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Becoming a banana republic

In India, over-cleverness is slowly becoming a norm. This is a worrying trend, writes Deepak Pental.

india Updated: Sep 18, 2012 22:03 IST

In It’s not a smart choice (September 8), Gopalkrishna Gandhi divides the people of India into two categories: clever and intelligent and to illustrate the two categories, the columnist uses two examples: Gautama Buddha and Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.

I would like argue that in contemporary times, the clash is not between the clever and the intelligent, but between the clever and the over-clever. Modern societies are highly complex, far more than what existed in Buddha’s or Aurangzeb’s time. Gandhi put political technicians, financial screw drivers, fixers in the clever category. I would put them in the over-clever category.

The tragedy of modern India is that we are being overrun by over-clever people: politicians who receive unaccounted money for fighting elections and in return provide patronage to the undeserving, politicians who incite regional chauvinism or spread hate to consolidate their constituencies, businessmen and traders who evade taxes and stash money in foreign banks and even professionals who pocket hefty remunerations and don’t pay taxes to name a few.

In a bid to cope with over-clever people, historically societies have drawn up complicated laws to rein them in. They have set up institutions to uphold the rule of law and are supposed to work towards shifting the balance towards the category ‘clever’. These institutions work at two levels to rein in the over-clever- ones, through education by channelising the energies of clever people in the right direction and two, by punishing the over-clever through an efficient legal system.

As long as the number of over-clever people remains small — a society and country have a chance to flourish. But when over-cleverness becomes the norm, a country can descend into chaos and become a banana republic. This is the challenge that we are dealing with in India today. The only way out is to develop institutions that encourage the clever and deal strictly and without hesitation with the over-clever.

Deepak Pental is former vice-chancellor, University of Delhi

The views expressed by the author are personal