Autocratic democracies – II

Published: August 31, 2010
The writer is an Indian author and columnist

The writer is an Indian author and columnist [email protected]

Patriotism is antithetical to the idea of democracy for it does not allow exposure of the rot within. Double standards make it mandatory, however, for Indians to applaud Pakistanis who rip their own country apart; Pakistanis do the same for Indian media warriors. Societies whose unique selling proposition (USP) is poverty and go to the West with a begging bowl get self-righteous if, along with some coins, the mastahs throw in a few homilies because we quake at the country’s reputation being at stake. Nationalism becomes an obsessive compulsive disorder as we start on Operation Scrub-scrub from sanitised pedestals.

Democratic delusions must appear real. We are being had. A bunch of leaders decides how we should pay obeisance to the nation. Political groups assume extra-constitutional powers by being ‘servants of the people’ empowering themselves with a remote control to make the state cower before their diktats. A big fat line demarcates their freedom and ours.

Freedom of expression: Have you encountered any aspect of freedom that has not stepped on someone’s toes? The national anthem, national heroes, national holy cows, national sports all become prime property, but only when they are in eyeball-grabbing mode. Otherwise, they lie unclaimed in moratoria. Ridiculous painted faces in country colours provide a seal of approval even as t-shirts bellow, “I love New York”.

Some years ago, an industrialist member of parliament, Navin Jindal, fought and won a case for a licence to fly the national flag at his house. What do such gestures achieve? Do we see the irony of a pampered person flaunting national fealty while he sits in his feudal seat and audaciously takes up the cause of the khap panchayats that pronounce no marriage within the same sub-sect that resulted in honour killings?

Freedom of human dignity: Self-rule was built on the bodies of those who remain nameless. Gandhi did not die in a stampede. He was killed not because he fought the British, but because he aligned himself with the Khilafat Movement. This idea has been sanctified as ‘tolerance’ in India today, which is by far the worst aspect of democracy. It reeks of patronage of one ‘common man’ by another, brainwashed into a destructive thought process that grants an entry permit into the mainstream.

The ethnic Swadeshi Movement was essentially a phony idea trumped up to look labour class. It is a slap on our precious democratic faces that khadi is now designer clothing and even Indian government outlets have raised taxes on it, making it unaffordable.

Nehruvian socialism was yapping away at the Soviet model and merely gave more teeth to the government. This was organisation of power, not social idealism. The poor did not benefit from nationalisation of industry. The Licence Raj merely gave the rich incentives to grease the pockets of political parties.

Today, how does national self-esteem fit into the global initiative when we are dumped with Western waste? Why are we still on outdated British laws and religious edicts?

Freedom to be or not to be a nationalist: Terrorism, too, has a decided-upon colour based on a dictatorial concept. We conveniently want to be a cohesive whole when we are fighting amongst ourselves and overriding the rights of others. Our regionalism is no different from the principalities of the pre-Partition era. Democracy is scrawled on the flaky parchment of the past. The goal of history, Tagore believed, is not “the fierce self-idolatry of nation worship”. Nationalism is about conformity. It cannot survive if it provides choices, for in doing so it will threaten its own credibility.

A patriot is, therefore, the enemy of a truly free state of being.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 31st , 2010.

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Reader Comments (12)

  • indic
    Aug 31, 2010 - 11:34AM

    People who laid down lives for freedom struggle were not patriots??You are India hating thru and thru.I want to see one positive word about your country.Recommend

  • Sanjay
    Aug 31, 2010 - 1:05PM

    Could not agree more. Rationaly speaking it is completely true and only wish you had written in detail about Nehru and socialism that destroyed India. It has made difficult any easy means to start industry for small investments. Refreshing read.Recommend

  • SKChadha
    Aug 31, 2010 - 2:03PM


    Nice to read, understand and observe ‘Autocratic Democracy’???Recommend

  • sanjithmenon
    Aug 31, 2010 - 2:21PM

    As usual Farzana just gets worked up, without offering any solutions.
    i think it is a better idea to water my house plants today, rather. Recommend

  • Lalit
    Aug 31, 2010 - 4:51PM

    We may be the biggest democracy in terms of population,but still miles away from an ideal one.scores of problems plague our society a few of them you underlined.we often wonder what makes people come out on roads and torch govt properties in a democracy.when govts join hands with capitalists to grab the lands of tribals and poor villagers on the name of development(ex. vedanta in orissa,and recently in UP) and police opens fire when same people protest,what option do these poor fellows are left with ?I know deep in my heart that democracy has no alternative,but still we need to cover a huge distance to actually look like a thorough democracy,not in bits and piecesRecommend

  • Neeraj, India
    Aug 31, 2010 - 5:10PM

    What point are you trying to make? Tell me, if I am a patriotic person, how it makes me incapable of finding flaws, wrongs and malaise that afflict my country? Since when patriotism became antithesis of democracy? You have the audacity to compare nationalism with some kind mental disorder that takes away a person’s ability to see things in rational perspective. I am not saying that you shouldn’t be critical of our country. But criticizing the nationalism and patriotism as human weaknesses, is absolutely absurd. In fact nationalism, patriotism,secularism etc.,are some of the ideals on which a nation state is constituted, we can neglect them at our own peril.
    The other thing that surprised me is your attribution of Gandhi’s murder to his support for Khilafat movement[1919-24]. How can such a distant event culminate in his assasination in 1948? Was Gandhi’ support for Khilafat a heroic deed? In my view his support for Kilafat movement was the only blot on his character. The movement itself was a result of Mullahs’ religious bigotry who succeeded in depicting Ottoman Khalifa as a pious and religious entity and his indispensability to the religion of Islam. In fact, Ottoman empire was so corrupt, regressive and decadent that turks themselves hated it.
    May I ask, why are you so appreciative of Gandhi for his support for the Khilafat? Recommend

  • Amit Kumar
    Aug 31, 2010 - 7:57PM

    I am little confused..You hate Patriotism or ills of democracy?
    For me Patriotism means to love your country and that interns means love people of your country. The easiest thing in the world to do is to point out mistakes without giving any alternative. and thats what you are doing here.

    What Navin Jindal did is to democratize the national flag. A contribution to democracy.

    Your concluding remarks are completely false. If people from developed states of India (for example Gujarat, Punjab and Tamil Naidu) ditch their patriotism then who will fund the poors of BIMARU states.

    PS: I am patriotic Indian who loves his people.Recommend

  • SKChadha
    Aug 31, 2010 - 8:58PM


    I hope that just six responses above will make you understand the richness of democracy in India on one hand and the real autocracy where one side view is only projected to the viewers? I am happy to your moderation for our viewers. At least it will make you understand your own ‘Autocratic Democracy’???Recommend

  • Anoop
    Aug 31, 2010 - 10:49PM

    So, Pakistanis criticize their govt more than Indians and that is laudable and the ordinary Indian should be green with envy. I dont know what to say. I am so jealous of Pakistanis.

    Farzana, there are 3 kinds of writing style. Criticize, point out flaws and make the reader realize that whatever you are addressing needs to be looked at. Or, just put out facts, surveys, opinions of lothers and et the reader decide whats right and whats wrong. The other is motivate, inspire and point out flaws but also point out the successes.

    In Management, a good Manager is the one who inspires his employees to better, who motivates them to excel, tell them that their last assignment was good but he/she can do better. A bad manager is one who threatens the guy with terrible consequences if he doesn’t perform, is always criticizing and pointing out one’s flaws and basically makes the employee sick to his stomach and extinguishes the fire in him.

    Majority of Indians, including me believe in the 1st type of management. Inspire, motivate and point out our successes to the masses but also have their feet on the ground. Deal with issues as neutrally as possible.

    Pakistanis are really fed up with their system of governance. Comparing them with us, who have believed in Democracy for 63 long years and the power of vote, is ridiculous.

    In a democracy you criticize through your vote and say ‘Good Job’ through your vote. Its the most flexible system there is.

    I dont really understand what exactly is that you want to convey to your predominantly Pakistani readers. Recommend

  • Aug 31, 2010 - 10:58PM

    I do not moderate the comments here, and my own are moderated, FYI. As for the six comments, zeh naseeb. I wrote this piece because I wanted to, especially after I realised the first part had tangential ideas. It is not to justify anything or oppose anything.

    I use the term ‘autocratic democracy’ to express the nature of caged freedom. The three aspects of such freedom of the haves and have-nots have been pointed out. Patriotism has become a slave to those who can. Jindal “democratises the national flag”? Does he own it, have power over it? Then why can some starlet now wear an imprint on her saree?

    It is the same with some states being able to provide for others. Does it really happen? We fight over Kaveri waters, for pete’s sake. However, if it does we are seeing it narrowly as regional big-brotherliness.

    It is the same with finding flaws. There will be a pampered group who will be granted the right to point out flaws. I did and it is questioned. See? The solutions lie in asking the questions. Fortunately, social mores are dynamic and can be made answerable. Can’t say the same about house plants.

    I have not supported the Khilafat Movement and do not think Gandhi’s aligning with it helped anyone. This was to point out that his assassination was not linked to patriotism.

    The ideals of a nation are built on the ability to think free, and we cannot do that if we are trapped in nationalistic jingoism.

    PS: Ah, if patriotism is all about feeling good, then fine, I love me too. Recommend

  • Amit Kumar
    Sep 1, 2010 - 2:10AM

    Your perspective. “Jindal, fought and won a case for a licence to fly the national flag at his house” Thats
    My perspective. Jindal enabled all Indians to fly their national flag at their house. Thats what i meant foor democratization of the national flag.

    I am nowhere near to your intellectuals and i respect your views. Patriotism is part of my identity. That motivates me to fight what all bad things (which are a plenty) in my country. Work towards the betterment of this.

    I am from Bihar and grew under the Lalu and Rabri raaj. I have seen the worst a democracy can offer. Then also i think our democracy is most precious thing we have. Its success is linked with 1/6th of humanity. We all have to work harder to make it work. So my patriotism is closely link with humanity.

    PS: My patriotism makes me ashamed the corruption exposed in CWG. My patriotism invokes special love for my fellow country man. So I have special love for you too. :)Recommend

  • SKChadha
    Sep 1, 2010 - 6:26AM


    Democracy does not mean dismantling the hierarchical system which existing in state’s administration and judicial system. It is other way round. As the democracy matures, it establishes the hierarchical system even in political class and we have still to wait for that in India or Pakistan. We do not only have weak political system, but also having moles in our Administrative and Judicial systems. The result, law makers themselves do not follow the law. The law becomes “the will of the political superiors which is imposed upon political inferiors”.

    This is also one of the definitions of law in legal theory.

    When Lalu became CM of Bihar, he precisely broke this barrier with his guts and wits. However, when he imposed Rabri Devi, he re-established his will as superior in politics. In times of history these two are diagonally opposite examples of our maturing democracy. Probably, the second one you are calling as Autocratic Democracy. To me, it is highly debatable question in India as to whether Nathu Ram Godse was patriotic or unpatriotic? Forget about ideology of Taliban, it is also debatable ‘whether Taliban are patriotic’?

    To me patriotism is sacrificing our own life, comforts and belongings for common good of the society of which we all are part. There are numerous examples where the people in Administration and Judiciary suffered in their life just for being upright in their approach. These unsung heroes in my opinion are patriotic. Similarly, your views make me realize that you are more patriotic than me in life. Please keep it up. Thanks and regards.Recommend

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