It was a matter of sheer joy not to be bombarded with disturbing, negative news on a daily basis about those in power — via both the print and the electronic media — as our nation’s 66th Independence Day comes closer. It was cathartic to be away in the mountain kingdom of Bhutan — a country that was euphoric after having celebrated its second, peaceful, democratic election — cut off from the high-pitched, upsetting news in India. The contrast in the state of affairs found in India and in Bhutan was stark. In Thimphu, a new prime minister, Tshering Tobgay, is in place. Forty-two years is the average age of the members of his cabinet. In sad comparison, India’s cabinet of ministers is made up of ageing, infirm and indecisive men and women who live in a cocoon and believe that they can come back to power in 2014 by playing divisive politics and because of a weakened, broken down Opposition.
The mediocrity in India is frightening, because it tells of a complacency that can be destructive for a liberal, diverse and democratic nation. Nobody seems to care about anything or anyone beyond themselves and retaining their power. Because the general elections are around the corner, all work has ceased and political machinations dominate the landscape.
Why has the present-day leadership of India failed so dismally and betrayed the founding fathers of this modern nation state? The latter had great intellectual grit and determination; they took on the challenge of rebuilding an exploited country, and were adamant to restore human dignity by constructing a strong democratic framework. This framework, with its many institutions, was meant to celebrate the sub-continent’s mind-boggling differences.
In the decades since 1947, we have managed to damage every liberal institution and abuse every law, thereby dividing the ruling class from the citizen. No one ensures stringent accountability for those who rule the country, be they politicians or babus. The corrosion has been so severe that it has devastated both public and private spaces, and has forced a new generation to believe that bad practices, deceit and corruption are the ways of the world. The curriculum taught in schools is intellectually meagre and superficial. It tells no stories of the immediate past. It dulls the imagination from taking crucial leaps. It stalls and dismisses ideas that are not mediocre. Most leaders are pompous and limited. I feel very privileged to have been part of a generation that was persuaded to break out of the norm and be led by an idea.
At Mountain Echoes, the literary festival that is held each year in Thimphu, there was a young and dynamic India, celebrated across our borders but ignored at home. India’s rich mythology and legends were at the core of some of the work that was unveiled and discussed. The first book of the Mahabharat, called Adi Parva, is now a graphic storybook that takes the epic into another time and interpretation. One wonders how many of India’s current leaders have heard of the book, let alone read it.
The elected representatives and the babus are disconnected from the voices of a new and modern India. References to the Mahabharat figure constantly at most literary festivals because it is the bedrock from which many modern-day stories spring. These are miniscule examples of the creativity that is to be found outside the insular corridors of government.
India’s channels of creative energy have been choked. Do the babu and his bosses not understand the civilization that is India? Do they know no better? Is this class of rulers unlettered in the history, philosophies, sciences and traditions of this country?