Ankur Gupta
Why India needs Idealism?
This article originally appeared in CRI content has now been subsumed in The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of

They say that prostitution is the oldest profession in the world. And what they say might be true or might be false, but the notion certainly contains some credibility so that it doesn’t get flatly rejected.

If it indeed is the oldest profession in the world, then it has come a long way and deserves to be recognized. But in a way, the profession is expected to be able to survive even through the boisterous periods of human history because it takes advantage of the basest of a human being’s bestial instincts. It is extremely pragmatic. It doesn’t become out-dated by revolutions in technology or by shifts in social ideals. It doesn’t depend on any external process. The instincts of a homo-sapiens haven’t changed for thousands of years and, until the next evolutionary change, aren’t expected to change for a million more.

But despite being so old and proving itself to be a survivor, the profession is not highly sought-after. The people in any society would rather do something else, and for the people that aren’t able to do anything else, they turn to it out of sheer desperation. Why does that happen? Why doesn’t the ‘oldest profession in the world’ garner respect for its long life?

Because it is too pragmatic a profession and we live in a society that has certain ideals and values. These ideals might tell the members of society what the respected profession is or what the characteristics of a respected person are. In some societies, being a doctor might be considered respectful. In others, being an entrepreneur might be considered worthy. Some societies value egalitarianism and sharing, whereas other societies idealize competition and victory.

Where do the different ideals found in different societies come from? The question is difficult to answer, and because of the changing dynamics of the world population, an answer valid ten years ago is not valid today. Ten years ago, because information didn’t flow as mellifluously as it does today, every society separated by a conspicuous geographical distance could afford to have its own ideals. It could afford to do things its own way, without being interminably scrutinized by the media and the self-proclaimed Internet rights activists.

Today, that’s not the case. Because of the omnipresence of the Internet, the flow of ideas is not impeded by distance. News spreads quicker and reactions spread even quicker. The ideals of the societies living in every country from Ecuador to Mongolia are analysed, and compared to the global-western ideals model. If the ideals aren’t congruous, the victim ideal is rebuked.

If the ideals are congruous, the observed ideal is applauded for being progressive and future-oriented. This scrutiny and judgment leaves societies with only two options. If a society wants to continue to assert its own ideals, it has to confront the existing dominant ideals. Otherwise it can simply kill its own ideals and identity and follow the dominant ideology. In other words, it can be pragmatic and ‘join them, because it can’t beat them’.

And this brings us to the centre point of the intense conflict that is enveloping the current Indian elections. Up until two years ago, India as a country was being applauded by the Western media for having a burgeoning economy and an aspiring middle-class. Western countries over the world felt that India was the perfect counter-weight to a rising China.

Praise about India could frequently be read in online articles. It was a time when India wasn’t being idealistic, only pragmatic. It was following the rules set by the West and doing its best to catch up economically with the countries in the West. Unlike China’s one-party state, India’s democracy was praised by the Western media. The commentators assumed that India would never challenge the Western ideology because it would indubitably follow the ideals set by the West.

And India would have continued to be pragmatic and follow the Western ideals had not a right-winger Hindu-nationalist politician become prominent in the run up to the 2014 elections. As soon as that happened, the progressive minded ‘intellectuals’ and ‘media-channels’ were on their feet shouting them hoarse. On online forums and TV news channels, topics such as ‘communalism’ and ‘secularism’ became common points of discussion.

The army of people blinded by Western ideals was out to hunt and punish anyone that went against their divine beliefs. Those people wanted India to simply be pragmatic and follow the West and the ideals it expounds.

What those enlightened people don’t realize is that ideals, whether they be Western ones or Indian ones, are inherently whimsical entities. They change when the condition of the society believing in those ideals changes. They are devised according to the needs and wants of the population. As the needs of the population changes, so do the ideals. At one point of time, slavery was common in the West. Today, it isn’t.

At some point in human history, cannibalism was common. Today, it isn’t. When the skin colour of a human being was a determinant of his skill and capabilities, slavery was reasonable. When food was in short supply, cannibalism was reasonable. But skin colour isn’t as strong a determinant of ability as it once was, and food definitely isn’t as scarce as it once was. As these changes in surroundings took place the ideals of society changed. What then imparts any significance to ideals existing today? What gives value to the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ or any such philosophy that is emphasized by the mainstream media? Absolutely nothing.

Ideals functional today might be out-dated tomorrow. As the global power quotient shifts and the global order changes, global ideals will accordingly change.

And change seems to be on the horizon, especially in the bankrupt Europe and debt-laden America. And to stay relevant as a distinct identity in this perpetually changing world, India needs an idealistic leader. Today, a majority of the leaders in the country present themselves as being idealistic priests and solely responsible for carrying forward the legacy of being ‘secular’ and ‘non-communal’.

Under meticulous scrutiny, the idealistic face that these leaders espouse is simply a veneer masking their intensely pragmatic attitude. By strengthening the ideals asserted by the West, these leaders aim to avoid negative publicity in Western newspapers and media outlets. By preaching the ideal of ‘secularism’ the leaders hope to get votes from the minorities in the country.

The true goal behind this facade of idealism is to stay in power and to maintain the status quo. And indeed status quo is maintained. The West continues to shower praise on the country for continuing to be ‘secular’, and the current leaders stay in power, but at the cost of sacrificing the unique identity of the country.

Why does the hypocrisy exist? Primarily because of the absence of a bold and smart ‘non-secular’ candidate to choose as prime minister, and that meant that the true idealists had no incentive to vote. It is a common belief amongst the middle-class and the rich-class members of society that they are idealists and care about the country and that the problem lies in the pragmatism endorsed by the poor-class. It is believed that the poor voters would vote for anyone that offers them even a modicum of money.

But that is a fallacy. In fact, it is the members of the rich-class and the middle-class who run after money and who aspire to leave the country and settle down in other countries that offer them better jobs and higher incomes. A prosaic name for this phenomenon is ‘brain-drain’, and the phenomenon has been going on for decades.

Some citizens even abandon their citizenship because ‘they don’t see themselves coming back’ or because ‘their job is secure’. If that isn’t pragmatism, then what is? The members of the poor-class who aren’t able to leave the country stay behind. They have more reasons to be concerned about the policies implemented by the next government than do those members who can leave the country at the drop of a hat. Thus, those citizens who have a greater stake in the country’s condition instinctively know that choosing the government carefully is important.

Some of them might be pragmatists and be bought over by money distributed by the different political parties, but several of them would be less pragmatic and they would choose carefully because they realize that they are directly affected by the policies of the government.

In these elections the idealists have entered the fray. They have realized that India doesn’t need a pragmatic leader that simply tries to adjust to the eclectic ideals expounded by the West, but an idealistic leader that defines and lives by his own ideals. In the tempestuous storm that is quickly approaching the world, and made more conspicuous now because of the conflict in Ukraine, the idealists have realized that having a strong leader who is sure of his identity and who is able to assert it successfully while the global order changes will be beneficial for the country’s identity.

They know that if India chooses a pragmatic leader, India will be able to survive the tumultuous times. At some point of time in the future, it will also become the ‘oldest country in the world’. But just as the ‘oldest profession in the world’ doesn’t garner respect for its age, the ‘oldest country in the world’ also wouldn’t garner any respect.

To get that respect, a strong identity needs to be asserted, and to assert that identity, a pugnacious leader needs to occupy the helm. And while the pugnacious leader doesn’t yet rise, all the idealists can do is vote and wait. And hear. In a few days time, they should cock their ears towards Varanasi. May they hear the zephyr carrying the roar of a victorious lion?