Published Sep 19-Oct 5 2020
Freedom that never was
“The great revolution in the history of man, past, present and future, is the revolution of those determined to be free.” – John F. Kennedy
73 years ago, the British transferred power to their Indian surrogates who have faithfully continued the subjugation of the Indian people. Except for two Prime Ministers (Narasimha Rao and Atal Behari Vajpayee), everyone else has eroded the civic, political and economic freedoms of the people. This has ensured that even after celebrating all these Independence Days with grandiose speeches, true freedom and prosperity remain a distant dream for most Indians.
For Indian political leaders, power and its perpetuation has become the focus. Once at the apex position, they think of themselves as the tenth incarnation of Vishnu – the Kalki Avatar born to rid the world of its evils. Who the modern-day Asuras are depends on the leader – the Opposition, the rich, the business people, the non-Hindus, the Hindus, Pakistan, China, and so on. The real evils — the political party system that reduces everyone else to a rubber stamp and the mai-baap sarkar that denies freedom and impedes wealth creation – live on, intact and eternal.
India has been singularly unlucky to get leaders who lacked the wisdom to understand that the foundations of prosperity are the classical liberal ideas of individual and economic freedom, minimum government, rule of law, property rights and free trade. With wise leadership, Indians would have become one of the most prosperous people in the world with the added advantage of a young population. But destiny has given us leaders who have been the evil Hiranyakashipu of our time – each playing a role in the destruction of the institutions that create freedom and prosperity.
If We, the People, are to change India’s destiny in our lifetime to give our children the shot at the prosperity many of us were denied, we have to come together for a single mission – a transformation that gives true freedom to every Indian to pursue life in the way they choose without the overhang of the government. This may seem counterintuitive at first, but a careful study of the causes of prosperity in the Western world will show otherwise. This is the revolution India needs.
What India needs is a people united to create a bottom-up movement to dismantle the corrupt political party system and end the mai-baap Sarkar that pervades our lives. Only then will a new India rise — an India not steeped in poverty but reaching out for riches, an India not divided by ancestral surnames but united in our individual diversity, an India not searching through history books for its lost glory but powering its way through entrepreneurship to future prosperity.
Transformation not Tweaks
Revolution only needs good dreamers who remember their dreams.” – Tennessee Williams
I will argue that India needs a revolution because incremental change in our political and economic system is not possible. The existing rot is too deep in our politics, and the resulting policies that emphasise wealth redistribution over wealth creation cannot be tweaked for better outcomes. The economic policies India needs will not come without a new political leadership, which in turn requires a radical change in the political system.
What is a revolution? From Wikipedia: “In political science, a revolution is a fundamental and relatively sudden change in political power and political organization which occurs when the population revolts against the government, typically due to perceived oppression (political, social, economic) or political incompetence.”
Oppression and political incompetence are not new in India. The people lived through it in voluntary servitude under the British, and continued it after 1947 under leaders they voted for. The particular people in power changed, the oppression and incompetence continued. India should have ousted the British with a Revolution, but we chose a peaceful transition of power that kept the rules the same – and therefore the outcomes did not change.
We can still continue with the same. Those who can create their cocoons will do so, while some others will escape to the West. The others will stay and continue to suffer. The pandemic and its aftermath will heighten the pain. Even though Indians are known for their immense tolerance of pain (what else explains our willingness to live through British Raj 1.0 and then British Raj 2.0 inflicted by our own politicians), the coming years will test even the most patient. The pandemic may have been the immediate cause, but the lasting damage is being inflicted by our politicians and bureaucrats. Will we sleep through this or will we finally wake up? If we do awaken from our slumber, we will see the need for a revolution.
A revolution might sound disruptive and violent. It is not. Just as technology is helping us buy, learn, connect and communicate, it can help us change our nation. For this a few of us need to first understand that the change is really needed. This is the job of political entrepreneurs. They have to change minds. Only then will the votes change.
The pandemic has shown us how a virus can spread itself from person to person. We need to apply similar thinking about the rules of contagion to spread ideas from person to person. We need to get past the belief that India was, is and will be great. We were not, are not and will not be great – unless we the people actively work to bring about the needed political and economic transformations. This is the revolution India needs – and what some of us have to deliver.
Divide and Rule
“The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty.” ― Thomas Jefferson
India’s pre-1947 poverty was crafted by the British and their invading predecessors. India’s post-1947 poverty was handcrafted by the composers of the 1950 Constitution. A Constituent Assembly of elitist Leftists led by their patron saint Jawaharlal Nehru concentrated powers in a Central government – exactly as the 1935 Government of India Act passed by the UK Parliament did. 242 of 395 Articles in the 1950 Constitution were copied verbatim from the 1935 Act which was designed to subjugate the people and deny them freedom. The fate of Indians – and those unborn – was decided in those crucial years between 1947 and 1950.
The continuing Colonial Constitution (with its 100+ amendments which chipped away the few remaining freedoms that Indians enjoyed) has concentrated ever-increasing power in the hands of a few at the top of government – just the way the British ruled and controlled Indians. If we did not have freedom before 1947, it is impossible to argue that we have freedom now – because the rules have not changed.
With a government that had supreme powers, it was little surprise that with the passage of time the merely incompetent leaders gave way to the totally corrupt. This is the way power works, as Lord Acton put it so well, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” With absolute power concentrated in the political leaders, it created the incentives for the rise of those willing to do anything to get to the top – because of the huge treasure they could capture. Politics was not about serving the people but serving oneself – even if that meant imposing costs on others. The political party system became the route to extracting wealth from the nation. And thus, India morphed from a democracy to a kakistocracy — a government of the least qualified and the most corrupt.
To stay in power in a first-past-the-post electoral system with universal suffrage, it became quickly obvious that dividing voters to target the ‘selectorate’ was the way to acquire and retain power. Voting blocs were identified and pandered to. Muslims and the poor-fed-on-freebies were the largest votebanks, until the BJP decided that the Hindu vote was bigger than all of them. It perfected the art of winning elections with the triad of pro-Hindu, pro-poor and pro-India (read: anti-Pakistan) slogans. For every leader, the key was winning. And after winning, doing whatever it took to stay in power. Which meant more of the same tricks. Candidates had no party allegiance since all parties were the same – what mattered was being on the winning side because only then could one get a share of the spoils.
With every election, the size of the government and its powers grew. Business people realised that to succeed they had to befriend the politicians. Licences and permissions were in the hands of the political class (aided by the cunning bureaucrats). Indian politics became the newest industry – with the greatest riches at stake. Cronyism grew with every election as politicians depended on their own accumulated war chest and those from greedy, favour-seeking business people – this was a perfect alliance.
The poor were silenced with handouts and freebies and kept poor because they were the golden goose – the single largest chunk of voters without any skin in the game who could be easily bribed. The thin middle class was kept busy slogging it out so they could eke out just enough to keep their aspirations going. They had no way and no time to self-organise and demand a better future. The elite didn’t care – they created their private islands of opulence. Indians lost their freedom and their future.
If we are to reclaim our nation from the imposters who rule over us, we will need to unite against our real enemies – the politicians and their political parties. The Dasha Avatar can inspire us.
“All revolutions are impossible until they happen. Then they become inevitable.” – Albie Sachs
I grew up with Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) comics – like many in the 1970s and 1980s. I remember going out with my parents and buying every new comic when it was released. They brought history and mythology to life. Until the TV serials came along, the Gods were as depicted in the ACK comics.
One of my favourite comics was Dasha Avatar. It came out in the late 1970s. It brought to life the ten avatars of Vishnu. From the description in the comic:
The Avatar concept is the very cornerstone of Hindu theology. According to it, the Supreme Power manifests itself in animal or human forms on earth, with the divine mission of cleansing it of the periodically increasing evil. The Avatar concept is closely related to the measurement of time in Hindu theology which has its basis on one working day of Brahma. According to the Bhagwat Purana, Brahma, the creator, is the causal effect of the predetermined periodic creation and dissolution of the universe. Each creation or Kalpa is equal to one day and each dissolution or Pralaya is equal to one night in the life of Brahma. A Kalpa and a Pralaya last for 4,320 million human years each. Every Kalpa has 1000 cycles of 4 Yugas (ages). Each cycle of 4 Yugas is completed in 4,320,000 human years. The Yugas are called Satya, Treta, Dwapara and Kali. The Avatars which are considered most significant are ten in number and they form the ‘Dasha Avatar’. These ten avatars start with the form of a lowly fish and work up to the noble man, cast in the image of God. The fanciful find a parallel to Darwin’s theory of evolution in the progression of these Avatars. The Avatars enable the common folk to speak of or listen to stories of divine doings which is a simple way of proceeding towards Godhead; particularly in our Kali Yuga with its ‘sick hurry and divided aims’.
In each case, Vishnu takes on different forms to fight against evil and restore order. Here is a brief from Wikipedia:
The Dashavatara refers to the ten primary (i.e. full or complete) incarnations (avatars) of Vishnu, the Hindu god of preservation which has Rigvedic origins. Vishnu is said to descend in the form of an avatar to restore cosmic order. The word Dashavatara derives from daśa, meaning ‘ten’, and avatar (avatāra), roughly equivalent to ‘incarnation’…Most draw from the following set of figures, in this order: Matsya; Kurma; Varaha; Narasimha; Vamana; Parashurama; Rama; Krishna or Balarama; Buddha or Krishna; and Kalki…All avatars have appeared except Kalki, who will appear at the end of the Kali Yuga. The order of the ancient concept of Dashavataras has been interpreted to be reflective of modern Darwinian evolution.
I read Dasha Avatar many times. Each avatar was covered in a few pages and showed Vishnu in different forms creatively taking on wrongdoers and winning. Among all the avatars, the one I was most fascinated by was Vishnu’s Narasimha Avatar.
Vishnu’s Narasimha Avatar
“Every revolution was first a thought in one man’s mind.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
The story of Vishnu’s Narasimha Avatar is perhaps well-known, but is worth recapping. Hiranyakashipu is an Asura (demon) king. His elder brother is killed by Vishnu in one of his previous avatars. This angers Hiranyakashipu who undertakes penance and gets a boon from Brahma that made him almost invincible – he could not be killed during the day or night, inside or outside, neither on earth nor in the sky, by any weapon, and by man or animal. True to the Asura operating procedure, he goes on a rampage. Among those affected is Prahlad, his own son, who is a devotee of Vishnu – much to Hiranyakashipu’s frustrations. Multiple attempts are made to kill Prahlad, but he survives them all.
TemplePurohit’s website takes up the story: “[Hiranyakashipu] dragged Prahlad and asked him if his Lord Vishnu was present in the room with them. Prahlad told him that the Lord was everywhere, and in frustration Hiranyakashipu mocked Prahlad and asked him if his Lord was present in a pillar next to them. Prahlad told him that he was. In rage, Hiranyakashipu kicked the pillar, and out came a ferocious being who was half man and half lion.”
Vishnu then comes to rescue the world in the Narasimha Avatar to kill Hiranyakashipu – in twilight (neither day nor night), on the threshold of a courtyard (neither inside nor outside), with his own hands (no weapons used), in his lap (neither earth nor sky), and in the form of a creature who is half-man and half-lion (neither man nor animal).
What fascinated me as a young kid was the creativity demonstrated by Vishnu to get around the boon given by Brahma to Hiranyakashipu. It reinforced the idea that no one is invincible. I have used the Narasimha avatar metaphor many times in business to demonstrate the point that out-of-the-box thinking can be used to defeat a strong incumbent, however unlikely that may seem. (Of course, Vishnu’s Narasimha was no ordinary startup!)
The other key theme that resonated with me was that good triumphs over evil. What Dashavatar demonstrated was that whenever things seemed lost, Vishnu would come to the rescue of the world.
Similar thoughts came into my mind in the past few months as I started thinking about India’s future. 1.3 billion people living in one of the world’s oldest, and yet cursed to live without freedom for the past millennium. It started with the invaders from Afghanistan, followed by the rule of the Mughals and then the British. We thought we had become free in 1947, but then our very own politicians enslaved us. This has been the hardest – because we all think we are free, little realising that all we have is the illusion of freedom. Our political parties and their leaders are the modern day Asuras.
The question that I started thinking: what would Vishnu do seeing the plight of his people – denied freedom by their own leaders, distanced from prosperity, and cornered by an expansionist neighbour? If ever there was a time for Vishnu’s next avatar, this was it.
“Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.” – US Declaration of Independence
Dasha Avatar, the comic book, ends with a reference to Vishnu’s Kalki Avatar – the yet-to-come tenth incarnations. There is just a single page at the end:
As it says: “For when the age reaches its nadir and its worst forces have well nigh spent themselves, Vishnu will appear amongst mortals in this Sattvic form as Kalki. Riding his celestial horse, he will exterminate, but the millions, corrupt robbers who bear high positions in life and will reinforce moral sense and humanitarian views in all good people, till town and countryside will again enjoy peace and security.”
From Wikipedia: “Kalki…is the prophesied tenth avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu. His birth will be the end of the Kali Yuga, the final of the four eras (Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dvapara Yuga, and Kali Yuga), in the endless cycle of existence within the Sanatan Dharma. This will subsequently start a new cycle with Satya Yuga… He is described in the Puranas as the avatar who rejuvenates existence by ending the darkest and destructive period to remove adharma and ushering in the Satya Yuga.”
For a thousand years, Indians have suffered – first under foreign rulers and then under their very own. A fifth of humanity, with a legacy as old as human civilization itself, has struggled to find its rightful place in the world. Prosperity has long eluded Indians – as those in power have consistently used institutions of the past to colonise the people and deny them the basic freedoms that are the foundations for a happy and prosperous life.
The twin evils in modern India are the political party system and the mai-baap sarkar. India needs Vishnu’s next avatar to destroy these contemporary dark forces and enable the flourishing of India. India needs Vishnu’s Kalki Avatar – not the ones the political leaders think they are, but one constructed by the people themselves.
British Raj 2.0
“People have only as much liberty as they have the intelligence to want and the courage to take.” ― Emma Goldman
Before we discuss how, when and where Vishnu’s Kalki Avatar can arrive, we need to first understand how we reached our present state in India where the evils of the political party system and the mai baap sarkar have divided a once united nation, impoverished a once rich people, and weakened the borders of a once mighty power.
After the British left in 1947, another evil force took over that has continuously weakened us – Indian politicians. And today, we are faced with the greatest crisis in the past many generations: a pandemic that has overturned daily life, policies that have displaced people and hurt livelihoods and a polity that has bowed down to the enemy at our door. None of this was created overnight. It was reinforced by every government – that we voted for. It was done in front of our eyes – because we refused to see the obvious. It was done with our tacit consent – for we stayed silent.
Our politicians have all felt blessed by the modern day boon that had once been bestowed on Hiranyakashipu: “No leader, male or female, young or old, from centre or the states, from this party or that, can defeat you.” Thus emboldened, every political leader has gone on a destructive rampage that has left Indians poor, weak and helpless. Just like what the Asuras once did. Just like what the Mughals and British once did. Just because the present day rulers share our skin colour and win our votes does not make it right. Without freedom, equality and justice, there can be no prosperity. What we have instead is perpetually planned poverty.
It is important to understand how the political system in India really works, and how the leaders of the political parties have concentrated power with themselves reducing all the elected representatives to rubberstamps. The will of the people has been completely subverted. The citizen of India, the voter, the “We” of the Constitution Preamble – silenced, suppressed, subjugated.
“Our masters have not heard the people’s voice for generations and it is much, much louder than they care to remember.” ― Alan Moore
I wrote about the power and working of the political class in a column in September 2018 when I was working to push the idea of Dhan Vapasi:
The leaders of the political parties have all the power and control. They choose who is going to represent us. We the people have no say in who will represent us. We are only allowed to press a button in the voting booth. And the political parties spend enormous amounts in bribing people to vote for them. Too many people fall for this scam every election and we get bad governance.
With our votes we give them the power to rule us. They gain massive wealth and unquestioned power. India’s democracy exists in name only – we are voting for the masters who make us work like their slaves, and force us to dutifully pay whatever taxes they impose on us.
India has become less of a democracy and more of a kakistocracy — a system in which the governments are run by the least qualified and the most corrupt.
We cannot expect those who benefit so unfairly from the power they have to make any change that reduces their power.
We have to use our power to change the system so that it becomes more accountable, more transparent, and a relationship of equals instead of a master-slave relationship. We have to use our vote to change the system.
We need to change the old way of politics –we need to replace old power by new power.
Old Power is held by a few, is pushed down, is commanded, is closed and is transactional. Using Old Power, political parties have stolen our freedom and our wealth.
New Power is made by many, pulled in, shared, open and based on relationships. New Power does not need a political party, it needs a technology platform to connect us all together.
With New Power, we can make political parties irrelevant.
Until this political system is uprooted, no change is possible. The solution does not consist of replacing one party with another — because once in power, they will do exactly what their predecessors did once in power. We need to bypass the political parties and return power genuinely where it belongs – to the people. This is the first phase of the revolution India needs. And it is not as impossible as it seems.
Tech to Transform
“Stop using your phones and laptops as toys and use them to start a revolution.” – Van Jones
To bring about political change, we need to leverage technology. Here is an excerpt from a column I had written in September 2018 (edited lightly for the current context):
Technology has changed how we live, work, buy, sell, communicate and entertain. Internet and mobile technology is what we have used for the past 25 years. And now we can use technology to help us break the chains that bind us.
Just consider the example of Ola.
Earlier, the taxi drivers were hostage to the car owners and fleet owners. Now, with Ola, the drivers have control over their work and their lives.
The same technology has done much more for the passengers. Competition has kept prices low and ensured continuous improvements in services. There is complete transparency in pricing. Passengers also have the ability to give instant feedback on the driver.
In short, it’s a win-win change – for the drivers and the passengers. That is the power of platform technology.
We need to do the same in politics. We need to use platform technology to break free from the chains that the political parties have used to bind us.
Just like Ola connects drivers with passengers, we need a platform that will connect us with those who want to contest elections as independents.
For those among you wanting to contest – this is a new way to enter public life, without the need for money power or political godfathers. All you need is the support of the people.
We, the voters, will choose from among ourselves who will represent us. We will do that through internal elections we organise using our mobile phones and the tech platform.
It will be our choice, and the people we choose will be accountable to us, not to the leaders of political parties.
The people we rate, review and finally choose through our internal elections will contest the general elections as independent candidates who will be answerable to the people of the constituency, not to political bosses.
By electing these independent members of parliament, Lok Sabha will mean what its name says — an assembly of independent people.
Over the years, India has become a dictatorship with total power concentrated in one or two people at the top.
With the tech platform and with a Lok Sabha of Independent MPs who are not puppets in the hands of the political party bosses, we will finally be able to implement true democracy — the rule of the people, by the people, for the people.
In the general elections if we all vote for the candidate we have ourselves chosen through internal elections via the Dhan Vapasi platform, our independent candidate is sure to win. Our mission therefore is to get 543 independent candidates elected to the Lok Sabha. Your mission is to get your independent candidate to win in your constituency.
These are not pipe dreams. If enough of us decide and come together, we can make it happen.
Many of us have lived the better part of our lives. Our parents suffered under onerous rules which limited opportunities. A small window of opportunities was opened in 1991 by Narasimha Rao, and then Vajpayee during 1998-2004. That has been slowly closing for many years – so slowly that we have failed to notice. We owe it to our children to see the writing on the wall. And do something about it. Because if one day in the future they question our inaction, what will we answer them? Why did we destroy their future with our silence? Why did we not do something when we could?
Each of us has to invoke our inner Vishnu. Together and united, we can be Vishnu’s Kalki Avatar. We can destroy the modern day Asuras who have created our dismal plight. We have the power to end the Kalyug of slavery, ignorance and poverty, and put India on an irreversible path to freedom, knowledge and prosperity.
Are we ready? Because this time we are not only faced with the internal evils that our politicians have unleashed on us through the powers they hold in government, but also because of the external threat we face in the form of Xi Jinping’s aggressive and determined China.
We The People
“Even the strongest blizzards start with a single snowflake.” ― Sara Raasch
Rarely in the life of a nation has the political and economic leadership let down its people so much as we have seen in India over the past few months. A lockdown gone wrong with no sign of ending, an economy that lies battered with little hope of immediate recovery, a border penetrated with not even an acknowledgement. And we had thought that India would be a superpower one day. When our own leaders are pushing us down an abyss so deep that it will take many years for us to recover, how should we respond? Do we stay silent and accept the reality as meekly as we did when we let the British rule over us? Or do we do something? What is our responsibility as a people when our own elected leaders are letting us down and weakening the edifice of our nation?
Does the answer lie in announcing lockdown after lockdown under the guise of Unlock X? What will change a month later or two months later that the lockdowns will end? We know that the virus is not as virulent as we once thought it was. And yet, we are shuttering many parts of the country because no one wants to tell the truth that we need to learn to live with it and get on with daily activities. The bureaucrats have unleashed their own virus with rules that hamper daily life.
How long will this go on? If it is the virus today because we fear, why not lock the roads of the country because they too can kill people? There are two solutions and we are not prepared to face up to both: the need to create more healthcare infrastructure to face up to the increased caseload, and the necessity of getting life back to normal with masks and care. The fear instilled in late March needs to be removed – but no politician in the country is willing to do it because they are all old and worry about their own lives. And so, we will suffer as a nation.
The economic damage is not visible in the stock markets and balance sheets of a few companies. But it is everywhere else. Just because small and medium businesses have no organised voice does not mean that they don’t feel the pain. Just because migrants have gone back and are now getting free food and field work it does not mean that their futures are bright. Just because there are loan moratoriums doesn’t mean that tomorrow will be better than today. Are we ready to accept the 85% economy as the new normal? Do we even understand what the implications of that are on livelihoods?
And then there is China. For the first time in nearly 60 years, we have foreign occupation of our land. But do we care? We let the British rule us. We let the Mughals in. And we went about our daily lives. When we cannot even truthfully acknowledge the presence of the Chinese in our territory, why should we worry? Ban some apps. Impose some tariffs. Make some noisy statements about the one-who-will-not-be-named. And begin the daily distraction show with a new sequence of events.
Is this our India? When the political and economic leadership abdicates its responsibility, should we be idle bystanders? The Preamble of the Constitution starts with “We, the People.” It does not begin with “It, the Government.” What should We, the People, do? Or has the virus eaten away our ability to feel angry and act? Are there no Indians who are willing to put the nation above self? What can we do? If we don’t win today’s battles, what freedom will we have left to celebrate tomorrow? Are We even a People? Or just sheep controlled by a pack of wolves?
Born to Lose?
“Societies in decline have no use for visionaries.” ― Anais Nin
June 2020 brings to mind another June. The year was 1757. June 23, 1757 was the turning point in Indian history, the Battle of Plassey. A nation betrayed by its own. A freedom lost to a foreign power. It didn’t all happen on that day, but that was the start. We weakened ourselves. If it had not been the British, any of the other European powers would have taken us over. Because we refused to fight, we did not unite, we did not stand up for what was right.
Starting in May 2020, China’s Xi Jinping threw down the gauntlet. The land may be some rocks and mountains. But it is our land. The blood that has been shed is Indian blood. Xi is showing us that we are so weak that we cannot even protect our homeland’s borders. The Battle of Galwan was lost – both in 1962 and 2020. History does repeat itself. We as a nation were too weak to fight back in 1757. We were still weak in 1962. We are still weak in 2020. Xi Jinping has shown us where we stand as a nation. “We will take your land. We will kill your soldiers. What will you do? Ban some apps? Make colour TVs more expensive for your own people? And keep weakening your economy by locking it up? And keep lying to your own people? You will become a superpower one day?”
The only question that matters as a nation now is how we respond. To become stronger than China will require the people to unite and act because we have a political and economic leadership that is weakening us every day. Those whom we trusted to tell us the truth and act decisively have let us down – repeatedly through the decades. For one generation, we need to set aside everything that divides us. We need to show the solidarity that is enshrined in the first three words of the Preamble of the Constitution. “We the people.” We are Indians first. We have a duty as citizens of our nation, as sons and daughters of the soil. When the leaders fail in every responsibility repeatedly, we need to rise as one to take on the evils that surround us.
This is the defining moment of our lives. We needed a wake-up call. Xi has done it. He has held a mirror to us and shown us how weak we are, how divided we are, how poor we are, how lied to we are. We need to now look past our leaders. We have to come together as Indians to rebuild our nation and our inner selves. We need to free ourselves from the belief that the government is our God. We need to decide that we will not let our children suffer the humiliation of helplessness. It will not be an easy path. No freedom is won without sacrifice.
Silence of the Lambs
Next time, ask: What’s the worst that will happen? Then push yourself a little further than you dare. Once you start to speak, people will yell at you. They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it’s personal. And the world won’t end. And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers, and realize you don’t miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. ― Audre Lorde
A great leader once said, “Change only comes when people are angry. Think about how to make people angry.” As we look around us, there are many reasons for us to feel angry.
- Covid has disrupted our lives. To put it more precisely, government action has disrupted our lives. If we don’t open now, what will make us open? The vaccine? Which is still many months away in the most optimistic scenario. What happens till then? But we will be brave and put up with the pain for many more months.
- Why are we making Indian customers pay more for inferior quality products by putting restrictions and tariffs on imports? All of these are failed ideas from the 1960s and 70s. Closing India to the world will also hurt our exports. And jobs. But we are stoic. We will not get angry.
- Our opaque EVMs could come under threat, as I explained earlier. But we will keep our calm even if we don’t know if our vote is being correctly counted or not.
- Banks are barely lending, which hurts MSMEs. But we don’t care because we want the big to become even bigger. It doesn’t matter if the smaller enterprises are the ones which really create the jobs.
- Chinese soldiers patrol Indian territory, after having killed 20 of our soldiers. But who cares about some rocks in the middle of nowhere? We will not be angry. We have always welcomed foreign invaders – Mughals, British and now the Chinese.
- A few business houses handpicked by the political leadership can get all the benefits. But we will not get angry with cronyism. After all, some Big Business People are more equal than others.
- We have another government which discriminates on religion. Hindu temples and educational institutions need government interventions, but not those of other religions. Scholarships are not meant for Hindu kids. But we will control our anger.
- We have an education system that doesn’t make our youth ready for the workers industry needs. But we rejoice at a new policy that still retains controls everywhere.
- We cheer and clap at the words of our leaders, forward their videos and ignore their actions. Because we are above anger.
- We will not question our leaders on any of these points. Instead, we will discuss the trivial that the media dishes out at us to distract us. Because that does not make us angry.
We can go on. We are peace-loving Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, and the like. India is just a line drawn on a map. If we can afford it, we will send our kids abroad so they never have to come back – just like most politicians and bureaucrats do with their children.
When will we think India first? When will we become Indians and fight for the future of our country against the evils within? Xi taunts us every day. On the border, with the goods we buy, with the distractions our leaders create. Once upon a time, his people were as poor as us. Today, they can walk all over us. And we stand, stare in silence, and remove their apps from our screens on the instructions of our government. Is this our India that our forefathers had imagined in 1947? If not, are we prepared to do something about it? Are we even ready to fight? Or, like our political and economic leaders, have we too surrendered and decided to live life in our bunkers?
“Live Free or Die” — Official motto of the US state of New Hampshire
If India had got wise political leadership that understood the true path to prosperity, we would not have had the perpetually planned poverty that has become so commonplace that we cannot even imagine what the palaces of prosperity would look like. We lost our past and are now losing the future. Unfortunately, India’s election-winning, power-hungry leaders and their divide-and-rule political parties have no clue of how to build a free and rich India that can actually match China.
This is what I wrote in January 2018 shortly after I had launched Nayi Disha:
All around us corrupt, greedy, power-hungry politicians are taking away more of our freedoms and wealth. They are playing one segment of society against another to tighten their hold on power. Their policies are denying us jobs and a better future. Government after government in India has perpetuated poverty and prevented us from becoming prosperous. Power has become increasingly concentrated at the top, leaving citizens and civic organisations even more helpless.
Farmers are in distress because of decades of myriad controls on agriculture. Youth have been made unemployable because of decades of controls on education. Small and medium businesses have been stunted because of decades of controls via poorly formulated regulations. Crony businessmen have looted the banks with government as a willing accomplice. Cities are poorly governed because of the refusal of chief ministers to decentralise power.
Corruption continues to be endemic because of the increasing power and demands of politicians and bureaucrats; their vice-like grip on investigative and judicial processes ensures that their ilk go scot-free irrespective of the magnitude of the crime. Headlines are managed by a media fed on government whims and ads. Privacy is being threatened with a universal ID number that is set to rule over us all. Freedoms across the board are being trampled upon by fringe groups who have been given a free reign by governments that turn a blind eye.
It does not matter which of them is in power. Every government has continued the bad policies of the previous government and introduced new ones which constrain freedoms and ease of doing business. Every government has consistently reduced freedom, taxed away more of our income and wealth, and taken us further away from prosperity. Every government has become bigger with every failure.
This continuation of control by the elite and enrichment of the few at the cost of many must end. We must unite to break the nexus between politicians of all parties who use power to enslave us. We must together push back the government to the limited things it should do and must do them well. We have to rise against this Raj, the British Raj 2.0. We need to be free so each of us can make our own prosperous future.
Few of us understand what real freedom feels like. Because the politicians know that for most of us, freedom does not matter. For a fistful of freebies, we will offer our unquestioned obedience (and vote). We did not rise against the British, so why should we rise against our own? All the British had to do was to control a few of our leaders who controlled the masses. The few voices that called for a fight for our freedom were silenced. And so it was that a few thousand Britishers ruled hundreds of millions of Indians. Now, a few people at the top with their allies in media, courts and the Opposition rule over a billion Indians. What has changed? Nothing!
“Life without liberty is like a body without spirit.” – Kahlil Gibran
We need to be free to choose. This is what I wrote in January 2018: “Free, without force. Free to choose our candidates, empowered mayors, CMs and PM. Free to choose how we live our lives. Free to choose how we spend the money we earn.”
There is one question that comes up time and again when I talk of freedom. “But look at Singapore and China – where do their people have freedom? And their government is deeply embedded in the economy. That is what India also needs. Not less government but more government — with good people.”
Let’s first get this clear. Singapore and China are not democracies. Both have had single-party rule since their inception. In such a situation, those in power can take the long view because they do not have to face elections. (Singapore does have elections every few years, but the outcome has never been in doubt even once. China doesn’t even bother with elections.) In both countries, the power of the leader at the top is absolute. This can be used for good or bad. Singapore was lucky to get Lee Kuan Yew. China’s luck turned after Deng Xiaoping replaced Mao and opened the country to foreign investments. Both countries ensure that the bureaucracy employs some of the smartest people the country has. They think long-term and with the powers they have to ensure execution. Both countries have delivered prosperity to their people.
India is a democracy. Politicians have to face the electorate every few years. The result is that their first instinct after they win is to strategise on how they are going to stay in power by winning the next elections. Any transformative policy which can be remotely a vote-loser is relegated to the background. Populism rules the roost for the most part. So, welfare schemes rise to redistribute wealth from the rich – very popular in a one-person-one-vote electoral system where the poor outnumber the rich many times over.
India’s predicament is multiplied by politicians who have no idea of the principles of prosperity. They are adept at winning elections, but not at governing. So, they rely on their naïve instinct (which is usually wrong when it comes to identifying policies that can create wealth and prosperity) and pliant ‘Yes, Minister’-like bureaucrats who revel in the socialist status quo and avoid any form of risk that reforms could bring. Yes, the occasional good idea does come through but even a broken clock is right twice a day.
The actions of politicians and bureaucrats would not have mattered much had India got a Constitution like the US that put constraints on the powers of the government and ensured freedom for the people. Unfortunately, in India it is just the opposite. Our more-than-100-times-amended-Constitution maximises the powers of those in government. The result is a deadly feedback loop – the bad people get into politics and rise to the top, and create an unholy alliance with other bad people to grab even more power and money, which attracts even more bad people.
“Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.” ― Frantz Fanon
As Indians, we have two clear choices. The first is to accept the reality and get on with our lives. “I cannot change anything. I have my own problems to solve. And let’s face it – life is much better for me than it was for my parents, and I am sure it will be better for my kids than it is for me.” Or give a strong counter punch: “There isn’t anything wrong with India. Who says we are poor? We have a great leader with a 78% approval rating (according to the India Today Mood of the Nation survey) who is solving every problem – Covid, China and the economy. We have full faith in him. Don’t be an anti-national by calling India weak.” The politics of vishwas, as Neelanjan Sircar wrote in a paper referenced by Pratap Bhanu Mehta in an Indian Express op-ed:
Voters prefer to centralise power in a charismatic strong leader and they have faith that whatever the leader does is good. This model is in contrast to the usual models of politics, where leaders are held accountable on performance or because they serve a coalition of interests.
Sircar offers two broad explanations underlying this phenomenon. The faith in the leader is not merely a materially instrumental faith; it represents an underlying shift in the ideological preference for a Hindu nation, an entity that is untied and rises above the messy negotiations with difference. Faith in a leader is deeply facilitated by nationalism: The leader as the simplified embodiment of unity, will and purpose. Behind this phenomenon of producing vishwas is an extraordinary machinery of communication, which literally deploys as many elements in a communicative tool kit as there are feathers in a dancing peacock: From the semiotic command of images to a saturation with messages; from good-old-fashioned hard-working party outreach to literal control of the media.
Three predictions follow from this shift in the underlying model of politics. The first is an immunity to any accountability: You can preside over poor economic performance, suffer a military setback, inflict suffering through failed schemes like demonetisation, and yet the trust does not decline. In fact, it thrives on a certain nonchalance about actual performance. In the face of vishwas, it is impossible to point out that India is in the midst of what historians used to describe as a military-fiscal crisis — both in a fiscal and a military corner. The point about vishwas is that fact, performance and interests are all petty. The second prediction is that this politics requires the continual feeding of ethno-nationalism, moving from one issue or one enemy to the other. And three, it points to the fact that vishwas is not just a political artefact — it has to be continually sustained by a saturation of the mindspace and control of media.
For those in this group, all I can say is, “So be it. I respect your opinion. But I will tell you one thing. The hunger and greed of a politician’s power knows no caste, creed or community. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. We have seen that before in the mid-1970s. Silence and acquiescence are both wrong. I hope one day you will wake up and do the right thing.”
There is a different path.
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” – Buckminister Fuller
The different path is the one where some people decide that enough is enough, India needs a new direction, and they have to do something about it. It is a group of people who feel they are alone – not knowing where they can find others like them. It is the path few are willing to take because they are not sure of the direction and the pitfalls that lie along the journey. For me, these are the truly patriotic Indians – who are willing to put India first, above any individual. They are Vishnu’s Kalki Avatar.
As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” A determined group of political entrepreneurs can ignite their passion for change, channelise their anger against politicians and their parties, leverage the power of digital technology, and create a movement that can form a government which, for the first time, will put Indians on an irreversible path to freedom and prosperity. This is the revolution India needs.
This revolution needs to have two elements – one which leads to political change, followed by a government that initiates economic change. Political change will not come from replacing one political party with another. We have done that for the past 73 years and failed. What is needed is to elect a Lok Sabha of Independents – people selected through local primaries by unaffiliated Indian voters (who constitute two-thirds of the voters). These non-aligned and non-voters (NANV) have to create a coalition, connect digitally, communicate the ideas to each other and craft the political change. They number 60 crore out of India’s 90 crore voters. Staying undecided till the end or abstaining from voting can no longer be the options. It is in the hands of this ‘silent majority’ that India’s future lies.
Only when the Lok Sabha is freed from the clutches of the political parties can the foundation be laid for economic transformation. The powers of government need to be shrunk and the freedom for individuals and entrepreneurs needs to be enlarged. The anti-prosperity machine must be dismantled. Setting Indians free must be the single point agenda of this new government. I have written about various ideas in the past – the Nayi Disha Manifesto (with Dhan Vapasi at its core) and Mission 10-20-30 are two such essays. A government comprising people focused on change and not continuity in power can complete the revolution.
Who and When
“The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.” – ChangeForChange
I will end this series with what I wrote in January 2018 – words that still ring true.
The past few years, I have been spending a lot of time thinking why aren’t we Indians 10 times richer?
Once upon a time not long ago, Singapore, South Korea and China were all at the same income level as India. Today, we are at the bottom of the heap by a huge margin – with the average Singaporean 35 times richer than the average Indian. Why?
Why has our education system failed us? If you are young and not in the top 10,000 (of 2.5 crore others of your age), you will not get a good quality education in India. And if your parents haven’t saved up Rs 1 crore to send you to a college abroad, what is your future? And if you were born in rural India, your future could look even more bleak.
And let’s say you do get educated in India. What are the prospects of finding a good job? Where are the jobs? The private sector isn’t investing a whole lot. And if they are, they would rather invest in machine learning, artificial intelligence and robots. We are no less smarter than our American, German or Chinese counterparts. Why then is our future so much less bright?
We have two choices.
We can continue to discuss all the trivial issues of the world. We can discuss whether India needs a Ram Mandir or not. We can discuss whether we need more quotas in a terrible education system or in jobs as peons and sweepers. We can discuss who needs farm loans waivers.
Or we can discuss prosperity. When will we discuss how we can be rich? When will we get past the belief that poverty is not, and should never have been, our destiny?
Enough is enough. Incremental change isn’t going to cut it anymore. What India needs is a revolution. A political and economic revolution which destroys the world’s largest anti-prosperity machine that goes by the name of ‘Indian government’.
Only a new way of doing things and starting in a new direction can make every Indian ten times richer in the next ten years. And in the journey that we need to undertake, you are the only person who matters.
Will our generation lead the revolution for our nation’s transformation? If not us, then who? If not now, when?