A National Character Flaw

Just got off a call with my friend CJ. He had watched Dr Manmohan Singh’s TV personalities’ press conference. Eager to get an outsider’s perspective on it, I asked him what he thought of it. He thought it was a fascinating glimpse of the Indian character.

“No, no,” I said. “What did you think of Mr Singh.”

“Mr Singh,” CJ said, “is only the prime minister of India. India is a democracy and he represents Indians more than any other single person. His character reflects the Indian character in a very compelling sense.”

“I think he is the most despicably dishonest person,” I said. “So you mean to say that Indians are fundamentally dishonest? I don’t think so. Indians are not collectively dishonest.”

“Actually, you may be mistaken,” CJ replied. “The fact that India is a desperately poor country points squarely to the fact that Indians must be collectively myopically selfish. If it were otherwise, India would have been a very prosperous country. Prosperity is an indicator of character — be it an individual or a collective.”

“So you mean that Indians are collectively dishonest, and therefore India is poor?”

“Actually, you have to ask yourself this question,” CJ said. “Can an honest people have a dishonest person as their representative? If Dr Manmohan Singh is a despicably dishonest person, as you put it, then should you not conclude that collectively Indians are endorsing him by refusing to get him fired? Surely you know that India is a representative democracy. The collective will of the people determines who is at the top. That means Indians has a collective responsibility for who governs India.”

“I see your point but I find it hard to reconcile that with my fundamental belief that Indians are no worse than any other people,” I said.

“It may be impolite for me to point it out, but dishonesty is not the worst of it. What’s worse is the collective delusion. That press conference epitomized the worst of the Indian character to me. Not only do you as a people lie but tragically you believe in the lie yourself.

“It is one thing to be self-serving. All people are to some degree or the other. But even if one is forced to be self-serving from time to time, one should be mindful of that failing and attempt to avoid short-sighted selfishness. However, if you have deluded yourself into believing your lie that you are not dishonest, you have denied yourself the possibility of corrective action.

“Mr Manmohan Singh is dishonest. But evidently he has believed the lie that others tell about him: that he is a person of integrity. That self-delusion is also widespread in India. Too many people parrot the lie that Mr Singh is an honest person. Why? Because if they don’t delude themselves into believing that he is honest, if they admit that he is dishonest and lacks integrity, they will have to admit that they collectively lack integrity and either be ashamed for being so or will have to work hard to fix the problem. The only option open to a collective that is inherently dishonest is to delude themselves into believing that they are honest. That’s the easiest option. And the most damaging in the long run.”

I had nothing more to say to CJ.

Author: Atanu Dey


21 thoughts on “A National Character Flaw”

  1. It’s not a surprising thing. Politicians don’t descend from heaven or ascend from hell. They are one of us even though we find it difficult to accept that fact. They come from us. Garbage in garbage out!


  2. The Indian collective is definitely dishonest and I concur with CJ on that. However, we do have some great, honest individuals in the country due to which there is some salvage. Hope that this number of honest, intelligent individuals increases gradually and becomes significant enough to affect the collective result. That is a long way though, however, the journey has definitely begun.


  3. I think you are being quite extreme in saying that Singh is despicably dishonest. The same guy was instrumental in ’91 reforms. That does say something about him. Had he been that dishonest, he would have carried on with the license raj and accepted kickbacks; not bothering to make those reforms. Also, CJ is wrong in saying that Mr Singh represents indians, because Singh is not elected by the people. His appointment was a political masterstroke by Sonia to tackle the foreigner angle by opposition. Even in cases where the PM is elected, the voter turnout is so low; and the votes of the poorest of poor, which actually matters in election, are seldom thought out.The US prez can never say that evolution supersedes intelligent design, but does that mean the US population is collectively anti-science?


  4. Prakash,

    I do not agree with you the Man Mohan Singh was instrumental in ‘91 reforms. Indian had no other choice. The policies of congress had
    broght Indian on the brink of bankruptcy. We had to hypothecate our
    gold to import some oil. It is thanks to Indian enterpreneurs that
    they grabbed this chance with both hands and because of that
    we have huge foreign reserves now .


  5. Prakash,
    ’91 reforms were shoved down the throat of India from IMF. MMS just implemented what was demanded off of India from IMF as a condition for bailout.
    BTW, the present US president does not advocate intelligent design.


  6. Atanu leaves many educated Indian readers no choice other than to dissociate themselves from the collective. Suppose I have a spotless record of honesty. (I have to say “suppose” because nobody would believe a direct assertion.) Suppose I also understand and agree that whether one directly labels MMS as dishonest or just an impotent buffoon, he must relinquish his seat as a matter of cosmic justice. I may also have observed that this is “absolute grading” — once MMS rides out into the sunset, there will be no one significantly more endowed with honesty and competence to sit in the throne. So what are my options now? How do I pry MMS’s butt free from his throne (and perhaps impart a swift kick to speed him on)? What chance do I have of success wihin the next decade, without adopting RDB strategies? Assuming I never support dishonesty to further any of my personal ends, is it dishonest to be pragmatic and to give up trying to reform this doomed subcontinent? Why am I not entitled to just do my honest job, collect my meager salaries and eat what little adulterated food I can get with my ever-dimishing buying power, without being called dishonest?


  7. I guess it is safe to assume that you know a bit of Marathi…
    In Marathi there is a saying – “jashi praja tasa raja” – “as the king so go the people” and that in a nutshell is the gist of what you wrote above…
    Sardarji is as dishonest as they come..but even more dishonest are the Daruwallahs-Khans-Mainos aka Gandhi Nehru rulers of India.
    These bastards will suck the last remaining juice out of India and watch it die rather than give up power – but then what the fuck are the people doing? Watching their balls being cut off and probably playing marbles with their balls I suppose?
    Why did 2004 go so wrong? (re-election of BJP) and why did the people not throw out the Gandhi dynasty in 2009?
    Shameful, shameful, shameful..but we will surely live to see the demise of this evil family…only to be replaced by some other bastards..India will never get rid of these evil people or their types because there is no will inside us to be ruled by law..we like our rules this way – because we are this way….


  8. Reminds me of of Orwell says “To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed…” obviously referring to Goebbels’ “Big Lie”… We in India can talk about our own “Mega Lie”- The family version


  9. Currently i am visiting US, and one thing i noticed here clearly is the personal leadership people show. May be that how they are groomed. And then i thought about Indian society where any one showing any descent leadership is seen as threat?? No point blaming system as we make it, but how many of we get together and do something synchronously that’s what’s going to count.


  10. In my opinion it’s exactly opposite to what your friend suggests. We see ‘community’ of politician so different from ‘the common man’ that we forget that they represent us. We either have very high regards/respect/awe for them or have absolute disgust for them. For common people around us we have full spectrum of adjectives and we relate to them at some emotional level but when it comes to politicians, they are completely different tribe-It’s almost like dividing them in one of the two categories-Deva or Danava-and we mango people are none of them.


  11. Atanu, there is no such animal as ‘collective guilt’. If we fail to vote, we are guilty. If we fail to vote for the right person and party we are guilty. One of my GMs in SBI, where I worked once, used to say “You live or die with the choices you make.”

    As long as we do our Karma, which is voting right when the time comes, we are not guilty. The abandonment of intellect by the ‘intelligentsia’ is one of the reasons why the country keeps voting back Congress and its allied partners in crime. A few more MPs this side of the divide and history might have been different.

    We need not shoulder the burden of guilt for the fact that we have this kind of Government and flagellate ourselves. Doing our duty is essential, the rest is dependent on the collective will of the people, assuming that the match is not fixed with crooked EVMs!


  12. Anybody having read about the 1991 reforms would simply know that these reforms had to be enforced rather. It was a ‘do or die situation’, thanks to previous predecessors’ inactions.
    And more importantly it was PV Narsimharao’s decision making that opened up the doors. The man did some tremendous job to unshackle India from rigid economic environment. But as they say good times don’t last so was the fall of the only ever capable Congress person. Its a shame that most of the Indians end up crediting MMS for 1991 instead of realising the actual person who lead the gates open!


  13. Welcome back to CJ.

    Most Indians are very much like our PM.
    We may not do bad, but we don’t stop others from doing bad.

    On MMS doing economic reforms:
    In 1991, PVN & MMS reformed some parts of economy, under intense pressure. It was not done by choice, but because there was no other choice.
    let’s not forget Dr Singh was made PM, purely because he is harmless.

    Dr Subramanian Swamy predicts, with the kind of spending Chidambaram & Pranab-da are doing, we’ll be back to 1991-kind of situation in next 2-3 years.
    That’s when, we’ll have the next set of reforms….


  14. Also forgot to add,
    Dr Singh epitomizes one quality we Indians have.
    Be it Sonia-ji, Queen Elizabeth, YSR-ji, Dr Singh is always all-praises of them.


  15. I think Indians put up with anything basically thats the national character, its the slave mentality they have inherited after being slaves of Muslims and then the British. Take for example a simple thing like drinking water. A recent study declared that the water in Delhi is unfit for consumption by Western standards. But this does not stop Indians with putting up with using such water and not bother with this issue at all…


  16. Spineless, gutless, no balls, … the list of bodily deficits goes on. Why do Indians lack so many body parts? Could it be because there is a limited supply of organs and we need to share them between way too many voters?

    To interpret the joke for some of the low power lamps out here, perhaps Indians put up with so much shit because they know that with their prodigious procreation rates, they do not have the moral authority to ask for anything better?


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  18. A brutally honest fact is stated in this post ” A great majority of Indians are dishonest”. Have we been always like this or does it have to do something with the fact that we were slaves for centuries and the English looted India to such an extent that from the richest country in the world it became one of the poorest and it became a question of survival? When that state is reached that one struggles for survival, morality takes a back seat, dishonesty takes over.Now this has become ingrained in our genes. Hopefully as the prosperity increases and survival is no longer a struggle we may start changing.


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