Coping with complexities

WHEN Mr. R.G.K.'s book, a panoramic portraiture of independent India, came out some months ago, several critics pointed out that he was excessively and unduly pessimistic about a country of enormous size, innumerable diversities and bewildering complexities that had, despite its many failings, achieved a lot. Staying together in one piece and doing so as a lively democracy, except for the 19 months of the Emergency, was by itself remarkable.

Such comments came, moreover, at a time when Mr. Yashwant Sinha, Finance Minister in the newly re-elected Vajpayee government, was talking of a "feel good" atmosphere pervading the country. The middle class, dazzled by the glitter of globalisation, the glamour of all too frequent beauty pageants and, above all, the stock exchange boom were ahead of the Finance Minister in pretending that a bright future of plenty without pain was practically round the corner.

This rosy vision, however, was almost immediately delivered shattering blows by a succession of events. The stock exchange crashed and though it did not collapse, has never really recovered since. The mind-boggling ravages wrought by the Orissa supercyclone underscored the rude reality that more than half a century after Independence, governance has degenerated to rockbottom.

Neither the State nor the Central Government seemed equal to the task of providing the suffering masses with even elementary succour. The story was not much different during the savage drought in Gujarat and Rajasthan. All this appeared to confirm what Mr. R.G.K. has said in his book in a different context - that "man-made tragedies" here are worse than natural calamities.

Something else lent a sharper edge to what could be considered his stern, if not harsh, judgement on the Indian nation's march from the magic midnight hour of the tryst with destiny to the present-day plight. When criminals go straight from prison cells to ministerial chairs after a hard-fought election, can one fault an author who says that Indian democracy is a sham and politicians, bureaucrats and the intelligentsia in general have conspired to plunge the nation into both "moral and intellectual decay"?

To say all this is not to endorse everything that Mr. R.G.K. says in his comprehensive book of 450 pages covering almost every facet of life. But the point is that his views, even when apparently extreme or eccentric, cannot be dismissed out of hand.

It may seem odd to pick from a long list of crucial subjects dealt with in the book his remarks on cricket made a long time ago. In normal circumstances, his denunciation of cricket and all other organised sports as "evil" and his complaint that in India cricket had "killed all other sports", making it a "game of grown-ups" which children did not play nor were encouraged to play, would have made him unpopular. After all, he was writing for a cricket crazy public.

But, by a curious quirk of irony, the startling revelations about match-fixing and the egregious crimes and loot of cricket icons have more than vindicated him. Indeed his trenchant criticism of cricket and cricketers must be seen to be erring on the side of moderation.

Before saying more about the book, a word about the author. He is a man of exceptional erudition. He is also rather shy and withdrawn, and always anxious to hide his light under a bushel. He is equally proficient in this country's ancient culture and modern history. His gifts include an ability to think deeply and write superbly. That all through, as a journalist as well as an author, he has insisted on writing under his initials and not under his full name, Mr. R. Gopal Krishna, speaks for itself. What he has to say therefore is eminently readable, whether one agrees with him or not. No reader can demand more from an author.

One of the basic points Mr. R.G.K. makes is that it was wrong of the Indian leadership, particularly Jawaharlal Nehru, to have adopted the old colonial system, more or less, lock, stock and barrel. Others have said so before, but Mr. R.G.K. has said it in his distinctive style. And though, despite being critical of Nehru on many counts he advises all concerned to avoid being "either too appreciative or too critical", he pays scant attention to Nehru's elaborate argument that in the circumstances of 1947, he was not writing on a "clean slate".

Even so, the author does concede Nehru's yeoman service in "holding the country together". Indeed, he goes on to add: "After Panditji we have not had a single leader with whom people can identify, irrespective of their religion, caste or language. Heirs to the 'Nehru-Gandhi' family are but utterly ludicrous and pathetic substitutes for the authentic leader Jawaharlal Nehru."

In this context, his assessment of Indira Gandhi becomes all the more interesting, and it is being cited at some length to illustrate Mr. R.G.K.'s felicitous style. "It is easy," he writes, "to paint a dark portrait of Mrs. Gandhi for the dark aspect was very much pronounced in her. But there was also a little bit of green in her, a little bit of red, a little bit of blue and orange and a little bit of grey. Like her father, she was a complex personality, but in temperament and character, the two were totally different.

"She was hardly an intellectual and ill-equipped to play the role of a statesman. Unlike Panditji, she was a superb politician who manipulated her colleagues and rivals with the skill of a puppeteer. ... (She) could put an opponent in place as elegantly as she adjusted the pallav of her sari."

On two points Mr. R.G.K. is off beam. He seems full of remorse because the institution of caste has collapsed though it "continues to exist in a nominal/political sense". In the first place, to seek to perpetuate an institution that has sanctified the scourge of untouchability is not expected from a modern mind. Moreover, to describe the stranglehold of caste on Indian politics as "nominal" is hardly realistic.

Secondly, almost everyone in this country has felt deeply sorry that the agony of partition accompanied the ecstasy of independence and led to an orgy of massacres and the largest mass migration is peacetime in history. So does Mr. R.G.K. even more eloquently. But he does not explore whether there was any alternative. All he does is to wish that the freedom movement had never ended! That is a strange mixture of nostalgia and romanticism.

The book's title, India: A Nation in Turmoil, seems rather mild in view of Mr. R.G.K.'s provocative and pained narrative. The heading of his last chapter. "A Lament for India", is more to the point.


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