Though modern technology and globalisation broke many barriers and created a global village of myriad inter-relationships, humankind has yet to fully grasp and absorb its reality in its different manifestations. Consequently, the world finds itself adrift in the midst of incredible contradictions making life on earth complex beyond imagination. Cutting across countries and continents, the contradictions are reflected in many ways in different parts of the world and ultimately affect day-to-day life especially of the weak and the vulnerable.
The recent U.S. elections and the Brexit are two telling examples of the phenomenon of post-truth. The possible short and long term impact of these two events has become matters of concern not only to the citizens of the US and Great Britain, but to the global community at large. Some concerned observers perceive an underlying common thread of far reaching consequences to the global order. The US Presidential campaign degenerated into a slanging match with the Republicans fanning feelings of racial hatred and insecurity amongst certain sections of the electorate. Immigrant citizens were often portrayed as anti-nationals, a threat to national security and the livelihood of the natives. The US verdict sent shockwaves throughout the world which looked upon the U.S. as the land of opportunities for all in the most liberal democracy. The Brexit referendum too demonstrated how strong the narrow nationalistic rhetoric of a vocal leadership swayed the electorate against its own long term interests. Straws in the political winds blowing across Germany and France also presage chauvinistic trends fuelled by fears of large influx of refugees threatening life styles, employment and national security.
Against the backdrop of the emerging trends and their possible impact on the global order that has been in vogue post World War-II, where does India stand? And, in which direction are we moving deserves to be viewed in proper perspective. Casting off centuries of colonial rule through an incredible movement spearheaded by an apostle of peace and non-violence, India with its teeming millions of poor and illiterates has grown into a giant military power armed with nuclear weapons and rockets and missiles capable of large scale annihilation. At the same time, productive employment for the millions of poor and unemployed is hard to find, though the security services armed with lethal weapons are bulging by the day. The eco system which supports life on earth is under siege, but in the midst of squalor and misery, pockets of vulgar affluence and luxury thrive.
Our parliamentary democracy has come under heavy stress and strain often leading us to wonder what is becoming of our hallowed institutions of governance. While their trappings and forms and authority are sought to be zealously protected, their spirit and substance have been steadily slipping. The Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary have been part of the process of decay often competing with each other in destroying the spirit of parliamentary democracy! The presence of alleged bandits and criminals besmirch our legislative bodies and erode their credibility. Perceived to be corrupt, arrogant, self serving and insensitive, the executive has become the butt of ridicule. Perpetuating unconscionable delays in administering justice caught in archaic processes of its own making and turf war, the judiciary too has lost much of its majesty.
Sacred places of worship have been turned into citadels of corruption and venality of the worst type. Some of them are found to be harbouring criminals and storing weapons of violence. High priests of divinity have become merchants of hatred and violence. Temples, churches and mosques are bursting to the brim with devotees, many of them young and educated queuing up to make their offerings to propitiate the Gods and earn their favours for self aggrandisement. Many of them indulge in violence and inhuman crimes against fellow beings not even sparing hapless women and innocent children.
What do we, in India, make of the goings on around us in the context of the global developments? How do we respond to them? Obviously, ignoring them and remaining unmindful of their consequences on our lives is an easy but perilous option. At the level of the individuals, families, our communities and the country, we get caught in them with unintended consequences. Take for instance, Trump’s declared stance on the Paris agreement on climate change. Though it is not yet certain whether he would walk the talk, the very thought that he could is unsettling. Even in the best possible scenario with commitment and support of the developed countries led by the U.S. and the willing participation of developing countries, the spectre of devastating climate change caused by carbon emissions looms large. With the U.S. pulling out or even slowly reneging on its commitments, the Paris agreement is doomed to failure steadily leading to global disaster. Neither the rich, not the people of poor countries will remain unaffected. But as always in such situations, the poor would be the worst hit. At the level of local communities, struggles for power and dominance on the one hand and for sheer survival of the marginalised outcasts of society on the other could take different forms like caste wars leading to bloodshed, breakdown of law and order and consequent jungle raj. At the same time, aspiring young men and women including the educated and well heeled in their incessant search for instant gratification pursue the path of avarice and cruelty to fellow human beings.
Do we throw up our hands in despair or worse try pretending ignorance of the potentially violent and devastating trends? Neither would help humanity to muddle through in the business as usual mode or even survive them. With two catastrophic world wars, a great depression and many booms and busts behind, the world has learnt many unforgettable lessons and reinvented itself not only to survive but thrive with renewed vigour. The history of Western Europe, specially Germany, is an inspiring story of nations rising from the ashes. Global institutions, nation states, enlightened leaderships, scientific and technological innovations and above all, the determination and grit of citizens in different ways of their own, have been partners in the process of deconstructing and rebuilding the global order with its infinite diversity. History is witness to it.
Learning from the lessons of human history and taking inspiration from our civilizational heritage of thousands of years which had survived many upheavals and twists and turns, we in India need not despair of the I, Me, Myself generation and the raging post-truth phenomenon. With unswerving faith in the essential goodness of our fellow human beings, let us in India steadfastly pursue the path of inclusive human development encompassing the values of tolerance, compassion and caring and sharing. History is replete of inspiring examples of collective human courage and will power transforming people and leading them to heights of glory from depths of despair.
Pious hope; perhaps yes, but certainly better than despair in our troubled times.
(The writer is a former Principal Secretary & Adviser to Prime Minister)
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