An Indian editor called it “the biggest gamble in history”. Organiser, a magazine, wrote that Jawaharlal Nehru “would live to confess the failure of universal adult franchise in India”. A British member of the Indian Civil Service claimed that “a future and more enlightened age will view with astonishment the absurd farce of recording the votes of millions of illiterate people”.
The Indian experiment had proved the critics wrong.
The Times of India held that the polls have “confounded all those sceptics who thought the introduction of adult franchise too risky an experiment in this country”. The Hindustan Times claimed that “there is universal agreement that the Indian people have conducted themselves admirably in the largest experiment in democratic elections in the history of the world”. Observers outside India were equally impressed. This was about the first General Elections of India, 1952.
We all today, more than 63 years after our first elections, have such a negative outlook towards our political systems. I have been around asking people, “What is your take on Politics?” and the most common answer is that s/he is not interested in Politics. In a way that they consider themselves to be superior to be involved in or have anything to do with something ‘as petty as politics’.
Then they go on to say that our politicians are pathetic, corrupt, among many other such adjectives. Well you know what? Our politicians are corrupt because we are. How honest and upright are we? These legislators and power centres come from our families, our schools, our colleges, our towns and our villages. They are us, they represent us in the truest sense of what we are. If they are corrupt, so are we. And that is the truth. We may like to listen to it, or we may not. We have a right to blame them when we stop paying a hundred rupees to the traffic constable to let us go without for not wearing the helmet. How can I myself say this, when I myself when am riding triples on a two wheeler, get down from the vehicle before Bhaikaka crossing, cross the road on foot, then mount the two wheeler again.
The belief that the people and the system are separate from each other is what is wrong. We are the system, the system is us. There is no denying this.
There also exists this “Does not look like India” syndrome. When we go and see the amazingness of the Yamuna expressway, or a swanky South Delhi mall, or the new Terminal II of the Chhattrapati Shivaji Airport of Mumbai, or the pristine beauty of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, or Bandra-Worli Sea link, among so many other things. For your kind information, this is India. Why is it difficult for us to imagine a developed India? Why is the perfect picture of India in our minds, what Danny Boyle tried to portray as India, in his apparent not-so-much magnum opus, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. A young malnutritioned kid of Dharavi maybe India, but so are the things we gasp at and utter the words, “This does not look like India.”
One may think that our economy is poor. It may be apparently poor, but at least it is safe. Unlike in Iran, where a new President elected to power does not nationalize everything, unlike Greece wherein our political system is not ghost governed by the Reich building, unlike Zimbabwe where our inflation rates are not in five digit numbers, unlike Russia where we have tanks but no food to feed people. When we are putting money in a bank, we are certain we will get it back. This is rare in this world.
One may think that our cities are not safe, but it is unlike Uganda where the dictator would literally eat you up, unlike North Korea where the dictator would feed hungry dogs with bones from his very own uncle, unlike Germany where an entire generation lives with shame of something they are not even involved in, unlike USA who would massacre an entire city and then for the rest of history campaign against use of atomic bombs. This is rare in this world.
We live where the Prime Minister may be openly criticized, made jokes upon and ridiculed, all this after the same man saved the country from going bankrupt, rather pushed the country into the world stage under the luminaires of prosperity, about two decades ago. This is rare in this world.
When did anyone ever learn in their history textbooks of India attacking another country first? In all the most glorious things about my country, the fact that we have never invaded another nation, is the most luminescent gem of them all. Our armies have been on foreign soil, but on behalf of someone else. We took part in the world wars for someone else. Our armies helped East Pakistan gain independence, one, because we know what it is like to live under tyranny, and two, because, East Pakistan was once, and will up to a huge extent, forever be, India. This is rare in this world.
We cannot just sit here and feel good about ourselves because we are apparently better off than many of our counterparts, but take this in the positive stride and go for more holistic development. Wherein our Gross National Happiness is as important as Gross Domestic Product. Where people are not jealous of some CEO’s magnificent house. Where my friends do not dream of settling down in the United States of America. Where we are not elated when an Indian is chosen as the CEO of Microsoft. Where the by default most powerful man on Earth is the person currently occupying the South Block. Where we would be concerned if a light is turned on, on the streets in daylight. Where the banks and post offices do not have to tie the pens with a string. Where we are all aware that we will be as careful on the roads of Shimla, Delhi and Bombay as we are on our varied trips to Singapore, Dubai and Bangkok.
You know what, India is rare in the world. We are rare. Rare enough to be the mother of cultures. Rare enough to be the place Columbus wanted to find. Rare enough to be a royal robe made of patches, yet exquisitely beautiful. Rare enough to have an entire ocean named after her. Rare enough to be sought out for ages. Rare enough to inspire voyages. Rare enough to have people like you and me. And we are fortunate enough to be born in this country.