Reflections in the days of democracy
By Valson Thampu | Published: 09th March 2018 04:00 AM |
In political perceptions I share the Hindu worldview. I am convinced that all that we see, are told and shown, are maya. This does not mean that there is no truth. Truth there is, but that truth is not a popular entitlement. It peeks tantalisingly, a whisker’s breadth away from public awareness, through events that keep us continually confused.
Politics is the mirror image of religion; the reason why the two have stayed intertwined all through history. Politics is religion, with man as God. What they share in common is the proverbial opium of the people. Marx used ‘opium’ as a metaphor for the palliative effect. It is good that the common man, especially in a democracy, is kept in palliative maintenance. It is merciful to help him exist below the level of full consciousness; for, as Joseph Conrad believed, ‘man is not strong enough’ to breast the thrust of reality. It is no good, especially for the have-nots, to know.
It is no good for the ruling elite to know, either. That, as few realize, is the secret of VVIP culture. The people—the putative sovereign authority in a democracy—are shooed out of the way of those who rule, because they bear the subversive reality that needs to be kept out of sight. Rulers have, in every age and every clime, incubated themselves from reality. How else can they go on with the myths and make-beliefs around which governance is structured and sustained?
A historical analogy makes this practical truth plain enough. King Suddhodana of Kapilavastu, the father of Gautama, understood this need aright. Fearing that encountering the sorrows and sufferings of the world would shatter his son’s glass house of inheritance, he ordered the city to be swept clean not only of dirt,but also of every shade of human suffering and suggestions of the impermanence of earthly life.
In the words of Sir Edwin Arnold: “The King commands that there be seen today/ No evil sight: let no one blind or maimed/ None that is sick or stricken deep in years/ No leper, and no feeble folk go forth. Let none, too, burn his dead nor bring them out/ Till nightfall. Thus Suddhodana commands.” (The Light of Asia)
It is enough that reality is kept out of the prince’s sight. There is no way the king could change it. So, the best he could do was to banish it out of sight. The peril, otherwise, is that governance will run aground. Only think of what could happen if each member of our nameless, faceless babudom, and their political master, become conscience-stricken and begin to escape the place of power into forests of otherworldly meditation!
There are many reasons why I admire Chandrababu Naidu, the prudent and sage CM of Andhra Pradesh. Addressing a meeting of district collectors a couple of years ago, he said something that would do a social-scientist-cum-theologian proud. The coffers of places of work, he observed, are swelling. It proves that they are meeting a crying need. But for our temples, he said, people in their thousands would lose their mental balance and run amok in our streets.
He spoke the truth; but not the whole truth. That truth should include the significant contributions the present-day electronic media makes to the same cause. Thanks to them, ‘darshan’ comes home! You don’t have to go anywhere. Every day, Kurukshetra rages in one’s living room, with TV anchors substituting for Lord Krishna. There was a time, not long ago, when one would have wondered who the contemporary Pandavas and Kauravas were. Not anymore. Media mediates the epic dharm yudh, day after day. Little wonder, the spectacle is so very irresistible and anaesthetising.
In the Gautama Buddha story, there is a discontinuity between the power-centre—with its associations of opulence, pleasure and outlandish lifestyle—and the world of realities in which the subjects live. Even more than in a monarchy, this is the truth that must not be told in a democracy. Not that this has ceased to be the case, but that this truth has now become worse than heresy.
This lands us in the middle of the bank scams. Demure protests are now heard, made with due tentativeness, that the banks treat the common man —farmers, for example—and the mega sharks differently. Well-connected wheeler-dealers get thousands of crores, without a question asked. They sit over repayment and continue to dazzle the glitterati, with tall and talkative models crooning over them in iridescent havens of billionaire-dom.
Last year I had to take a loan of `2 lakh from a bank in Trivandrum. I was made to deposit collaterals far in excess of that amount. How I wish I were a Nirav Modi or a Choksi, or a Mallya! Farmers, whose loans amount individually to a few thousand rupees, are named, shamed and several driven to suicide. No one dares to displease those who rob us of thousands of crores. The worst that happens to them is that they are allowed to flee and live luxuriously in destinations of their choice, which was where their hearts were even before they began to loot the rest of us.
I would be a fool to complain of this discrimination; for it is not deemed discrimination, but the very dharma of governance. As Vajpayeeji said in his Kumarakom musings, it makes no difference which party is in power. Economic policies and practices will remain the same. Laws will be enacted, but the loot will continue; only that the thieves would get smarter.
The crash came in the Gautama story, when the prince encountered realities. It broke his father’s heart! What will happen to the skyscrapers of make-believe and hard-set, hypnotic illusions that sustain the political jamboree called governance, if the bubble of illusion bursts, and children begin to cry in the street, “the Emperor is naked!”?
Former principal of St Stephen’s College, New Delhi