We've done a good job of saving the Republic from our leaders

The Anna movement proves that we stand between India and a banana republic. Not our leaders


BV Rao | September 2, 2011

At a recent function in New Delhi, Amartya Sen observed that it wouldn’t be right to say there has been a decline in our democracy because “we have enormously more power to make society better than we are led to believe”.

Sen did not say where this enormous power vests but it is safe to assume he was referring to the inner strength of the nation.

Socialist political thinker Surendra Mohan was more specific. Speaking with Governance Now hours before his passing, Mohan echoed Ratan Tata’s outburst about India becoming a banana republic. On the face of it, Mohan seemed to be in agreement with Tata but he was actually making a starkly different point: “It is Ratan Tata who is turning India into a banana republic (voh bana rahe hain),” he said. Obviously, he was not referring to Ratan Tata the individual, but what he symbolises: big business as the Siamese twin of politics, together contorting public policy and distorting democracy.

Mohan was not as despondent as Tata either. He said it will take a long while before India becomes a banana republic because of its resilience and the strength of the fabric that knits the nation. If this inner strength expresses itself unequivocally and powerfully, he said, India may yet be saved.

In a year that epitomised corruption and moral degradation at the highest levels of the executive, politics, business, police, army, judiciary, media and paralysed every limb of the state, it is difficult not to agree with the theory of this enormous unseen power continuing to bind the nation.

However impossible it is to put your finger on this unseen force, it is easy to see where it is NOT coming from. This is not the power that flows from the top of the pyramid down. It is definitely not the power that flows from the integrity, honesty and morality of our leaders because there is so little of it on display.

Every leader and every institution, public or professional, has only belied the trust of the people in recent times.

Yet, we are holding on reasonably well as a nation.

It follows then that this national glue, this binding force, flows from the bottom up and can simply be defined as the unflinching faith and trust, even child-like innocence, of the ordinary citizens in placing the destiny of the nation in the hands of the leaders while they themselves wage a daily struggle for survival, resolutely and uncomplainingly. Just one example underscores this innocence of the trusting and the abuse of it by the trusted: the government gifted Rs 1,76,000 crore (one lakh seventy six thousand crore) worth of spectrum to the rich at throwaway prices but allowed millions of tonnes of surplus foodgrain to rot because it was cheaper to throw away than to give away to the hungry!

It might well be the fate of the base to bear the burden of the top, but it takes special strength, stamina and steel to absorb the kind of blows the corroding top has been striking. There are times when we see this strength as a national weakness, times when we hope this patience, this resilience snaps and we land up with the revolution that we believe is just one nudge away.

Maybe we romanticise the common man, maybe we attach great virtue to the ordinary citizens’ necessity, their helplessness. Maybe they have no option other than to just get on, to just be, to just exist. Maybe this resilience is just resignation, an excuse for collective inaction.

But then, maybe it’s their strength, too, because to resign is to face the reality that there are no options and to have options is to have the chance to escape the reality. That’s perhaps why it’s the elite, who have set up the system, run it and exploited it to the hilt, who will talk about the “banana republic” and warn about migrating to habitable shores. For the ordinary millions that is not even a passing thought.

If it is true, as we all know it is, that any structure is the strongest at its base and weakest and most vulnerable at the highest, then it is also true that it is the ordinary citizen who stands between India and the banana republic, not our leaders.

That is why, for this Republic Day (also Governance Now’s first birthday), in our print edition we celebrate the powerhouse of this inner strength: the ordinary citizen, the faceless Indian, the unseen force. None of the protagonists of the stories we have featured in our print edition would have made the cut on another day. None of them (other than H D Shourie who we feature posthumously as the icon of the common man) impacts society in any way or has a message to give. They have all been chosen for their utter ordinariness. We believe that their ordinariness, their simplicity and honesty, raised to the power of a billion and more, is what we generally refer to as the nation’s inner strength.

(This was authored in January 2011 and appeared in the second isssue of the same month in the Governance Now magazine.)




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