This essay is an examination on whether the power in India lies in education [mouse] or it lies in the barrel of the gun [force]. It was written by a friend in mid-2008 for a competition in less than 3 hours. I did give her some inputs though and helped edit/proofread it. It didn’t win any prize though.
“Pen is mightier than the sword.”
“A drop of ink can make a million think.”
“Knowledge is power.”
and all that jazz…
In the age of Information Revolution and Liberalization, Privatization, Globalization (LPG), it has become fashionable for the media to make tall claims on many aspects of human living. In one such popular instance, the ‘pen vs. the sword’ of the Victorian era has been replaced by the ‘mouse vs. the gun’ of the twenty-first century. The debate is the same though it has a different content than the yesteryears. From the United Nations documents to the governments of the third world nations, the ‘mouse vis-à-vis the gun’ is symbolic of the dynamics and contours of development and the quest for ‘good governance.’
Power is crucial to human existence. Simply put, power is the ability to influence decisions and choices. It is the ability to do or act and when power is rightfully vested it becomes authority; when not it is coercion or force. In a democracy, power is vested in the people which is exercised through the elected representatives. This, however, is only the ideal, constitutional, normative position and the actual exercise of power has more to it than meets the eye. Power is the chief concern of politics which relates to decision-making in a democracy. The truly empowered people have a say in matters that affect their lives.
There can be many sources of power but two of which really stand out – money or muscle and knowledge or information. In plain terms, it is the illegal gun versus everything that is legally entitled to exercise power. The evolution of human society and the Indian democracy is also in some ways the story of quest for power through the gun et al. silencing the ballot et al.
The gun and the mouse are highly representative and symbolic social phenomena and have a greater relevance for a country like India. The ‘gun’ stands for illegal power, corruption, muscle power, bribery, political bankruptcy, nepotism, favoritism, red tape, social injustice, discrimination, terror and all other corrupting influences that withhold the development of the nation. The ‘mouse’ stands for education, literacy, welfare, enlightenment, empowerment, equality, justice, democracy and the like which make a country truly developed. The two are mutually opposed to each other and a country’s growth and development corresponds to their dialectical relationship. The most developed countries are those which are powered by the mouse such as the countries of North America and the Europe while the least developed countries are those where the ‘guns’ call the shots such as the many warring nations in Africa. A good number of countries lie in the middle where both the gun and the mouse play a cat and mouse game with each other.
India is developing at a pace like never before. We have become a power to reckon with if not a “superpower”. We are being talked about all over the world; now something apart from our population size and poverty figures also make news. We are a model democracy in some ways; the model of development presented by our blend of values and technology makes other jealous. We will soon hit the moon. We are counted among the powerful nations. The recent nuclear deal with the US is another testimony to our growing stature.
The country is developing indeed at an above average speed. However, the people of the country are still left high and dry and India still is a “rich country with poor people!” This is exactly where the debate on the loci of power comes into picture. So, where and with whom does the power lie in our nation? Does it lie in the ballot? Are the more than one billion people of India really empowered? Or are we merely harbouring notions of empowerment in a make-believe utopia? Is it really true to say that the mouse is no more bullied by the gun? Or are we fooling ourselves when we celebrate our success by posing like a cat that got the cream? Let us briefly dissect the gun and the mouse for a clearer picture.
The Mouse [ Education in India]
Education and literacy has proved to be the elixir of the masses in more ways than one. Welfare programmes like the Panchayati Raj institutions, National Rural Employment Guarantee Act has seen active participation of the underprivileged who are getting voice, choice and representation that has activated grassroots democracy in the country. The country has a Right to Information (RTI) Act in place and the people are questioning the government and the sluggish bureaucracy by filing RTI petitions for delivery of passports or issue of ration cards at the click of a mouse.
The government has launched many e-governance programmes and the people including poor farmers or widowed women in the countryside are benefitting from it. E-governance success stories like the e-chaupal ,Akshya, Bhoomi, Sarita, Aarohi, e-seva to name a few, exhort us to ‘hail the mouse.’ The computer has made inroads in the countryside and punctured the precincts of orthodoxy, feudalism, and gender stereotyping. Knowledge revolution has hit India hard and more and more palms are resting on the mouse.
It will not be an exaggeration to say that India is being led by the mouse. A decade earlier, the country’s development seemed a herculean task; we didn’t had a cat in hell’s chance to become a powerful, resourceful nation. But today, if one asks the question who belled the cat for India? The answer – mouse! We always had the hardware (people, land, minerals) and the mouse showed us the road to El Dorado. And lo! We found the Silicon Valley in our own backyard! Our achievements have made the world go gaga! By the way, this essay competition has a laptop (and not cash) as the first prize also speaks volumes of the fact that the mouse rules the roost now!
That was the mouse, in a nutshell. While we sing paean to the mouse we almost want to proclaim that “power no longer flows from the barrel of the gun, it flows from the click of the mouse.” But wait; let’s not jump to the bait. It’s only half the picture.
Gun or Muscle power in India
In the 21st century India, someone can still hold the gun to your head and you will be mostly helpless despite the fact that ‘you’ wield the mouse. Our politicians are taking us for a ride as they hold their power against us. In the name of people’s empowerment, our politicians have raked in big moolah. A Behenji became the richest politician while working for the poorest of the poor! She wields a lot of power and, in all probability, the only mouse that she may be knowing is the one which is chased by the Cat!
Our enthusiasm levels are very high but our literacy levels are still very low. We have only islands of prosperity amidst the sea of misery and poverty. According to the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS), seventy-seven percent of Indians (about 836 million) live on less than half dollar a day! They try hard to keep the mouse away from their hearth and hut; even the mouse would not want to visit them for fear of starvation! So much for a developing India that is supposedly ‘taking on the world’ empowered by the mouse!
Only a minute fraction of the country’s population has computers or access to the internet and most of it is in the urban India. But this huge digital gap is not enough to prevent the soothsayers from going gung-ho about the mouse! A number of e-governance schemes in many states of India have fallen flat or are in tatters. Dalits are still massacred, raped and paraded naked in the country. 3000 Muslim minorities were killed in broad daylight by the powerful Hindu majority wielding the gun in one of the most developed states of India in a genocide that is politically called “communal riot.” In more than 160 districts of India, the writ of the Naxals (and not government of India) runs. These are areas of low literacy and development where the ‘inanimate mouse’ remains an alien.
We top the charts in female infanticide and malnutrition deaths. More than one lakh farmers have committed suicide in the last decade in our great country touted as ‘the next superpower.’ We now have only two kinds of politicians left in the country – “those charged and those discharged!” Not a single day passes without some corruption scandal being unveiled somewhere in the country! The government itself does not subscribe to the view that power flows from the click of the mouse or else it would not have gone hell for leather on the highly controversial backward classes’ reservations. We are a definite success in terms of ‘procedural/formal democracy’ but not in terms of ‘substantive democracy’ (the real good governance).
And this litany of woes is only a drop in the ocean!
Summing up the debate over power in India
Given the state of affairs, as illustrated above, I believe it is a far-fetched proposition as of now to proclaim that power flows from the click of the mouse and has no genesis in the gun. Certainly, there’s no gainsaying the fact that the mouse has travelled great distances and is making inroads into the traditional and entrenched sources of power but it will take a lot of time before we can celebrate its complete victory upon the latter. Power in a democracy is the ability to make decisions for common welfare. This power still does not belong completely to the people and ‘might is right’ and “might makes right” is still the norm and practice. But the 21st century India is changing slowly but surely. Sooner than later, we will find a truly empowered India which swears by the mouse that silenced the gun after a protracted struggle. Until that time all celebrations will be premature.