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Hanumanly task

I am an eternal optimist. I dream of UP as the harbinger of the Ram Rajya of caste and corruption-free India. It is another matter that this may not be humanly possible given its current state.

lucknow Updated: Jun 28, 2011 19:49 IST
Debashis Chatterjee

I am an eternal optimist. I dream of UP as the harbinger of the Ram Rajya of caste and corruption-free India. It is another matter that this may not be humanly possible given its current state. The human must transform into a ‘Hanuman’ in order to lift UP upwards. And, why not? Rapes and atrocities against helpless women have pushed the state into its darkest destiny. It cannot get any worse than this — it can only get better.

Most UPites, I know, want change. But, they do not want the pain that one has to go through to force a turnaround in the social and political fortunes of their state. Leaders of UP are held hostage by their past inertia. They have chosen to be creatures rather than creators of history. Governments, irrespective of their flags or factions, have never been the instruments of change in any country. By its very nature, the unstated agenda of the government machinery is to preserve itself—to consolidate its own incumbency. Just as businesses want to maximise profits, political parties want to maximise votes. The very rationale of a political party is to cling to power by preserving its vote banks. Therefore, no self-serving government will think about change.

What other force would then change UP in the year to come? The momentum for change will come from the creative energy of the people of UP—the civil society of an uncivil state. The real change agents are those that are most affected by a floundering anarchy— those that hang around in the courtrooms, university chai shops in Allahabad and those who idle away time ‘ganjing’ in Lucknow. This society has to be led by the middle class who have suffered the indignity of their existence as citizens of a once proud state.

Evidently, corruption is a top down phenomenon. This is simply because the poorest of the poor in UP have neither the power nor the money to take or give bribes. The only defence against individual and institutionalised corruption in UP is productive and crucial conversation among the very best at the top. The massive unrest in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East happened not because of one tall leader but because of the power of conversation. When conversations get stuck in the past, the state’s future gets hypothecated to past behaviour and past actions. When conversations shift to the future—the beleaguered state caught in a time wrap has a chance to move in the realm of possibilities. It is the civil society’s primary job to shift conversations away from what UP was and towards what UP can be.

The solidity of caste politics in UP have begun to melt in the newly sprung malls and multiplexes in Lucknow where one has equal access irrespective of the caste or origin of one’s grandfather. The marketplace is a great entry point for true democracy. The electorate in the rustic belt will vote for change in fortune, not for clinging to fate that caste loyalty demands. Bihar did not vote for caste but for the cause of development. Bengal abandoned whatever was left of the grand Leftist ideology for change or ‘poriborton’ as the Bengalis call it. The UP story going forward will be no different.

I recently met a woman from Lucknow who runs a cosmetic shop in Mumbai. I asked her if she missed UP. She said, “I had a residence near the Lucknow zoo. The proximity of the zoo attracted a lot of unruly monkeys who strolled around my house in search of food. I was terrified to step out of home to go to work. Then, I decided to quit work. I was in a cage in my own home while the monkeys roamed around unchecked. In Mumbai, life is not easy—but at least here I am free to be myself.” If the powers that be are reading this, I have only this to say: put those monkeys back to their cages and let people of UP do an honest day’s job. They will change everything that needs to be changed!

About the author
Debashis Chatterjee, Director, IIM Kozhikode

He has taught for about 15 years in IIM, Lucknow and IIM, Calcutta. He pioneered and founded the global Centre for Leadership and Human Values at the Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow (IIM).