June 25th, 1975 was the day that Indira Gandhi revealed that within her beats the heart of a ruthless dictator. On the 35th anniversary of that day, it is appropriate to remember that the Congress party brought authoritarian rule to India for the first time after independence. More accurately, Indira Gandhi brought dictatorship to the land. What matters today is that the descendants of Indira Gandhi are becoming increasingly powerful and could very well revert to dictatorial ways. Let’s ponder that for a bit.
I have nothing per se against dictators. In small or large measures, organizations and institutions have people at the top who make decisions and enforce their dictates either through force or through persuasion. There’s nothing in a flawed democratic setup that recommends it over the rule of an enlightened dictator. What I am against is the rule of ruthless selfish myopic unintelligent dictators.
Mrs Gandhi’s dictatorship is not the kind that recommends itself to me.
I was not thrilled by the dictatorship of the original Mrs Gandhi. I am even less thrilled by the dictatorship of the Italian Mrs Gandhi. For now, she’s just dictating to her lackeys such as Manmohan Singh and Pratibha Patil, and the party she heads. But if the Congress ever gets a majority in the parliament, we can expect a full-blown dictatorship for India.
Italy gave the world fascism. Mussolini was an Italian. Worth keeping in mind.
But we should pause here to remember that dictators and dictatorships are endogenous, not exogenous, to the population.
In an introduction to Étienne de La Boétie’s Discourse of Voluntary Servitude (1576), Murray Rothbart writes that the fundamental insight was
. . . that every tyranny must necessarily be grounded upon general popular acceptance. In short, the bulk of the people themselves, for whatever reason, acquiesce in their own subjection. If this were not the case, no tyranny, indeed no governmental rule, could long endure. Hence, a government does not have to be popularly elected to enjoy general public support; for general public support is in the very nature of all governments that endure, including the most oppressive of tyrannies. The tyrant is but one person, and could scarcely command the obedience of another person, much less of an entire country, if most of the subjects did not grant their obedience by their own consent.
India needs enlightened leaders, whether dictators or democrats. But it has been getting stupid leaders — dictators and “democrats” — not because of some unfortunate accident but because the population at large is not “enlightened.”
For India to get decent leadership, Indians have to change. At a minimum, Indians have to stop being impressed by charlatans and crooks. Indians have to demonstrate that they can take the long view, that they are not willing to vote criminals into office.
Indians have granted “their obedience by their own consent” to dictators for a long while. The most recent in living memory is Mrs Indira Gandhi. Before that it was to their British overlords. Before that to the Islamic invaders. It goes into remote antiquity perhaps.
On the 35th anniversary of Mrs Gandhi’s revelation of her true nature as a dictator, it is absolutely important that we remind ourselves that it is high time Indians gave up voluntary servitude.