Follow up to "A Modest Proposal", below.
Again, this piece is a little dated, especially in its reference to the TATA Safari advertisement in which Roshan Seth figured as a chauffeur. But I have published it without any changes.
Ever since the publication of my Modest Proposal, my telephone hasn't stopped ringing. The calls - generally between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. - have come from places as far removed and distant as Ranchi, Agra and Bareilly. (I have learnt since that they have one thing in common - each of these places has a mental asylum.)
One of my correspondents wanted to know if the hedge separating his lawn from that of his neighbouring country should be considered as no-man's-land, or was he entitled to use half the width of the hedge for drying his linen. I wasn't prepared for such a query and mumbled some apology about "details being worked out".
I was racking my brains to get an idea to beat the sun to it because I was sure the blighter would call again. It seemed his linen couldn't wait! But misery, as they say, never comes alone. This other nation state dropped in to seek my considered opinion on maritime practices and international law in regard to the high seas. His problem was that he had accidentally dropped his slippers in a small ditch that flowed into another drain passing through his neighbour's compound. It had drifted away some distance and, according to his interpretation of things, it was beyond his maritime zone. Could he use a fishing tackle to retrieve it without violating the air space of the neighbouring country or should the area be considered high seas? Frankly speaking, I was bowled lock stock and barrel. The status of resident consultant on international law had been thrust upon me quite gratuitously. I told him that my proposal was still a proposal and he should deal with the problem under the existing laws and practices until such time both he and his neighbour were accorded full sovereign nation status. He looked doubtful, but left all the same.
But, there were some more visitors. Droves of politicians of various hues dropped in to plead with me to suggest something less drastic and revolutionary. The proposal had no doubt an element of visionary overdrive about it, but alas! The nation was not quite prepared for it. They had carefully calculated that for the present the people would be satisfied if the country were to be divided into, say, two hundred and fifty seven parts. All the ethnic, linguistic, religious minorities would be taken care of. But they assured me that, given some more time, they would certainly bring the nation to such a state of readiness as to be ripe for the arrangement set out in my proposal. I should intervene to stall agitations for further fragmentation. Therefore, until such time the nation is prepared, an interim proposal is being put forward to restore complete peace to our polity so that when D-Day comes we can split peacefully.
The country has been described as a functioning anarchy and it is often said that the nation has been on some sort of a permanent general strike. Not that one notices the strikes very much these days. The day things are open attracts our attention more pointedly. Professional sociologists, economists, intellectuals and all those whose job it is to issue bulletins on the state of the national health have attributed this to various causes – Unemployment, lack of a sense of discipline in the workers and the students, absence of commitment to socially acceptable values, so on and so forth. But I am afraid, even though the symptom has been correctly identified, the diagnosis of the malaise is wide off the mark.
My perception of the situation is that it is not an absence of discipline in our workers and youth that compels them to destructive activity. If anything, it is an excess of it. As for commitment to a cause, we have taken it to absurd limits. My survey reveals that the nation which was galvanized into decisive activity after the magic call given by Gandhi on the 8th August 1942 has continued on the path of civil disobedience ever since. They are doing their utmost of overthrowing the government of the day and driving away the alien power. (The way some governments behave, they could not be blamed too much for mistaking them for alien governments!) They rarely manage to overthrow a government but they certainly manage to obstruct the governance of the country. Students boycott their classes, if their teachers are not on strike already. If the teachers are persuaded to go to the college the lock out by the non-teaching staff thwarts their rare impulse. In fact, with so many groups committed to the task of destruction and vandalism of public property, many have to await their chance to have a crack at them.
Gandhi, poor soul, didn’t live long enough after independence and somehow it slipped his mind to call off the movement. So the nation, which was exhorted by its great leader on that fateful day of August '42, is still committed in a somber way, perhaps in a spirit of tragic self- sacrifice, to the civil disobedience movement. It is only natural that, after a long time, it has, at some places, evolved into an armed disobedience movement. We are not only breaking salt laws - we break all others as they come. Since the British have departed, the unstated part of the call "Quit India" has acquired a new and unforeseen meaning. In the current reading, Quit India has come to mean secede, quit the Indian Union. The zeal of the participant may have flagged on some occasions or the intensity of the agitation may have varied from place to place but, as a nation, we are still strongly committed to the idea of civil disobedience, of doing and dying. Soldiers, all of the Quit India movement! Like soldiers, we are obeying orders. Ours is not to question why? The reason for the national distemper was so simple that it nearly took my breath away. The opinion poll commissioned by me confirmed my suspicion. The nation hardly knew that there was no cause for civil disobedience or quit India movement.
As if the situation was not bad enough, the leaders appear to have made another faux pas. The policy of "divide and rule" may have been good for the British as a colonial and imperial power, but it wasn't good for us. So that part of the note to successor on good governance should have been deleted by the British. But they not only didn't delete it, they seem to have underlined it heavily, wicked as they were. Our gullible ruling elite walked into the trap with both feet. Ever since they have been dividing and ruling.
The first thing that our people should have done, after the British departed, was that they should have formally called off the movement. I don't know if they did. I wasn't around anyway, and old timers say that if they did, it was heard only at hailing distance. So, as a first step, we must rectify this mistake. We must get hold of as many transponders on as many satellites, as possible. The facilities of the S.I.T.E. should be utilized to the full. All the other media of dissemination of information should be harnessed to the cause of national enlightenment to beam the message across not only here in this country but to all the NRIs. After all, the only good Indian today is the Non-Resident Indian, scattered across the face of the earth.
There would be that small bit of a problem of credibility, because most of the original casts have departed. But don't lose heart, yet. The problem is not altogether insuperable. Well, if Gandhi is not around, Ben Kingsley will do nicely, thank you! Roshan Seth could be persuaded to shed his current chauffeur's livery and his TATA Estate to don The Gandhi cap and the rose in the buttonhole. In fact, the whole cast can be managed with suitable doubles. I don't know if the Aga Khan Palace is up for hire but these minor problems can be taken care of. With the able assistance of vision mixers and choreographers, the message that civil disobedience movement has been called off can be beamed across to every home. The British have quit-and quit India for good, so Quit India movement stands suspended for good measure. They may also add that the policy of divide and rule is being jettisoned and till something new is formulated by the think tank. That would be the signal for this bus-burning, train-looting nation of ours to cease fire, to desist, to cry a halt.
This simple solution should have occurred to the shamans of the nation-building industry but perhaps they are always looking for complicated models of problem with multiple variables. No wonder the solution eludes them.