Democracy in India in academic and journalistic circuits has increasingly become a classic tale of doppelganger, a paranormal double of a living person with a phantom self. And this is often projected as ‘historic novelty’. For instance, the fifth-largest concentration of dollar billionaires in the world lives happily with the world’s single-largest concentration of the poor and hungry. And the most chaotic, most corrupt moment in politics coincides with the most heroic anti-corruption struggles in contemporary India.
But democracies are not animal parks, where elephants, dragons, leopards and various other predators fight a bloodied survival of the fittest. We are aware that democracy in India was doomed to fail, but destiny had other designs. It has not only survived, but also flourished, though not unblemished. Call it ‘rogue’ or ‘unruly’, it has also deepened beyond imagination. Democracy is probably the only genre of humanity that grows like human beings. Therefore, no matter what we do, we will accumulate wrinkles, deposit fat, turn grey and will continually be disappointed in our phantom image.
And this explains why politicians and bureaucrats rush to lifestyle gurus, beauty parlours and plastic surgeons for yoga lessons, hair dyeing, face-lifts, liposuctions, eyelid operations and breast-lifts in this 65-year-odd-old democracy in India.
This paranormal double has become the most popular steroid for performance enhancement among the elite band of foreign correspondents-turned-India experts in Lutyen’s Delhi. It is not an ordinary coincidence that former India bureau chief for Reuters and The Washington Post Simon Denyer’s Rouge Elephant finds itself in an unenviable date in A Strange Kind of Paradise by BBC’s Sam Miller and reaches a climax in Implosion: India’s Tryst with Reality by former Financial Times journo John Elliott.
As I finished reading Denyer’s Rogue Elephant, I could not help hiding my glee that the book is not about the mythical white elephant Airavata, which carried Hindu god Indra, nor is it about William Dalrymple’s Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India. Foreign correspondents have a penchant to write from the ‘posting’ perspective rather than a historical perspective. But Denyer excels in the self-appointed task of historian in compressing longue duree into a de-centred, mini-narrative of micro-powers of democracy in India.
In short, there is no guessing that the history of the ‘unruly democracy’ in post-independence India is loosely structured around sensational events and extraordinary personalities: the Delhi gangrape, Nithari murders, ‘silent fall of