The Gatekeepers to India
It is said that our country is divided into an India and a Bharat. I hate this terminology because it is unnecessarily pejorative towards “Bharat”, but let’s go with it for now. These two nations are often identified with Urban and Rural India respectively, but sometimes the borders are not so clearly geographical. Some people say that the border is in fact between the rich and the poor. I believe that there are in fact two nations, but the line of separation is different from what is commonly assumed. On one side is India, a nation that exists in spite of government hindrance. On the other side is Bharat, a country that would not have existed in its current state without the overbearing presence of government.
Guarding the frontier between the two countries are the Gatekeepers. They are a loose coalition of politicians, government offiicials, NGOs and other activists, caste and community leaders, local strongmen, industrialists, and the like. The Gatekeepers may have access to the levers of government, the capability for violence, or both, to achieve their end. The Gatekeepers guard both countries against each other. To the Indians, they say that they are protecting them against the hordes from Bharat. To the Bharatiyas, they say that they are preventing the evil Indians from encroaching on their domain, and ensuring that the wealth created in India is equitably distributed.
All internal conflict in our country involves Bharat, India and the Gatekeepers. In fact, there are five types of such conflicts. In the first type, the Gatekeepers collect toll from the Bharatiyas who wish to cross over to India. One of the most popular ways to cross the border is via education, and naturally education is the controlled the most by the Gatekeepers. They extract a heavy toll from anyone who wishes to start schools or colleges, and generally keep the right to run educational institutions with themselves. Then they offer “reservations” in these institutions to the Bharatiyas to make it sound like they are leading an assault on the gates that they themselves built. The Right to Education Act is the latest example of this. It hinders those who wish to open private schools that will serve the Bharatiyas and forces schools that serve the Indians to reserve 25% of their seats for the Bharatiyas. That way, the Gatekeepers will collect ransom from both types of schools and votes from the Bharatiyas.
The second kind of conflict is where gatekeepers collect ransom from the Indians to leave them alone. There is no lack of examples of this type of conflict in the field of business and industry, but another less obvious example is moral policing. It is a poorly kept secret that most moral policing, attacks on pubs and on Valentine’s day cards is actually thinly veiled extortion.
The third kind involves Indians engaging the Gatekeepers as their agents to extort from the Bharatiyas. If an Indian wishes to buy agricultural land to build a factory, he cannot buy it from the Bharatiyas directly. He has to get it through the Gatekeepers, who expropriate it for him. Then other Gatekeepers lead agitations against this. Restrictions on the use of land, the fact that land ownership is a complete mess, and the agitations all serve to drive up the cost of land. The benefit of that does not go to those who possess the land, but to the Gatekeepers.
The fourth kind of conflict involves attempts by the Gatekeepers to annex parts of India into Bharat. This usually flows from the second and third kinds of conflict and is often hard to distinguish from them. Often, ransom demands by the Gatekeepers get transformed into attempts at complete control – this is made easier by misguided attempts by Indians to get the Gatekeepers to fight their battles for them. Instances of this conflict can be found in any of the partially regulated, partly free industries, such as Banking, Telecom or Aviation.
Internal conflict within Bharat over who gets to be Gatekeeper is the fifth and the oldest kind. Within Bharat, the gatekeepers are the arbiters of the Bharatiyas’ destiny. Much of politics involves this kind of conflict, where you fight elections on the premise of securing benefits for your own caste or class. Till liberalization, India was too small to loot from, and the only recourse for the gatekeepers was to extort from different sections within Bharat on behalf of their preferred section. This eventually proved unsustainable, so the other kinds of conflicts were developed. The conflict over job reservation is, in fact, an example of one that started off as this kind, i.e. as a conflict over government jobs, but which has now moved to the private sector, i.e. conflict no. 2 or 4.
All political, social and economic issues in India can be understood in terms of these conflicts – either singly or in combination. The commonly held view that divides India into two countries is not wrong, but oversimplified. It ignores the presence of the Gatekeepers. The common refrain that India should heed the cries of the Bharatiyas who are standing at the gates of India is misguided, because responding to it involves paying off the Gatekeepers and throwing crumbs at the Bharatiyas. The need of the hour is to drive away the Gatekeepers and to throw open the Gates.