Democracy in India looks like the patient with multiple organ failure. Excepting for the changing pattern of voting in elections to the parliament, state assemblies or local self-government institutions like municipalities & panchayats, it is an exercise in controlled regulation of the outcome. There is hardly any institution in the country which has remained unaffected by this condition. Politicians have long been discredited as corrupt and criminal. Governments at the centre as also in states have been infamous for corruption and inefficiency. Even the highly esteemed judiciary has not escaped the symptoms of this disease- a body & mind crippling disease. Bureaucrats, scientists, experts, professionals, specialists- none has been able to withstand the effects of this social, political, economic and ethical change for the worst. One word that sums up this state of affairs in the Indian democracy is popularly known as corruption. Public anger against this phenomenon is irrepressible. It is so because the Constitution of India promises a democracy practicing rule of law in word and spirit. Unfortunately it is anything but rule of law.
Officers of the state, inspired by the constitutional ideals, are routinely punished in order to compel them to fall in line. Functioning under the authority of the law is dangerous and hits the real power structure in the country, which is rule of man. It is a kind of neo-feudalism, where the demographically strong exercise authority in defiance of the law. As the political executive has the power to appoint, promote, post, transfer and punish public servants, it is used to tame them to fall in line. What is right and what is wrong is defined under such circumstances by the politician. The elite might call it bizarre, but rape and murder under these circumstances can easily be made suicide or even honour killing to harass the victim or her family. Headstrong public servants can be physically assaulted, mentally harassed, killed and thrown into the mighty river Ganga, burnt alive, stoned to death, threatened with dire consequences, deprived of their liberty or dignity and harassed routinely in hundreds of ways. Judicial remedy is costly to seek and can cost much more even after getting relief in one case. When fear of man prevails over fear of law, it only proves that democracy flows from the barrel of the gun. Terrorizing the public servants is more than enough to make this neo-feudalism succeed. And that is what Indian democracy has firmly established. If it faces any challenge from any quarter, it is India’s soft power.
Indians by nature don’t like corruption. They may silently suffer others indulging in corruption but do not approve of it. Similarly, Indians are basically peace loving people. Non-violence for them is not a slogan, as it is for politicians, but a norm practiced in daily life. Conflicts are there. Violent exchanges do take place. But they are temporary and issue based and resolved rather early with cooperation from social shock absorbers in place: someone known to the parties to the conflict would step in to bring peace and understanding to resolve disputes. Politics has, however, affected these invisible social structures, but they are very much living, though choking under the weight of growth and development in the same way as the trees lining big roads in the city choking to sickness of a life threatening kind due to their base being concretized for road beautification. The efficacy of this soft power is visible in change of government. Whenever the corruption harassed citizens get an alternative leader, who promises clean & transparent government, they entrust him or her the reins of power. Narendra Modi won the mandate last year only because he promised to live by the standards set by the people for a corruption free government. He is facing stiff opposition from rivals in the opposition parties and in his own party. While a leader may be upright and honest, his team may lack the same. Presently, this is the crisis of commitment and perception afflicting him.
Due to our preoccupation with hard power all these years, what with wars with Pakistan & China, and continuing terror attacks sponsored by the Pakistan Army (ISI of Pakistan especially), we have left the entire soft power space for free lancers under government patronage of the favoured over the meritorious and private individuals or groups. The result is limited public participation in showcasing, developing and exporting it. We have exported an exotic variety of India’s soft power. When soft power development is not a prominent part of our foreign policy, we tend to export poor quality stuff. We import the best from other countries, who consciously promote the best their country can offer. We are saddled with some kind of an inferiority complex, leading us to liberal self-condemnation. Take for example Indian films: we have not produced any Hollywood production so far but were quick to term our film industry as Bollywood! The industry has produced classics, but can it be taken for India’s soft power? What do we project through these films? Our film industry was driven by literature, music, art and acting. Is it so even today? Or it is like all other institutions in the country compromised? Can any improvement be brought about in the film industry or let it be business as usual? A small initiative of the government to appoint a chairman of the Film & Television Institute of India has raised the hackles of the entrenched vested interests, who have created a rumpus for almost 50 days or so. It is a curious case of students at the institute opposing the appointed chairman. Students undergo 4 years course in film and television industry. Shall they act as the Chairman of the Selection Committee? No. It is not students who would indulge in such wasteful activity unless vested interests incite them under magnetic slogans or comparisons of personalities. A change is bound to change how we project India and Indian creativity through cinema and television. It is going to lead to transparency in operations, improve quality and enable Indian films competitive in the world. For that to happen, cleanliness in the industry needs to be increased.
Indian film and television industry is worth a few lakh crores of rupees. It gets finance from several sources, including black money and underworld of crime. It is threatened to a large extent by the crime syndicates, which interferes with its casting and marketing rights. It fears any attempts by the government to clean up the mess. But it is time the government steps with greater resolve for the simple reason that projection of the soft power of any nation is too delicate to be left to the unregulated sector of the industry. It does not mean at all government interference. As in other industries, the Film & Television industry is bound to be one of the influential parts of the government body which will determine the course and content of the industry. Films alone are not the soft power, but they are a powerful vehicle to showcase it. The government need to improve the health of all levers of soft power one by one. It has started well with the films. As business interests of the entrenched are bound to be affected, resistance from those quarters would flow naturally. But a transparency revolution in the whole soft power space is timely only.
Barrel of the gun cannot determine the course of the soft power of India, and films & television are an important segment of it. It is in the interests of every one of us to improve and strengthen it. We have yet to open our soft power to the world. We have treasures unexposed. We have talent untapped. Our non-violence is but a manifestation of our soft power superpower role. Be it the peasant-farmer, artisan, labour, scholars, sublimity, Veda, Upnishad, Gautam Buddha, Mahavir, Mahatma Gandhi, film producers/directors/actors/writers/musicians or anything else, we have more than enough to dust, polish, modernize and share with the world.