We Celebrate Change, and Then We Forget

The results are out, and the President-elect of the US, Mr. Joe Biden, is being hailed as ‘the agent of change’. It is being anticipated that the politics of prejudice that his predecessor practiced and propagated will now be replaced by inclusiveness and fairness. But is it not premature to think of such positive changes? True, Mr. Biden replaces a man who was not fit for the role but whether or not Mr. Biden is fit and competent can only be assessed during and after his stint as the US President, not today. The point is that Trump’s incompetence can be no validation of Biden’s competence.

The other protagonist of the story is the VP-elect, Ms. Kamala Harris. Her nomination as the party’s VP candidate and subsequent win can only be hailed as America’s success in being a land of opportunity for immigrants. That women are making a mark in US politics and a woman of colour can assume the VP office is also a conclusion that can be drawn. However, this does not and cannot allow analysts and commentators to prematurely and impulsively declare that the office of VP will now be run with utmost competence- it can be, but only time will tell.

It is not new that we celebrate change but then forget that we celebrated it as we believed it will make our lives better. The fall of dictators in some middle-east countries was initially hailed as a moment of change; however, what ensued were prolonged wars, bloodshed and political turmoil and instability. The so-called change only made matters worse for the very inhabitants who saw it as a positive event.

Many other countries also corroborate this point. Pakistan has been ruled by civilian governments as well as military ones, and every time there was a change, people anticipated good to happen to them. However, little progress could be made. Another instance is PM Modi’s emphatic win in 2014 general elections. Even his staunch critics would have, somewhere in their hearts, expected something good after the not-so-good UPA-2 stint. But what has followed is a theocratic style of governance that finds support in populist and majoritarian politics, thereby taking the limelight away from inclusive development and economic prosperity.

Now the same things are happening in the US. Undeniably, Biden’s campaign pitch was more inclusive and optimistic than Trump’s. Undeniably, Kamala Harris rise is extraordinary. But that does not automatically mean that the next 4 years of administration will be great and devoid of any policy failures. Indeed, Trump made mistakes, just like UPA-2 in India; however, the new administration in the US must be assessed on how they deliver on their promises. It is not only equality, but also foreign relations, economic growth and such other things on which the new administration must be assessed in future.

Only then we must celebrate the change. Otherwise, this premature hailing can lead to the new incumbents forget that more than the failures of past administration, it is their own new policies and approach that matters. And hence, let’s celebrate if you so want, but do not forget.

The Distorted Concept of State

Humans have an inherent propensity for forming associations. These groupings are formed to further the interest of members of the group, and this alone is the intent. It is then understandable that whosoever says that the group, and not its members, should hold precedence, should thrive no matter how bad the condition of members is has some vested interests. The point is when the fundamental unit of the group is its member, how can the group justify its existence without having done something good for all members?

Now consider modern states across the world. Indeed, there are no natural borders that separate them and residents of two or more states often share similar features including faith, colour and race. When people decided to form these modern groups called ‘state’, the intent was good. It was perceived that by having a separate national identity, demarcated borders and by having in place a defined system of governance, all constituents would thrive. Modern states, as recognized today, owe their existence to the same concept of forming a group for the furtherance of interests of members.

But the question is whether these modern states deliver on their promise? A few of them seem to have accomplished the objective. For example, Nordic countries have proved that states do act as facilitators of personal growth of constituents given that governance is good and inclusive growth is sought. But the same idea of having a state to better manage the affairs of the constituents has proved counter-productive in many other cases. The key reason behind this failure is glorification of the concept of nationalism, so much so that the citizens of modern states have been taught, often by propaganda, to believe that their interests hold no value when a choice has to be made between their well-being and that of the nation.

While it may seem a little difficult to understand how this distorted concept of state and nationalism has deprived the ordinary man of development, let’s understand this with an easy example. When some men join forces to work for an enterprise, the hierarchy is comparable with that in the state. The manager acts as a bridge between labourers and owners, and the objective of the enterprise is to generate revenue for the betterment of all these stakeholders. Workers must abide by the norms as citizens abide by the laws of the country. The owner is entitled to some revenue and must distribute some among these workers. But what if the owner seeks absolute precedence of the interests of the enterprise over that of workers?

Indeed, the enterprise can produce and sell more should the workers opt for extended shifts. Indeed, the profits can be higher should the workers stick to same wages despite an available possibility of pay hikes. The owner, when workers commit themselves blindly and not rationally to the enterprise, becomes the sole beneficiary. And the same happens when citizens of the state are compelled to place the state above everything else. What happens is elected representatives or the monarch colludes with capitalists and other powerful men to deprive the ordinary man of what he otherwise legitimately deserves.

The revenue that is collected in the form of taxes levied on even most basic needs is spent less on the betterment of citizens and more on fortifying the state. The money that can be used for health, education, sanitation and such critical aspects is diverted to buying more weapon systems. The state that was formed by its members with a view to prosper and live a dignified life becomes more a liability and less an asset.

Consider the state of India that was formed in its present form when Indians acquired the right to self-rule from the British. The Indian Constitution begins with ‘WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA’ and then declares the intent to constitute the state with a view to further the interests of the people. Indeed, it is here that we must know that people hold precedence over the state. And when the makers decided to have fundamental rights as justiciable rights and fundamental duties as symbolic, they once again made people primary and the state secondary. It was the very intent of the makers to remind the people of India that the state was constituted for them, that they were the building blocks and not the other way around.

Slowly, over the course of years and with different political parties at the helm, the country acquired the status of being a regional powerhouse and then a strong player in the international scene. The country now has a nuclear arsenal and modern military equipment to boast of but what about the promise that was made to the ordinary man when the state was formed? Was this ordinary man told in advance that he would have to sacrifice his child’s education, health and access to clean drinking water, good roads and such other basic necessities in order to let the state achieve hegemony? Was he told that the elite and the powerful will live lavishly even as tens of millions will stare at poverty even in the 21st century?

India fared still better. Countries, for example North Korea, that chose to give the people the least and the state the maximum failed miserably. But that is no excuse for China, India, the US or others to exploit the innocence (read ignorance) of ordinary members of the respective state and further the interests of the state alone. Ultra-nationalism cannot be the tool to divert most of the resources that belong to the people for the exploitation by the elite in the name of ‘national security’ and ‘state dominance’. Citizens, often ignorant that they made the state by agreeing to be a part, deserve to be educated about the same.

PS: National security does matter and it can never be argued that this field can be left neglected. But when the choice is between acquiring latest weapon system (during peace times) and laying of roads (to connect the hamlet to schools), the latter must be preferred.

Hating Liberals

Answer this- why would any individual choose to defy popular sentiments and instead suggest something unpopular? Answer this as well- why would any leader appease the religious, caste, race or sect minority when s/he knows the numbers are stacked in the favour of majority?

Liberals, indeed, risk a lot. When they call for equal rights for all humans, they risk earning the wrath of the elite class. When they call for laws and policy actions that can protect the environment and wildlife from insatiable greed for resources, they risk antagonizing capitalists and other stakeholders. When they call for prioritizing socio-economic wellbeing of individuals over beliefs and customs, they risk upsetting the clergy and the conservative.

But liberals love taking risks. And it is for this love of theirs that they are usually hated. But consider the above statements and notice whether the liberal seeks mere personal gain or inclusive development? By rallying for equal rights to all women, liberals brought universal franchise to most parts of the world. By stressing on the most fundamental principle of justice – ‘rule of law’ – liberals gave the world first-generation politicians, activists and leaders. By seeking equal opportunities of growth for all individuals, liberals fueled the rise of first-generation corporate leaders and capitalists. By placing peace and equity over bullying, liberals gave the hitherto underdeveloped countries after WW2 a chance to thrive.

Hating liberals is, at the same time, an easy thing. This hatred stems from the conservative roots of human life where faith, caste, race and colour hold precedence over relatively more meaningful things. But it is this misplaced priority that can ultimately lead to troubles that adversely impact everything- economy, social harmony, innovation, justice.

We tend to forget, deliberately or accidentally, that all progresses of today, from tech revolution to a competitive market that has globalization at its core, have roots in liberalism.

Sadly however, from times infinite, it has always been easy to hate and propagate hatred against liberals. Conservatives, who tend to be more popular than liberals, have a history of inciting the public sentiment against the latter. But the same public needs to recall that had it not been the Renaissance period of the 15th and 16th centuries or the Reformation movement in the 16th century Europe, the West as we know it today- more socio-economically developed than the rest- would have been something else. And liberals, not conservatives or orthodox, were the primary driving force behind all these defining movements.

Hating liberals can be a convenient option but not the most constructive. Think, read past developments, think again, juxtapose them with the present settings and then arrive at a more rational conclusion. Falling for the popular narrative may be detrimental, re-consider your stance.

this nationalistic fervor is a rebalancing act, a reminiscent of nations’ failures

talks and acts of nationalistic blend are a common scene today. proponents are construing this as a valid and belated response to violation of interests of nation’s inhabitants and its sovereignty, while criticisers condemn this by categorizing it as infringement of right to trans-border movements.

did this happen all of a sudden? did the unexpected rise of politicians favouring inward policies was the sole factor that resulted in general populace connecting with nationalism?

let’s talk some rationales.

nations are separated by borders that are internationally recognized and respected, except a few territorial conflicts. why did countries form, why did people gather in settings that differentiated them from inhabitants of other nations?

borders bring with them many pluses. they allow a government to rule over a defined region without interferences from external forces, this promotes making laws and rules for fair conduct in the society.

most of the countries are endowed with resources that are enough for peaceful and thriving existence of citizens; those lacking resources turned into being singapore and switzerland, all backed by judicious decision-making of domestic leaders.

the rest was accomplished by globalization which enabled easy and fast movement of goods, services, capital and labour. this globalization, however, has now breached its justifiable threshold.

it is then upon individual nations to cater to the needs of their inhabitants, to exploit the resources available for the common good of all and to develop an environment of social and economic well-being.

it is this duty, when left unheeded and undelivered, that forced movement of citizens to other nations, in an exceedingly unjustified number that was counter-productive to rights of original inhabitants. similar to how we care for aboriginals and their rights over the land they have lived on and resources that they have used.

it is then not the newly elected president of the united states, donald trump, who stands liable for the present state of affairs in geopolitical landscape. he was elected democratically, on people’s will.

it is rather the failed governments of underdeveloped and developing countries that did not fulfil their task of assuring economic wellbeing of their citizens. had they been responsive to the needs of their people, migration would have been restricted to rational numbers.

the nationalistic fervor prevalent today is thus a rebalancing of past and present mistakes. this will not end with the outgoing of trump or anyone else, it will only recede post-correction of flaws.

individual nations have to start accepting liability to ably serve their citizens.