Dec 15, 2017

The Entitlement Culture in India

R Jayaraman

The Maratha “maha” rally, which happened in Mumbai a few months back, takes the cake. Lakhs of people were allowed to take a walk to the Mantralay, bringing everything in its way to a standstill. Many to most of these people did not have a genuine issue, they are well to do, ruled the country once (and well, too), people known for their hard work and industrious nature. Sad, that a group of people, from whom one had leadership expectations, has been reduced to beg the politicians for a role – to serve themselves! The walk was for gaining their “entitlements”, to ensure that they can have the easy life and avoid the struggle which crores of their brothers and sisters go through everyday.

The mother of all entitlement rallies just ended. There are promises of more to come, making this a very preliminary trailer, seemingly. Unwittingly or otherwise, the Marathas have walked themselves into the Haryana Jat territory, by emulating them. It has served as another example in a long line of such entitlement-frenzy. How different would it have been, if the Marathas, as is expected of them, had instead marched, assuring that they will once again provide leadership to the nation in removing poverty, in removing injustice, in making India a better place to live in? Shivaji Maharaj, the Peshwas, the Sayajiraos, the Sarfojis, all great Marathas, are exemplars of this mindset.

Where does one begin on a topic like this? Since the print and visual media have almost replaced word of mouth in urban India, and since urban India is the “India that decides”, these two enablers have a major influence on contemporary life in India. The picture that they paint, especially about the political polity in the country, is one of VVIP culture, to use a popular terminology. Which culture is characterised by self-service ( ie, service to oneself) , banality, might is right, I am entitled to what I want, and such a low level items list. From where did all these emerge? Some would say, from the feudal culture of India. Others may point to the legacy of the British Raj. Others may point to the caste system, that much maligned but much misunderstood system. Whichever the option, it still leaves the entitlement cultural practices unaffected. In fact, in the BJP raj, it appears to have become more virulent and more pervasive. Let’s see some of the manifestations of the entitlement culture.

To begin with, the reservation systems put in place progressively, since independence. The logic was that the wilfully deprived should be given a chance to get rehabilitated. And the deprivers get a chance to remedy, do “praayashchittha” for all the wrongs done. The reservation hydra assumed a life of its own after political parties saw an opportunity to serve themselves into power by fanning the flames of entitlement. One by one, education, employment in government, legislative seats, have all been subject to varying degrees of this “neta culture” or the “VVIP culture”, the name change had occurred, as politicians of all hues, and government servants, had become “owners” and “guardians” of the entitlement era. The later additions to the VVIP culture had nothing to do with the original caste system, but catered to the new caste masters – mantris and politicians. No-checking-of-visa travel, first class domestic travel in all forms of transport, large convoys protecting the VVIPs blocking roads, preferential treatment in all institutions spawning a huge corruption ridden “corruption raj”, and many other variants.

All these developments have led to an India where many Indians have forgotten what is a “duty”. The origin of this development lies in the blind following of what developed countries do. After creating huge wealth, leading to “rich getting richer and poor getting poorer”, a way was found to restore equality, by the developed world. Enter, the “welfare state”. With all its entitlements.

However, India wanted to jump to this state, without the main pre-requisite- creation of wealth. As many have observed before, in India, we have been redistributing poverty ever since independence. We need to reach a level of living, for which people have sweated it out, so that we can then start taking care of those left behind. Only in such a case can poor people aspire and get to participate in the creation of prosperity and peace.

But Indian history, prior to independence, is replete with exploitation, and, after independence, democracy has made it a game of numbers, leaving considerations of wealth creation to the sidelines. In fact, in India, very much unlike the west, a culture of looking down and denigrating wealth creators has been overwhelming and myopic. One needs to sift the spurious from the genuine, and accept the fact that, as in other walks of life, business is not perfect. One should look for the best fit, rather than the best fit. The irony is that, successive governments, at the centre and the states, have all run with the hares and hunted with the hounds. Politicians of all parts, since independence, have relied on businessmen for running their parties and elections, while denigrating them at the same time, and supporting them in all matters legal and illegal.

With the call for a “New India”, resembling the call by President Roosevelt’s New Deal in the US, the new PM Modi has given a clarion call for building a new country of prosperity and wealth.

Ancient India was the wealthiest place in the world, with architecture and cultural moorings of a first rate order, which has withstood the test of time and supported the country’s chequered progress under regressive foreign invaders and other attacks. It is about time that we Indians started to think for ourselves, to make our own roads, to a shining future. And, in that endeavour, the Marathas, and others like them need to step up and strengthen the resolve and the will to contribute and create rather than demand and deviate.

Jai Hind.

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