Monday, May 17, 2021

WHY INDOCRACY? VOL-I

INDIA’S DYSFUNCTIONAL INSTITUTIONS AMIDST A HEADY COCKTAIL OF EXTREME SOCIAL GOOD AND BAD

[Indian democracy needs serious strategic innovations to restructure its institutions with a clearer and appealing national vision to protects its people and society. Indocracy envisions a series of smaller but interdependent ideas in this direction.] 

I remember as a young person, hearing a cliché from one of the wise elders of the community. He used to often quip, especially when he struggled to persuade people, that ‘four Indians walk in the same direction only when they carry the fifth one on their shoulders.’ 

Average educated middle class Indians have built a reputation of being highly disagreeable, and at times even discordant. Yet they are not violent. This is especially compared to people of most other nationalities. Given the extent and magnitude of mass poverty, illiteracy and poor state of criminal justice system, India still appears a less violent society.

 This point was driven home quite convincingly by a famous international comedian during one of his live shows, whose video had gone viral a few years back. Mocking the docility of an average Indian, he had mimicked how an East European and West Asian terrorist could send shivers down the spine through sheer menace and intimidation in his voice. But none would take such a terrorist seriously if he happened to be an Indian. To the bursts of laughter of his audience, he had mimicked an imaginary Indian terrorist who started his demand for ransom with respectful and polite greetings to all in a soft voice, addressing elders as “uncle” and “aunty”. It sounded more like a disgruntled complaint, if not a request. When his captives expressed their inability to pay the ransom, he offered to settle down with whatever they could afford. The giggling response of the audience suggested that they might have dismissed the very idea or possibility of an Indian being a serious terrorist. 

 A relatively much smaller percentage of Indians being charged with violent crimes, anywhere in the world, corroborates such perception. Members of Indian diaspora have universally been acknowledged as industrious, enterprising and hard-working.  It is no surprise that family values, upbringing and social norms of educated middle class India has helped produce some of the top global CEOs. From Africa to Europe and even West Asia and Orient, Indians are usually known as clever but docile traders, professionals or academics. But it remains a mystery why such bright Indians, who must be in plenty in India, can’t bring about serious change at home? 

 Nevertheless, stereotyping of all Indians is avoidable, given the size of the country and it’s heterogeneity. There could be some serious, and a times even substantial, exceptions. There are large number of Indians who are not entirely immune to violent human instincts, especially if they face a weaker and helpless prey. But there can be no denial that, on an average,  Indians are less prone to extreme violence. This can largely be attributed to wider pacifist-humanist traditions of India, which have endured ravages of its long but tumultuous civilizational journey.

 It shall be no exaggeration to suggest that it is predominance of such values that may have enabled India sustain democracy amidst humongous diversities and contradictions. And yet it has made significant strides towards economic advancements and technological innovations. But these appear far too sub-optimal compared to its vast potentials. Democratic India continues to battle dysfunctional institutions, which have crippled advancements of its people, society and state.

 India’s progress on parameters of governance and national security has remained inconsistent and erratic. Most accomplishments have been driven more by a few instances of individual brilliance and leadership initiatives rather than institutional resilience. Fragile regulatory capacity of the state has undermined the integrity and quality of both political and economic competition, impacting the wider culture in these sectors. Challenges have been further compounded by dynamics of globalisation, where societal fissures, weak institutions and adverse geopolitical equilibrium have enhanced the vulnerability of the world’s largest democracy. 

 Involvement of Indians in corruption scandals almost anywhere and everywhere reflects a darker shade of its social reality. Transparency International rated India as the most corrupt nation in Asia in 2020. The same year, media reports disclosed that India also accounted for very high component of bad corporate debts, amounting to Indian Rupees 20 trillion or US $300 billion or so. This is by far the highest quantum among the top ten economies. Many also believe that the figure may not reflect the actual rot as a large component of such corporate debts may have been restructured or written off or not reflected properly. 

Several corporate leaders have maintained during private discussions that there may not be a single major procurement by some of the bigger corporate organisations, where substantial sums of money may not have found its way into some offshore personal accounts or payoffs in kind. Beneficiaries of such kickbacks may not necessarily be politicians or bureaucrats. In many cases, these could be top functionaries of these very private sector entities. Banks and people are there in any case to absorb losses emanating from such underhand payments or siphoning of funds. 

Accomplishments of certain sections of Indians in the realm of corruption scandals has been genuinely spectacular. Going way beyond Indian shores, some have earned distinction from Far East to Dubai to Africa, Europe and even parts of North America. What is frightening that such trait is taking over as the wider character of sections of Indian elite. They cannot entirely be blamed.  Very often, financial corruption appears the sole or even an unavoidable route for not only upwards economic and social mobility but sheer survival.

In the context of average Indian’s obsession with cricket, one of the retired senior police officers, whom I knew, often used to observe that it did not matter who was playing the game, ‘the key bookie or “match -fixer” was more likely to be an Indian than anyone else.’ It arouses a question: has underhand deal-making become personality trait of  sections of the successful Indians? 

 Some degree of malignancy or rot in corporate world  has been a global phenomenon. It has not spared even some of the most stablished and transparent democracies. It is widely believed that the challenges in India have been multiplied by the clout wielded by syndicates of organised crime like money launderers, drug-cartels, bribing networks, betting and extortion rackets, and fake currency dealers and others. Most of the have been pretending as dignified businessmen and they have succeeded in diversifying their venture into legitimate commerce.  Informal estimates suggest the total volume of dirty money annually generated in India could be running into at least a few hundred billion dollars. Flow of this money gets protected and some of these gets channeled into bona fide businesses. The entire phenomenon rests on serious subversion of governance institutions. 

It is quite logical for these forces to exploit the loopholes or deficiencies of the criminal justice system and other enforcement arms of the state or sabotage and even manipulate these, wherever possible. These forces with their clandestine but formidable clout, are, quite logically, believed to be the biggest impediments to institution of transparent, sturdy and efficient regulatory capacity of Indian state, including a robust criminal justice system. 

But sadly, significant sections of compromised Indian elite, across all divides, with serious skeletons in their cupboard, have willy-nilly been their collaborators in a common cause. Many keen observers of India’s private sector have also argued that corruption being a way of life, it has been nearly impossible for leaders with integrity to come up in most domestic segments. These include  not only industry and commerce but even politics,  media or bureaucracy. Hence, large segments of social and leadership space of India has been polluted beyond points of redemption. 

 Inherent strength of some of the civilizational values of India have thrown up innumerable  instances of exemplary leadership, excellence and innovation. But the existing institutions of state and governance have failed to sufficiently harness these into a wider culture of empathy and integrity- driven social order that is capable of throwing up high quality visionary leadership in all sectors. Institutional fragility, especially in absence of a clear national vision and extreme diversity, seem to have been breeding conflict, discouraging excellence and innovation and retarding wider national cohesion. These have been gradually eating up some of the strengths of India that have endured centuries of foreign occupation and exploitation.

 India’s failure to effectively contain or manage the fall out of ongoing Covid pandemic has rudely exposed the deficiencies of its state institutions. Exemplary tales of individual sacrifice, integrity and unconditional altruism -  as manifest in liberal donations for relief funds, free distribution of medicines, oxygen and essentials by all sections of society have been accompanied by apathy of large number of  hospitals and malignant sections of officialdom. Rogue entities and criminal individuals have not hesitated to make a profit out of mass misery. Black-marketing of essential medical supplies, sell of spurious medicines, extortion from patients, including demand for speed money for funerals, duping people in the name of medical services etc have been far too rampant even during Corona pandemic. 

Assault on hapless citizens by sections of arrogant police personnel has been a common sight during the lockdown even though sections within them went way beyond call of duty to help the distressed and needy almost everywhere. All these are manifestations of extreme good and extreme bad coexisting together, with state institutions appearing either a mute spectator or encouraging the latter through their omissions and inabilities. 

 Covid may be an extra-ordinary situation, where failures have appeared far too glaring. But over the past several decades Indian state has been failing its people by its inability to provide a consistent and equitable access to security, dignity and opportunities. Failures in this direction have not been marginal, or tactical. And at worst, these seem to building a spiral of their own. A mere change in regime, or tweaking of some rules, appear unlikely to stem the expanding rot in society and growing malignancy in the state.

 Indian democracy, at this juncture, needs serious strategic innovations to restructure its institutions, with clearer, newer and unique national vision. There is need for an inbuilt synergy between the state and the society for both to mutually empower and flourish. Indocracy has been an attempt to advocate a series of smaller but interdependent and integrated ideas in this direction. A few of these are available on this blog and elsewhere, but more are likely to come up. 

                                                                                                                         (To be Continued)

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