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The Great Indian Bamboozle has to Stop

[Edit note: This piece was written & published elsewhere in Oct 2013. The Indian political scene has changed somewhat since then, thankfully under the leadership of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi but evidently not enough. True that Rahul Gandhi is no longer relevant but clearly sleazy politicians like Kejriwal and his minions are successful in bamboozling the public in Delhi. This piece is, unfortunately, still relevant.]

If the people of the village, in the best traditions of their hallowed democratic processes, elect the village idiot as the King and Supreme Ruler of the village, it is hard for me to bring myself to find fault with the village idiot. It’s not the idiot’s fault that nature dealt him a lousy hand in the random genetic draw of life. He’s a congenital idiot and made no demands on being recognized as a paragon of wisdom and virtue. Based on that principle, I indicted American voters for electing some of their recent presidents, a few more than once. I can see no reason for not applying that principle to India.

Rahul Gandhi, also widely known as Pappu, is for all appearances a decent enough chap. He didn’t choose to be born to the Gandhi family any more than he sat around selecting his genes from the human gene pool. It was a random draw. He cannot be held responsible for the actions of a fairly large segment of the Indian population who wish to have him as the ruler of India’s destiny. India is a democracy, don’t you know, and the will of the people (admittedly a minority in all known cases) prevails.

India is a country of over 1.2 billion people, about 800 million of whom are desperately poor. None of us can even comprehend how those desperately poor live their lives on less than US$ 2 equivalent a day – an estimated 400 million children malnourished and with no prospects of their ever realizing their human potential; no access to clean drinking water or sanitation for hundreds of million; no chance of getting a decent education; never eating good, nourishing food or enjoying any of the marvellous goodies that modern life has to offer. Nearly 700 million are not reasonably educated and around 500 million of them are actually illiterate even in the 21st century of the Common Era.

For nearly all of its existence as an independent political entity, India has been ruled by the Congress party. That political party inherited from the British all the rules (and added a few of their own) that govern the economy. Ultimately rules are what matter and dictate the destiny of states. Economic policies, a subset of this set of rules, determine whether the country is desperately poor (such as India) or reasonably rich (such as Taiwan.) Social policies determine whether there is social peace (such as in many advanced industrialized countries) or there is internal discord (as seen in third rate countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, and most tragically India.)

It seems hard for me to avoid the conclusion that India’s present dire straits must be to a large extent the doing of the Congress party. But then another thought arises. It was not some heavenly diktat or supernatural force that made the Congress to have such destructive power in India. In India they take democracy seriously, as we are constantly reminded to the point of tedium. The Congress party ruled and rules because the people of India – or at least a significant proportion of them – find them worthy.

The Americans have a saying, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” The people could be forgiven for putting Nehru on a pedestal and worshiping him for a few years following the political independence of India. But to keep electing his entire brood of incompetent descendants whose policies have deepened poverty, divided the country on caste and religious lines, and generally made life hell for nearly all Indians, is the height of folly. Being fooled repeatedly by the same party should be a matter of extreme shame. No one needs to be so persistently stupid and gullible. Indians should collectively do what the Hindi saying advices — chullu bhar pani mein doob maro.

I have spoken to people who have had the opportunity to observe Rahul Gandhi at close quarters. A journalist friend of mine spent three days with him during the last general elections. She confided in me saying, “He’s an OK guy. Not the sharpest knife in the drawer. He’s definitely slow on the uptake, to be honest. Despite being born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he has little to show for himself. He does not have the intellectual horsepower to manage a road-side restaurant. He’d fail at that. Yet he may get to follow the footsteps of his father, his grandmother, and his great grandfather and lead India further into poverty. It’s a crying shame that he’s even in the running for the PM’s job in a country with 1.2 billion people.”

For years I have been saying that the quality of Indian leadership should make us weep and keep us awake at night not so much because the leaders are generally incompetent, lying, myopic, immoral and unethical — which evidently they are — but because the character of the Indian leaders is a sure indication of the character of Indian voters. Our choices, big and small, reveal our character powerfully and unequivocally. We show who we are by choosing who are leaders are to be.

If one believes in the theory that one’s past lives’ karma dictate one’s fortune in the current life, one would have to conclude that in their past lives Indians must have accumulated pretty horrendous bad karma. I don’t believe in the past life thing but I do believe in the theory that we produce our own karma in this very life — and then we and our children pay for our misdeeds.

It is time Indians did a bit of honest soul-searching and for once decide not to vote for morally and ethically challenged politicians. But I am not sanguine about that prospect. Carl Sagan in his important book The Demon-Haunted World pointed out that—

One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.

We have been bamboozled for too long. But it is time to stop being so self-destructive. Most of all, I wish we would not vote for village idiots, regardless of how shiny their pedigree. We must get our power back.

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