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Indians, and ethical?

Pavan Varma's new book Being Indian says democracy has survived in India as the most effective vehicle for pursuit of power, writes Vijaya Sharma.
PTI | By INDIA DIARY | Vijaya Sharma
UPDATED ON APR 27, 2004 10:48 PM IST
The 670 million strong Indian electorate goes to the polls on Tuesday (the first phase), the 14th Lok Sabha polls which will decide the maker of a nation's destiny for the next five years. In a unique appeal, President APJ Abdul Kalam has urged all citizens to cast their vote. He said by voting citizens would "sow the seeds for the creation of  a prosperous India, a safe India, a secure India and above all an India with nobility. ... In a democracy, an important principle is the equality of every citizen. Elections are an occasion when this can be demonstrated visible. ...the deed for the day of the election for you is to cast your vote and be a proud contributor to the success of the spirit of democracy of the largest and dynamic democracy of the largest and dynamic of all democracies."

Our president has a long list of firsts to his credit. No other Indian president till date has thus exhorted citizens to exercise their franchise. The other most recent first example he set was his visit to the  world's highest battlefield, Siachen. He was also the first President to visit the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir and address troops in the Uri sector last June.

Kalam is the first President of India to have been honoured with a Bharat Ratna before being elected to the highest office. He is also the first scientist and first bachelor to occupy Rashtrapati Bhawan.

His motto: It is a crime to dream small. His own life shows the power of dreaming big and believing in your dreams. From being a small child in Tamil Nadu who distributed newspapers, he went on to be honoured with a Bharat Ratna for his contribution to India's space programme and rocket technology. Becoming the President of India is perhaps touching the highest peak of dreams.

And yet he has not lost touch with the common people. On tours, he will break protocol and ask for unscheduled visits as in Chennai he visited a self help group of women who learnt to become economically independent. His heart beats in tandem with children when he interacts with them and personally tries to answer every email that hundreds of children write to him on the net. Enthused by his attention to them, a group of children from Kerala had invited him via email to visit their school. Perhaps after Jawaharlal Nehru, he is the only other leader who has touched a chord with kids.

Kalam has been acting as the upholder of ethics, morals and values in an atmosphere which is vitiated by the slanderous poll campaign by some leaders who have touched an all time low with their uncouth remarks.

Morals? Ethics? What are those
You might say that I have repeated this umpteen number of times but one can't help but be outraged by the lowly tactics the politicians adopt. They will go to any length to push their agenda. As if having them day in and day out on TV channels mouthing inanities and doling out promises is not enough, we had Lalji Tandon, Prime Minister Vajpayee's campaign handler in Lucknow distributing sarees on his birthday. The milk of human kindness overfloweth? Stuff and nonsense!

In the stampede that ensued in Lucknow during the saree distribution more than 20 women died. Tandon, next day, went on record in an interview to say that these things happen. People do die. What's the death of 22 people in a country of a billion, Mr Tandon? India Shining?

Some small relief that Vajpayee admitted that incidents like this one revealed areas of darkness in shining India. But coming from Vajpayee, even that statement seems puerile. As if he really believed that India was shining and the poor had suddenly been covered in a rain of gold overnight to contribute to the shine.

Anything, just anything to stay in power.

Pavan Varma on Being Indian

Much like what Pavan Varma, the toast of Delhi, last week with his new book launched at the British Council said: "It is only the love of power that binds India and self interest that motivates Indians. Ask any Indian and he will love to tell you that he is charitable. But comes to his mind only when his own coffers are overflowing. He will not spend Rs 10 on a CRY (Child Relief and You) card but willingly, hands folded and head bent, generously dole out Rs 51 in a temple."

They give this money to God because they have a pact with him. Everything he does to attain his ends - corrupt and all  - then is justified. Has he not given so much to God?

Vama's formula to get Indians going: Link self-interest to charity and it will turn them into do-gooders at an amazingly fast rate.

There are many of his avid readers who feel that he has back-tracked on all that he said in his earlier book The Great Indian Middle Class - where he berated them for the abiding self-interest to the exclusion of all around. In the new book he says that it is this self-interest that pushes them to excel even in the most adverse of surroundings - they are resilient, adapt well to changes, they know the failsafe mantra jugaad  which pulls them through the best of the worst times.

To this Varma says he has not gone back on all that he said in his earlier book. He still stands by it. But he has two options before him: Either he keeps crying on all that is wrong with India or he sees the reasons why they succeed and are doing so well globally. Why a system like democracy has still managed to survive and do so well in India. He says: "If you have a child who always fails in his exams, but is good at cutting grass, will you still make him study or let him do what he does well. So it is with Indians. They like to appear highly ethical but they are not. What they are is good entreprenuers. Even in Burkina Faso, you will find an Indian shop. Put them in a factory and they will think of how to provide for three generations beyond them.

Self-interest will push them to scale the highest rung. If this is what they are good at, then so be it. Indians are pragmatic, resilient. Why they have done so well globally is also because of their adaptability and hence they perform better given better normative structures, he says.

Are Indians democratice by nature? No, he says. Democracy has survived not because Indians are democratic by nature but because democracy has proved to be the most effective instrument for the cherished pursuit of power. Turning the Gandhian principle  - means over ends - on its head, he says ends justifies the means in today's India, he says. No moral or ethical considerations here, though Indians like to believe they are the most moral.

Neither are Indians non-violent. But they are pragmatic. When Ayodhya plunged into bloody riots the adjacent town like Faizabad saw no communal riots. Indians are pragmatic and know how to get on with life because materaialistic concerns come before ideology and religion.

That's the new director of the Nehru Centre for you in his new book Being Indian, which he promised would be the most honest look at what being an Indian is all about.

Mood of the people 2004
To close with the mood of the people on poll eve: The BJP's India Shining campaign and Sonia baiting has gone awry. With incidents like the Lucknow stampede further taking the gloss off the shine. People feel that the there has been an overkill in the media with the campaign stressing just on Atal, Atal and only Atal. Sirf tum Atalji, says the BJP.

Their hate campaign against Sonia has not gone down too well either. The recent digging up of the Bofors ghost again rather than rousing sentiments against Sonia, might just create more sympathy for her with many people saying that the BJP comes up with the "Sonia is a foreigner" and Bofors issue only at poll times and is coolly forgetful of it throughout the year.

Slanderous personal remarks against her by the likes of Narendra Modi and Vinay Katiyar, Pramod Mahajan and Venkaiah Naidu have not gone down too well with the people who feel the BJP would have done better to concentrate on the good work they have done - given India a good standing on the international arena, made a breakthrough in relations with Pak - rather than stoop to cheap remarks. Increasingly people feel "hate is the platform on which BJP rests its policies, be it the Babri Masjid issue or Nehru-Gandhi family bashing."

The vilifying campaign will make the fight a close one for the BJP rather than the comfortable romp they were so smugly assured of.

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