Baneful effect of fear and bhakti in India in 2021: Dread of offending the govt is all pervasive
Ambedkar had warned against the habit of submission which brings no glory to a nation or an individual. “In politics, bhakti is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship,” he had said
It will be simplistic to believe that fear alone prompted the luminaries in the entertainment and sporting world in India to fall in line with the government’s critical view of the support extended to the farmers by several foreign celebrities.
True, few among either the ‘unwashed masses’ or the denizens of opulent living quarters will want to rub the high and mighty in the corridors of power the wrong way, lest they should experience the trauma of an unannounced visit by minions of the Enforcement Directorate, the Narcotics Control Bureau or some other department.
It is obviously safer to nod affirmatively to whatever the rulers of the day want them to say and sign on the dotted line. Hence, the near-identical tweets by Indian cinematic and cricketing stars against the evil machinations of the ‘foreigners’.
The prevalence of fear in society was noted some time ago by one of the top corporate honchos, Rahul Bajaj. He was speaking of his fellow tycoons. But the latest example from outside the business world shows how pervasive is the dread of offending the government.
This is not to deny that some of those upholding the nation’s sovereignty against foreign conspirators in their tweets may have been in agreement with the government’s line of thinking. But ideological affinity is only one explanation for the chorus of endorsement which the government was able to secure after a Swedish environment activist and a pop singer from Barbados with worldwide fame and millions of followers on Twitter expressed their angst over the farmers’ agitation.
There is another reason which is different from ideological like-mindedness or the fear of retribution for non-compliance. Its roots are in a closeted frame of mind which is naturally inclined to being submissive towards people in authority, whether they are the karta or the head of a household or the boss in an office or the functionaries of a ruling dispensation.
In India, it is an attitude of docility which is instilled in a child from an early age. Any deviation is not only frowned on but can lead to corporal punishment or a severe reprimand because a disobedient child is regarded as a disgrace for the family.
Brought up in an atmosphere where the questioning of those in authority is out of the question, it is not surprising that grown-up men quietly acquiesce in the diktats of their parents to burn their unwanted wives if they did not bring enough dowry.
Young men and women also find it convenient to accept the choices of their spouses by their parents instead of taking the trouble of going out on their own to look for a soul mate. Hence, the flourishing of the matrimonial columns advertising brides (of the right caste, community and skin tone) and of grooms with the right income.
In other words, Indians take a long time to grow up and express their opinions which may not be palatable to those with the power to wield societal or administrative clout. The kowtowing of the movie and sporting icons to what the government has said on the farmers’ agitation can be ascribed to this inborn meekness.
It may be advisable to abide by what the elders say if only because they have greater experience. But beyond a point, it stunts the mind of a young person, robbing them of the chance to think on their own. It is for this reason that the ancient texts tell parents to treat their children as friends (mitra) when they reach the age of 16. But, in India, the young do not become the friends of their parents even when they are 60.
Ambedkar had warned against the habit of submission which brings no glory to a nation or an individual. “Bhakti in religion”, he said, “may be a road to salvation of the soul. But, in politics, bhakti or hero worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship”.
Nowhere is bhakti or hero worship more in evidence than in the phenomenon of ‘godmen’ and ‘godwomen’ which is seen in India. These intermediaries between the Almighty and hoi polloi are known to secure unquestioning loyalty from their followers and guide them virtually in all spheres of their lives.
There is little doubt that the root of this fealty lies in the blind devotion to parents which shapes a child’s upbringing and characterizes his behaviour in later life. It is this sense of conformity as in a feudal society which has turned bureaucrats into “caged parrots”, as the Supreme Court once observed.
It is different in the West where young men and women leave their parents’ houses when they are around 18 years old and begin to live on their own with all the challenges and pitfalls while developing an independent attitude. As a result, no one will find it easy to persuade them to timidly ditto what the authorities have said.
(Views expressed are personal)