It was the premi're of The Apple Cart at the Old Vic theatre. As the final curtains fell, GBS went up the stage, waves of thundering ovation from all over the hall. There was, however, one jarring note: from one corner of the upper stalls, a shrill voice kept saying 'boo'. Shaw paused for a moment, turned toward the direction of the voice. His aplomb was out of this world: 'Look fella, I quite agree with you, this play is a disaster. But what are we two against' ' and he pointed to the admiring throng ' 'this mad multitude'
The story has a contemporary relevance, but with a reverse twist. On the eve of George W. Bush's second inauguration, a global survey suggested widespread unhappiness at his second coming. In country after country across the six continents, those polled expressed deep misgiving at the prospect awaiting mankind, in the wake of Bush's electoral triumph. But no matter; 62 per cent ' quite a decisive majority ' of those whose views were sought in India were glad beyond measure; Bush's re-election was, according to them, the best thing that could have happened to humanity. The US president can therefore stick his tongue out at the rest of the world; they can rant and rant to their hearts' content, so what; the world's largest democracy is with him, the people of India have in a way ratified his initiatives in Afghanistan and Iraq. Did not India's prime minister also send him a congratulatory message as soon as the presidential election result was out, pledging total support to George W. Bush's war against international terrorism'
President Bush is amply justified in his assertion. India's up-and-coming middle class is solidly with him. The constituents of this class are not bothered about the superlordship of the United States of America in the world's affairs; they are not worried if the war in Iraq is indefensible in moral terms; they are actually prepared to grant retrospective forgiveness to the American establishment for the violation of human rights on innumerable occasions it has been responsible for since the folly of Vietnam. This generation of Indians is a practical lot; only bread and butter issues interest them. The US may be accused of a thousand and more acts of omission and commission, some of its military adventures may appear to be altogether repulsive in nature, but what about the non-flip side of the accounts' The US remains economically the most powerful of nations, the globalization inspired by it has transformed the standard of living of the Indian bourgeoisie.
Besides, one particular matter can hardly be overlooked. George W. Bush has, against considerable domestic opposition, vigorously supported the cause of outsourcing. Outsourcing has led to a burgeoning of call centres in India, benefiting important segments of the middle class. Furthermore, globalization has meant a buoyancy in share market speculation from which too the Indian middle class has attained fantastic returns. The rest of the world may go to blazes, the Indians will march along with George W. Bush.
This is precisely where difficulties arise. His re-election and, additionally, the support proffered to him by India ' along with two other minor countries, Poland and the Philippines ' would provide prior rationale for accelerated US activism in the forthcoming days. Iraq has been put out of harm's way; at least such is George W. Bush's surmise. His future agenda, though, is bound to include Iran and, who knows, perhaps Venezuela and Cuba as well.
These fresh initiatives will no doubt be taken in the name of freedom and democracy. These are catch-all expressions, and can be interpreted in a thousand different ways. The interpretation insisted upon by the cock of the road will nonetheless have to be accepted ' or put up with ' by the rest of the human race. President Bush must be sincerest in his belief that what he has done in Iraq is in the cause of freedom and democracy; in his lexicon, the subjugation of a nation is synonymous with its liberation. Which is why he can now go on record: the American nation's deepest beliefs and its strategic interests have converged in his international policy. Such convergence, he would offer a supplementary thought, has been applauded by enlightened people far and wide, including those gracing the world's largest democracy, India.
More blood will, inevitably, spill ' in west Asia, in Latin America, in whichever other country revolt against the superpower's authoritarian acts rears its head. As long as the call centres keep doing a roaring business, the Indian middle class will either cheer from the sidelines, or turn the other way, at official American wrongdoings, howsoever heinous. One or two radicals here and there will then go to the lengths of alleging that the culpability for such blood-spilling must also attach to this species of Indians.
The incongruity many discern in the current Indian response to American adventurism is because it is seen to be in total disharmony with the country's pre- and post-independence position on national self-determination, human rights and allied issues. It is also judged to be contrary to the country's philosophical inheritance. The present generation of Indians will respond to such complaints with unalloyed annoyance: you have to survive in today's competitive world; philosophy does not provide any victuals, George W. Bush does.
Those who still like to believe that life without idealism is not life worth living, have zero clientele in today's world. And even amongst the few ' very few ' who would like to cling to at least some ideological illusions, China would be handy weaponry to carry the debate along. Why pick on the Indian middle class alone, what about China, the fastest growing nation for the past one decade and more, and with an enviable record of resisting American expansionism in the past' Has not this great and increasingly more powerful country too overhauled its political philosophy as well as praxis, and receded, steadily and continuously, within the recesses of the Middle Kingdom, with nary a thought for the world' That apart, as far as the present-day citizens of the erstwhile socialist countries in east Europe are concerned, is not the least said the better'
These are awkward questions not easily answerable. A fair majority of the human population' at least those amongst them who have a claim to rational thinking ' will still feel dispirited at the phenomenon of George W. Bush. Their sense of despair will, however, have zero operational significance; confronted by American might, governments of the countries they belong to will mostly remain mute.
Within the US itself, protesters may now and then take over the streets and throng the public parks: but the first week of November 2004 proved that they are a weak minority. The majority of the middle class all over the world, including in India, actually behave altogether rationally. They do some preliminary ferreting in regard to which side the bread is buttered, and accordingly decide to hail George W. Bush. If, in consequence, Iraq fails to be the final chapter of the human tragedy, and is followed by Iran or Cuba or Venezuela, middle class citizens here, there and everywhere will, pardon them, suffer from little qualm of conscience.
Such is the report card on the world, circa 2005.