Thursday, April 24, 2014

The misgivings of virtual citizens

The part I hated the most about not being in India, was being a part of this group of "virtual citizens". It was a group of people with a lot of concern for India and India's development, expressing it constantly on social networking websites. We witnessed a lot of  "middle class" revolutions in the past five years, the most prominent was the agitation against corruption led by Anna Hazare (calculated and controlled by Arvind Kejriwal). As this revolution degenerated into the chaotic Aam Aadmi Party, it left me wondering if this chaos truly represents the confused supporters of the movement, all the Facebook tigers, spread into different corners of the world and trying to be passionately Indian.

They are the kind of people we really do need back home.
They read a lot. So they have a lot to say in an argument. They instigate debates by posting their political opinion online and then spend a lot of their productive work time in replying to the comments. It is as if they know their country better than people who queue up to exercise their right to vote. And even if close to a billion people bring a leader into power, somehow it is not the right choice, because they didn't make it. They are outraged that the governments that they want to see in power are never elected by the nation. Sometimes, when they actually agree with the ballot, they spend a lot of time justifying the outcome to their opponents. But all of them, however well read and  well established they are, are still virtual citizens who do not vote. I wrote a similar post during my "NRI days". I have done all of this. Towards the end of my stay, I was left with a debilitating sense of hopelessness. Trapped in an eddy of labels and name calling -- radical Hindu, pseudo-liberal, pseudo-secular, communal, left-leaning, newspaper bias, cronyism, nepotism and many others.

Although voting in Loksabha elections 2014 did give me a sense of purpose and usefulness, I have come to realize a much harsher reality. That virtual citizens, with their extremely loud media presence, are still a fractional minority in this giant exercise of voting in a new Prime Minister. The overwhelming majority still, are the people who are voting for concrete roads, water & electricity. Women voting to stop their daily hikes to get clean water for their family, and people who are eager to get out of debt and poverty. We are still not done solving farmers' problems, we are still not finished with the exploitation of the poor by money lenders. We still struggle with educating girls and providing them with better (and safe) sanitation, provided they make it into this world dodging the illegal use of ultrasounds. 

I realized how out-of-place and uprooted I was when I followed the 2012 presidential elections in the United States. I read every single Op-ed written on Romney and Obama. I watched the debates like I used to watch tennis grand slams. I understood what America was seeking as a nation. Healthcare, women's issues, budget crises and all of that! But I couldn't even play a tiny role in choosing the leader of the country of my residence. Then I realized that I am equally well informed about Indian politics, but I haven't really been a "practicing" Indian citizen for more than five years.

I don't really support Modi. I have never agreed with the BJP ideology. But when I see non-resident academics writing "open letters" to convey their apprehension over a Modi victory, it angers me. So does a country like the United States being "concerned" about the rise of a "communal" leader. I think the "War on Terror" was more communal than anything India has ever witnessed. Such condescension comes with an assumption that belonging to a developed country or having high academic credentials gives you a better judgement. But the most important quality you need, to choose your leader, is not intelligence. It is the act of being a present citizen. And if a Modi government comes to power, it would be a result of a billion present citizens queuing up to cast their votes. And in this system, being there is more useful (and respectable) than having a lot to say, from far away.

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