India Election Ritual – Illusion of Control

15 April, 2009 at 23:22 1 comment

[via “Sacred Ritual of Elections – Part 1” with serialization]

    Elections in India are in full swing. It has become a ritual. There are the usual loud campaigning on rickshaw speakers, crowd garjanas in open grounds, free liqour and biryanis, lorry loads of people wearing bandanas. Now in this high-tech age, there are phone calls, SMS messages, radio commercials, bulk emails, TV adverts, website campaigns. It is a cacophony. Tomorrow, I vote. Just to be clear, I am voting for Prajarajyam for the assembly (state). BJP for the parliament (nation). I previously voted for Loksatta during the muncipal elections. Obama for world presidency. My choice has nothing to do with candidates nor manifestos. Just change for change sake. Deal with it. Personally, I think that the elections is the same dog and pony show it has always been but voting is cool right now and am a cool dude.
    Honestly, I dont really bother because an American folk wisdom says, if you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got. We know that the past, present and future of elected bunch are not the smartest people in the country. Nor are they pillars of moral rectitude. They are not known for their intelligence nor their wisdom. But then, the elected are representative of the people who do the electing whose chain of thought is something like this ‘Democracy is a great idea. India is a democracy and so it is great. Indians vote and therefore Indians are great. India is going to be a superpower.’ Cross my heart. True argument of an IITiian.

    Personally though, I think that the whole voting thing is an illusion of control. People feel that they are in control because they get to pull the voting machine lever. After all, we elect politicians because we have given them the alms of votes. The politicians are putty in our hands. They are our slaves. But we all know we have no power. The fact that it goes on year after year for decades on end (not just in India but all over the world) means that the illusion works so much so that democracy can be considered a religion which shares similar paradigms.
    So, who are the masters? The politicians you say. If money=power, then yes, politicians are the masters. But for the small matter of the government and the bureaucracy. They have institutional memory. Politicians come and go. Bureaucrats remain. They are pervasive. They are invisible. They are God. Heck, they created themselves. The bureaucrats are the real rulers of the country or any other country for that matter. Communism. Socialism. Arachism. Nothing is a match for the bureaucracy for it is nowhere and everywhere. And remember that you don’t elect them. They are appointed. By whom? By the bureaucracy of course. Isn’t that a cozy deal? They are the proverbial man behind the show curtain…

    Like Neo had trouble coming to terms with the Matrix, many people – some of them smart – have trouble with this pod-in-pod scenario. Politicians are the masters and the bureaucracy is meant only as an institution to carry out the orders from the political superiors. So the control that the people have over the politicians is in effect a control over the bureaucracy goes the general argument which falls flat on its face because the politicians don’t really know anything about the ministries they are supposed to direct. The bureaucrats do. Do you really believe a guy who has absolutely no knowledge of aviation at all can run the aviation ministry? Or some country bumpkin run the massive Indian railways? This is not complete horse doodoo nor a personal view boiling down to a lot of hand waving and no data. There is evidence. ‘Yes Minister‘, hellooo.
    Talking of a British sitcom, we have to remind ourselves that it is yet again, the fault of the British. They are responsible for everything from Kashmir to Palestine to Zimbabwe. Digression apart, the British colonial government put the bureaucracy in place so that it would execute the objectives of a colonial government. What objectives? To extract resources from the economy. How? By controlling every aspect of the economy. When they left in 1947, they handed over the bureaucracy – lock, stock, and barrel – to the new political masters. The white guys left and the brown guys took over. The brown guys saw the bureaucracy and realized it was one of the most effective ways of controlling the economy and the people. They loved it as much as the British. Every institution that the British had created was not just maintained, they were strengthened.

    The unfortunate fact is that India is trapped in what we should call a low-level equilibrium. India has the governance it has because that was what was handed down to India. Of the three freedoms – economic, personal, and political – that matter to people, some in India got some degree of political freedom with the departure of the British. And no, freedom to urinate anywhere is not a freedom even though it matters to a lot of people. It is not even very clear whether political freedom in the absence of personal and economic freedom has any meaning. If I cannot live my personal life without being dictated to by others, and if I am at the verge of chronic starvation, I don’t know what political freedom really means in this context, or what good it can do. By keeping the people economically imprisoned (government machinery of greedy politicians puppeteered by bureaucrats), but allowing them the right to vote, there is an illusion of change. That the jailers are different does not alter the fact that one is still in prison. Sure now you can shout a little louder and complain a bit more vociferously about the abysmal conditions of the jail — but you are still jailed and now you are a little hoarse and tired from all the shouting and the banging of your tin plates against the bars of your cell.
    It’s the illusion that keeps the game in play. If India were not so fascinated by the dog and pony show, if India were not distracted by fake symbolism, it would have seen through the sham. The power of illusions is under-appreciated. It is not without a reason that people cling so tenaciously to religion — it gives them an illusion of control over things in a universe beyond their comprehension. The religion of democracy that the people so fervently believe in is as real as the other religions. To take another analogy, in a truly democratic system, the people do have power to influence change and in the direction they want. But in India’s case, I think it is like the fake steering wheel for the 4-year old in the car. It is merely mounted on the dashboard and not really connected to the steering mechanism of the car. It gives the kid a feeling of control, while the real control is in the hands of the guy in the driving seat. Without the fake wheel bought from Toys-R-Us, the kid will be a nuisance. He will be demanding and cranky wondering if he was having fun yet and if we are there yet and where are we really going. Fake steering wheel in hand, the kid is pacified and the driver can concentrate on where he wants to go.

    If all else fails to convince, remember these last words – true change is not something that arises out of random chance. Sure, we may have mutations and such every now and then that is a blog post for another day.

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    Entry filed under: BoP, Citizen-Journalism, CWorks, Deesha, Economy, India, Life-Theories, News-Media, Politics, Poverty, WebXP.

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    1 Comment Add your own

    • 1. teeteunfibe  |  10 May, 2009 at 09:45

      Keep it up



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