The Jasmine Revolution that started in Tunisia has spread far and wide in the Islamic world and has touched China too. Observers in India seem to have a laid-back attitude in assessing its relevance to our country. They think that it is happening in some other world and cannot be replicated here because of the so-called democratic system, which provides scope for people to vent their dissatisfaction with the rulers once in a while.

Progress in scandals

But Indian democracy functions only for the elite. It does not mean anything to the millions of deprived people who are engaged in a daily battle to make ends meet. Right from the early days of Independence, when there was a jeep scandal, the country has made spectacular progress in the number and variety of financial scandals.

Looking back, the amounts involved in some of the early scams were peanuts by today's standards, with each successive one setting a new record. This is not only because of the deterioration in the character of those in power but also the steep fall in the value of the rupee. The value of the currency and values of life seem to be closely correlated!

It is not correct to assume that democracy is historically ingrained in the psyche of the Indian. It was a new concept, introduced in a small but imperfect way, through the Government of India Act of 1935 that provided for elections in British India with a restricted electorate.

Education got a low priority till recently, probably because the politicians did not want a well-informed electorate. But the advent of television has done away with the need for literacy in understanding public affairs.

The rot has set in

So the common man, even in a remote village, has knowledge about all that is happening — good and bad — in the polity. A farmer, for instance, may ask himself why he should toil in the field for days and then face a failure of the harvest because of inadequate rains, when he finds a few making money in their air-conditioned offices simply by doling out favours for a consideration or selling classified information.

Mass grievances could be a harbinger for revolt here too, as they are elsewhere. The rot has set in so deep that you have a Chief Minister spending days in New Delhi at public expense, not to discuss any development project in his State but to get ministerial appointments for his children, grandnephew and others.

We cannot categorically say that a revolution will not happen in India. As it is, there is no respect for law and order. Think of the many tin-pot dictators issuing commands every now and then as to what people should or should not do. They are running parallel governments. They are able to enforce their wills, with the government standing by as a mute onlooker. On the other hand, the government is not able to enforce law and order, despite its police force.

It is the common man who suffers injuries and damage to his property whenever there is a protest. And the man who is behind the civil disturbance does not care about prosecution because he is rich enough to engage the best lawyer in town to defend him. He provokes other people into agitations, never involving himself or his family members directly.

Unique experiment

And you have the phenomenon of a leader asking party men to go on a fast in the hot sun to protest against some government policy while spending his/her time in a hill station enjoying three meals a day, with snacks in between, to assuage hunger!

Are Indians suckers who do not demand the participation of leaders in demonstrations by leading them and facing the lathi charge? Why should they suffer hardships for the personal glories of a few leaders? Think of the days when a George Fernandes or an S. A. Dange led various morchas .

It is wrong to say that Indians won't allow dictatorship. One of the greatest disservices that Indira Gandhi rendered, inter alia , to the country was in imposing the Emergency and showing how it would be acceptable to the people. It was a unique laboratory experiment in politics, comparable to that conducted in physical sciences.

Except for a few disturbances here and there, the country was peaceful and people observed the rule of law. Even today, there are many of the older generation who nostalgically look back to those days saying that staff attended office in time, trains ran to schedule, and so on. She lost the election but it was due to the excesses of the Emergency that came to light later.

Untouched by impurity

If the politician does not see the writing on the wall, he may as well be prepared for a ‘Lotus Revolution' in the country. I do not mean the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has adopted the lotus symbol, coming to power. The lotus is our national flower. It symbolises purity, spirituality, knowledge and illumination, all the qualities that sum up the Indian ethos, and for which the average Indian is yearning today.

Those who are not attached to their worldly belongings are often compared to the water drops on the lotus that do not attach themselves to the flower. The most important thing about the lotus is that, though growing in murky waters, it is untouched by their impurities.

Whether a Lotus Revolution will result eventually in something good for the country or not is difficult to predict, given the historical experience with dictatorships that were benign to begin with and then became devilish with increasing corruption and arrogance of power. While the Jasmine Revolution and other revolts may usher in the replacement of dictatorships by democracy in other countries, ironically, the Lotus Revolution may see the reverse in India.

(The author is a Mumbai-based economic consultant.)