Tuesday, January 26, 2010

GO INDIA: GOT TO BE THE BEST, NOT SECOND

The Indian Republic is 60 today. The People's Republic of China was 60 last year. The two nations started their journeys almost at the same time and at almost the same levels of economic and social development.

India's revolution ended with the devolution of power while China's began after it. The results of the divergent paths taken by the two nations are too stark to be missed by anyone and ignored by India.

60 years down the line, China is unrecognisable. Today, it is a confident super power, proud of its ancient and unbroken civilisation and charging full steam ahead to displace the United States from its perch as the greatest power on earth. It is also in the vanguard of the process of restoring the balance of power that had shifted to the West from the East only a few hundred years ago.

India, despite its many achievements that have benefited primarily a minority of its huge population, is still, in many ways no different from the British India from which our freedom fighters freed us. Almost all instruments of governance remain colonial, as does the mindset of the elite. This is the small group that has perpetuated the lack of confidence in everything Indian that the British created and drilled incessantly to rule this nation as a superior race and culture.

This debilitating complex of accepting that we are second best is primarily what has led to India's under-performance and its failure to become the global powerhouse that it should have become by now.

Over two years back, I had written a post, 'Chak de India, second best means nothing', to highlight the need for us as a nation to realise that it was "not good enough to get the silver medal by trying to ‘Become America’. We have to start trying to ‘Beat America’, metaphorically speaking."

On this Republic Day, it is only befitting that I re-post it to remind ourselves that we as a nation can and must strive to be the best. That is only way India will ever be able to keep its all but forgotten 'tryst with destiny'.
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Centuries of rule by invaders who came to this country both by land and sea, has left what seems to be an indelible impression on the psyche of the inhabitants of the Indian sub continent, irrespective of their religion or the country they belong to today.

First, we Indians saw invasions from across the Hindu Kush Mountains, which resulted in the invaders establishing their kingdoms almost all over the country. Most of these invaders, however, gradually adapted to the Indian way of life and were accepted and even assimilated as Indians, not foreigners. Some of their cultural influences were also absorbed, giving rise to uniquely Indian composite cultures.

Then came the invasions form the sea by the Portuguese, Dutch, French and the British. These were different to the extent that the Europeans, particularly the British who conquered the whole of India, never tried to acquire the ‘Indianness’ that the earlier invaders had, to be permanently accepted as an integral part of Indian society. On the contrary, they asserted their racial superiority on the basis of their white skin, and attempted to rule India as alien masters who were many notches above the ‘natives’, on almost all cultural, political and social parameters.

When the British were made to leave in 1947, unshackled India and Indians had the opportunity to once again realize their long suppressed potential and greatness that had ensured the survival of what is arguably the oldest living civilsation in the world. For that to happen, the first thing that needed to be done was to reawaken the realization that Indians were second to none and that so many invaders had been repeatedly attracted to this land simply because it offered them much more than what they could ever get in their own countries. India was the original El Dorado, the enchanting, flourishing, prosperous sub continent which beckoned, almost enticed, men from lesser lands.

That spirit and confidence had been kindled by Mahatma Gandhi, and its power and sophisticated simplicity gently blew the British away before they could realize what had hit them. That was the power which should have been fanned, protected and nurtured to make India great again.

Unfortunately, the first blow to that awakening was dealt by Partition, as some sections of society chose to give primacy to religion over the commonness of a shared past, ethnic bonds and cultural similarities. As I understand it now, they chose in a way to identify with their invaders over their countrymen, religion becoming the determining factor, the justification. Those Indians were unknowingly so happy to be ‘second best’ that they willingly shed their Indian souls and have ever since then been unsuccessfully trying to find a new one to call their own as Pakistanis. Bangladeshis were partially able to reclaim theirs in 1971, when they broke away from Pakistan.

In the India that remained India in 1947, perhaps Mahatma Gandhi would have been the guiding light as the nation awoke to meet its tryst with destiny. But he passed away a few months after Independence, leaving India in the hands of inexperienced leaders who were not blessed with his exceptional vision. When Gandhi was alive, their limitations were hidden in the glow of his guidance. But with the beacon gone, they proceeded to simply find the easiest available methods of governing Independent India. What better than the known and in place methods by which their colonial masters had governed them as their subjects?

Thus, every single organ and structure of colonial rule was left untouched and adopted gleefully almost in toto by the Indians who became the new masters, happy to enjoy and employ the very power they had fought against. Adoption of the British type parliamentary form of democracy completed the process. Colonial rule thus continues, without any break, to this day; only the skins have changed colour.

This complete adoption of the ways of the colonial rulers had a subtle but very powerfully debilitating impact on the collective psyche of India. It gradually began to seep into Indian minds that the British, their civilization, their language, their bureaucratic practices, their system of justice, their method of policing etc, were all superior to anything the Indians had ever done before the British came. It was almost as if our Indian rulers were telling us that we actually were no better than uncivilized aborigines before the Englishmen landed here. The loud message they conveyed with deathly silence was that India had nothing worthwhile to contribute to its own existence as a nation. Isn’t that exactly what the British were saying when they were here?

The only things Indian our rulers found worth adopting were the flag and a couple of symbols used by Emperor Ashoka, who lived before the Christian era began. That they did because there was no choice but to replace the Union Jack, the British crown and the Lions which were the omnipresent symbols of slavery. But, not one single structure or element of administration, governance, justice, or military was even considered for discarding.

Surprising isn’t it considering that before the Europeans landed here, there were many kingdoms and empires, many larger than most countries of Europe, which had successfully been administered for far longer periods than the British Empire lasted? In fact vast empires have flourished in India for thousands of years. Yet, our new rulers found nothing that any one of them ever did good enough to be adopted by Independent India.

So, we continue to have the colonial police and bureaucracy whose structure and attitude were designed for exhibiting the might and superiority of the Empire to subjugate inferior subjects, not move in step with fellow citizens. The military also continues to be in a time warp, giving blind precedence to its colonial history and traditions.

This seamless continuation of almost all elements of the Empire by brown men has generated a new class of ‘colonial’ Indians and is largely responsible for creating the two disconnected ‘Indias’, which are almost as removed from each other as the British were from natives.

Members of the First India, one would logically argue, should be in the vanguard of leading India’s revival as one of the great countries of the world; of leading Indians into again becoming the pioneers that they were in many diverse fields for thousands of years. Paradoxically, exceptions apart, they are the ones who are retarding India’s march, and they don’t even know it! If one looks hard, the situation is not much different from what it was during the Raj. Even then, citizens of a similar ‘First India’, happy with pompous titles and other forms of colonial ‘bribery’, were the main pillars of the Empire.

Then, as now, First Indians identified with foreigners who they thought were superior, and were content to copy their ways to be close and second best to them. What mattered then, as it seems even now, was that these Indians gloated at being above and ‘better’ than their fellow country men. That was the limit of their ambition. They had arrived.

That is perhaps why India has produced outstanding American citizens who have done their adopted country proud. ‘Fulfill your individual American Dream’; this is the magic mantra that is chanted the most by First Indians; this is what almost every educated urban Indian kid wants to achieve. See how the nation celebrates this dream when the feats of Kalpana Chawla, Sunita Williams and Bobby Jindal are blown up as if they are our national achievements?

Somewhere, we have lost the plot. We do not want to be reminded that such achievements are of the American nation, not of India, notwithstanding the fact that Americans who have migrated from India are involved. I don’t think you will find, say Germans, or other self respecting people going ballistic if someone originally form their country does something for the US as a US citizen.

We somehow do not seem to realize that by encouraging Indians to believe that the best they are capable of achieving is becoming great Americans, we are reinforcing the belief that Indians are still no better than second best and that they should not even strive for more.

Is it any surprise that the two most outstanding ‘world beaters’ that Independent India has produced do not come from this First India?

Lakshmi Mittal is the product of a Hindi medium school. Dhirubhai Ambani was truly from the Second India that, to First Indians, is somewhere else. In their formative years, they were never exposed to the ‘dream’ of becoming Americans. Fortunately for them, being second best was not the best and only option that they were subtly brainwashed into accepting.

There are many more such Indians who have dreamt of being world beaters and are trying to be so in their spheres. The Infosys pack led by Narayana Murthy and Nandan Nilekani is another such example of Indians not debilitated by the ‘Be American’ slogan. Almost all are homegrown Indians who have been relatively insulated from the influence of First India.

Is it also a mere coincidence that the new lot of fearless, confident and aggressive members of the Indian Cricket team are all from small towns, largely untouched by the pervasive westernization afflicting and enfeebling the First Indians living mostly in the metros? Is it because, not having been psychologically defeated by the ‘Superior West’, even before they faced them on the battlefield, they are able to take their opponents on in a manner never displayed by their ‘soft predecessors’ (exceptions apart)? Why only cricket? See what poor boys from Delhi and Bhiwani (Haryana) have done in wrestling and boxing in the Beijing Olympics despite rudimentary facilities. How can one forget what the relatively affluent Abhinav Bindra has done with his rifle thanks to the pains taken and money spent by his family on his training.

Yes, First Indians will turn around and quote the achievements of Indira Nooyi, Rajat Gupta, Vikram Pandit, Fareed Zakaria etc, to name a few. Again, most of such Indians have been outstanding ‘Americans’, living out their personal dreams. I admire them as individuals, no doubt, but the issue that we as a nation have to address is larger.

Haven’t we seen many Indian students, who are not good enough to get into the IITs, IIMs and other top educational institutions in India, go to the US and excel there? Doesn’t that show that perhaps we have an even greater pool of unexploited talent within the country than the US which consciously makes up that critical deficiency by attracting it from around the world?

That nation is focused in its resolve to ensure its continuance as the strongest and most powerful nation in the world. It knows it wants to be the best and it knows best how to get the best to be the best.

Can a country ever be a world beater, when its cream is happy being second best? Is it not disgraceful for a nation of such intelligent people to not even collectively think of creating a country better than America?

With such an abundance of talent and resources, Independent India should have actually been racing to the top of the international heap in double quick time. It is no stranger to that spot. Long before other peoples were beginning to get civilized, India had attained unparalled heights of scientific and philosophical achievements, still living and some even unsurpassed to this day. The memory gene pool of that intellect is either lying relatively wasted or is being exploited by other nations.

It has been said by many that you don’t win the silver medal, you lose the gold. ‘Chak De India’ is the current clarion call which seems to have had an electrifying effect on Indian sportsmen to set new standards of excellence and go for nothing less than the gold, as it were.

It is time that as a nation we realized that it is not good enough to get the silver medal by trying to ‘Become America’. We have to start trying to ‘Beat America’, metaphorically speaking.

That is the motivational call that needs to be given to fire up this nation again. For that, the ills that beset the small but influential and debilitating lot of Indians belonging to First India have to be addressed holistically. They have to begin feeling the feeling that being second best means nothing. Only then can the march of Second India, the Real India, begin unimpeded in full earnest.

Chak De will truly begin to happen only when Indians start getting angry being second best.
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