A good many people believe India is a great country. Their view will not suffer one bit even if they are presented with abundant evidence to the contrary — evidence that might suggest India is a country far from perfect, needs a lot of reform, cleaning, streamlining, and upgrade. At best, they will argue that India is great despite all these flaws; at worst, they might say that these are not the things that make a nation great.
The greatness of nations is not an intrinsic quality. Nor do nations become great by merit of having a citizenry that compensates for quality (of life or polity) with clueless enthusiasm. Nations become great when people work towards making them great.
Having said that, I want to dwell a little on what, if anything, might cause people to work in that general direction. Why would you want your nation to be great?
On one level, being a citizen of a great nation is satisfying because patriotism is an extension of self-love. On another level, a great nation seems like a good thing to leave your descendants. Also, in the eventuality that the nation does become great, one might take some pride in the fact that at least a part of it was their doing. But are any of these concerns universal? Would you be moved by patriotism of this sort? Do you care about your yet-to-be-born descendants enough to leave for them great nation? Why then, would you make an effort to make your nation great?
The conclusion I have come to is this: You will try to make your nation great if you think your nation is worthy of greatness.
Election season has just ended. A lot of the animosity that existed among people supporting different political parties is dissipating, as it always does after new governments take charge. But while debates raged and speeches were delivered, I was struck by the difference in the Idea of India that each party was selling.
Congress’s India was poor, helpless, and in need of constant support from The Family. Sonia Gandhi and her children spoke less of this nation’s history and more of the illustrious (allegedly) history of their own ancestors. It was a story that foretold not an illustrious India in the future, it promised more of the same and even seemed to imply that the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty’s patronage had been the foundation of all that India had accomplished till date.
Aam Aadmi Party’s India was corrupt. It was very corrupt. Have I mentioned it was highly corrupt? It was so corrupt in fact, that only the might of a raging band of activists-turned-politicians led by Arvind Kejriwal could redeem it. The story they told us was only occasionally intelligible. On the rare occasion that it did make sense, it also seemed to have gaping holes as far as matters of policy were concerned. It seemed to even positively predisposed people, that Arvind Kejriwal was letting his propaganda get ahead of him. At the end of the day, wild theatrics won out and the message AAP delivered was one of chaos.
Yes. Now is when you expect me to gloat and fawn about Narendra Modi. I know. I have not been dispassionate in the last few months. What follows however, is merely a summary of why Modi’s story stood out.
Narendra Modi, even when he was talking about what India was, was also talking about what India could become. His speeches were repititive (I know because I have listened to ALL election speeches by all major candidates this season) and prone to making use of the same rhetoric over and over again. But even through all that, the story he was telling was one of hope. He didn’t shy away from technicalities, made it a point to customise his approach in each region he spoke in, and made mention of local heroes as well as local concerns. What the story the Modi campaign told did was change people’s idea of what India is and could become. It told them that while India is not perfect, it could become much better. Modi managed to convince people of the truth that they lived in a nation worthy of greatness.
The way we behave and the way we go about living our everyday lives end up deciding the shape India takes in the long run. We are not corrupt, as Arvind Kejriwal says, because of a few corrupt people. We are corrupt because of a large number of small corruptions we commit everyday. The ‘one bad fish despoils the pond’ logic is faulty and has always been so. Systems take on the colour of those who participate in them. India is corrupt because we are. And we are corrupt because we see India as a corrupt nation and because ‘we are like this only’.
I believe things start to change when the individual starts to see himself as part of a better whole — a nation which is not corrupt. Think about it. You perhaps wouldn’t think twice before dropping an empty bag of chips on the roadside when you are done with it. But you wouldn’t do the same in a mall even though it is a public place. The difference lies in the way you think of the two places. You think the road is dirty and nothing you can do could make it worse. You think the mall is a well-maintained, clean place and your eyes naturally seek out the nearest trash can to dispose of the empty bag of chips.
In summary, while merely believing that your nation is great accomplishes little, it can start you out on the path of making the greatness of your nation a reality.