The Road to Tyranny

Slowly raising the temperature allows a frog submerged in water to get accustomed to its ever-worsening condition until it gets cooked to death. So goes folk wisdom regarding how to cook a frog. Though a pointless exercise, it does serve as a good metaphor for how countries gradually advance on the road to tyranny — in very small, nearly imperceptible steps.

But it is possible to notice small objects and minute changes if one gets sensitized to them. It is hard to notice a commercial jetliner at cruising altitude from the ground without its telltale vapor trail. However, after someone points it out to you, it’s easy enough to track the nearly invisible object in the sky if you focus on it.

I think that people are not paying attention to the steps that the government of India is taking in relieving people of the few freedoms they had. The control over various aspects of people’s lives that the government is increasingly taking through large and small measures should be terrifying. Should be but it isn’t. People should be expected to resist and even revolt. But they appear not to be bothered, leave alone resist.

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469 – 1527) — the Italian Renaissance humanist, philosopher, political theorist and diplomat, famous for his political treatise The Prince — wrote a set of books titled Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius. They comprise of 142 chapters in three books. While reading it, I was struck by one passage:

To usurp supreme and absolute authority in a free State and subject it to tyranny, the people must have already become corrupt by gradual steps from generation to generation. And therefore all such as desire to make a change in the government of a republic, whether in favor of liberty or in favor of tyranny, must well examine the condition of things, and from that judge of the difficulties of their undertaking. For it is as difficult to make a people free that is resolved to live in servitude, as it is to subject a people to servitude that is determined to be free. In any such attempts men should well consider the state of the times and govern themselves accordingly.

Let’s repeat that: “… the people must have already become corrupt by gradual steps from generation to generation.”  For nearly one hundred years under the British raj, the Indian psyche got used to the notion that the government control of citizens is as natural as the seasons, and therefore should be accepted with the same resignation that one accepts the climate. The freedoms that the British denied Indians was not a major concern, having become accustomed to their lack. Which explains that even after India became independent, Indians did not push to get those freedoms that the British had denied them.

The so-called “Freedom Struggle” so famously led by M K Gandhi was not really about freedom. Leaders like Gandhi and Nehru wanted to take control, not grant Indians freedom. They were struggling to be independent of the British. It was not about freedom; it was about control.

The Indian governments that followed the British were rationally not inclined to allow Indians freedom. They examined the conditions and realized that it was not difficult to keep the Indians under government servitude.

Let me repeat that bit from Machiavelli: “And therefore all such as desire to make a change in the government of a republic, whether in favor of liberty or in favor of tyranny, must well examine the condition of things, and from that judge of the difficulties of their undertaking.”

Starting with Nehru, continuing on with Indira and the rest of them, ending in our present Modi — they in government judged that there was little difficulty in denying Indians freedom. Why? Because Indians don’t really value freedom that much.

Let’s repeat Machiavelli. “For it is as difficult to make a people free that is resolved to live in servitude, as it is to subject a people to servitude that is determined to be free.”

If ever Indians become determined to become free — that’s a rather big if — it would be impossible for any government, domestic or foreign, to deny Indians the freedom they must have to prosper. Until then, it’s a slow but determined march down the road to tyranny.

3 thoughts on “The Road to Tyranny

  1. Interesting that you should quote Machiavelli, because that’s exactly what Nilekani and Acharya do in their book “Rebooting India” — it is a chilling spectacle.

    Why are Indians not enraged? An NPR reporter <a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2017/05/12/528181998/episode-771-when-indias-cash-disappeared-part-two"talked to someone who lost all of his mother’s life savings because said mother was in coma and could not alert relatives of her cash stash during the deposit window. The interviewed person was “upset” but not “enraged”, and in fact purportedly understood that such sacrifices are needed to “build the nation”.

    In response to your implicit question, I think Indians are spending all their vital energy surviving and working around obstacles. There is simply no cycles left over for rage.

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  2. the Indian psyche got used to the notion that the government control of citizens is as natural as the seasons, and therefore should be accepted with the same resignation that one accepts the climate

    That is probably the only rational explanation.

    However I believe that people are on an average pretty much the same across the world and these sort of attitudes are not passed down genetically (hopefully). While even my generation was brought up on completely government controlled propaganda I see that the younger generation has access to better information and they do no hesitate to question the conventional wisdom. Hopefully things will be better.

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  3. The frogs in India (or shall I say crabs) are unfortunately susceptible to jealousy/hatred of people who are better off than them & Modi took advantage of this in going ahead with his reckless demonetization exercise. He projected himself as a crusader against black money & has since then given powers to the Income Tax (IT) officials to raid anyone if they have “reason to believe/suspect” if a person isn’t disclosing his income fully; best part is that the IT officials need not even give a reason for their actions.

    In addition, Aadhaar has to mandatorily linked to the PAN card thereby giving important & private financial information to the IT officials. Aadhaar is even needed if one wants to purchase gold. I saw a news report wherein Aadhar is needed to even to buy/sell a property. Essentially, the govt through Aadhar, wants to move towards a scenario where probably every purchase made by a person can be tracked through Aadhar leading to a huge loss of financial privacy.

    The general public & even the educated public thinks all these measures are good & needed as these are strong measures against curbing the hoarding of black money. Slowly and surely, Indians are giving up their freedom without even as much of a question; worse they think it’s all for a good cause when there are other effective & sustainable ways to make the economy transparent.

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