True Democracy in Action (un-believable)

 

 

 

 

 

True Democracy in Action.

JOGISHWAR SINGH

 

 

As a Swiss citizen born in India, I am many times brought to think about my experiences of the democratic systems prevalent in the two countries. 

Before Indian ‘patriots’ start screaming murder at what I am going to say, I should point out that I am fully aware that I am talking about two different historical realities. 

Switzerland has been independent for over 800 years while India is a newly created entity, now a mere 66 years old. 

Switzerland has a population of only 8 million while India has the second highest population of any country in the world at over 1.2 billion (give or take a few million). And expected, in the near future, to even outstrip China, and become the world’s most populous. 

The trigger for this set of reflections was what I saw on the 7.30 pm eve. news on Swiss TV a couple of weeks ago. 

The Swiss President, Mr Ueli Maurer, was leaving on a five day state visit to China. The news showed him arriving at Zürich airport in an ordinary private vehicle. The President got out of the car by opening the car door himself. He walked to the nearby baggage trolley stand outside the airport entrance. He took a baggage trolley out, rolled it towards the car, lifted his suitcase and travel bag himself, put these on the trolley which he then rolled towards the entrance like any passenger lambda like you or me. He walked up to the check in counter with just two other persons walking behind him. He checked his luggage in for a commercial flight without any special treatment being meted out to him.

For any Indians (or others) who might find it difficult to believe what I have described above, you can CLICK on the link provided hereunder, at the end of this article, to view a TV news clip from the evening prime time news for July 16, 2013..

You’ll get visual proof of the Swiss President’s arrival at the airport, his check in for his state visit to China and a short interview with a TV journalist. This clip is really worth watching.

Conditioned by my personal experiences of dealing with politicians and government ministers in India while serving as an IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officer, I was so struck by the contrast between what I had experienced in India and what I was seeing on the TV screen that I told my wife that this represented one of the finest examples of democracy for me, certainly of the Swiss variety. It made me proud to be the citizen of a country where the serving President behaves like an ordinary citizen and does not feel the need to consider  special privileged treatment as his divine birthright

I remembered the countless times when I had seen the fury of Indian politicians, much below the level of the President of a country, at what they considered as a slight because they had not been treated as demi-gods.

I am not a psychologist. I do not know whether centuries of slavery have generated this distorted VIP culture in India but I remember that we all did curse the politicians there for causing so much inconvenience to the general public by expecting, demanding and getting privileged treatment. 

Who in India, except maybe some politicians or bureaucrats, has not been inconvenienced by VIP visits for which miles of roads and highways, even entire neighbourhoods, are blocked off to traffic, and flights are delayed, awaiting the arrival of some VIP or even his/her flunkies/family members? 

Any such inconvenience would cause an uproar in Switzerland

In India, it does not generate even a whimper.

In this context, an incident from the not very distant past strongly lingers in my memory. A few years ago, a former IAS batch-mate of mine (1976 batch) had visited Switzerland. 

I have noticed that Switzerland becomes a prize destination of choice for a lot of Indian ministers and bureaucrats during their hot summer for attending all kinds of useless conferences which are essentially talking shops organised by the United Nations, an organisation which is a hotbed of nepotism and inefficiency.

This IAS officer wanted to see Switzerland, so I acted as his local tourist guide. 

While we were going around the Swiss federal capital, Bern, it was lunch time so we decided to have lunch at a restaurant very close to the Swiss parliament building. 

As we took our seats at a table, a Swiss gentleman sitting at the next table, reading his newspaper while sipping his coffee, greeted us in English. While we ordered our meal and waited, he finished reading his newspaper, drank his coffee and called for his bill which he paid before leaving. While going out, he again politely wished us goodbye, even saying, “I hope you enjoy your stay in Switzerland” in English.

After he had left, I asked my visitor if he knew who the man had been. Obviously, my visitor did not know the answer. I informed him that we had just been greeted by the then serving Swiss President, Mr René Felber. 

My guest thought I was making fun of him. He would not believe me so I called the restaurant manager to confirm the veracity of what I had told him. The manager duly confirmed what I had said. 

My Indian visitor was flabbergasted. He said, “How can this be possible? He actually paid his bill before leaving”. 

So, what struck my visitor the most had been the fact that a VIP had actually paid his bill! I wonder what he would say if he saw our current President, Mr Ueli Maurer, personally loading his bags on to a baggage trolley and wheeling it to a check-in counter just like any ordinary citizen. His disbelief could only be countered by visual evidence on the TV!

My visitor’s reaction brought back memories of when, as a serving sub-divisional or district level official, I had been called upon to organise lunches and dinners for numerous collections of freeloaders travelling with ministers or bureaucrats in India. 

I seldom remember any politician or bureaucrat actually paying or even offering to pay for the bonanza laid out for them. Those who did offer to pay, did so at the ridiculously low official daily fare of eleven rupees (today, a mere 20 cents US) per person or something like that. 

Nobody ever asked how it had been possible to lay out a lavish meal comprising several dishes, accompanied by expensive alcoholic beverages, for such a petty sum. I never found out myself who used to pay for all this extravaganza at the end of the line. 

Like a good Indian bureaucrat, I just used to pass the buck down the line to my junior magistrates and revenue officials. To this day, I am unable to clarify which poor victim — read, citizen! — who got stuck with paying for all the freebies on offer.

While working as chief of staff to the President of the Swiss Commission for the Presence of Switzerland in Foreign Countries many years ago, I had the chance of accompanying him to Strasbourg for meetings of the Council of Europe. I also had the privilege of close interaction with several Swiss members of parliament over an extended period of 12 to 14 months. 

The contrast to the behavioural pattern of what I had experienced in India with politicians was so stark that it has stayed seared in my mind even till today. 

I am by no means suggesting that Swiss politicians are angels but the kind of behaviour that Indian politicians or bureaucrats get away with as a matter of routine in India would torpedo their careers in Switzerland in a jiffy.

Each such incident deepens my gratitude to Waheguru Almighty for having made me settle down in a country like Switzerland where the President carries his own bags to the check-in counter. 

Where no roads are blocked for hours so that some VIP can, in the name of security, be whisked around in convoys of official vehicles. 

Where politicians and bureaucrats pay their bills in restaurants. 

Where grossly sycophantic behaviour is not the general and accepted norm. 

Where no red-light beacons or screaming sirens signal the passage of VIP vehicles. Indeed, the red-light-beacon culture of officialdom in India merits a full story in itself.

I might accept India as a true democracy the day I see its President or Prime Minister behaving like the Swiss President before his departure on an official visit abroad. 

I don’t think I will ever see such a sight in India during my lifetime. 

You think, maybe, my grandchildren will?

 

To view the TV news-clip, please CLICK here.

 

 August 1, 2013

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Sri Aurobindo on the modern civilised society

 

But in a civilised society there is still the distinction between

the partially, crudely, conventionally civilised and the cultured. It

would seem therefore that the mere participation in the ordinary

benefits of civilisation is not enough to raise a man into the

mental life proper; a farther development, a higher elevation is

needed. The last generation drew emphatically the distinction

between the cultured man and the Philistine and got a fairly

clear idea of what was meant by it. Roughly, the Philistine was

for them the man who lives outwardly the civilised life, possesses

all its paraphernalia, has and mouths the current stock of opinions,

prejudices, conventions, sentiments, but is impervious to

ideas, exercises no free intelligence, is innocent of beauty and art,

vulgarises everything that he touches, religion, ethics, literature,

life. The Philistine is in fact the modern civilised barbarian; he

is often the half-civilised physical and vital barbarian by his

unintelligent attachment to the life of the body, the life of the

vital needs and impulses and the ideal of the merely domestic

and economic human animal; but essentially and commonly he

is the mental barbarian, the average sensational man. That is

to say, his mental life is that of the lower substratum of the

mind, the life of the senses, the life of the sensations, the life

of the emotions, the life of practical conduct—the first status

of the mental being. In all these he may be very active, very

vigorous, but he does not govern them by a higher light or seek

to uplift them to a freer and nobler eminence; rather he pulls the

higher faculties down to the level of his senses, his sensations, his

unenlightened and unchastened emotions, his gross utilitarian

practicality. His aesthetic side is little developed; either he cares

nothing for beauty or has the crudest aesthetic tastes which help

to lower and vulgarise the general standard of aesthetic creation

and the aesthetic sense. He is often strong about morals, far more

particular usually about moral conduct than the man of culture,

but his moral being is as crude and undeveloped as the rest of

him; it is conventional, unchastened, unintelligent, a mass of

likes and dislikes, prejudices and current opinions, attachment

to social conventions and respectabilities and an obscure dislike

—rooted in the mind of sensations and not in the intelligence—

of any open defiance or departure from the generally accepted

standard of conduct. His ethical bent is a habit of the sensemind;

it is the morality of the average sensational man. He has

a reason and the appearance of an intelligent will, but they are

not his own, they are part of the group-mind, received from his

environment; or so far as they are his own, merely a practical,

sensational, emotional reason and will, a mechanical repetition

of habitual notions and rules of conduct, not a play of real

thought and intelligent determination. His use of them no more

makes him a developed mental being than the daily movement

to and from his place of business makes the average Londoner

a developed physical being or his quotidian contributions to the

economic life of the country make the bank-clerk a developed

economic man. He is not mentally active, but mentally reactive,

—a very different matter.

 

 

The Philistine is not dead,—quite the contrary, he abounds,

—but he no longer reigns. The sons of Culture have not exactly

conquered, but they have got rid of the old Goliath and replaced

him by a new giant. This is the sensational man who has got

awakened to the necessity at least of some intelligent use of the

higher faculties and is trying to be mentally active. He has been

whipped and censured and educated into that activity and he

lives besides in a maelstrom of new information, new intellectual

fashions, new ideas and new movements to which he can

no longer be obstinately impervious. He is open to new ideas,

he can catch at them and hurl them about in a rather confused

fashion; he can understand or misunderstand ideals, organise to

get them carried out and even, it would appear, fight and die

for them. He knows he has to think about ethical problems,

social problems, problems of science and religion, to welcome

new political developments, to look with as understanding an

eye as he can attain to at all the new movements of thought

and inquiry and action that chase each other across the modern

field or clash upon it. He is a reader of poetry as well as a

devourer of fiction and periodical literature,—you will find in

him perhaps a student of Tagore or an admirer of Whitman; he

has perhaps no very clear ideas about beauty and aesthetics, but

he has heard that Art is a not altogether unimportant part of

life. The shadow of this new colossus is everywhere. He is the

great reading public; the newspapers and weekly and monthly

reviews are his; fiction and poetry and art are his mental caterers,

the theatre and the cinema and the radio exist for him: Science

hastens to bring her knowledge and discoveries to his doors

and equip his life with endless machinery; politics are shaped

in his image. It is he who opposed and then brought about the

enfranchisement of women, who has been evolving syndicalism,

anarchism, the war of classes, the uprising of labour, waging

what we are told are wars of ideas or of cultures,—a ferocious

type of conflict made in the very image of this new barbarism,—

or bringing about in a few days Russian revolutions which the

century-long efforts and sufferings of the intelligentsia failed to

achieve. It is his coming which has been the precipitative agent

for the reshaping of the modern world. If a Lenin, a Mussolini, a

Hitler have achieved their rapid and almost stupefying success,

it was because this driving force, this responsive quick-acting

mass was there to carry them to victory—a force lacking to

their less fortunate predecessors.

The first results of this momentous change have been inspiriting

to our desire of movement, but a little disconcerting to the

thinker and to the lover of a high and fine culture; for if it has to

some extent democratised culture or the semblance of culture, it

does not seem at first sight to have elevated or strengthened it by

this large accession of the half-redeemed from below. Nor does

the world seem to be guided any more directly by the reason and

intelligent will of her best minds than before. Commercialism is

still the heart of modern civilisation; a sensational activism is

still its driving force. Modern education has not in the mass

redeemed the sensational man; it has only made necessary to

him things to which he was not formerly accustomed, mental

activity and occupations, intellectual and even aesthetic sensations,

emotions of idealism. He still lives in the vital substratum,

but he wants it stimulated from above. He requires an army

of writers to keep him mentally occupied and provide some

sort of intellectual pabulum for him; he has a thirst for general

information of all kinds which he does not care or has not time

to coordinate or assimilate, for popularised scientific knowledge,

for such new ideas as he can catch, provided they are put before

himwith force or brilliance, formental sensations and excitation

of many kinds, for ideals which he likes to think of as actuating

his conduct and which do give it sometimes a certain colour.

It is still the activism and sensationalism of the crude mental

being, but much more open and free. And the cultured, the

intelligentsia find that they can get a hearing from him such as

they never had from the pure Philistine, provided they can first

stimulate or amuse him; their ideas have now a chance of getting

executed such as they never had before. The result has been to

cheapen thought and art and literature, to make talent and even

genius run in the grooves of popular success, to put the writer

and thinker and scientist very much in a position like that of

the cultured Greek slave in a Roman household where he has to

work for, please, amuse and instruct his master while keeping a

careful eye on his tastes and preferences and repeating trickily

the manner and the points that have caught his fancy. The higher

mental life, in a word, has been democratised, sensationalised,

activised with both good and bad results. Through it all the

eye of faith can see perhaps that a yet crude but an enormous

change has begun. Thought and Knowledge, if not yet Beauty,

can get a hearing and even produce rapidly some large, vague,

yet in the end effective will for their results; the mass of culture

and of men who think and strive seriously to appreciate and

to know has enormously increased behind all this surface veil

of sensationalism, and even the sensational man has begun to

undergo a process of transformation. Especially, new methods

of education, new principles of society are beginning to come

into the range of practical possibility which will create perhaps

one day that as yet unknown phenomenon, a race of men—not

only a class—who have to some extent found and developed

their mental selves, a cultured humanity.

VOLUME 25

THE COMPLETE WORKS OF SRI AUROBINDO p89-91

National Seminar on COMMUNAL HARMONY AND SRI AUROBINDO’S VISION OF SOUTH ASIA,Bamanpukur Humayun Kabir College and Institute of Integral Yoga Psychology, Auroshakti Foundation

National Seminar on COMMUNAL HARMONY AND SRI AUROBINDO’S VISION OF SOUTH ASIA,Bamanpukur Humayun Kabir College and Institute of Integral Yoga Psychology, Auroshakti Foundation

 RESOLUTION

In his Independence Day Message on 15th August, 1947, Sri Aurobindo while acknowledging India’s freedom also pointed out that unity in the subcontinent had not been achieved which would inevitably result in greater disharmony in the subcontinent and which could only be solved by a new South Asian alignment where the essence of unity would be more important than the outer forms. In keeping with this view, this seminar proposes a resolution for a concerted movement towards a new paradigm of South Asian Unity, preferably in the form of a confederation and a propagation of the idea of South Asian Unity as a living concept in the psyche, dreams and aspiration of the youth, students and the public of this region.  A detailed and exhaustive programme for South Asian Unity shall be constructed and percolated through education, social programmes, cultural programmes, political interactions so as to be consolidated in the psyche of the subcontinent.