Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Elephant completes another mile

Manmohan Singh, the prime minister of India, once said that Indian Democracy is like an Elephant. It walks slowly, but leaves an indelible impression on the ground. To add to that Elephants can go a long way walking for miles and miles. It is only apt to feel proud and frustrated with it all at the same time. Its been 63 years since the Indian Constitution came into being. 63 long years that have changed in India and the World for good, but yet not enough or fast enough.

I used to find it painful that how easily my friends would discount the achievement of creating the longest constitution of the World by consensus in a most diverse nation and sticking to it for 63 years. If history and the recent happenings in middle east have taught us anything - it is easier to have a revolution and revolt against someone, but much much harder to wrap up the revolution in peaceful manner and agree to common goals and principles.

It is not the only achievement of the Elephant. If the recent happenings foretell anything, India seems to be at a turning point that comes only once in a life of a nation and society. In 1947, when India got independence, J. L. Nehru said "A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance." These words seem as true for today as they were for that day. The utterances of Anna movement and protests against the gang rape in Delhi are those very utterances that herald the stepping out from the old to the new.

As Ramachandra Guha points out, India is undergoing five simultaneous revolutions: Indian economy is shifting from agriculture to industry and services, more and more Indians are living in cities than in villages, India is self ruled, political culture is now combative and participatory than feudal and deferential, and finally the society is moving away from patriarchy towards individual rights for all. All these five transformations coupled with the demography, where most Indians are under 25 years of age, and increased information and education have brought about this turning point in Indian society.

The urban middle class has now reached a critical mass where it can become a great political force. The media and the common aspirations have cobbled a sense of unity within the rather fractured and apathetic middle class. It is a great change for a disinterested middle class person to empathize with victims of rape and feel if that can happen to them, it can happen to me too. Open economy, globalization and increased interaction with the World has brought in many fresh ideas, and an itch to change to the system for the better. The demography makes it easy to embrace new liberal ideas and the urges for change. The polity based on individual vote in times of 24x7 news networks demands for individual rights and accountability from the politicians. The economy puts greater value on skilled individuals who can achieve their potential rather than group labor where an individual is easily replaceable.

All this has brought about a change in our attitudes that can only come by the slow march of the elephant that works subtly and slowly over decades than overnight. This change makes us itch for more change and makes  us feel disgusted when we encounter the old patriarchal mindset. This change in attitudes makes us well up with frustration when we see the change not happening as fast as we would like. This change makes us pour into the streets and protest. While there is a lot to change and miles to go before we sleep, we must thank the elephant for making us conscious of the long journey. As they say - knowing the problem is half the battle. 


  1. Is it reasonable to anticipate that more young people will enter politics, as career politicians? Or may be take a more active role in helping frame government policy? I was wondering if there are historical precedents for young people entering politics in numbers in the absence of pervasive tyranny in everyday life.

  2. Sorry for spamming, I should have made this point in the earlier comment. Yeah, I see what you say in the article - sometimes it is easy to lose sight of just how far we have come because the road ahead is still so long.
    But I maintain that it would help if the elephant kept moving forward though :) instead of its frequent drunken sideways shuffling, and sporadic backpedalling. But I already know your answer to that - with a billion mahouts, takes time to work out which way is forward, right?

  3. Valid points. Historically young people are more liberal and appreciative of new ideas. They are less used to the usual and have more energy to bring about change. Not all will enter politics - but again it is not about grand standings and young political celebrities, but about the attitude - what matters to them and what does not. What they say when they talk with their friends ultimately creates a public opinion that influences politics, way people vote, and what topic is debated and what is not. It is a dreamy naive attitudes of the young that finally makes the difference.