By Siddharthya Roy (12-14-11)
14 December, 2011
Dear Mr Mahathir,
A couple of days back I woke up to Indian newspaper reports which quoted you as saying that India's democracy is a hindrance to its development and if we did away with the nuisance of democracy we will be become developed (1).
Well Sir, it is heartening to see your concern about India's future. Especially now that our own elected government has orphaned us, someone from the outside caring about our development sounds so very nice. But you see Sir, your (apparently) good intentions notwithstanding, your advice to Indians is, well how should I put it...ill-advised. I'm not really sure if you know much about the history of our nation. Don't get me wrong.
Know Your Facts
Going by facts like the general absence of news from Malaysia's newspapers; the absence of anything but song and dance in your electronic media; the absence of bookstores that sell knowledgeable books (for example, the ones from which you can learn about history and not how to get rich in six steps); the abundance of malls and the stark absence of libraries; the abundance of coaching centers that can make masseurs, air hostesses and a host of quick fix technicians and the relative absence of centres of higher learning especially in the social sciences; and above all the fact that this insanely consumerist and hedonist Malaysia was made under your tutelage, makes me doubt your knowledge of the history of India or any nation for that matter.
Understand the Story of Indian Independence
So allow me to apprise you of the story of our Independence. We won Independence from colonial rulers waging a long and torturous battle. A battle that sought to replace a discriminatory, unjust and violent regime that had enslaved huge populations with one which was based on the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity.
India was home then, as is now and as will always be, to an immense diversity of people who spoke different tongues, prayed to different Gods, wore different clothes and had different political beliefs. These diverse people said to each other that - we, despite our differences, will strive to live and flourish together and make a sovereign nation which will be democratic, socialist and secular. We did not anywhere say that we want to be Malaysia or for that matter China or the USA.
India treats all its citizen as equal
We want to become a nation with a system that treats all its citizens as equal unlike your country that officially accords special rights to Malay Muslims calling them first class citizens while relegating thousands of people of Tamil, Chinese and other ethnic origins. Despite the fact that they have known no other land other than Malaysia as their own, you denigrate them with the tag of being second class citizens.
We try to work towards having a system wherein a person will grow according to his merit and hard work earning what he has rightfully earned. You may be surprised to know that here in India making cartels based on identity, even if under the name of bumiputra or son-of-the-soil, is called cartelisation and is looked down upon by most of us. Here promoting the selective interests of one's self or that of his kin is called corruption and nepotism and not, as you call it, development. We are in fact fighting tooth and nail to arrest the scourge of corruption and (you'll be shocked to know) get the guilty punished.
In India No One is Above the Law
Here in India no one is above the law and many a times powerful public figures go to jail for being corrupt or subverting the law. Now that we are at it, Sir, I'm sure it would be interesting to know what the minorities of you countries have to say - especially the jailed and beaten ones - about the development-democracy debate.
In fact Sir, your idea of development is largely at odds with many of us here. What you did to the tropical forests and water-bodies of Malaysia (that is raze vast acres of them into oblivion making way for big bucks palm oil plantations and piggeries and so on) would cause huge outrage amongst many of us who are looking for sustainable development.
We are yet to be unanimously convinced that making cemented roads - however broad, lining them with buildings - even if glass covered and glossy, putting cars on them - however fast they are-- is a substitute for our valued bio-diversity. Many of us are very convinced that displacing huge populations of native people for useless things like racing tracks is a blot on the word 'development'.
There are many of us who find it a shameful and cruel hypocrisy that in your country can have abundant openly advertised sex tourism and still whip women for being licentious! Thanks to the culture of reading here, many of us know of your penchant for cruelty in your personal career. A career during which you enacted despotic and violent acts at times in the name of (your contorted version of Islam) and at times in the name of security and national interest.
Malaysia's Internal Security Act, 1960
We could recount how you rose to power annihilating huge numbers of your opponents and stayed there for over two decades continuing yourdevious rule using tactics and schemes which are far beyond Machiavelli. Many of us know about your vile Internal Security Act 1960, which you used to crush political opposition jailing and killing them with impunity and putting in place a frail and near sham democracy placing the entire nation under a one man rule of the UNMO for over two decades.
You will note that in the essay above I have used words like "most of us" "many of us" and have tried to stay away form absolute claims. Besides the age old Indian practice of accommodating different opinions, it is meant to recognise that there are people in this country too who think like you and will have applauded you for saying what you did.
They too think that roads are all that are important and not the humans which walk on them or the ones that sleep beside them. They have misconstrued the word development as development of personal wealth and that this 'development' is a holy cow and everything including the rights and lives of fellow humans is a lesser priority. Their money power helps them buy a lot of print space and electronic bandwidth so they may appear like the majority, but thankfully the truth is they aren't.
The majority of us recognise and are willing to admit - and even discuss at length - that there are problems in our nation - including bad roads. But they'll quickly add that we intend to solve those not by lessening democracy but by increasing it.
1. Speech on December 2 Hindustan Times Leadership Summit in New Delhi
The author is a freelance writer and activist based in Maharashtra. firstname.lastname@example.org