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The Genius (and innocence) of the Indian Voter 
By Francois Gautier


In more than fifty years of India's independence, the Indian voter has shown that he throws his ballot INTELLIGENTLY, as he always gives a chance to those politicians or parties who pledge to do things for him but rejects them outright at the next election if they fail to deliver the goods.

As everywhere else in the world, there are two kinds of voters in India: the rural voter and the urban voter. The Indian urban voter votes with his MIND - that is, he is mainly influenced by his atavism - parents, education, background etc. - and by what the English-speaking Press says. And there lies the Catch 22 of Indian politics, for the media in India has for a long time struck a single "secular" note. Which means in effect that anything belonging to the official history was deemed acceptable, while anything that had a Hindu flavour was ruthlessly attacked. It is in this way that the Bharatiya Janata Party combine, which is today in power for the third time and for which nearly 50% of India voted in the last election, was for long the outcast of Indian politics, variously called by the Indian media "fanatic, non-secular, communal, even Nazi (does the Indian Press know that Hitler killed six million Jews in cold blood?).

Until recently, nothing much had changed in India: the English-speaking press indulged in Hindu-bashing (and part of it still does today) and was faithfully copied by the western correspondents (who are still at it), most of whom are totally ignorant of India and turn towards Indian intellectuals to fashion their opinions.

It is thanks to this constant belittling that for a long time, the BJP had absolutely no chance in mainstream politics - remember how it got only two seats in 1984, while the Congress obtained an absolute majority? Fortunately, there has been a change of heart in a section of the Indian Press, particularly since the Kargil war, when the Pakistanis treacherously took advantage of the Lahore peace process initiated by the BJP Government in February 1999, to infiltrate Pakistani soldiers disguised as Mujahideens on the Indian side of the Line of Control in Kashmir. The Indian soldiers performed very bravely in the face of tremendous odds and the Indian voter not only appreciated this bravery but also Prime Minister Vajpayee's restraint in not crossing over onto the Pakistani side of the LOC. This war reawakened in India a bit of the ancient kshatriya (warrior) spirit of nationalism, which is indispensable for a nation to grow and be self-confident. The voter also understood that it is important for India to have a strong army to defend the country's borders, its women and children and the values which India always upheld since Vedic times.

The rural voter who, it should be remembered, forms 80% of the electorate, votes with his HEART, although he may be in some way influenced by what the local language newspapers say - which often take up blindly the opinions of the English speaking press. It is both a wonderful and terrible trait, because since 1947, this innocence has been taken advantage of by various sorts of politicians, who have utilised four different kinds of factors.

1. The adulation of film stars

Film stars are enormously popular in India and are akin to demi-Gods. Since the early sixties, various film stars, who had no political qualification, ended up as being Chief Ministers of the southern states - often with disastrous consequences. Because they needed a lot of demagogy to sustain their image of demi-Gods and had to resort to heavy subsidises - rice at Rs. two a kilo, free distribution of saris, free water for the farmers etc. - thus emptying the coffers of the states while they were in power. Furthermore, they were often authoritarian, corrupt and did not give back to the people one inch of the adulation and respect they enjoyed.

2. Dynasty and sycophancy

Dynasty is a western word which does not really correspond to the Indian reality. And sycophancy should rather be called the "bhakti "spirit which is a 5000 year old spiritual tradition in India. This extraordinary "bhakti" tendency of Indian people means that they tend to worship anybody whom they feel has an aura about him, or her, no matter his or her personal faults, no matter if he or she is a fraud - or half a fraud. It's a marvellous principle and it has worked for millenniums in the Guru-Chela (guru-disciple) relationship - you surrender to divinity in your human guru and through him you attain realisations if your surrender is sincere. But it does not work in politics because politicians do not even have a gram of the aspiration and realisations of gurus.

3. The "Shakti" phenomenon

There is also amongst Indians of the subcontinent a very strong tradition to worship the female element of the Divine, who takes up many forms: Mahakali, Mahalaxmi, Mahasaraswati, Maheswari, etc. It's a bit of a paradox, because Hindu women in India can also be persecuted, but nevertheless, it has always played an important role in the history of the country: there are more women MPs in India than in France for instance. It is this shakti phenomenon which allowed Indira Gandhi to govern with an iron hand this male-dominated country for nearly twenty years; and this tradition has even survived in the neighbouring Islamic states, such as Pakistan or Bangladesh - witness Benazir Bhutto or the two Bangladesh Begums.

4. The Aryan myth

According to the theory of the Aryan invasion, which is still taken as the foundation stone of the History of India and which was actually devised in the 18th and 19th century by British-related linguists and archaeologists, the first inhabitants of India were good-natured, peaceful, dark-skinned shepherds, called the Dravidians, who had founded what is called the Harappan - or Indus Valley civilization. They were supposedly remarkable builders, witness the city of Mohanjo-Daro in Pakistani Sind, but had no culture to speak of, no literature, no proper script even. Then, around 1500 B.C., India is said to have been invaded by tribes called the Aryans: white-skinned, nomadic people, who originated somewhere in Western Russia and imposed upon the Dravidians the hateful caste system. To the Aryans are attributed Sanskrit, the Vedic - or Hindu religions, India's greatest spiritual texts, the Vedas, as well as a host of subsequent writings, the Upanishads, the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, etc...

This myth divided India for ever and pitted against each other the low caste dark-skinned Dravidians and the high caste light-skinned Aryans, a rift which is still enduring. The Muslim invaders, the European colonisers, the missionaries and finally the Congress, each exploited to the hilt for their own selfish purpose this artificial divide, as recent linguistic and archaeological discoveries are proving that there probably never was any Aryan invasion.

Voting with the heart is a unique quality and it is this innocence, these spontaneous tendencies of bhakti or shakti in the rural Indian which make the greatness of India, its "sanatana dharma" and not the pompous, secular, left-leaning intellectual in the comfort of his flat in New Delhi or Bombay. No, what has to be changed is the SYSTEM which allows power-hungry politicians to exploit this purity of heart of the rural voter. As Danielou wrote in his History of India: "on top of the Partition tragedy, there is the other calamity of modern India namely the post-Independence leadership, which chose to turn its back on most of its ancient institutions, social and political, and adapted blindly and completely the British system, constitutional, social, political, judicial and bureaucratic". And as India's Great Sage, Sri Aurobindo, also reminds us, "In ancient times, there always was a strong democratic element in India, which certainly showed a certain similarity with Western parliamentary forms, but these institutions were INDIAN".

India should then go back to the wisdom and the innocence of what constitutes the base, the soul and the essence of this country: the rural masses. And like in ancient times, but couched in modern forms, the rural voter should elect what he knows directly: the panchayat leaders of his village, town or community; in turn these leaders will elect those who will represent them at the state level and so on until the top. So that so much money and time are no more wasted on useless elections which throw up the same old politicians. Thus, the wisdom of India will go once more from bottom to top - and not from top to bottom as it is now.

The author, who has lived in India for thirty years, is the South Asia correspondent for "Le Figaro" France's largest circulation daily and has published two books: "Rewriting Indian History" (Vikas, New Delhi) and "Un Autre Regard sur L'inde" (Editions du Trident, Pans, Geneva). The views expressed in the article are solely of the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of his newspaper or our journal.






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