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Can We Govern Ourselves as a Nation?
|by Dr. Gopal Singh|
We are fast approaching a state of dysfunctional democracy. When we look at us from the world standards, the mechanics of our democracy have functioned relatively well. We still have peaceful transitions of governments, respectable electoral turnouts and significant changes in the make-up of the government after each election. In spite of the political exploitation of the uneducated, caste politics, region politics, religion politics, language politics and what have you, the voice of the electorate still comes through clearly. All these factors do distort our democracy but do not make it dysfunctional. What is pushing us to a dysfunctional state is the spectacle of corruption rampant in our government. Corruption is very unique in its make-up as it touches us. It cuts across all our caste, ethnic, religious, regional, sex, professional, economic, educational and language divides. It is embedded within the very fabric of our society. With such a ubiquitous state of corruption how can we govern ourselves? It does not matter what form of government we choose for ourselves; democracy, socialism, communism or even the dreaded dictatorship, the corruption running in our social stream is going to make it dysfunctional.
Can We Govern Ourselves as a Nation?
To answer that we need to look at our history and its impact on our psyche.
Before we worry about the success of our democracy, we have to understand that we are one nation with a shared system of living as reflected in our constitution. If we belong to this nation then we have to take ownership in it and protect it and guard it. We can work to improve its flaws and make it better; nonetheless we have to take ownership in it as it is. We may not like elements of it, but it is ours – all of it. That is called nationalism. We have to be nationalistic in our outlook. The concept of nationhood is relatively new in the human civilization. Show me a progressive country and I will show you its people who take pride and ownership in it. It takes generations of evolutionary thinking and experience to understand and appreciate nationalism. We can copy a form of democratic government from others but we cannot copy nationalism. It has to germinate from within and be nurtured for many generations. This is where we are severely handicapped.
If we look at our history, there are only a few periods over a span of 2500 years when we were under one umbrella; notable amongst them were Maurya, Gupta, Mogul (mostly Akbar) and British empires. Only two of these were indigenous empires. The other two were forced upon us by the outsiders. Most of the time we lived as a fragmented set of states under monarchies with very narrow outlooks that often fought with each other for territorial or egoistic reasons. They were never united to fight against an outside invader. Worst yet, they often invited foreigners to fight against their neighbors as a means to take revenge. Over this period of time, as a people, we got divided in our mindset in a multitude of ways. During the Mogul and the British empires, we were treated as second class citizens. Therefore, the question of having any nationalistic feelings toward these empires did not even arise.
The only time during this large period of history any nationalistic feelings were espoused amongst us was during the freedom movement against the British. This movement spawned a few great leaders who aroused the feeling of nationalism within us. This was a short span of some 60 – 75 years in our history. Once the independence was achieved and the pioneers passed away, the germinated nationalism within us also withered away. It just underscores how long it takes to understand, appreciate, nurture and preserve nationalism. We didn’t have it to begin with and when it was aroused within us it passed away before we could internalize it. This is precisely our problem. We don’t seem to have what it takes to be nationalistic.
So what does nationalism have to do with corruption? The answer is – everything. Corruption is inversely proportional to nationalism. If we have strong nationalistic feelings, we will protect the national interests over our personal interests. We will intuitively see that the national interests are the very foundation of our personal interests. Conversely, if we have weak nationalistic feelings (or none as appears to be the case with many of us), then we behave like a herd of wildebeests on the planes of Serengeti. We may look as one large group (nation) but when we are chased by the lions (under any testing circumstances), everyone is on his own with no regards for the other. This is precisely how we behave. When we get the opportunity, we only watch out for ourselves with utter disregard for our fellow citizens or the nation. This is the root cause of corruption rampant in our society, particularly in our government.
Back to our question - Can We Govern Ourselves as a Nation?
Not if we do not comprehend and buy into the concept of nationhood. Not if we do not have any nationalism. Not if we apply all our intellect in serving ourselves at the expense of the nation. Not if we stay corrupt. We are simply not fit to govern ourselves. Ironically, this is what British used to tell us when we demanded independence as a nation. That should put us to shame.
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