India is a nation wrapped in layers of an affected and unique holier-than-thou attitude toward everyone else in the world. The Indian mindset has a permanent halo attached to it. This is particularly evident in Indian politicians of every hue and has never failed to irritate other world leaders in the past.
Leaders of other countries, after one-on-one contact meetings with Indian leaders, often find them tiresome, condescending and even patronizing. The US President, Jimmy Carter, when told about the Indian PM, Morarji Desai’s impending visit in 1978, is reported to have remarked irritably to an aide, “Do I have to see that sanctimonious ass?”
An Indian politician’s speech, especially when he holds forth while on a foreign trip and particularly at the UN General Assembly, usually bristles with sanctiloquence. He is liberal with terms like ‘ five thousand year old civilization’, as if the brief age of enlightenment five millennia back that we Indians had, automatically assures India a seat at the head of the table.
Honestly, other world leaders don’t give a flying f—k about how good those guys in Mohenjodaro and Harappa were, at building tiered multi-level public baths in 2500BC. When China’s Xi Jinping visits a foreign country, you won’t catch him grandiosely harping upon how the Han dynasty invented paper. And I haven’t yet heard a single Mexican President wax eloquent about the Mayans’ skills at charting the various constellations in the heavens.
The world moves on. It is concerned about the here and now, not about how ingenious the folk in the Indus Valley were, in constructing sewers.
About India’s here and now, it stinks. Notwithstanding the fact that it has a spaceship on its way to Mars. It still stinks. Try walking down a busy street in a metro city and you’ll know what I mean. The pavement surface will look like you have already arrived on Mars. It is all very much like a parallel universe where no one makes any personal effort whatsoever, to improve upon simple doable things around them.
Take day-to-day personal hygiene. Visit any public spot in any one of India’s cities and towns. It might be a bus stop or a train station, a government office or a market place. You are very likely to see at least one guy urinating by the road side or blowing his nose right onto the pavement and wiping his hand on a door frame or spitting out just about anywhere he sees fit, the remnants of a paan, a carcinogenic leaf that is chewed along with betel nuts and raw white lime and spat out after a while.
All that doesn’t budge the up-on-a-pedestal-with-the-halo mindset however. It was in full view of the world just a few months ago when a diplomat in the Indian Consulate in New York, Devyani Khobragade, was caught breaking the law of the land where she was posted. She had imported a maid and paid her peanuts, well below the minimum wage as per American law.
That she did something blatantly illegal, escaped Devyani Khobragade and the Indian establishment as well as the Indian public. What further escaped her was the fact that in the west, maids are a luxury only the well-heeled can afford. Most of us over here in North America, are quite content living our lives without the facility of a personal valet or a maid. Here in the west, we do our own thing and if absolutely necessary, we get our kids into a daycare or on occasion, when the situation absolutely demands, we hire a babysitter for an evening.
But not Devyani Khobragade, no. She considers herself to be royalty, born to entitlement, just the way most Indian bureaucrats think they are. She has to import a maid all the way from India. Then, in a side-show of sorts, Khobragade’s highly-connected father back in India, turns out to be an even bigger embarrassment, usurping real estate that was specifically allocated by the Indian Government for war widows. The daylight robbery executed by Khobragade Senior however, didn’t register with the Indian media or public at all. They were too pre-occupied in their righteous indignation at what the US had done to the lady.
The villain of the piece in that episode, if one went by the Indian point of view, was made out to be the American prosecutor, Preet Bharara, who was just doing his job, following the letter of the law, when he indicted the diplomat. He couldn’t give a rat’s ass about anything else. For Indians, the fact that there are public officials in other parts of the world, who are intent on doing their jobs with complete sincerity, surely is incomprehensible. They must immediately attach to his actions a sinister ulterior motive, a heinous conspiracy. Ask any Indian and he will tell you that Khobragade’s arrest was all just a dastardly pre-planned attack on India, orchestrated by the US ‘to teach India a lesson’.
The ready punctiliousness that Indians sport is borne from a kind of sacred bigotry, deeply ingrained inside the Hindu psyche, making it even today, the most class and caste conscious society in the world. In the big cities, Indians live in a cocoon, a bubble, insulated from what is happening on the ground in the countryside where the multitudes live and toil. The privileged few are inside a completely made-up, fantasy ‘spiritual high ground’ of their own creation.
If there is ever a deluge, God needn’t worry, Indians won’t need an ark. They will require supplemental oxygen instead, so stratospheric is their status and so rarefied the air, up where they see themselves residing. Thank God we are over those 2-hour long Sunday morning TV weep-athons when 1 billion Indians would sit in front of their TV sets like brainwashed zombies, watching those religious epics.
The view of the pedestal to someone on the outside, like me, is of Indian sanctimony on overdrive now, in the form of a nationwide persnickety crib-fest among the literati, directed against an incorruptible young first-time politician who is still trying to find his footing – Ramon Magasasay Award winning activist, Arvind Kejriwal.
Ever since Kejriwal stepped into politics (and that was just a little over a year back), his every statement and every interview has been dissected threadbare and every single derogatory nuance possible has been extracted and tweeted around the world. This is in spite of the fact that he is still evolving as a political leader and views on issues are never set in stone at this early a stage in a career in politics.
The Indian literati however want their perfect guy. They have a ‘thali’ mentality (a thali is a platter on which many Indians have their meals. Usually made of stainless steel, a thali has recessed pockets in which different food items are served, like in an all-in-one mélange). Likewise, Indians want every attribute that a politician must have, on a thali, nicely arranged. A little bit of an economist, some of governance, a little of welfare, a pinch of management experience, jobs, prosperity, a smattering of corruption (that is simply unavoidable, since this is India we are talking about), a little bit of diplomacy, some pragmatism, charm, charisma, good looks and glam, milky-white complexion and integrity. (A background as a movie star won’t do any harm).
What I am clueless about is why we forgot to demand, with the same intensity and the same sense of indignant entitlement, the same thali from all those goons who have been ruling India for the past 67 years since our independence. Scams have come and gone and for us, life just goes on.
Of course life will go on. We have our own thing going, our parties, our weekends at the pub, our vacations in Phuket and Pattaya. We are just not ready for an upheaval, a tectonic shift, so cozy have we all come to be, inside our own little comfort zones. There can be an Arab Spring, a Prague Spring and a Budapest Spring but don’t hold your breath on there ever being a New Delhi Spring. Won’t happen.
One man has come forward. He stands up to the evil proliferating around us and just look at the lengthy shopping list everybody suddenly sprouts, an impressive list of qualities that would require, not a mortal, but a super-hero hybrid, cloned from Superman and Batman and the Hulk.
There is flowery talk among the pub crawlers, about how Arvind Kejriwal lacks the ‘skillsets’, how he does not have a ‘worthwhile political mandate’ or how he lacks intimate knowledge of the Indian Constitution or even how he is a ‘good activist’ but a ‘bad politician’. It matters none that he was awarded the prestigious Ramon Magasasay Award for ‘Emerging Leadership’ a recognition known the world over as Asia’s Nobel Prize.
Some even liken Kejriwal to Hitler and worry over the possibility that he will ride roughshod over civil liberties, once he is elected. To the remaining Indian elite, Arvind Kejriwal and his fledgling political party, the AAP, are just something to sneer derisively at, a joke, an entity that they see as already being on the verge of irrelevance. No one is prepared to give him some time and see if he delivers. The verdicts have already been delivered.
No one denies for even a second that as an activist, Kejriwal has shown remarkable moral courage in standing up to the establishment and shaken it up by its foundations. No one can deny that he still stands for all those things that the aam admi (the common people of India) want to see happen. It is incontrovertible that he possesses solid personal integrity.
But to Indians, all those qualities seem not to matter. Some of my friends dismiss me as being a blind, unabashed fan of Arvind Kejriwal. I am told that I have no idea how it actually is, with me being situated at a distance. In fact, I am not a fan of Arvind Kejriwal. I am just an observer and sometimes, the view from the outside looking in, is a clearer one.
In any case, who said that this piece has to be a balanced one? I just choose to be on Arvind Kejriwal’s side. For the moment. Who said Arvind Kejriwal does not have his warts? Of course he does. I just choose to ignore them. For the moment. I choose to give him more time. If there are folks out there already expecting the earth and the moon from him, let them but do they see an alternative in front of them?
Arvind Kejriwal has an uphill task ahead of him. It is hard to lead a nation of pathological cribbers.