks to the mischief of econuts; rent-seeking is spreading like cancer; public finance is in a mess because of the NAC’s unending populism; and the aam aadmi is groaning because of economic mismanagement and corrupt governance.
The signature of Sonia and her buddies is unmistakable wherever there is a problem, but she never gets the blame. We shall see why.
Treachery of intellectuals
No politician in recent understood the minds and hearts of intellectuals better than Sonia Gandhi did. She knows that while for normal human beings seeing is believing, for intellectuals it is the other way around. Lesser mortals like us believe in commonsense, empirical evidence, and reason. When we see, read, or find anything unacceptable or egregious, we disapprove of it. So, communism which was responsible for the killing of 80 to 100 million people in the world in the last century has been repudiated by the people. Its milder cognate, Nehruvian socialism, arrested growth and development, bloated the bureaucracy, drained the exchequer, and spawned corruption. It was rejected by none other than a Congress Prime Minister, PV Narasimha Rao. The consequences were salutary for the nation: faster growth, bigger investment (domestic as well as foreign), galvanisation of Indian business (as evident from domestic groups acquiring companies overseas), and reduction in poverty.
But for our intellectuals dogmas are more important than facts. They cannot give up an ideology even if it has been universally discredited. They still claim to be the custodians of all that is true, good, noble, and beneficial in the world, howsoever flimsy their claims may be. At any rate, the ivory towers they live in are not hurt by the reality; but the fear is always there. So, the tenured and the sinecured always love to gang up with anybody who can secure their quixotic realm. Sonia saw natural allies in them. She sympathised with their various causes; she lionised them; she allowed them to peddle their retrograde ideas; she even accepted some of the ideas and forced a supine government to implement them. An unholy nexus was established between the the self-appointed guardians of mankind and the hard-nosed politicians led by She-who-must-be-obeyed.
History in reverse gear
The arrangement has worked very well so far. The socialism-loving lords of ivory towers charted out a course that the Congress leaders loved to take. It needs to be remembered that when the Congress-led government assumed office in 2004, it had spent eight years out of power—the longest such stretch since Independence. Worse, in that period the role of government in economy had considerably reduced, thanks to the reforms agenda carried out by various regimes since 1991. Till 2004, most liberalisers said that reforms were “irreversible” in India; nobody says that today because the Sonia Gandhi-led UPA managed to reverse many of reforms.
The result was that the role and intervention of state functionaries increased tremendously, much to the delight of the venal. It also made intellectuals happy because many of their harebrained ideas were put into practice. Socialist claptrap is a perfect mask to cover rent-seeking. In short, Sonia managed to keep the idealist and the cynic in good humor.
And since pinkish intellectuals infest the opinion-making apparatus, we find that Sonia is kept out of the sphere of culpability. Nothing negative about her personality—not even health concerns—is allowed to appear in the public domain. Our opinion makers choose to drown us in a sea of irrelevance instead.