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.