Our age-old society has undergone a dramatic change since Independence—especially over the last 30 years. This heralds a new state of the nation—politically, economically and socially. First, of course, is the political situation. We started our democratic experiment 70 years ago by granting the franchise to everyone above 18. The gradual awareness of Indian voters is now completely successful in as much as voters know the value of their vote—to the extent that they sell it to the highest bidder. The bidding war by parties for the electorate based on caste and other group identities evolved into persuasion through individual and collective gifts and, finally, to a straightforward exchange of “notes for votes”. The electorate has become as corrupt as their political leaders.
The nation has escaped an 800-year slavery and begun to express its freedom. Some of the results may not be to everyone’s liking but the process is dynamic and may stabilise in a national renewal. The positive effect is that nearly 95 per cent of the population has better life and a brighter future than their parents had—the only exceptions are the Adivasi tribals.
However, the 2014 General election was a watershed when the electorate voted largely based on their religious preferences which have overridden all other group interests. The group polarisation of earlier days has come to its logical end. If this trend continues, most Hindus will vote for the BJP and most Muslims for Muslim parties or parties opposed to the BJP. This will confirm the major religious division in the country. What will now be needed is a new accommodation on where to draw the new lines demarcating the interests of the Hindu majority from those of the Muslim minority and to enshrine them in a constitutional framework.
The economic situation is the second issue. Since 1991, we have cautiously transformed the main driver of the economy from the state to the market. India is now a capitalist economy with market forces determining consumption, investment, employment and income generation. The state tries its best to outbid the market by offering entitlements aimed at segments of the population. But there is now choice between economic dependence on the state or on the market. As people get more prosperous, educated, skilled and mobile, market related incentives will outweigh entitlements and employment from governments.
One of the main drivers of Western progress has been individualism, based on autonomy, effort, competence and responsibility of the individual. Indian traditional behaviour within families as well as in village and caste communities was based on status, responsibility and duties in order to maintain social order. The rise of individualism in India is a bid to achieve Western success. Many exercise their individual freedom and avoid traditional responsibilities of their social group and joint family. But what we are imitating is the West with its present social and individual pathology induced by unrestricted pursuit of material gain and sexual promiscuity. This is disrupting our traditional society and has potential for creating chaos.
The third, and most important aspect, is the social crisis. There is daily litany of outrageous, unimaginable and horrid stories of malevolence that individuals inflict on each other—even within nuclear families. The frequency and nature of these incidents indicate a disruption of social order and deviation from traditional behavioural patterns in urban areas. Even in rural areas, caste and traditional social structures seem incapable or unwilling to tackle and preventing similar deviant behaviour.
The causes of socially deviant behaviour are difficult to identify but some trends in the society seem to motivate people to violate social norms and indulge in pathological behaviour. One of the main drivers of this collapse of morality and its prohibitions is related to sexual proclivities. Much of the modern marketing and media messages aimed at the population are based on implicit or explicit sexual orientation.
One has only to see advertisements, the pictures and behaviour of popular icons, as well as freely available pornography to conclude that the traditional and religious conditioning of the mass of people is breaking down. The importance of bodily beauty of both men and women and the emphasis on sexual prowess dominates many. This particularly affects young people of both sexes. But instances of mature male adults—especially those in powerful positions—indulging in socially deviant sexual activity are surfacing all the time.
Traditional rural society had drawn clear borders between men and women. In the modern sector, different borders have to be demarcated based on notions of individual freedom. In the absence of new borders, relationship between the sexes that disregard familial, caste, tribal, cultural and religious preferences and prejudices, can result in violence. This is an issue linked to the freedom of the individual from traditional norms of behaviour—which makes it complex.
Over the decades, all state institutions have become corrupt and are unable to deliver the services that a citizen expects and for which he pays taxes. Even sovereign functions such as national defence, law and order and civil and criminal justice are degraded. If corruption is not eliminated the state will implode and chaos will reign. Much of the political and economic achievements will be destroyed by social disorder and state collapse. The fountainhead of corruption is the political system. Fortunately, corruption has become an electoral issue as its solution needs to produce a new class of dedicated and honest leaders. That is the only hope for orderly growth of the nation.
Dean of Studies and Head, Centre for Telangana Studies, MCR-HRD Institute of Telangana