Fatalism has traditionally been the natural state of mind of most Indians. The advantage of such a mindset is that it does not oscillate between the euphoria of optimism and the despair of cynicism. Fatalism breeds a cultivated indifference. Unfortunately, in a democracy such an attitude can be dangerous. The character of Indian democracy is under a shadow and there is no guarantee that the clouds will part in the year that begins today. The reason for such an outlook is related to the fact that the very plurality of Indian society and polity is under threat after some of the events of 2002. There are other equally grave reasons. The entire issue of governance is nowhere on the priority list of the political class. Policy-making within the government lacks direction. Witness its handling of the disinvestment issue: its approach to the problem was as clueless as a child’s first attack on a mechano set. The sole voice of sanity was that of Mr Arun Shourie, the minister concerned. The failure of governance is reflected also in the dysfunctions within the legislature where debates have been reduced to slanging matches and parliamentary propriety has become a synonym for disruption and unruly behaviour. This has forced the judiciary to appropriate for itself some of the domains which actually should belong to the legislature. This has upset the inner balance of democracy by making the judiciary more powerful and the legislature effete. This situation cannot be allowed to slide this year. There should be greater awareness, public debate and self-consciousness regarding this issue.
Given the track record of politicians and public servants, there is no certainty that this will happen. In all probability, things will drift in their own inertia. This holds true for the economy which remains sluggish and there are no initiatives under way to get it moving again. Within society, there has been a noticeable rise of religion, casteism and violence. None of these is conducive to the nurturing of secular and democratic values. The responsibility for handling these issues has been abrogated and left in the hands of the state. This has upset the balance between state and civil society. The former often acts as a surrogate for the latter’s lacunae. Pessimism is thus unavoidable under the prevailing circumstances. A ray of optimism breaks the gloom because of the faith displayed by all political classes and social forces in the democratic process. This allows space for the invocation of the well-known injunction that the pessimism of the intellect should be accompanied by the optimism of the will.