As I see it, this is not about the Commonwealth Games. We hope that they will take place successfully. The far more important challenge is to stop playing games with ourselves. For that, the only instrument required is the courage to be honest. To my mind, our Seven Deadly Sins are:
One of the consequences of a complex civilisation in evolution for 5,000 years is that it has produced an individualism which militates directly against team spirit, coordination and planning. Our motto is to work for our individual moksha. At the bathing ghats of Varanasi, a devotee will side-step the filth and excreta, take a dip in the Ganga and pray for his or her individual salvation, without giving any thought to what exists around him or her. It is such a milieu that makes personal egos far more important than public goals.
This is not the monopoly of India. However, we need to be worried because of our attitude towards it. Our problem is that we condemn it when someone else is the beneficiary and condone it when we ourselves are. Corruption is bad when someone else is caught; it is good when it benefits us. This dysfunctional link between the espousal of public morality and the acceptance of private collusion has led to a despicable hypocrisy. Even worse is that it has led to the acceptance of corruption making it systemic.
This is the revered sister of corruption. We are forever willing to be ‘accommodating’ on account of kinship, caste, region or religion. This misguided 'benevolence' directly militates against the creation of a meritocracy. Public organisations then become a means to perpetuate personal networks. So long as our own are being looked after, we care a damn about the larger interests of the institution.
We are the product of an incorrigibly stratified society, which has produced, in spite of the social changes of the last decades, a mentality that rarely questions those in authority, especially if our personal interests are likely to be hurt. This, in turn, has defied a ‘deference factor’ that revels in servility and sycophancy. Public flattery of authority, and very often, the private subversion of its credentials, is one of our distinguishing traits. The consequence is the absence of effective interrogation, and the even greater absence of fearless, frank and objective advice.
This is not an intrinsic trait of Indians. Our civilisation has seen remarkable peaks of refinement and creativity. One has only to look at the Kailash temple at Ellora or the Taj Mahal to understand what I am talking about. There are also enough examples today of excellence which is internationally recognised. It is, however, undeniable that a great deal of what we do is severely debilitated by a general ‘chalta hai’ attitude. Perfection is not always possible; but our acceptance of mediocrity in so many of our endeavours is just unacceptable.
Acceptance of Filth
The question here is not about the varying standards or hygiene. The issue, quite simply, is that in absolute terms we have an appalling lack of tolerance to filth. Stinking urinals, mounds of garbage, and overflowing drains live happily even in affluent environs. What is worse is that we can be very conscious about the cleanliness of our own persona or home but absolutely oblivious to the muck around us. In fact, the greatest amount of filth can often be seen next to our most important temples.
Lack of Balance
We oscillate between over the top euphoria when things appear to be good, and extreme recrimination when they appear to be less so. In the process, we lose the very important anchorage of perspective, which is the first sign of a confident nation. In particular, we go completely off balance where ‘foreign’ appraisals are concerned. The slightest praise leads to ridiculous self-congratulation, and the smallest criticism to disproportionate indignation. This tendency to be a yo-yo where somebody else holds the string, must stop if we are to take our legitimate place on the high table of the world.
For each of these weaknesses, we have our strengths. But unless we take stock of the sins that beset us, we will never be able to fully exploit the potential of the virtues that are also our legacy.
Pavan K. Varma is the author of The Great Indian Middle Class, Being Indian, and Becoming Indian. He is currently Ambassador of India in Bhutan.