SPEAKING FREELY India's moral compass swings violently
By Samir Nazareth
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.
In the 66 years of independence, India has lived with a certain set of moral codes that called for respect of regulation, sacrifice for a greater good, duty towards society, accountability. An accepted definition of what was expected from members of society and from those in power gave the country its navigational apparatus and heroes. That definition allowed heirs to rise from the miasma to take over the reins when those in positions of authority stepped down. It also marked the scales on which people were measured and judgments passed. It is difficult to deny that moral codes
were the cornerstone of trust between all parts of society, and the grease that allowed society to function.
There is a need for a new morality in India today, or at least for a call to recognize the new morals we live with compared with those of six decades ago. One may ask why, and the answer is simple, if we don't recognize new morals and spread them, the result can be unrest. Things are already changing in India - look at who we consider our leaders, look at who we put in jail. We get affronted when our film stars are held up at foreign airports and derive a sense of pride when citizens of other nations though of Indian ancestry achieve recognition in their country.
Our "philosopher kings" are businessmen who equate foreign investment with national prosperity, who see environmental protection and concern for the marginalized as being bad for the country. They decry government expenditure on the economically bereft while seeking tax breaks for themselves. We find solace in the deep voice of a septuagenarian who made his mark in the country's dream factory. We seek the counsel of the glitterati who tweet from their ivory towers and from TV studios far removed from the humdrum of daily existence. For what we value to change, wouldn't our moral scales have to change too?
As citizens of a democracy, Indians have become inured with our choice of electoral candidates. They swing between brilliant home-economists whose assets magically increase annually and Houdini like magicians who can't be confined within the thick walls of a prison cell.
Though most citizens' views have gone beyond contempt for the politician, there is a burgeoning group who are now involved and committed. This is a class of people who not only have ideas on who should be in power but also do what they can to get these people in power. There is a meeting of minds here; the dreams of the common person and the politician merge. There is also a belief that these chosen ones can make such common dreams come true.
Let's narrow down to three people on whom many pin their hopes in this year's general election: Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal. The three are very different politicians, heir socio-economic backgrounds, political philosophy, manner of functioning and experience all dissimilar. But they have one thing in common as the first surfers riding a new wave of morality.
Narendra Modi became the prime ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after stomping all over the patriarch of the party, Lal Krishna Advani. The very same person who stood by Modi after the 2002 religious riots, where many allege Modi played a role in the what can only be called a state-sponsored pogrom. His form of governance is held up as the way ahead.
For a party whose philosophical fountainhead is the desire to bring back Ram Rajya (something everyone is unsure what that connotes) and which speaks about Raj Dharma (rule based on spirituality and positivity), the Machiavellian machinations that went to create Modi were the very antithesis of their foundation. That the patriarch was discarded and shouted at goes against the Hindu dharm (respect for elders) that the party wishes to preserve and promote.
Then there is the whole idea of protecting the weak and the helpless, which is part of Raj Dharma. In the case of Modi, this was tossed out in the 2002 riots and continues to be ignored, with economic policies that has led to increased state debt, child malnourishment and low wages in Gujarat, where he is chief minister. Given all this, Modi is still a darling of the many. The very same people who espouse respect for the elderly and speak in glowing terms of India's past - and even the need to protect the weak - say goodbye to all this when it comes to bringing Modi as the nation's leader.
Is the new morality that allows support for Modi based on less concern for our elders and the weak? And if so, wouldn't this go against the many tenets of Hinduism, a religion (or way of life) that the BJP wishes all Indians to convert to?
Then we turn to Rahul Gandhi, the scion of a dynasty. While many of us speak against dynastic politics, we have no qualms in ensuring that wealth and power remain within the confines of our family. Most marriages in business families are fixed on the basis of love - a love of money and finding ways to increase it. Marriage ceremonies are a time to repay or exact debts. The power that congregates in one location during such occasions could create a new industry, light a city, bring down a government or even create a new one.
Given this state of affairs one wonders why many think awry of the "dynastic politics" of the Congress Party. How different is that from Narayan Murthy of Infosys bringing his son into the company as his executive assistant and then promoting him to a vice president? There was hardly a peep from the business community after this action from a man many consider to have sound ethics. Why shouldn't sauce for the goose be sauce for the gander?
So the second moral dilemma is the support by many for Rahul Gandhi as India's future prime minister. Proponents of that cause choose to ignore that Rahul, whose candidacy has yet to be declared but is widely regarded as a shoe-in, has absolutely no experience in politics or in working in government. The political statecraft that goes with such a position, along with the knowledge of the workings of the government and the country, is not easily acquired. It could be argued that his name and the experience of those working with him would pave the way for a successful stint as premier. One wonders, why is such an opportunity not given to others of the same age and similarly haloed backgrounds but of more experience?
The pertinent question here concerns the differing moral scales used by those opposing the Congress, but silent on other similar issues, and by those within the Congress who promote Rahul on the one hand and on the other do not give Rahul's party members similar opportunities.
Arvind Kejriwal, chief minister of Delhi and the force behind the Aam Admi Party (AAP), is a different kettle of fish. The reasons for his rise to power range from public disaffection with entrenched politics to a collective victimhood that is finally raising its head. During his journey to power he tarred all government institutions with the same brush - everything was dirty - and promised to clean up their mess. Having achieved power, he seems to have gone a step further and is now living by the "heads I win, tails you lose" philosophy.
Kejriwal seems unable to work with the power given to him by the people but undermines it by sitting in protest, a protest which has led to no resolution and instead is converting an inability to channel powers to make change into a form of martyrdom which allows him to continue functioning by attracting people's sympathy and even admiration.
The AAP leader, whom the party has yet to declare as its prime ministerial candidate, is a dream come true for Indians who in general have no love for authority or social order. Here is a man after their own heart, a man who though in a position of authority does everything to undermine it. The protest warms the cockles of the common person because they see a man with immense power acting as if helpless. So they believe he is still like them - an outsider fighting a firmly dug-in cabal.
No one questions the fallout of such actions - if people in power begin to protest in this way then what will the common person do? Kejriwal is destroying institutions without providing an alternative while also usurping public space used by the truly powerless to make themselves heard.
His code of conduct has not only diminished the office he holds by portraying it as one without power but has also left the common person bereft of means of communicating with higher-ups. Kejriwal has not shared his idea of what a leader should be and for what he should be held accountable, while he is simultaneously laying to waste institutions that have been the bulwark of society. So he has given himself an open canvas to do what he imagines to be right, which may soon inspire the common person to imitate him.
Though Kejriwal calls himself an anarchist he cannot absolve himself of the trust and the mantle of leadership that people have reposed in him through an institutionalized election process that he was part of, and which people believe in. Can an anarchist be a leader? It goes against the very grain of anarchic philosophy. Or is he using the term because he realizes that today most Indians don't know what it takes to be a leader and are quite happy with someone who can destabilize the establishment?
Society becomes redundant and dysfunctional in two instances - when it has no morals or when society's thoughts and actions far outpace its moral strictures. With Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal we seem to have arrived at the latter. Their presence and their impact indicates that subliminally moral codes in India have changed. Isn't it time therefore that we shout it out from the roof tops and get everybody on the same page?
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.
Samir Nazareth is a commentator based in India. He can be contacted at [email protected]