Thursday, April 10, 2008


To be honest, let's just say that I was not very surprised with the Supreme Court's judgement regarding OBC reservations. Disappointed, but not surprised. No, not that.
What surprised me though, was the vehemence displayed by people on both sides of the debate post-judgement. Our Esteemed (and Ambassadored) Political Leaders were quick to claim victory, each party generating soundbites stating that they are the sole protectors of the new urban votebank that has been magically brought into existence by court diktat and the sound of a gavel hammering down on a million dreams.
People on my side of the debate (hint: I was against reservations) were quick to state that India will never become a developed country this way, and that they should leave India as soon as possible.
What brought matters to a virtual boil was a debate I witnessed on CNN-IBN, between a young man representing Youth For Equality, and a bunch of politicians such as the formidable D Raja of the CPI. It was fascinating to watch the YFE chap toting out statistics that projected gloom and doom for the nation, all the while displaying a keen grasp of logic, against people whose flea-sized brains kept spewing out a single point over and over again: some person from Andhra Pradesh belonging to a fishing community has ranked 1st in the Civil Service examinations. Good for him.
It was towards the end of the debate that the true nature of our disagreement struck me, when I saw D Raja vigorously defend his standpoint, stating that everybody's playing politics.

The Nature of the Game

The reason D Raja was so agitated, the reason why YFE fought with such gusto, the reason why thousands of people leave the shores of this country never to return, is because of the fundamental nature of the clash between two value systems: one where equality is valued, and one where excellence is.
One where faith and belief are valued, and one where reason and intellect are.
One where history is a towering monster breathing down our necks, and one where history is dusted off with the flick of a wrist.
One where diversity stops at the entrance to one's home, and one where people wish they were American citizens so they could vote for Obama.
One where hearts and eyes are blinded by the glowing beacon of Eternal Revolution, and one where hearts skip a beat upon hearing that Noam Chomsky shall be addressing a local conference. (And if you think they are on the same side, I pity you.)

The value system we have grown up with, that insidious poison which taught us to deem Pakistan to be an expletive, streaming into our ears the xenophobic rant of our glorious civilization having been trampled upon for a thousand years by invaders, making sure we remember our duty to resist such occupation forever with our heart and soul, this value system is the root of the social contract that binds us as a self-flagellating, self-cannibalizing, self-hating society.

Over time, we have learned to smooth out the rough edges. Interacting with people from halfway around the world, we have learned to manufacture an Other for each glorious fragment of our fractured identity that we choose to exhibit at any point in time.

We were thrown out of the Garden of Innocence as children, and we have eaten the Apple of Hatred. Having rejected the value system of our predecessors on this part of Earth, we now need to reject the social contract built on top of a fundamental assumption that guilt is the root of political power.

Reflect. Introspect. Understand yourself. Map your values. And reject the guilt that seeks to own you.

Will reservations hinder excellence? Yes they will. Does it matter? No, it doesn't. The law of the land has spoken out loud, and equality has been deemed to be of a more vital import than excellence. To paraphrase Gandhi, "Leave India to God's children, or leave India to anarchy, but leave."

Isn't this a democracy?

The thing that pains me the most is how fragile our understanding is of what democracy entails. We lay utmost faith in the wisdom of crowds, yet fail to understand that to create a crowd is to discover a common factor that unites the greatest number of people.
We are proud to call ourselves one of the few republics where the Head of State is an elected lady, and yet fail to understand that republicanism enshrines the idea of inalienable rights that a democratic "will of the people" cannot take away.
For those of us trusting the voice of the masses, remember that they were the ones who used to burn "witches" at the stake.
Those of us who fervently believe that the "janata" is always right, remember well the Middle Ages where a majority of people knew for certain that the world rests on the back of a giant turtle.

What will happen?

We were fools to believe in a New India, one moulded to perfection by a booming economy, industrious workers, visionary corporate giants creating nation-straddling behemoths, lorded over by a benign government that created social security for the masses. We bought the Kool Aid of a rising superpower, one that would challenge the fire-breathing dragon to the East.
And yet, at the first sign of challenge, our Kool Aid-dispensing Sakis faltered.
They faltered when the Communists challenged them vis a vis the Indo-US nuclear deal.
They faltered when they were asked to take a courageous stand against China's brutal occupation of Tibet.
And, finally, they faltered and failed where it mattered the most: They failed to nurture India's best and brightest.

What of India? India will muddle along, as always, as the world outside laughs at our petty fights and savage mechanisms of handling them, as the dead hand of Malthus animates the countryside with famines that break one's heart. Does it feel bad? Yes. Can we do anything about it? No.

It's time, I guess, to heed Gandhi's words, and leave India to the people that its society values. Time to break out a new stone tablet with a fresh set of commandments, one wherein are enshrined the basic tenets of individual liberty and the pursuit of excellence.
Time to cross the seas, gentlemen and ladies. I hope you're with me.