The Olympics proved China is a dictatorship that achieves, Singur shows why India remains a curio to the world.
As coincidences go, Sunday, the 24th of August 2008 will always stay in mind as perhaps the most revealing. It made it clear to me, and to all who cared to notice, in a dramatic way and in the course of just one evening, why China shines so brightly despite being the world’s largest dictatorship and India remains in the shadows despite being its largest democracy.
As the last fireworks were dying out in Beijing, at the end of a spectacular ceremony closing the 2008 Olympic Games, several thousand followers of Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress were preparing to sleep out in the open on Durgapur Expressway at Singur, a national highway (NH2), having occupied it by force and closing it off to all traffic to launch a protest aimed at derailing the Tatas’ Nano small car project.
There, in the heart of Beijing, the Bird’s Nest heaved and swayed to the steps of thousands of dancing feet, and a Memory Tower rose toward the sky and burst into amazing colourful patterns in a staggering display of human synchronisation. Here, in Singur, Mamata strutted and fretted upon her dharna manch, seething in anger, wildly gesturing and screaming, as fans turned NH2 into a private preserve and the line of stalled inter-state trucks got longer and longer, throwing traffic over a large area into total disarray. Nobody bothered. The police stayed away for fear of stoking a major conflagration.
Watching the Olympic closing ceremony, the world came to know what discipline can do to a nation that everybody admires. Watching Trinamool’s blatant display of political muscle-flexing, one knew how a lack of discipline can turn even a democracy with the best of intentions into a banana republic. That night, China appeared to the world as a dictatorship that achieves. That night, it became abundantly clear why India remains to the world a curio and an enigma, a nation demanding to be counted as a developed nation with a strangely-malformed mindset.
From her roadside manch, hitched between NH2 and the Tata factory, Mamata led her protest in open defiance of the law and total disregard of public interest. But nobody moved a limb. The state administration chose to stand by and watch. The Centre simply sucked thumb. The Congress chuckled to see Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee caught in a trap. And when Tata Motors finally decided to suspend work at the Singur factory, the blame game began in earnest amid speculations about which party would make the most political gain out of Tata’s plight.
That’s what democracy has been reduced to in the largest of all democracies, a free-for-all game of might, muscle, and money, without rules and referees, and a test of who can shout the loudest, claim the foulest tongue, draw the biggest crowd of supporters, and engage in the meanest political gamesmanship. It has become a spectator sport, like a cricket match, to be watched on TV in the comfort of one’s living room, cheering the side one likes and jeering at the other.
At Singur, it also became a kind of daily reality show, complete with antics, heroics, and hysteria: Mamata taking her morning walks with a large retinue in tow; hurling fast and furious brush strokes at a canvas while a Muslim crowd offered Ramazan prayers; abusing a pro-Nano delegation of IT professionals and calling them “agents of the Tatas”; or hurling tirades at the media and threatening to prolong her siege of Singur through Durga Puja, Diwali, and Christmas.
Singur has brought out in sharp relief all that’s wrong with our democracy. In the 58 years that we’ve had a Constitution, democracy has remained for us an ideal without conviction, a faith without any obligation, a practice without any discipline. We’ve no patience for dialogue, no respect for the rule of law and only utter disregard for the concept of greater good. We let a party, or a group of parties, get elected to form government, but won’t let it govern. Opposition starts from Day One and scores are settled, not on the floor of the Assembly or Parliament but on the streets, shutting down public life against the public’s will, or invoking death and destruction. If we don’t like a government policy, we want to throw out the government itself, through whatever means we can muster and won’t wait till the next elections to vote it out in a proper democratic manner. We create rights where there are none and deny ones that are guaranteed by the Constitution.
We don’t seem to mind, since chaos benefits us all. Indiscipline allows our individual freedoms to thrive and forces the collective will into submission. The problem is, when individual freedoms cross their limits and become supreme, it’s not democracy anymore. It becomes anarchy. But that’s what we want.