Do Indians really know a lot that others don’t? Is all the knowledge ever to have already found its way into our head? The brief discussion above in LinkedIn Updates would certainly point to that… never mind the quick rebuff. Instances such as these, if you ask me, are symptomatic of a strange illness of mind, that of arrogant mediocrity (for want of a better term).
So, are Indians mediocre? I guess the answer is a firm ‘Yes’. The trouble though is elsewhere. We don’t know we are mediocre. Many of us blissfully believe we are a talented bunch of people. The world awaits us to be conquered!
It’s not that India did not have talented personas. Take the example of Bengal, my home state. At the risk of sounding parochial I can safely say that Bengal was once the cradle of wisdom and knowledge in many fields – science, culture, cinema, art, sports, literature, education, you name it! Today it is lost in the abyss of time.
Bengal’s decline, you might say, is because of political upheavals (though I don’t buy the argument) but what about other states? I’m talking about people, mind you, and not the glitzy lifestyle you see in the cities.
The picture is the same everywhere.
Why is this so?
This is one riddle that weighed in on my mind for a long time. Why a country of billion would be so utterly mediocre in any field you can think of?
I couldn’t find a satisfactory answer. Till recently.
And the answer is in the following article (produced verbatim) by Ghazala Wahab of the Force magazine that appeared in the Times of India Kolkata edition, March 25, 2014. It is titled, The Age of Mediocrity.
++ The Age of Mediocrity ++
Either it is a broadening of his world view or an effect of the compulsions of electoral politics, but as Aam Aadmi Party’s founder and leading light Arvind Kejriwal took the plunge into national politics, he observed that communalism was a bigger issue in India than corruption. Interestingly, he said this during an interaction with members of Delhi’s India Islamic Centre.
Almost around the same time Javed Iqbal Ansari, one of the Rashtriya Janata Dal rebels who jumped ship before the elections, announced on national television that he was quitting the party as he is morally obliged, because of his community, to pursue secular politics.
What is it about Indian Muslims that all politicians or wannabe politicians feel compelled to mouth the usual ‘secular-communal’ platitudes to win them over? Why do they think that for a Muslim the only worry is communalism? There is no denying the fact that communal politics should be a major concern for all well-meaning Indians (not just Muslims), just as corruption should be. But i am coming round to believe that our biggest worry should be inefficiency borne out of incompetence. And this goes to the root of all our problems.
India’s big fortune of having intellectual stalwarts like Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Azad etc at the dawn of Independence has also been its biggest misfortune — because it gave an exaggerated sense of self to us. Political leaders like these were not representative of the Indian people, a majority of whom were illiterate with only partially-developed intellect.
Over the next few decades, as we tried to reach education to the lowest common denominator, we constantly lowered standards so that the weakest could catch up. As a result the average intellectual capacity of our nation today is determined not by our brightest, but by our dumbest.
This progressive lowering of standards has dangerously permeated every rung of our societal ladder. Take for example the Indian armed forces. Senior army officers admit that over years the standards for officer intake have been lowered so much that today they do not get the kind of youth they did till about 20 years ago. However, they are getting better educated recruits in other ranks.
It is not that officer aspirants are not educated, they may be more qualified in terms of degrees. But this qualification does not add value to their lives or their professions, because it does not feed their intellect. No amount of training or experience can make up for the absence of thinking capacity or imagination. Then how can these officers suddenly become strategists upon promotion?
The same rings true for every other profession in India, whether it is bureaucracy, management or even educational institutions — all of which are populated, even led by mediocre people with limited thinking faculties. They can memorise well and apply formulas and theories, but they cannot think for themselves, cannot analyse and cannot put the past in the present context to understand the future.
This is extremely worrisome because most of our leadership, political, bureaucratic and industrial is populated by mediocre people. Mediocrity breeds insecurity and that leads to dishonesty. Mediocre people support and promote other mediocre people so that they can all coexist. One doesn’t have to search for examples here, they are all around us. In parents who fudge documents so that their kids get an edge over others and in teachers who nudge their students to cheat so that the school’s record remains unblemished. So we plagiarise blatantly until we are caught, then we say we were merely inspired!
This is the reason why our top diplomats are bested by their counterparts in international arena. In all our negotiations with Pakistan or China we end up with the short end of the stick, agreeing to their proposals because we cannot come up with any of our own and cannot think through the motives behind their proposals. Our analysts mug up western strategic-political literature without thinking about Indian conditions on their own merit; our scientists can-not produce anything of consequence, whether it be general-purpose inventions such as in the realm of anaesthesia or weapons systems; all the largest section of our manufacturing sector does is licence production of western products; even our films are bested by those coming from Iran or Korea in international competitions!
How shameful is it that in the area of statecraft, diplomacy or strategy if we need to refer to Indian thought, we cannot get beyond Chanakya, who lived in ancient India! For contemporary examples, we have to take recourse to western thinkers and writers.
Because we lack so much in imagination our political class repeatedly gets away with touting symptomatic issues as the real ones and we cannot figure it out. Worse, we are so insecure that we collectively try and silence isolated original ideas whenever they appear once in a while, because we fear they will disrupt the status quo. Both divisiveness and pettiness are products of insecure minds short on vision.
Honestly, i don’t care about honest or secular leaders. I want intelligent (not clever) and imaginative (not plagiarist) leaders. Because if you have these qualities, you will in any case be on a plane higher than thieves and thugs.
What do you think? Tell your mind in the comments below.
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++ ADDENDUM ++
April 21, 2014: I didn’t imagine an example in support of my analysis would present itself so soon! Here it is below. Go figure.