As often pointed out, London’s grip over India began to get reduced soon after the Raj headquarters moved from Calcutta to Delhi. The chemistry of a city known to visitors for tombs and memorials to the dead works its fetid hold on residents, ensuring the decay of both empires as well as administrations, because within its surrounds, underperformance became the norm. Among its citizens, a sportsman became a hero not by winning an Olympic medal but for failing to, while a policeman’s name is celebrated not for killing or capturing terrorists but for being ambushed fatally by them. It was fortunate for his political fortunes that Mahatma Gandhi spent so little time in the capital city, coming only off and on to meet a Viceroy and other British notables in the company of that favoured child of destiny, Jawaharlal Nehru. If there were a global contest for the father who did most for his son, Motilal Nehru would probably have won, for he was unceasing in his efforts at promoting his only son, including—with momentous success—to the Mahatma. In contrast, the Father of the Nation seemed barely conscious of his own offspring, making sure that they received none of the privileges which his acclaim would normally have given them, a trait he carried to such a degree that his eldest son Harilal ended up on the streets, dying a beggar in a public hospital in Mumbai. Although his own education in London seemed to have done him scant harm, the Mahatma denied his son the same route, unlike modern leaders in India, who encourage their offspring to learn English and even to study abroad while striving through anti-English policies to ensure that the nation’s poor be denied access to knowledge of that language.
Those who have visited Afghanistan during the period in office of the Taliban, or have managed to insert themselves into post-2011 Libya or Syria, are aware of how local bandits set up checkpoint after checkpoint on roads, create blockage upon blockage, in order to extort cash from travellers. This is the very principle followed in Lutyens Delhi: the creation of choke points, the crossing of each of which requires a bribe. The harder the ability to choke, the greater the bribes that it is possible to collect. Two modern champions in such a governance system are Kapil Sibal and P. Chidambaram, several of whose 2004-14 creations are still being continued and in some cases improved upon, if such be the proper word to use in describing policies that smother the initiative of citizens.
Freedom of speech on campus has become an occupation only a tad less risky than landing in a war zone, with JNU setting the example in this regard by enforcing a “Silence is Golden” rule with a zeal designed to ensure that a welter of opinions within its confines will now go underground rather than get expressed freely in the manner normal in those universities abroad, to which officials and politicians in India send their children. And now, following on from refusing to do away with Macaulay-era prohibition on some forms of personal behaviour, the Supreme Court has reiterated its backing for Macaulay’s criminalising of “defamatory” speech. Had London’s Hyde Park corner been in India, our jails would have been filled with the Kanhaiya-style cranks speechifying there.
And now, in the proposed law for geospatial depictions, the Ministry of Home Affairs has managed to wrest the Most Colonial championship from Chidambaram and Sibal to its present worthies. Rather than use a sniper’s rifle to go after the handful of depredators whose actions need to be checked, the proposed law is of the usual AK-47 variety that scatters bullets (punishments) across a ridiculously wide zone. Indeed, even Pyongyang has been bested by Lutyens Delhi, for the stated explanation for a law that would make what is left (after the hyper-colonial 2005 Information Technology law) of the internet illegal in India was that the Pathankot attack became “easier” because of maps shown on internet sites. Well, the attack was also made easier by roads and rail lines leading into Pathankot, so perhaps these ought to be outlawed as well.
The fact is that the attack was a partial success solely because of the carelessness of the authorities in ensuring a credible first line of defence into the airbase, including through proper monitoring of the periphery. Certainly those security parameters followed by global companies in their own domiciles should be adopted in India as well rather than ignored as they are, but this can be done by means other than repeating the UPA’s folly in seeking to control online content by the expedient of potentially criminalising much of it.
The bureaucratic maze in India needs to be altered into a policy highway rather than the obstacle course Nehru and most of his successors made it, and this means not more but less laws and fewer regulations. The British set out to choke to death innovation and enterprise in India, and practically all their attitudes and their control mechanisms remain functional in this second decade of the 21st century. Lenin said of Stalin that what was needed of the commissar was “better less, but better”. The same could be said of those ministries in the Lutyens Zone that are, despite the coming to office in 2014 of a Prime Minister publicly committed to Minimum Government, continuing with the legacy and practices of the British-era past that have been preserved so solicitously by Nehru and his successors.