In 1947, a dudish leadership epitomised by Nehru gleefully took over the reigns of independent India. They wore their soft intellectual hearts on their sleeves, a hangover from the freedom struggle led by those like Gandhi who shed his sartorial tastes in empathy with the millions of peasants toiling every day for the landed feudal lords. Nehru and his ilk were respected by this overwhelming majority primarily due to their justifiable claim in having negotiated independence from the British. They successfully seduced the ‘uncivilised’ Indians with their elitist bouquet facilitated by the romantic sentiments of the hopeful. Almost the whole of India was agrarian back then, barring some specks of industry that the British and their Indian partners had set up for their own supply chain requirements. Exceptions to the rule like the Tatas were too few to wield any influence on the narcissistic tendencies of the new rulers of India. Even Gandhi had succumbed to the wiles and guile of the narcissist.
Blatant capitalism borrowed from the Americans or the British was not saleable or possible to implement as the poor, illiterate or uncivilised population hardly had any human or financial capital to invest. The golden goose (sone ki chiria) was left barren with all the eggs it could hatch having been served on the ruler’s plate for over couple of centuries. But there was enough yet to feed the new ruling class. Stalinistic dachas take too long to set up and Communism was anyway too uncivilised for the Nehruvian pseudos. It did not allow any place for the dudish. Hence, a corrupted version was embraced in the name of Socialism that allowed dudes to flourish, shedding crocodile tears while they wallowed in their peasant paid entitlements. And did they flourish; enough for their 3rd generations to relish. Corruption once allowed is impossible to stop from multiplying. Even former Gandhians (so called) prostrated to the lure of entitlements that the capitalist or corrupt offered and the few that revolted were forced into social or political exiles. A few of them went into the business of NGOs. Corruption grows roots and propagates securely in families like AIDS. That is how corruption, politics and dynastic rule came to stay. Corruption and the corrupt are like bees and honey, they survive and multiply in symbiotic orgasms. They find each other without fail and form their own un-civilisation like beehives hanging onto crevices or ledges of the civilised society. They protect each other and attack the innocent in hordes just like the spokespersons on national television or the mafiosi.
That is the India we live in – our todays India…
67 years young (not too old as a country), 50% below the age of 24; >50% living off Agriculture growing at < 4%, contributing 14% of the GDP; 53% living off urban and semi-urban areas with 3 times GDP per capita income than the rest 47%; +4% pay Income Tax (primary the salaried class), while there are about 300,000 HNIs (High Net worth Individuals with >1m USD in investable assets)!
But, another breed multiplies around the periphery of the civilised society, the few who try or are forced to escape the agrarian decay wrought by the greed of the landed. These are the aspirers, the hunters, the aggressives and the abrasives – the carpetbaggers! The word was coined in the US when that country went through the survival churn with hordes of aspirers from cold and poor Europe stowed away in ships bound for the ‘promised land’ in search of a better life. A lot of the American psyche is built upon the carpetbaggers and their survival habits and their struggle against the dudes or to become one of them.
Before civilisation started snaring simple humans in its cobweb of civility, man was following his needs and wits to acquire what it needed and nothing more. Gradually, man learnt to create an organised way to meet his needs. He cultivated lands, fished in waters and went on to producing more than what he needed. Leisure resulted and man started to think beyond his needs.
Creativity was unleashed beyond the powers of any other species in the animal kingdom. This creativity led to innovations and surpluses for a few while others developed the longing to possess what they did not have. For the fortunate dudes came other rewards of surplus – education, mobility followed by sartorial & culinary tastes. Surplus, leisure and innovation, more of a natural gift of the human species finally created a divide between the carpetbagger and the dude. Yet, the society that emerged as an organisation of human beings was labelled civilised by the dudish who reaped the benefits of surplus. The peasants, the workers at the grind of those innovations and the carpetbaggers were very much part of this society but never enjoyed the fruits of surplus or the said civilisation. They lived near the underbelly treated as waste of a civilised society, – the uncouth, loud, dirty, uneducated, improper – the uncivilised!
Yet, the uncivilised aspired for and demanded their share or right to the fruits of civilisation. The dudes and carpetbaggers could only be at perennial conflict. Those who somehow breached the barriers had no option but to live with either of the identities. Over time, another class burgeoned to act as a bridge between the polarised two. This was the intelligentsia. Probably, it was again the innovative spirit of the human mind that made some differentiate from just belonging to one of the classes across the barrier of tyranny. They were paid by the dudish but were sceptically respected by the carpetbagger. They even carved out their own brand of sartorial or culinary tastes. Their external identity carried the veneer of the deprived, like a bearded face or no make-up. They would sport an ethnic look while knew all to differentiate between a blended scotch and a single malt. Most of them were passionate and hunted knowledge to its ends as that was what differentiated them clearly from the dudish or the carpetbaggers. Knowledge held its premium amongst the intelligentsia and a scientific mind resulted that searched rationale in all they encountered. A mind based on enquiry with a never ending need and thirst for knowledge led to theories on economic activity, human behaviour and all that impacted or ensued from any section of the human society.
Value of work, division of labour from Adam Smith or Maslow’s theory on what motivates human beings were probably the two most impactful explanations of what goes on in the ‘civilised’ society. The civilised society, where the ‘uncivilised’ are apparently tolerated but actually needed now had another class, the intelligentsia who were like the flea that lives off both the sides. At times they act as the conscience keeper for the dudish or as the salve to anyone who gets bruised. They always explain why what happens – good or bad – but more importantly, when the grind between the two sides becomes too abrasive, a few amongst them even turn protagonists, activists and change agents. This group has over time contributed to the civil part of the civilised society that lives in the laws and implementation of the same. No wonder this section of the intelligentsia also came to be referred to as the ‘civil society’ while others outside must be the ‘uncivil society’ – labouring constantly and consistently with all their innovative faculties in how to break the civil part, the laws and its implementation apparatus.
Adam Smith’s explanation of economic activity and Maslow’s theory on human motivation were seminal in their recording the realities of human society. But, they were not protagonists or social activists. Instead their explanations gave wind to the sails of the dudish, which had the surpluses to use their knowledge and further their selfish interests. Right to property, capital and profits and use of the ‘carrot and stick’ model only led to further alienation between those with surplus and without. It has been a hard and long battle, never to end as the divide only kept widening. The civilised donned the robes of capitalism like a second skin and kept raising the barriers and the ante of the un-civilised. The civilised dudes were always surrounded by the cacophony of the uncivilised carpetbaggers – yelling, screaming and even snapping at their heels for their survival needs. Yet, we called the entire humanity as a civilisation! Most of the ‘civilised’ or capitalists learnt fast the trick to keep the uncivilised marginalised with enough to survive and not demand too much. Doles, social welfare, charity, philanthropy came to roost only to maintain the status quo. Only a few societies were successful in creating enough work at good value to spread the butter wide and relatively thin. Post World War Germany and few other small west European nations could be apt examples of the same. It is interesting to see how the better managed societies have a mix of the three classes, the dudish capitalists, the marginalised carpetbaggers and the intelligentsia. It appears that a relatively more civil society is only possible when the intelligentsia becomes a commanding majority.
Fast forward to today, the intelligentsia abounds where the middle class is. For the middle class to grow faster, we need more industrialisation, – investments from the dudish or the capitalists – more infrastructure and modern educational institutions. The current government in India appears to be going that way and can only be a facilitator or accelerator to transform the country into a more civilised status – a society where laws are made for better civilisation and then implemented. That is what is needed from any government, but we have seen such governance only in our dreams.
While it is quite tempting to look at the history of the industrialised nations, particularly in northern or western Europe and expect India to go through similar transformation towards better civilisation, the risks and opportunities are not the same. India is not as monochromatic as most of the better off countries are. Besides the full blown diversity in religion, castes, language, food and appearances, the major risk lies in its being a tropical land not blessed with acute natural adversities. We lack the urgency in everything. Life is always about another day as there is never a threat that is too large. I believe that Adversity is truly the father of evolution and Necessity is not necessarily the mother of invention. Necessity is too benign while Adversity is like Goliath towering over David. David has to bring out his deepest innovation and different strengths. Necessity makes us try to do ‘better’ and not different or the dramatic.
A new political adversary in AAP appeared to threaten the political establishment of this country as it used Corruption as the Adversity that shook the sedate and the young out of their Indian ethos of ‘satisfactory underperformance’. But, now that it has gone into governance it runs the risk of joining either the dudish or the carpetbaggers and miss the opportunity of being the protagonist or activist. It seems it is yet miles to go and many more seeds of adversity to be sown till we can see a more civil India. Till then, Cheers to the middle class and the intelligentsia. Let us keep supporting the protagonist and catalyse the cause of activism!