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Disintegration of Social Contract
|by H.N. Bali|
When the adhesive agent doesn’t hold
The Languishing Republic – III
Subahe Azadi 1947
August 1947: Dawn of Freedom
- Faiz Ahamad Faiz
Who Cares for the Country?
I was struck by the note of despair in his voice. It was hard to believe that this was the country’s Defence Minister speaking, a politician who had reached the pinnacle of his career. – Amitav Ghosh Countdown (1999)
A System Gone Awry!
The court lambasted India’s poor record of conviction in rape cases, saying “Why are 90 percent of rape cases ending in acquittals? The situation is going from bad to worse.”
The above four statements aren’t a random collage of observations that chalk up to cynicism of those who’re disillusioned with the goings-on around them. Instead, they are the outpourings of perceptive observers from the dawn of Independence till yesterday, who, sad at heart, haven’t yet written the polity off. Undiminished are their hopes of rejuvenation after a depressing spell of decline and degradation, which is unique to Indian civilization whose spiritual fountain heads never run dry.
All the countries of South Asia became independent almost at the same time: India and Pakistan in 1947 and both Sri Lanka (Ceylon till 1972) and Burma (now Myanmar) a year later, in 1948. Bangladesh came into being in 1971 after it chose to break away from Pakistan. Today, the whole South Asian region is in the vice grip of a raging siege. The most worrisome symptoms are the recurrent civil strife and crises of governance, characterized by an unrelenting breakdown of law and order. Rising ethnicity, casteism, sectarianism, regionalism and religious fundamentalism threaten to rip apart the secular, democratic, post-colonial state structures bequeathed by the founding fathers of the countries in the region.
Disintegration of Social Contract
Actually, these are all the symptoms of ominous disintegration of the social contract between the rulers and the ruled, the state and society. Such a contract between the State and the society defines the basis of political association and public authority in modern times. It involves the citizen’s voluntary submission to the authority of the state in return for certain guarantees of life, liberty and the common good. Over time, it is expected to mature into a host of participatory institutions and social policies designed to ensure the welfare of the individual.
In countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh, the State has all but abandoned its citizens. Bouts of martial law, prohibitive defence expenditures, crumbling social infrastructures and the corruption and political opportunism of ruling elites have consciously sabotaged the social contract. Citizens have been forced to retreat into ideologies, sub-nationalisms and religious sects in order to fend for themselves. The state is unable or unwilling to provide employment, education, health, housing and public transportation. As a consequence, the social psychology of the people of South Asia is characterized by insecurity, uncertainty and aggression which find expression in frequent mass protests.
Whenever in history a society entered its phase of decline, the basic reason was almost always the same, namely, the lack of character on the part of its leaders and those who constituted the elite, charged with the responsibility of its sustenance and growth. Whenever and wherever the self-interest of those who constituted the leadership of that society triumphed over the larger good of others, the result, inevitably, was degradation.
Role of Leadership
There’s a great verse in the Gita – Chapter 3:21 which explains how the conduct of our leadership immediately after Independence set rolling the fall of public standards. The verse says
(Whatever action is performed by a great man, common men follow in his footsteps. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all others pursue it.)
One of the very first public acts of our first Prime Minister was to grab the best accommodation in the Lutyens’ Delhi – unfortunately, it turned out to be the second best because the erstwhile ‘Viceroy’s House’ (now called Rashtrapati Bhavan) was reserved for the head of State. And that second best was the present Teen Murti Bhavan where Jawaharlal Nehru lived for 16 years until his death on May 27, 1964. Now it is under the First Family’s control in a different garb. It had been designed by Robert Tor Russell, the British architect of Connaught Place and of the Eastern and Western Courts on Janpath during the British Raj. Teen Murti Bhavan was built in 1930 as part of the new imperial capital of India, New Delhi as the residence of the Commander-in-Chief of the British Indian Army. That was some prize for Gandhi’s followers who once had preached simple living and high thinking!
Al-Biruni on India
The failure of the Hindu society to withstand the onslaughts of hordes of Muslim invaders before and after the turn of the last millennium was precisely due to the cussed unconcern of its leaders. The military conquests of Mahmud of Ghazni – between 1000 AD and 1025 AD (he launched as many as seventeen campaigns capturing one area after another) – can’t be explained away by the invader’s military superiority alone. There is a deeper reason for the vulnerability of the Indian States to Mahmud’s attacks. And this has been brought out brilliantly by Al-Biruni (regarded as the founder of Indology) in his encyclopedic work on India entitled Tarikh Al-Hind. Al-Biruni was in Mahmud’s court and knew India well and admired many an attribute of Indian civilization as it obtained then. In the very first chapter of his treatise on India he made the following perceptive comment on the national character of the Indians:
Some worrisome attributes of our ancestors stand out starkly in Al-Biruni’s account of India. At least three of them deserve mention.
Secondly, the upper sections of the society were supremely indifferent to what happened to those below. That perpetuated economic and social stagnation. The trend still continues. The upper ten per cent of the Indian population – in terms of their share of GDP – consume anything up to eighty per cent – if not more – of the national output. This section of society seems to be self-convinced that the national economy just exists for them and things must go as per their wishes and fancies. (If you want corroborative evidence, visit one of the so-called farmhouses dotting the southern outskirts of New Delhi).
The Chinese in their history too had, like India, a similar experience of a series of invasions from the Northern nomadic tribes. The response of the Chinese rulers was a 2400 km winding fortification extending from Gansu province to the Yellow Sea. This amalgamation of many walls was first united in the 3rd century BCE during the Ch’in dynasty. The Wall, however, was of little military utility. But the fact it was built, shows how seriously did the Chinese rulers take the military threat from the North.
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09/19/2013 14:23 PM
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