May 14, 2001


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Francois Gautier

The genius and innocence of the Indian voter

The landslide victory of Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu shows there are other factors influencing the Indian voter apart from performance and logic. These factors could be summed up thus: blind adulation for film stars, dynastic effect, adoration of the shakti element and the myth of the Aryan.

As everywhere else in the world, there are two kinds of voters in India: the rural voter and the urban voter. The Indian urban voter votes with his mind -- that is, he is mainly influenced by his atavism -- parents, education, background, etc -- and by what the English-speaking press says.

The rural voter -- who, it should be remembered, forms 80 per cent of the electorate -- votes with his heart, although he may be in some ways influenced by what the local language newspapers say -- which often take up blindly the opinions of the English-speaking press.

It is both a wonderful and terrible trait, because, since 1947, this innocence has been taken advantage by many different sorts of politicians, who have used four kinds of factors.

1. The adulation of films stars: Films stars are enormously popular in India and are akin to demigods. Since the early Sixties, certain film stars, with no political qualification, ended up as chief ministers of the southern states -- often, with disastrous consequences, because they needed a lot of demagogy to sustain their image of demigods and had to resort to heavy subsidies -- rice at Rs 2 a kilo, free distribution of saris, rickshaws, free water for the farmers etc -- thus emptying the state coffers while they were in power.

Furthermore, they were often authoritarian, corrupt and did not give back to the people one inch of the adulation and respect they enjoyed (and the money they looted from them)!

2. Dynasty and sycophancy: Dynasty is a Western word which does not really correspond to the Indian reality. And sycophancy should rather be called the bhakti spirit which is a 5,000-year-old spiritual tradition in India.

This extraordinary bhakti tendency of the Indian people means they tend to worship anybody who they feel has an aura about him, or her, no matter his or her personal faults, no matter if he or she is a fraud -- or half a fraud. It is a marvellous principle and it has worked for millennia. In the guru-chela (guru-disciple) relationship -- you surrender to the divinity in your human guru and attain realisation through him if your surrender is sincere.

But it does not work in politics because politicians do not even have a gram of the aspiration and realisation of gurus and they tend to cheat heavily on their bhaktas and do not deliver the goods promised. This concept of bhakti, coupled with the old maharaja tradition, has ensured respect for 'royal families,' or dynasties, such as the Nehru family, whose members did not necessarily possess the qualities to be good politicians, or rather knew very little about India.

3. The Shakti phenomenon: There is also amongst Indians of the subcontinent a very strong tradition to worship the female element of the divine, who takes up many forms: Mahakali, Mahalaxmi, Mahasaraswati, Maheswari, etc.

It's a bit of a paradox, because Hindu women in India can also be ostracised and persecuted, but, nevertheless, have always played an important role in the history of the country: there are more women MPs in India than in France, for instance. It is this Shakti phenomenon that allowed Indira Gandhi to govern this male-dominated country with an iron hand for nearly 20 years; and this tradition has even survived in the neighbouring Islamic states, such as Pakistan or Bangladesh. Witness Benazir Bhutto or the two Bangladeshi begums.

But again politicians such as Benazir Bhutto, whose promises proved empty and who was more word than deed, misused the shakti given to her by innocent voters -- if we may say so. As for Indira Gandhi, she too fell victim to that extraordinary shakti tendency of the Indian people, and became more and more isolated towards the end of her reign, bitter about losing her beloved son Sanjay, suspicious of the constant sycophantic atmosphere around her and slowly losing her sense of reality.

It is again this element that has brought Jayalalitha to power.

4. The Aryan myth: According to the theory of the Aryan invasion, which is still taken as the foundation stone of the history of India and which was actually devised in the 18th and 19th century by British-related linguists and archaeologists, the first inhabitants of India were good-natured, peaceful, dark-skinned shepherds, called the Dravidians, who had founded what is called the Harappan or the Indus Valley civilization.

They were supposedly remarkable builders -- witness the city of Mohen-jo-Daro in Sind, Pakistan -- but had no culture to speak off, no literature, no proper script even. Then, around 1500 BC, India is said to have been invaded by tribes called the Aryans -- white-skinned, nomadic people, who originated somewhere in western Russia and imposed upon the Dravidians the hateful caste system.

To the Aryans are attributed Sanskrit, the Vedic -- or Hindu -- religion, India's greatest spiritual texts, the Vedas, as well as a host of subsequent writings, the Upanishads, the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, etc.

This myth divided India for ever and pitted against each other the low-caste, dark-skinned 'Dravidians' and the high-caste, light-skinned 'Aryans', a rift that still endures. The Muslim invaders, the European colonizers, the missionaries and finally the Congress, each exploited to the hilt for their own selfish purpose this artificial divide, as recent linguistic and archaeological discoveries are proving that there probably was never any Aryan invasion.

Since Nehru, all Congress leaders have been constantly elected on caste and religion basis and, lately, power-hungry politicians, particularly in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh or Kerala, have also used this schism to get to power by pitting castes and religions against each other. In Kerala, for instance, the Communists have become masters in that exercise. This obsession of the dark-skinned Dravidian -- or low-caste Indian for the 'Aryan' or white could also explain the fascination that the rural voter has for Sonia Gandhi, the White Lady, Aryan par excellence (or even Jayalalitha, who is quite fair-skinned).

Voting with the heart is a unique quality and it is this innocence, these spontaneous tendencies of bhakti or shakti in the rural Indian, which make the greatness of India, its santana dharma -- and not the pompous, secular, left-leaning intellectual in the comfort of his flat in New Delhi or Bombay. No, what has to be changed is the system which allows power-hungry politicians to exploit this purity of heart of the rural voter.

This whole election has been a waste of time, money and energy; we know today that it needs at least a crore to be elected an MP and that this automatically eliminates the honest, the pure of heart and the sincere.

As Danielou wrote in his History of India: "... on top of the Partition tragedy, there is the other calamity of modern India -- namely, that under Nehru's leadership, it chose to turn its back on most of its ancient institutions, social and political, and adapted blindly and completely the British system, constitutional, social, political, judicial, and bureaucratic."

And as India's Great Sage, Sri Aurobindo, also reminds us: "In ancient times, there always was a strong democratic element in India, which certainly showed a certain similarity with Western parliamentary forms, but these institutions were INDIAN."

India should then go back to the wisdom and the innocence of what constitutes the base, the soul and the essence of this country: the rural masses. And, like in ancient times, but couched in modern forms, the rural voter should elect what he knows directly: the panchayat leaders of his village, town or community; in turn these leaders will elect those who will represent them in the state level and so on until the top, so that so much money and time are no more wasted on useless elections which throw-up the same old politicians.

Thus, the wisdom of India will go once more from bottom to top -- and not from top to bottom, as it does now: a huge, complex country ruled by a minority of corrupt politicians enjoying the artificial trappings of power in this arrogant, superficial and totally decentralised city that is Delhi, having forgotten that they were elected by the rural people and for the rural people.

Francois Gautier

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