Every five years come interregnums when governance becomes politics and politics becomes governance. These are called elections. Ballot power is a sign of a healthy democracy, in spite of all the kerfuffle about EVMs. Every five years also arrives the season of rebates on merits and talent in the form of reservations, and dole whose new chic poverty moniker is direct bank transfers. Both are basically democracy’s discounts for voters to enhance their faith in a party’s or government’s ideological product.
This poll season and the year began with the Narendra Modi government giving 10 percent reservation for the upper castes. In a polity supposed to stamp out caste, more reservations only perpetuate caste. But caste blocs decide votes. The next bargain went to another powerful voting bloc: farmers—a yearly cash transfer of Rs 6,000 to the poorest among them.
In such a generous discount season, can India’s ultimate dole guru, the Congress Party, stay away from filling the pockets of people with money they don’t have to work for? Rahul Gandhi announced a ‘historic’ minimum income guarantee scheme that will every year fill the bank accounts of India’s poorest families with Rs 72,000 if his party is voted to power. Forget economics, welfare wins elections. The National Survey showed that only 0.7 percent of scholarships are given on merit. Most of them are available only for OBC, SC, ST, Women, Minorities and Muslims.
There is little talk about development, or smart stuff or technological superiority. Is it because Modi, like the Congress, failed to do better by India? No. It’s not that. He did what he could. But he is a victim of history. The rot goes back centuries when prosperous kingdoms, progressive states and a thriving agrarian economy were laid waste by colonial greed. Greater than caste segregation was the raceonomical avarice of the British Empire which systematically stripped India of its wealth and pride. They were incidentally the first to bring dole as state policy, which benefitted Indian royalty, then the ruling class. Now the ruling class, at least on poll eve, are the people.
In the age of rising nationalism, is it so difficult to shake off slavery’s shadows from the psyche? Hindi revivalism, Science Congress malarkey and temple politics combust in the torque of India’s desire to heal bruises in our subconscious. Are we a proud nation without enough self-confidence? Is it why ‘Made In India’ is mostly substandard and why we produce unemployable engineers? Is a wavering conviction in our ability to be world class the reason governments one after the other since Independence have lost their way and taken the rebate shortcut?
Survival is the keystone of triumph. It is based on the principle of the fittest first, but in a democracy it must be tempered with encouragement and compassion. Encouraging shortcuts is encouraging weakness. Crutches do not give strength. You just limp along.