In no civilised democracy in the world does a shooting in a city, especially a capital city, not meet with instant retaliation by the state including a complete lockdown. There is no discussion, no expert view and certainly no denigration of women and men in uniform – be it the army, special commandoes or police – whose job it is to maintain law and order.
There were three shootings in Delhi in the past week. Either we are an uncivilized country or we are not democracy. The latter is obviously wrong. We are the world’s largest democracy where some 830 million people voted to elect a new government in May 2019. For the record, more Indians voted than there are Americans (some 330 million) who couldn’t even manage Iowa (population some 3.5 million). For comparison sake, the population of my home state Karnataka is 64 million. As for being civilized, in my view America is also the most dangerous democracy in the world considering how long they have been in existence (1776). Gun violence is part of American culture, a national sport that leaves 1.9 people dead everyday and thousands others wounded, maimed or frightened.
We are a young nation and a civilizational culture at odds with each other. People who are opposing the CAA and the NRC must engage with this essential dichotomy that has set us on the path of an evolution and not a revolution. It is important to raise questions as people grow, read and want jobs, but if guns are brought in on the backs of imported political thoughts, they will not serve any purpose other than to kill innocents. Not a day passes when experts refer to Stalin and Hitler, Pol Pot and Kim but the interesting thing is that the creators of hate on all sides refer to the same people. When everyone is a murderer, no one is.
I view the chatterati as expats in any country – they complain all day, don’t bother to learn local languages and customs look down on people who don’t come from their backgrounds and hunt in packs on social media. The big point is this. Human beings in general and journalists in particular are trained to decipher words and sounds. There are sounds of survival and sounds of peace we all grow up with. Delhi should have been cordoned off when the first shot was fired.
Remember Paris? The city was under emergency orders for two years (partial in some quarters and complete in others) following a shooting. I remember conversations with people saying the snap of the automatic seats in the metro would be frightening or the sound of trucks emptying garbage bins in the early morning hours would cause alarm. Sights and sounds are everyday triggers of survival and destruction as much as they are a tribute to civilized democracies’ capacity to reassure their populations and institutions.
Or do you remember Brussels in Belgium where a simple alert led to the complete halt of public services including trains and buses? The list is long, the solutions different, but no civilized country allows a person to shoot in the air in a tinderbox-like situation that Delhi finds itself in.
For most of the over seventy years that we have been free, India has been a home office for the Nehru – Gandhi family and their satellites. From the bureaucracy to the judiciary, the executive and right down to the lowest levels of power, discretion is how things work. Absence of merit is structural in our system. Even our cricket board recently saluted some family members and many boardroom members will acknowledge that groups and cartels (especially where reservations for women are concerned) are real
even in the highest echelons of business. Domain knowledge is as unnecessary there as it is among experts who hurl nonsense 24/7. But, there’s a change and the public is no longer innocent. They take money from all sides to protest as that’s often their only source of income. So do most givers of opinion on television channels who make money for every appearance despite having well-paid jobs. Both are equally dangerous with one major difference – one has no option, the other does.
We’re passing through a phase where people, often the most privileged and safe stubbornly refuse to introspect, preferring twitter glory and navel-gazing instead. Take a step back and look at what happened in Europe this week. The Continent has been at war for thousands of years. Economic prosperity was the core of its peace, but Brexit changed all that breaking a 47-year-old relationship. The United Kingdom (UK) voted to leave Europe. Millions regret it as millions don’t and there are millions who are just happy this “Brexit thing” is over.
Histories will be rewritten again and again. Most Swiss believed their country helped fleeing Jews when the opposite was true. They were turned away at the borders, a reality that the Alpine nation discovered some twenty years ago. Americans are discovering their black history – it’s a process that all democracies must enable. There is nothing exceptional about us, Indians. We have to stop pretending that we are.
The question that we in India will have to answer is this. Will safety return to Delhi after the elections? My view is it will not. Delhi has never been a safe city compared to other Indian cities and all political parties have pillaged its peace for private gain. The party longest in power shares the major part of the blame. There are no two ways about that.
India’s problems will only begin to get addressed when jobs are created on a war footing, when primary health care is available to all of us, when clean drinking water and roads reach every Indian and when we can finally we can set ourselves on the road to moving from a developing country to a developed one. It will not happen tomorrow. It is called nation-building and I am pleased to see that where politics has failed, sports are being primed to build national character. The more a nation plays, the more it learns fair play.
Finally, India is tired of protests in its name. There’s always another election to win. That’s the nature of our democracy. The Congress party was voted out and Narendra Modi and BJP voted in because people wanted root and branch changes. Not more of the same. In elections 2019, India voted for itself and the children of my country were pushing back. Rahul Gandhi as a person and the institutions he represents sums up wasted opportunities. Nations are not built on guilt or gall. They are built on hard work and tangible results. If there’s one lesson for us to ponder over, it’s probably this. Shaheen Baghs will come and go.