Tuesday, July 18, 2006

What Price Ambition?

India's response to repeated terror attacks has been sickeningly predictable.

Official outrage and vows of vengeance are followed by a quick moving on. The most that we appear capable of is a temporary drama-queen delay of our so-called "peace" process with Pakistan.

This is largely because India has global aspirations which compel it to act "responsibly", no matter the cost to our people.

The paradox of this posture is that we end up pleading with the world to recognize our new-found "power" even as terrorists castrate what little remains of our tattered mojo.

This is, therefore, not about whether India should or not talk to Pakistan (it doesn't really matter, does it?) -- rather, this is about India's structural misunderstanding of the nature of power in our world.

Whereas great powers use muscle to assert their influence, India seems to be intent on acquiring its geo-political weight through permission and charity of others.

As long as this remains the view of our political elite -- across the ideological spectrum, it needs to be emphasized -- Indians will continue dying while our elite express unfelt regret then continue chasing their mirage of faux-power.

To this retired blogger, it's clear that sensible Indians will now quit celebrating meaningless adulations in the world media, quit talking about great power status, quit our obscene and unearned swagger, and quit talking big while carrying a really small stick.

Instead, we need to get back to hard work, back to our democratic revolution for throwing overboard this pussilanimous elite-- we need to get back to reversing, in Gore Vidal's words, the overturning of our real history by their made-up myths.

This is what we owe the dead of Mumbai and Delhi and Akshardham and Ayodhya and Kaluchak and Kargil and Kashmir as also Godhara followed by its viciously evil whirlwind.

Let's begin by acknowledging how extremely weak our state is presently and how unbelievably far we have yet to go. There is surely no shame in beginning with the truth about ourselves.

As Faiz wrote, Aaiye haath uthaein hum bhi.

9 comments:

airrahul said...

I definitely second that. It's back to the basics for India. Also, I don't think it's just the Indian state and intelligentsia that fundamentally misunderstands how power works and how great powers ought to act. It's part of a larger misunderstanding amongst India's general population, where a mindset has taken hold that sees international institutions as places to advance power, rather than places that merely confirm the existing balance of power. There needs to be a whole mindset change before superpowerdom can come. A mindset change about how to deal with other a countries, a mindset change about the inalienable individual rights of Indian citizens, a mindset change about how to keep religion/caste and affairs of state separate, and a mindset change about what the average citizen can expect of his/her elected officials, whether it be in response to a terrorist attack or a water main breaking.

For there to be that democratic revolution you speak of Primary Red, I think there needs to be a revolution to occur in the minds of a critical mass of average Indians first. We need citizens in Mumbai getting pissed, and demanding action so that they don't have to worry about getting blown up on their way to work or about having to wade through knee-deep water and get sucked down manholes during the monsoon. We need people to be politically aware and literate. In fact, I often do wonder, what would have happened if instead of universal suffrage, India had implemented property qualifications like the US itself had after independence and France and several other modern democracies had in their earlier years when literacy wasn't so widespread.

Kaul said...

Airrahul,

How?

p.s. is this a one time post?

airrahul said...

Kaul, if I knew for certain, I'd be doing more than just sitting here at college, doing my math homework.

First off, my comment about property qualifications was just a bit of "what if?" speculation on my part - obviously, doing something like that today would be totally unacceptable and probably is not in India's best interests, as it would further exacerbate problems both great and small, such as (off the top of my head) Maoist insurgencies and the growth of illegal slums (why follow the laws when you have no say in electing those who make them?).

There were two main areas I felt a mindset change was needed in. First, India's elected and professional (civil service) public servants (who unfortunately act like rulers) and even the citizens themselves need to understand that their constitution grants certain inalienable rights such as free speech, freedom of the press (these first two were under attack IMO by the arbitrary decision to ban certain websites and blogs), protection of private property, and more. The average Indian has no idea her or she possesses these in my humble opinion, nor more importantly, does the average official worry that he/she is trampling upon these. Worse still, it seems these rights and the ability to violate others' rights are basically things one can pay for, by bribing the right folks to look the other way. Perhaps increased literacy will lead to people to demand more from their gov't (more recognition of their rights, more effectiveness in providing public good, more effective and impartial rule of law, a more independent civil service and judiciary, etc.), though I feel another thing might help as well.

My guess is that economic liberalization to date has helped a bit as it has given people something to compare the gov't to, and thus a reason to expect more out of the gov't. For example, someone can choose a cell phone from several providers for less than a gov't landline and can walk out of the store with the phone in his or her pocket. Once upon a time the only choice was waiting in a queue for a landline.

If people come to expect more when getting a phone (whereas before they resigned themselves to being put on a waitlist by a gov't official), they may transfer this expectation to other things, including expecting more from their city water, expecting more from Doordarshan, lest they watch some other channels instead, expecting more from their public transport system, lest they buy themselves a scooter or car, etc.

The 2nd part, the pervasive idea that international institutions can be used to advance India's interests, is much harder to tackle. I mean, heck, I'm not even Indian but it just disturbs me how much India, throughout its post-independence history, has displayed this naivete. I'm guessing the writers of this blog and other blogs regarding India's foreign policy and nat'l security would be better able to answer that one. The only thing I guess I could say I on this issue is that as people come to expect more from teh Indian state (my first pt.), and as education and income levels go up, people may become more concerned about national security, as simply eking out a living is no longer the primary concern. Until that happens though, national security will be something left to the whims of politicians, who know that it isn't an issue that will make or break elections. In fact, Gaurav Sabnis, another blogger who I read, has an interesting post that sort of gets at this pt. (I've borrowed from his reasoning here): http://gauravsabnis.blogspot.com/2006/07/our-own-threshold.html
http://gauravsabnis.blogspot.com/2006/07/make-it-personal.html

Anyhow, that's my take on this. Also, DISCLAIMER, I'm not from India, much of what I wrote is based on hearsay from relatives who do live there and what I've observed on trips there, so I apologize in advance if there are any assumptions I made that seem totally off base.

-Rahul BR

P.S. I think it is a one-time thing, given that Primary Red hasn't responded even after so long. His blog was/is an interesting one tho, and when I have some free time, I want to browse thru the archives. I always liked reading his take on things, even if I didn't always agree with everything.

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carlo130 said...

What is sickening for me about the Indian Government's response to these terrorist attacks is that it appears to be lenient and not always taken seriously by the enemy of the state. They should emphasize more on what measures the government will take to prevent such attacks and how the armed forces will retaliate in case another such thing happens. Where's the intel on these terror groups anyway?

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Hindu Sutra said...

We're just too used to taking things lying down. I think it is a fundamental nature of Hinduism, and Hindus, growing up we don't hear a lot about being independent, or standing up to fight for justice, or any such. Sad.

KayEm said...

"It's part of a larger misunderstanding amongst India's general population, where a mindset has taken hold that sees international institutions as places to advance power, rather than places that merely confirm the existing balance of power."
Airrahaul you’re right. We seek too much affirmation from outside. At the same time I feel India’s general population wants to be able to do something, it just doesn’t know what. We keep waiting for that one knight in shining armour who will rescue us from the corrupt, apathetic, communal minded politicians. And while we wait we grumble and rant and feel woeful, dejected and disheartened. We all need to learn at the grass roots how to unite and organise before we can make our politicians accountable. Whose voice would they be unable to ignore? An organised force or a billion lone individuals?

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