First Person | Age of Mediocrity

Mediocre people support and promote other mediocre people so that they can all co-exist

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

Either it is broadening of the worldview or compulsions of electoral politics, but as Aam Aadmi Party’s founder and leading light Arvind Kejriwal took the plunge into national politics, he observed that communalism was a bigger issue in India than corruption. Interestingly, he said this during an interaction with the members of India Islamic Centre.

Almost around the same time, one of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) rebels, who jumped the boat before the elections, Javed Iqbal Ansari, announced on national television that he was quitting the party as he is morally obliged because of his community to pursue secular politics.

What is it about Indian Muslims that all politicians or wannabe politicians feel compelled to mouth the usual ‘secular-communal’ platitudes to win them over? Why do they think that for a Muslim the only worry is communalism? There is no denying the fact that communal politics should be a major concern for all well-meaning Indians (not just Muslims), just as corruption should be, but I am coming around to believe that our biggest worry should be inefficiency borne out of incompetence. And this goes to the root of all our problems.

India’s big fortune of having intellectual stalwarts like Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Azad etc at the dawn of Independence has also been its biggest misfortune; because it gave an exaggerated sense of self to us. Political leaders like those were not representative of the Indian people, majority of whom were illiterate with only partially-developed intellect. Over the next few decades, as we tried to reach education to the lowest common denominator we constantly lowered standards so that the weakest could catch up. As a result, the average intellectual capacity of our nation today is determined not by our brightest, but by our dumbest.

This progressive lowering of standards has dangerously permeated every rung of our societal ladder. Take for example the Indian armed forces. Senior army officers admit that over years the standards for officer intake have been lowered so much that today they do not get the kind of youth they did till about 20 years ago. However, they are getting better educated other ranks. It is not that the officer aspirants are not educated, probably they are more qualified in terms of degrees, but this qualification does not add value to their lives or their professions; because it does not feed their intellect. No amount of training or experience can make up for the absence of thinking capacity or imagination. How can then these officers suddenly become strategists upon promotion?

The same rings true for every other profession in India, whether it is bureaucracy, management or even educational institutions, all of which are populated, even led by mediocre people with limited thinking faculties. They can memorise well and apply formulas and theories, but they cannot think for themselves, cannot analyse and cannot put the past in the present context to understand the future.

This is extremely worrisome because most of our leadership, political, bureaucratic, and industrial is populated by mediocre people. Mediocrity breeds insecurity and that leads to dishonesty. Mediocre people support and promote other mediocre people so that they can all co-exist. One doesn’t have to search for examples here, they are all around us. In parents who fudge documents so that their kids get an edge over others and in teachers who nudge their students to cheat so that the school’s record remains unblemished. So we plagiarise blatantly until we are caught, then we say we were merely inspired!

This is the reason, in international arena, our top diplomats are bested by their counterparts; in all our negotiations with our adversaries (Pakistan or China) we end up with the short end of the stick, agreeing to their proposals because we cannot come up with any of our own and cannot think through their motives behind those proposals; our analysts mug up western strategic-political literature to draw parallels with Indian situation, without thinking about the Indian conditions on their own merit; our scientists cannot produce anything of consequence, whether it be general invention like anaesthesia or weapon system; the largest section of our manufacturing sector does license production of western products; so much so, that even our films are bested by those coming from Iran or Korea in international competitions!

How shameful is it that in the area of statecraft, diplomacy or strategy if we need to refer to Indian thought, we cannot get beyond Chanakya, who lived in ancient India! For contemporary examples, we have to take recourse to Western thinkers and writers.

Because we lack so much in imagination our political class repeatedly gets away with touting symptomatic issues as the real ones and we cannot figure it out. Worse, we are so insecure that we collectively try and silence isolated original ideas whenever they appear once in a while, because we fear they will disrupt the status quo. Both divisiveness and pettiness are products of insecure minds short on vision.

Honestly, I don’t care about honest or secular leaders. I want intelligent (not clever) and imaginative (not plagiarist) leaders. Because if you have these qualities, you will in any case be on a plane higher than thieves and thugs.




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