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The Ravana within us

We promised ourselves Ram Rajya and then went about creating Ravanas for each of the noble goals enshrined in our ambitions

The Ravana within us

The evil that men do lives after them, a reminder to all succeeding generations by Mark Antony in his historic funeral oration for Julius Caesar, the mighty Roman emperor felled by jealous assassins. The good, he said, is oft interred with their bones. And so let it be with Caesar or rather with our homegrown Ravana, who we all noble citizens of this sacred land burn effigies of, ruthlessly, year after year to celebrate a mock victory of good over evil. The emotional catharsis of the devout relieves them of their own Ravana like burdens of personal misdeeds in daily lives, often petty in nature but on abundant display in public spaces and private cheating when no one is looking. But this is about Ravana's evils and our propensity to create them with punctual regularity.

We promised ourselves a rule of law based land, some fundamental rights based on equality of all humans, irrespective of caste, colour or creed and a governance system based on the consent of the governed. All of these, if practised honestly would have led to 'Ram Rajya' for sure. Then, we systematically went about creating Ravanas for each of the noble goals enshrined in our ambitions.

The business of equality was not acceptable to those elected to govern. Their onerous responsibilities required preferential treatment for their own selves, their families, friends, their relatives and also of their caste affiliates. Right of way, Right to state's assets and a Right to be beyond the pale of law made a mess of the rule of law for all commoners too. Who will slay this Ravana, perhaps we are all waiting for a God in our times, another Avatar of divinity, to rescue our present from the mayhem we have created in a rule by exceptions that has been customised for all manner of factions and groups.

It is true that the idiom of politics has passed into the vernacular for the foreseeable future and that is not a bad thing in itself. The heritage of the vernacular in our land is far richer, far too deeply rooted in ethics and strongly entrenched in democratic ethos. Why have these values fallen by the wayside in this transition of identities and instead landed in the lap of expediency whose authors and anchors have no respect for a just and a fair land? Or is it that the abdication of governance responsibility was almost an imperative consequence of the magnitude of challenges that kept mounting once the route to solutions was concentrated with soft options. Indeed, the size and number of the demons grew manifold when ad hocism and 'tide over the present crisis' became the hallmark of all administrative and policy choices for solutions. Any sector we analyse, urban management, finance architecture, even the fundamentally critical ones like law and order, administration of justice, the sanctity of public institutions, we get flawed perspectives because each one of them opted to dress up their responses to the challenges they were called upon to address. And, dressing them up meant that these were designed only to serve partisan interests and not universal ones. To add to the complexity of challenges, the managerial competence and ethics lie in shambles through a cumulative disregard for merit and neutrality. The guiding philosophy of thriving in hierarchies, conformally coupled with native logic to beat the person instead of his argument, has helped mediocrity prosper where only excellence should have been the minimum accepted. Mediocrity is the emperor of all Ravanas and will not be slain easily no matter how many times we set fire to lifeless effigies.

The Ravana creators, who have come to influence public discourse with their flawed arguments and beliefs that we do not need the best in any form and merit is akin to the theory of evolution and not an acquisition through hard work and honesty, has given only an average performance of the nation's well-being. The nation's vanguards, its institutions, have to respect systems and not personalities who can only risk the momentum and erode durability. It is the ultimate truth that a country's institutions will outlast the men and women who come to serve them and move on when their time is done. Remember John Adams, of the United States, who was most vocal of the advocates and said; "We want a government of laws, not men"(1790). This is one Ravana we must consign to flames permanently and enforce the law without favour, no matter what the idiom of politics is. Basics must rest on the strongest foundation and this is the very basic.

We have had a persistent death wish to create and adopt the wrong Ravanas, and religion has been an instrument of narrowing loyalties for very personal political ends. The country has been deprived of structurally dynamic and adaptive institutional coalitions of growth and progress. The government has to be subject to people and not the other way around. We have missed being prosperous because people have made it good in spite of the government and not because of it. Our promised Ram Rajya can happen not by an annual exercise of burning the Ravana but by learning from his scholarship as Shankar's devotee extraordinaire whose teachings even the Lord commanded his brother to absorb.

(The views expressed are strictly personal)

Raj Liberhan

Raj Liberhan

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