On Monday evening while watching television, my son pointed at the blaring headline ‘Parliament Adjourned’ and asked me, “Why is the same news played out everyday?” It took me back to my childhood and the first memory of a similar newspaper headline in a local Bhopal newspaper. A lot has changed since then and yet, nothing has changed in so many years. In the debates, every politician says he respects democracy. Yet, our democracy is dysfunctional, crippled and abused.
When Modi came up with his ‘development vision’, people voted him to be the CEO of the country. To understand why this is one of the toughest jobs, one has to understand the paradox called India. The discrepancy between Modi’s promised India and his inherited India is so huge, it’s depressing.
First, let’s admit that we are an uneducated, underprivileged, deprived and poor society with huge regional, social, economic and political disparities. We have seen a democracy run by families, fundamentalists, anarchists and sometimes, even by criminals. We have a democracy where for 60 years, barring a few occasions, voters couldn’t decide on the CEO of their country. The unofficial leader of the earlier ruling party was more powerful than the official leader. If someone else, who had no mandate, could dictate the then Prime Minister – the leader of the country – then the hypothesis that we are a democracy is just an illusion.
The populace has no say in policy matters, taxation, employment policies, foreign or defence options and absolutely no say in immediate civic requirements. One doesn’t have a say even on the speed breaker in front of one’s house! Most of the country does not have electricity, safe water, hygienic food, footpaths, toilets and even basic shelters that can provide protection from cold, heat, floods and now, even terrorism.
There is no traffic control. Even emergency operations and rescue vans of the Fire Department, police and ambulances cannot find a lane to move forward despite their blaring sirens. But a political figure with a criminal record will have the entire road blocked for his convoy. There is no dignity of labour, no urban planning and no vision. Lakhs of people sit on top of trains and court death hanging outside local trains. Even buses are death calls and breaking traffic rules hardly pinches the pocket.
Talking about pollution and environment is a luxury in a country where one has to constantly walk sidestepping shit and potholes. Kids here learn how to manoeuvre bikes around potholes and incoming traffic better than anywhere in the world. No civic project has ever been completed within the deadline, budget and with the desired quality control. Slums have increased manifold. Crime, injustice and the rule of the jungle are the emblems of almost all states. In most of the country, a civil war has been going on since Independence. Jammu & Kashmir, most of the North East, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal… wherever you look, there is Naxalism or some kind of unrest, riots, communal tension, lathi charges, curfews, bandhs and not to forget, the ever-disrupted Parliament.
The masses have no faith, respect or no love for the President, Governors, ministers, secretaries, judges, lawyers or a vice-chancellor. I think Abdul Kalam was the only leader that India had in many years, but they tried to destroy him too. They killed people’s hopes. They crushed their respect. Their love. Their belief. A hopeless society doesn’t even care about a Nobel Peace prize for Kailash Satyarthi. It doesn’t care about Chandrayans, nuclear deals or the Naga Peace Accord. We use our entire might to convert a terrorist’s hanging into a human rights issue, but throw a blind eye to tens of thousands of innocent human lives rotting in jails, on footpaths and dark, stinking alleys of our cities. We are a hopeless, defeated society.
Isn’t it strange that almost nobody thinks that the water-filtering machine that Hema Malini or the Aquaguard salesman sold you is the failure of our government? Drinking water is our fundamental right. Democracy, which everyone respects so much, is not above safe drinking water, electricity, roads and security from terror.
Sometimes I truly wonder, how am I alive in this ‘next superpower’? How do I escape accidents on roads? Why am I not contracting cholera from the water I drink? How do I get malaria only once in two years despite thousands of mosquitoes circling over my head? I really wonder how my house has not caught fire despite the tangle of loose electrical wires. Very often I look at them and wonder if a fire indeed breaks out, who will rescue us? How will the firefighters reach here? Every time I hear an ambulance siren I ask my driver to take the car on side but he can’t. There is no space. When was the last time we heard a story where the cops reached just in time and prevented a crime?
Every morning when my kids leave for school, I really wonder how they make it back home safe. What kind of nonsensical, illogical, unexplainable faith do we have that we allow our kids to travel in buses and rickshaws that run so rashly and have absolutely no safety norms. I wonder how I still feel proud in a country where everyday, I see MPs disrupting Parliament, throwing chairs and mikes in assemblies and where municipalities are mini-riots.
What kind of cold, indifferent human beings have we manufactured who feel nothing when hundreds of women are raped, molested and even burnt. Where tribals, Dalits, the poor are discriminated against, exploited and in many cases, even killed. In what kind of country do women have to do a nude-march protest to make their point? Yet no one hears. But how do we allow bhajans, keertans and azaans cause so much noise-pollution on loudspeakers?
I get goosebumps when I think of going to any government office because it’s a vulgar display of inefficiency and customer dissatisfaction. I feel ashamed when my kids dance on Bollywood songs in their school annual functions, graced by Bollywood celebrities. Bollywood item numbers have taken over birthday parties, wedding parties, disco parties, grand parents’ platinum jubilee parties all kinds of festivals, irrespective of their apparent vulgarity. Meanwhile, classical music, dance and drama are breathing their last and surviving on government grants. Non-English poetry and literature are almost dead. For sports, we have only cricket which has T20’s big bucks and that too is now as good as a striptease and mud-fight show.
Teachers are not respected. The police is feared. Politicians are hated. Bureaucracy is suspect. Judiciary is questioned. Contractors, PWD, all civic and utility services burdened with corruption. Doctors are doubted, lawyers are suspected of scheming, religious teachers are arrested for rapes. Bollywood un-entertains. News is a circus. Media is the new mafia. And the political mafia is the new cool.
So in this hopeless scenario how am I still alive and looking forward to tomorrow? Maybe because our ‘hope quotient’ is one of the highest in the world. And this is derived from thousands of years of mythological nurturing of our society. We are a society that survives on mythology. It is the tonic that has protected us from shattering as a society despite invasions, calamities and abject poverty. Mythology’s biggest trick is that it works on illogical-logic, i.e. ‘anything can happen anytime’ and ‘everything works out in the end’. A suffering society often takes to mythological concepts of destiny and karma. It takes to myths that are un-explainable and un-definable.
Mythology works as a catalyst for faith. In the end, all mythology is a paradox and freedom from the known. It promises utopia (Ramrajya). Our politicians have also created an illusionary, mythological world of secularism and justice for all. We are all waiting for that utopia. India – a superpower with super digital e-ways, bullet trains, waterways and smart cities. A clean, healthy, educated India with electricity, sanitation and clean water.
We have been extremely kind in making Gods out of some politicians. Be it Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, VP Singh, MM Singh or Vajpayee – everyone has let us down. Cities kept converting into slums, traffic kept getting worse, education became corrupt, healthcare become a blood-sucking industry, scams became bigger and the disparities kept increasing.
But now, it’s Modi’s turn. People want him to fight the evil that has created such a stressed and unfair life for us. We want him to take us to a world that has a happy ending, and as fast as possible. That’s why, week after week, channel after channel, news, hoardings and wherever we look, the discussion boils down to questioning whether or not Modi can do it. For some, Modi must succeed. For some, Modi must fail. I think the democracy that has given him a chance to develop India, is also his biggest hurdle. A democracy that must work 365 days and 24/7 works only once in five years. It is disrupted the rest of the time. So between this pathetic inheritance, resistance and expectations, fulfilling his extremely ambitious vision, that too against unsurmountable odds, Modi most certainly has the toughest job in the world.
I hope, like in the past, this doesn’t turn out to be a mirage. I hope he succeeds. I hope India succeeds. I hope the ‘idea of India’ succeeds. I hope my grand children don’t have to find any newspaper with the headline ‘Parliament Adjourned’.
Vivek Agnihotri is a film-maker, writer and travel junkie. He tweets at @vivekagnihotri