Saturday, March 24, 2012

A False Tryst With Destiny

"To be born again," sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, "first you have to die" | Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie

The India that emerged from that dark midnight in August was a fantasy.

The elite believed in it for they were the new viceroys. Freedom fighters believed in it for this was their life's work. Everyone else came along grudgingly or with indifference.

Over the decades that followed, these grudging acquiescences became political fault-lines. Kashmiris, Tamil, Nagas, Assamese, Sikhs - all fought in various ways to negotiate their compact with India. Hindus did the same as did Muslims. Every caste and tribe you can imagine got into the act as well.

The Indian elite - like the British before it - used Saam, Daam, Dand, Bhed to manage this manthan.

The Trillion Dollar question is why?

India was the jewel in the British crown for she had the necessary resources that powered the empire.

She had wealth buried in her earth, she had labor to man the outposts of the empire, and she had capital.

After the idealism wore off, the new Indian elite saw precisely what the British or Moguls had seen before. It isn't shared purpose or ideas or values that hold India together - it is her exploitable wealth. 

India went from being a colony of the British to becoming a colony of her new elite. Mumbai simply replaced Manchester.

In this sense, India's freedom struggle was a profound failure.

Indians fought the British when they should have fought the reasons British were here in the first place.

There hasn't been a shared sense of Indian destiny in at least two thousand years.

The freedom struggle could have shaped this. Instead, it blamed the British for divide and rule, papered over real Indian differences, and talked about a tryst without spelling out the destiny.

Its legacy is two bloody partitions and the kleptocracies that have inherited the severed limbs.

People I respect tell me social reform will resolve this original sin.

I am skeptical for I do not see the centripetal force that will compel such reform.

The Government is at best an impotent spectator and, at worst, a tool of the new colonialists. It borrows from future generations to buy time and space for these colonialists to walk away with India's wealth.

The small number of idealists count for nothing.

The vast everybody else is too distracted with Bollywood and Chetan Bhagat and Sachin's centuries or too numb from shock to even bother.

Maybe I see through the glass too darkly.

Maybe, magically, India's unified young have moved beyond their fragmented ancestors.

Maybe an Indian superman will fly in from Krypton to change the course of history.

Or, more likely, eternal India will look at the fantasy of our freedom and, in Eliot's words, laugh without mirth.