No sufficiently distant goal is achieved in one big step. But take enough number of small steps in the correct direction consistently, and you are guaranteed to reach your destination.
Recall the “digital” solution that Ajit, the archetypal Bollywood villain of the past, once adopted to get rid of the hero. He told his minions that they should put the hero in a computer. Why, the puzzled minions asked. Ajit said, “Bit by bit mar jayega.”
Indians are also getting that digital solution — where the means are technological and the end appears to be their total enslavement to the state. The government has all the powers that it needs to be in absolute control of what the citizens are allowed to do, what they must do, and what they must not do. It is using those powers, bit by bit. And the citizens merely adjust to the government control of their lives without protest.
The danger is real, present and imminent. Here’s a piece I wrote for The Quint yesterday, for the record.
The UIDAI office in Andheri West in Mumbai accepts Aadhaar card applications between 8:30 AM and 9:30 AM. Like scores of others, I had joined the line outside the office gates very early. At 5 AM, I was 37th in line. At 8:30 AM, officials came out of the office, selected the first 30 people in the queue, and told the remaining 70-odd people that their applications will not be accepted that day.
Without the least apology or expression of sympathy, they simply ordered (note, ordered) the people to go away. The people meekly turned away without protest, to try again the next day, perhaps to start lining up at 2 AM.
I was naturally furious at the inefficient government system that needlessly burdened ordinary people, a system that wasted so much of their time, energy and money which they could ill afford. But what was really distressing was the absolute resignation with which the people accepted the system. The lack of outrage, the passive acquiescence of injustice explains, at least in part, the subjugation of Indians over the centuries.
Patiently waiting in line for hours on end to merely submit an application to a government department is not the greatest of atrocities but it is symptomatic of a deeper problem: voluntary servitude. The politicians and the bureaucracy routinely make onerous rules that the people uncomplainingly endure. It is a master-slave relationship that the people accept with the same resignation as one would the change of seasons or the laws of nature. Voluntary servitude is not uniquely Indian, of course, but that does not make it any less pernicious in its effect.
I fear for India. The present government’s promises of “minimum government, maximum governance” turned out to be hollow, meaningless election posturing much like those of all previous governments. The government’s unconscionable assaults on basic rights — property, privacy, equality before the law — are accompanied with sickening predictability dubious justifications that they are necessary for controlling corruption or fighting terrorism or for the public good or some such vacuous nonsense. But as William Pitt the Younger pointed out centuries ago, necessity as the plea for every infringement of human freedom is the argument of tyrants and the creed of slaves.
Is India gradually making its way towards tyranny in tiny steps? Regardless of how tiny the steps, if the direction is consistent, one is guaranteed to reach the destination.
Aadhaar is a fairly big and definite step towards tyranny. The politicians love it, the business that gave birth to the idea profited from it, but what is most disturbing is that very few appear to be troubled by the loss of privacy and freedom that it necessarily entails. Why did I apply for one? Because Aadhaar is required for practically everything — from opening a bank account to getting a mobile connection.
The government’s often pointless and always harmful meddling with the economy is bad enough but when it intrudes into the privacy of the people, it crosses over into dangerous territory. Biometric tracking of every activity of every citizen, private and public, is part of the total solution known as “sabka vikas” that the government has in store for India. Total solution as in “totalitarianism.”
Involuntary servitude is perhaps as ancient as the hills. But voluntary servitude has to be of much later vintage, not later than the formation of governments and nation states. Slavery is the most extreme form of servitude. It is fitting therefore that a former slave would be a keen observer of that human condition.
Frederick Douglass, born a slave in 1818 in the United States of America, has been described as the “most influential African American of the 19th century CE.” I believe that he knew something about freedom and tyranny that we who are not born into evident slavery cannot appreciate. In a speech known as the “West India Emancipation Speech” he said,
“Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”
Douglass said that in 1857, that fateful year that the people of India revolted against the rule of the British East India Company, the proxy ruler for the British Crown. The point that he made that the limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress is timeless. Indians of today are as tolerant of the oppression they suffer as their forebearers were of the oppression of the British they suffered in turn. It is British Raj 2.0.
The skin color of the rulers have changed but not the basic nature of the master-slave relationship. Certainly, there’s democracy but that’s just the people electing who shall be the masters that they will serve and for how long. The current rulers know as well as their British predecessors did the exact measure of injustice that the people would tolerate.
How should Indians react to this continued loss of freedom? Frederick Douglass, the former slave, had an answer. His advice to a young black man just a month before he died in 1895 was, “Agitate! Agitate! Agitate!”
Will Indians agitate? I sincerely, desperately hope they do but I am afraid that they probably won’t.