Independent island republics and the idea of India
The honourable Prime Minister of India has asked every Indian to put the Tricolour on their social media profiles and host the National Flag at every home.
The honourable Prime Minister of India has asked every Indian to put the Tricolour on their social media profiles and host the National Flag at every home. Being a patriotic Indian, I have dutifully done so and changed my profile on social media with the picture of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of our nation and a tricolour flag. I will also be hoisting the National Flag at my home on August 15. I have even purchased a flag for my car. Most of my friends in the upper-middle-class apartment complex in Mumbai, where I live, have done the same. We love to wear our patriotism on our sleeves.
The only problem is that most of us have already seceded from the country long ago for all practical purposes. If you are reading this, most probably you have also done the same. In the medieval era, a few noble lords lived in their palaces surrounded by a fort, lording over their peasants who toiled for them. These zamindars would offer their allegiance to one king or another, pay some taxes to their overlord king and send their peasants to the king’s army when he felt like waging wars with some other king.
The overlords changed with time, like the British replacing the Mughals or Marathas, but the zamindars and feudal lords survived, shifting their allegiance opportunistically from one ruler to another. The forts and castles were often self-sufficient and had their own walls, guards and entertainment options. Come famine or flood, the feudal lord will protect his immediate family first and then offer charity to the peasants living outside his fort walls. At other times, he didn’t care how these peasants fared. Those were cruel and crude times. Thankfully, the era of medieval feudal decadence has vanished and now, we all are basking in the glory of modern democracy. That is the comforting lie we have been telling ourselves.
Look around, and you will find that nothing much has changed. The rich and the upper-middle class still live in their castles and forts. There are walls to keep out the peasants, and only those who are of any use to the masters, like drivers, maids or vendors, are allowed inside the secluded living area. The erratic electricity distribution system doesn’t bother us as we have private power backup. We don’t care about the non-functioning city garbage systems as our minions will take our garbage in the dead of night to dump in public places secretly.
The public health system that the majority have to depend upon, often tragically insufficient as seen during the pandemic, doesn’t bother us as we rely on private hospitals and health insurance. We have our modes of transport, so who cares for the rickety public transport used by the poor? If the air is polluted, we get air purifiers. We have water filters at our home, so we have no stakes in demanding that the authorities serve us potable water through city water pipes.
Who cares if the government schools have leaky roofs and creaky benches? The independent republics of the middle class send their kids to private schools, most often international ones. Only when it comes to higher education do we think about some elite government institutions like the IITs, IIMs or NITs. These are highly subsidised by the government using taxpayers’ money, often at the cost of other public services. Once we avail of it, we are eager to leave the country and take citizenship abroad.
In the last five years, over six lakh Indians gave up their citizenship to take those of affluent countries like the US or Canada. It is estimated that 2 per cent of Indian millionaires have already flocked overseas. Most of the upper-middle class aspiration is to follow these patriots. In short, we are the modern-day feudal lords, living in our castles and declaring allegiance to whoever is sitting on the throne in Delhi.
While plotting to flee Indian borders at the first opportunity, we are happy to send the young men and women from economically weaker families to the army and cheer for them, even putting a few heartfelt words for them on our social media when some of them come back wrapped in Tricolour. Until the gates of foreign heavens open up, we bide our time in our castle republics with walls, security guards and CCTV cameras.
Since we, the influential, educated middle class, have ceased to have any stake in the public facilities like health, education, security and safety, power supply or water, and are just using our independent island republics as a temporary halting place before our golden visas arrive, it doesn’t cost much to change our Facebook profile picture with the National Flag or sing a few patriotic songs. In those long-forgotten days of feudalism, petty lords survived by singing praises to whoever sat on the throne at that moment. We are a modern democratic republic, so a very happy Independence Day to all.
Don’t forget your flags.
Author of Asura, Ajaya series, Vanara and Bahubali trilogy