India – a Nation of Absurdities

Oxford dictionary defines the word ‘absurdity’ as ‘the quality or state of being ridiculous or wildly unreasonable’. If one digs a little deeper absurdity also implies something that makes no sense.  At times the word is also used to highlight something that is stupid and funny at the same time. Synonyms for absurdity include words like illogical, ludicrous, irrational, preposterous, incongruous, unreasonable, foolish, stupid and nonsensical among many others. Over the top nationalists will certainly take umbrage if one calls India a nation of absurdities since such people can hardly see beyond their nose or even around it. But the fact remains that absurdities abound in our nation at all levels from highest to the lowest. Some are of a serious nature, some evoke a sense of despair and a few invariably bring a wry smile on ones face. The phenomenon of absurdities seems to be a part of Indian way of life with deep roots in every facet of Indian nation.

Historically the phenomenon started in 1947 itself when Prime Minister Pandit Nehru kept his Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Sardar Patel out of the loop on important decisions on Jammu & Kashmir. The nation continues to pay the price for this absurdity even after 70 years of independence. Pandit Nehru’s absurd approach on China and matters related to security of the nation resulted in the 1962 debacle that haunts India even today. Indira Gandhi’s crowning absurdity was sending the military in the hallowed precincts of The Golden Temple in Amritsar in June 1984. This was followed by Rajiv Gandhi who not only turned a blind eye during the 1984 massacre of Sikhs but also had the distinction of sending unprepared Indian armed forces into Sri Lanka against LTTE. Both he and his mother paid with their lives for their absurdities. The ill conceived ‘licence raj’, till the end of eighties, killed entrepreneurship and only made the rich and connected richer. Lack of planned and focussed rural development resulted in massive migration to cities that were ill equipped to handle such huge populations. The ever increasing reservations made mockery of meritocracy and instead encouraged mediocrity. Lack of planned and sustained development in education, medical and civic facilities to ensure a minimum quality of life for all citizens has cost the nation dear.  The historical list of absurdities is absurdly long and varied.

India abounds in political absurdities. Indian communists continue to live in the Lenin, Stalin and Chairman Mao era despite communism having failed worldwide. Indian voters have voted for Gandhi name for over five decades when everyone knows that Indira and her future generations have nothing to do with Gandhi ancestry since Gandhi was never Feroze Gandhi’s (husband of Indira Gandhi) real surname. Despite a series of electoral defeats, Rahul was elevated to the position of Congress President because of his Gandhi name. Criminality has become an integral part of Indian politics with more than 35% of current lawmakers proudly boasting of criminal records. Even if they come from humble backgrounds Indian law makers become millionaires within their first elected term. Most major political parties, baring a few like BJP, have become family heirlooms with internal democracy being the biggest casualty. Yet the same parties and their leaders want to rule the world’s largest democracy. Nearly all opposition leaders seem to have consigned their brains to the deep freezer since they cannot advance even a single reason as to why the voter should vote for them. Their vocal chords are stuck at ‘Do not vote for Modi’. The latest in list of political absurdities is Rahul Gandhi’s claim in a rally in Karnataka that if he is given fifteen minutes to speak in parliament then Mr Modi will find it difficult to stand there! This just shows how some absurdities can be stupid and funny at the same time.

Today when an Indian, man, woman or child, suffers in any serious manner the nation first wants to know if the victim is a Hindu, Muslim, Dalit or SC/ST. The origins of the sufferer decide the quantum of national outrage that will be exhibited by the media, communities and politicians. Casteism still rules the roost in many part of the nation. Religious processions are taken out by communities more to spite others than for any religious convictions. Parents still bemoan a girl child and some continue to practice female infanticide even today. In some parts of the country females continue to be less than second rate citizens. Population growth is a major issue in the nation yet some communities encourage large families in the name of their religion. Many in the country demand freedom of religion and expression without any responsibilities or boundaries associated with such demands. The nation is even divided on the need and the way a citizen should show respect to the national anthem. Glorifying terrorists and those engaged in acts of violence against the state has become a pastime for some educated youth under the guise of freedom of expression and thought. Fictional historical characters are turned into regional icons by fringe and failed political leaders to seek their two minutes of fame a la PADMAAVAT style. The list of societal absurdities is absurdly long that leaves many in despair.

The absurdity bug has hit most public institutions and judiciary is a prime example. Four out of 25 Chief Justices of Supreme Court hold a press conference to air their grievances against the Chief Justice of India (CJI). The disrepute that they brought to the highest court of law did not deter them a wee bit in pursuing selfish agendas – possibly at the behest of some disgruntled politicians. A couple of judges had no qualms in hinting that possibly they were being victimised because of their religion or Dalit / SC origins – claims that stretch the definition of being absurd to a new high.  Opposition parties are seeking impeachment of the CJI because a Supreme Court bench headed by him ruled against any investigation in the death of a High court judge – thereby putting an end to some nefarious designs of a few motivated individuals.  Time and again based on same evidence lower and higher courts differ in their verdicts that are poles apart and one is left wondering how the same law can be interpreted so differently and turned on its head. Cases linger on in courts for decades forcing some unfortunate suspects to rot in jails for years before being acquitted while some genuine criminals roam free on bail with cases never coming to a conclusion because of collusion of judiciary, lawyers and at times authorities. Last few days have seen a Congress led campaign to malign the CJI who has been charged with being a ‘Bench Fixer’. This is the absurd state of affairs at the nation’s most prestigious institution after the parliament.

India perhaps takes the cake when it comes to suppressing merit to promote mediocrity – and we do it by acts of parliament and words etched in gold in our constitution. We do not believe in developing the less fortunate so as to enable them to compete against others. Instead we thrive in just elevating them to exalted positions without necessary expertise, knowledge or experience – knowing fully well that they will not deliver. Often this is done at the cost of more deserving candidates whose merit is ignored. This is nation’s model for developing the backward and not so fortunate citizens of the nation. These policies have helped political parties to secure vote banks but when it comes to development and growth bulk of these backward classes have remained where they were even after seven decades of independence. Anyone who raises a voice against such policies is labelled anti poor or anti ST/ST or anti Dalit and invites the wrath of law faster than the speed at which Speedy Gonzales drew his proverbial gun in the Wild West. But then such an approach fits in beautifully with our penchant for absurdities.

We are perhaps the only country that sends more officials to international sports events than participants. Our banks give loans and then forget to recover the same. By the time they decide to ask for repayment the fraudsters have made their pile, transferred it to inaccessible foreign banks and in many cases flee the country. Social activists and their organisations thrive on foreign money at the cost of deriding their own nation at the behest of their masters abroad. If a minority individual dies in some communal clash or a riot, his family ends up receiving millions of rupees from government while a career soldier or a policeman has to even pay for his life insurance and at times, in case he is martyred, his family runs from pillar to post to even get his normal pension. As a nation we are perhaps the least grateful to our soldiers who are taken for granted. If this is not absurd then what else can be absurd?

We boast of a heritage that is over 5000 years old that includes knowledge about medicine, astronomy, governance, city planning and societal norms that were way ahead of times. Yet today we lag behind in these very facets of life and rank way below in world order. The absurdity lies in the fact that while we boast of our heritage, we fail to recognise our present state. The world may realise and appreciate the depth and greatness of our Hindu religion, but within the country it is a different story. Nation’s obsession with a warped sense of secularism has pushed Hinduism out of mainstream India. Islam and Christianity continue to occupy the vacated space by design and patronage of past governments. Today when Hinduism wants to regain some of the lost ground, an ever increasing army of pseudo liberals, social activists and minority leaders raise the twin bogies of secularism and tolerance with an utter disregard for over 80% population of the country! That is how absurd we are as a nation.

Is there a way to pull the nation out of this mess of asinine absurdities and guide it towards a path that is paved with rationalism and sensibilities? Assuming there is possibility of such a change, the next question is how and who will do it? Without a doubt this quantum change needs is a visionary, sincere and committed leadership at the top who believe in ‘Nation First’ principle. Fortunately for last four years the nation has a top leadership that, while not being ideal, is certainly miles better than what the nation has had for most of the seventy years since independence. However the leadership needs support and commitment of the nation as a whole to make the transition from a society plagued with absurdities to a society that thrives in being more rational, sensible and logical. Given the increasing fragmentation, mutual mistrust and polarisation that we see in the nation today, how and when the society will come on board is a question to which answers have to be found before it is too late.

Saroj Chadha, an engineering professional, is a successful entrepreneur. Having retired from the Indian Army after having served for over 23 years, he has also been a consultant for leading Indian and Multinational electrical companies. He lives in New Delhi.

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