K. SHANKAR BAJPAI: The closing of the Indian mind
“Lloyd George is rooted in nothing; he is void and without content; he lives and feeds on his immediate surroundings … an instrument and a player ... play(ing) on the company and played on by them ... a vampire and medium in one.” Our politicians hardly merit comparison with the great Welshman, but they fit Keynes's trenchant description all too well. They are not only fiddling while Rome smoulders, they are themselves incendiaries. The total inadequacy to the needs of our politico-administrative apparatus is our single worst peril. It comes from the kind of considerations, or thinking, that nowadays shape our decision-making and behaviour: what Marx called kleinburgerlich - ignorant, pettily self-seeking, parochial, inappropriate if not wholly irrelevant, of course with no thought of India.
This is no passing phase, the growing pains of democracy; we cannot delude ourselves of everything turning out fine through our innate capabilities or that mysterious protective force which we fondly imagine always saves us, or through economic growth — which itself is suffering for the same reasons. As even the rosy-eyed trumpeters of India Shining, India Rising, India Unbound now lament, “things are really bad”; they cannot get better without immense, immediate effort.
Frighteningly, those best positioned to do something seem unaware of either the crisis or the spreading despondency. The instruments of state have become increasingly dysfunctional, the failure to implement policies or perform even routine duties now aggravated by the failure to take any decisions. There is one root cause: our decisions and behaviour are shaped by considerations unworthy of a serious people. Our once greatest asset, the quality of mind developed through centuries of a great intellectual tradition, has deteriorated; worse, the mind actually applied works at such low levels, and for such low purposes..
Such decline goes beyond politics, and that mistrusted tribe, our businessmen: standards have plummeted in all walks of life. Teachers, lawyers, doctors, every profession finds profit in unprofessionalism. That makes salvation more difficult, but we must start somewhere, and our politico-administrative complex comes first. That it has made itself unable to perform needs no elaboration. Our political masters and permanent officials blame but abet each other. Again the root cause applies: the purposes and values driving them bear no relation to professional integrity, much less to public need. Blaming our political evolution is escapism: doubtless, coalitions make decisions harder; and the rise of elected dictators in our States harder still. But when circumstances change you must devise new methods to deal with them: there is no sign of anyone trying.
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