Way back in the sixties and till the seventies, we were in the mindsets of progress and nation building.
The ‘saaya’ (protection) of Nehru, Gandhi, Netaji, Ambedkar, Tilak and Patel and other great unselfish Indians was still with us.
After that India fell under a drought of idealism and greatness. Mediocre people have ruled India since then and done what all old time rulers – Muslims and British and maharajas – did.
They looted India and its people. All leaders today are doing this. All are crorepatis.
I was living in Delhi in the seventies. Gandhian Gulzari Lal Nanda had been the prime minister for a short time. After that he had no home of his own and lived in a small rented house in the Defence Colony. Lal Bahadur Shastri was simplicity personified.
When there was a food crisis he told us to eat one meal less. We did that because we wanted to help our country. He told us to cut down guests at weddings and Indians did that honestly.
We were against dowry and I and others I knew stuck to idealistic ideas and rejected dowry. We said we were modern and rejected caste. We were young and willing to break bad traditions. We practised true progressiveness.
We had not become consumerist and cynical. We followed our Hindu traditions and values. But we were not fanatical.
Our old parents and families lived with us. We were not slaves to cars and mobiles and laptops and earning money at any cost. The progressiveness was not in things and gadgets but in our minds.
Money trail to anarchy:
What happened after the eighties was a sudden rush of materialistic progress. Some Indians had become rich and the new netas discovered that politics was a good career to make money.
No education and no special skills needed. What one needed was only the ability to fool people, get the illiterate masses worked up. The Muslim and Hindu fundamentalists also discovered that if gullible people could be roused up money and power would follow automatically.
All politicians today live on politics; they have no other source of money, in most cases. A few days ago Mulayam Singh Yadav said young men must not get into politics to make money.
Every year, he has a 15-day festival at his native village Safai where Bollywood stars dance for hundreds of crores. Where does the money come from?
Money is the whole point. We must have wealth and wellbeing. But if money is the only goal there is a huge problem. Our netas are all hungry for money and the people see this as an example. And the children of today see their parents mad about money.
Humanity always gets dumped in a society where money becomes most important. The stress and frustration and desperation come in. The only safety is in religion and the fantasy of the past.
Progress means ideas. Mind as well as materialism:
We rushed too fast into globalisation and materialism and lost our bearings. There has to be an essential harmony between materialism and meaning in life – worldly success and human values, pleasure and enjoyment as against intellectual depth and creative thought in various spheres of action.
A one track pursuit of happiness is bound to lead to stress and greed. As Gandhiji said: “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.”
Today the politicians and the religion leader and the ordinary man all work in greed and so must fight each other to grab what they can.
Everybody has to grab because life and living is expensive. Education, food, clothes and medical care – all are expensive. For instance, Karnataka has a luxury tax on ICU patients, can you imagine the shamelessness!
Caste and reservations are kept in place by politicians and the reluctance of the Indian mind to change. The curse of caste is worse than it ever was because in our frustrations and disillusionment with the present we go back into the past. We regress to old ideas.
It is said a people get the leaders they deserve. We will get better leaders when our thinking and values are better.
Not just the young, though they specially, but all must start thinking for themselves. All who are educated and aware.
You have to stand up alone with progressive ideas because to live with intelligence is a reward in itself.
Change yourself and change what you can. Begin somewhere. For yourself and for your children.
(Vijay Shankar is a veteran journalist and writer based in Delhi)