Nation of grumblers

  • 29/06/1999

Why have we become a nation of such cynics and grumblers? During the World Environment Day on June 5, I was asked repeatedly, will Delhi's air ever become cleaner? My simple answer, which I repeated ad nauseum to anyone who asked was, 'don't grumble', get organised, study and protest. Demand what is needed. And within a few years I can assure you the problem will get solved.

It is true that there are many things that are wrong with this country. Trying to get anything done with or through the government, which has an omnipotent presence, can be a harrowing task. It is also true that the people's confidence in public institutions is at an extremely low ebb. But is all this reason enough for defeat?

Even though democracy is the one element that is totally missing in the functioning of the government, democracy remains the biggest strength of this otherwise poor and wretched country. Democracy gives citizens the right to mobilise and organise themselves to fight and bring about change.

Those who ask 'will anything change' are usually the ones who do the least to bring about any. I have always been of the opinion that there is nothing in this country that a group of committed and serious people cannot change. This is the benefit of having a functioning and live democracy.

Yes, it is true that change, in an environment that is ruled by an extremely rigid governance system, is extremely slow. Therefore, any struggle requires enormous persistence. But that persistence does pay off.

When people come and tell me that they are very depressed with the state of India, I get very angry at them. I tell them, don't get depressed, get angry, actually get livid with the state of affairs. You have to burn with anger. This country needs angry people just the kind of anger that Gandhiji had, an anger that brought down the biggest power of its time, the British Empire. Gandhiji's anger was a cold anger, not a hot anger, like a rage which dissipates as fast as it builds up.

Gandhiji's cold anger had three critical qualities: the first was persistence, actually extraordinary persistence; the second was constant protest - Gandhiji could not accept even what he saw as the wrongdoings of his own followers, it is extremely rare to find a leader who will take on his own constituency; and, the third was creativity.

Gandhiji had a clear vision of where answers lay, whether one agreed with him or not. This kind of anger made Gandhiji the greatest human being of this century; who led millions as long as he lived and inspired many after he died.

Nobody has to be a Gandhiji today. Simply because there is nothing in India today that is as powerful as the British Empire. If a group were to make up its mind that it will take up an issue and persist with it, then there is no reason to believe that things cannot be changed.

But persistence and protest must be accompanied with careful thinking and study which tries to look for answers. When all this comes together, no system can stand the pressure. And in a democratic society, even if the target of attack is annoyed and vicious, there will be numerous others within the society, and even positions of power, who will give respect and support.

And, surprisingly, I have found that the biggest support often comes from politicians, whom we as a nation of grumblers, despise so much. This should not be surprising. In any electoral democracy, it is politicians who are the most accountable within the governance system. So put the heat on our politicians.

Change also means standing behind something. In this sea of misery, you still have to find the little kernels of your dream and then stand up behind them as beacons of light. Otherwise, cynicism becomes the biggest obstacle to change - dismissive and highly destructive. There are a million mutinies every day in India. One has to constantly look for those few which have the kernel of a better future and then stand behind them. To enthuse and to inspire.

This nation's rajas were always so bad that it is hard to imagine we really ever had much rajshakti (state power). Every foreigner who came slapped them on their face, simply because they could never stand united. This country's wealth and greatness was always built on its lokshakti (people's power) like all its myriad water tanks. Once Indians learn and realise lokshakti again , there is nothing that can hold India back.

I am sure that despite all its problems, India will slowly find its angry people who will force the change.