The Great Indian Exhaustion
This is not physical tiredness, but a profound sense of defeatedness
Does my outrage even matter? Will the dynamic Indian news cycle respect the fact that spiking inflation has wrecked open the household budgets of thousands of common citizens? How long will this public sentiment be in the news? Until the next Shivling is found in a centuries-old Mosque? Until the next round of people claiming 'hurt sentiments' over alleged religious transgressions?
I've found this sentiment being echoed everywhere around me. Among journalist friends, whose idealism about their profession's inherent social responsibility has withered considerably. They scout LinkedIn everyday, hoping for a corporate role that confines them to a cubicle, the one they so despised while in college studying journalism.
Among some cousins, fresh MBA grads who can't wait to land the Dubai/US-based jobs. They're blissfully unaware about the spate of communal attacks on India's religious minorities, about the government's flawed policymaking amid the Covid pandemic, and the rising unemployment. And yet, subconsciously, they know it all, for perhaps the unpleasantness of India's social climate pervades the air we breathe.
So, while working out of their air-conditioned high-rise offices, corporate employees' scepticism about our country's future has only hardened with time. And finally, those of my parents' generation – staunch Narendra Modi supporters who subscribe to the Bharatiya Janata Party's religious majoritarianism and believe that the PM deserves another term to "secure India's future." However, until Modi does so, they'd rather have their children take up lucrative jobs on foreign shores and build their lives in those promised lands!
"Escape this place," they'd fervently say about India, "where the promise of social justice submits to rising inequality; where patients die outside hospitals for want of beds, and those inside hospitals die for want of doctors, or medicines, or oxygen; where graduates and those with doctorate degrees compete for the post of a peon; where the hearing date for your case in court is subject to your social standing, and so on…"
I've struggled to find a term to explain this sentiment amongst all classes of Indians. So taking off from a rather simplistic title I've seen in films, I call it, "The Great Indian Exhaustion". "Exhaustion", not because of physical tiredness, but of a profound sense of defeatedness about the present and future of our country. I see this "exhaustion" play out in my own professional sphere. Working for a social impact organisation that leverages online petitions for digital campaigning, I depend on common citizens to be willing to voice their concerns in an emotive appeal. Yet, such are the times we are living through, self-censorship is the mantra everyone lives by!
A man who had started a petition to protect the Hasdeo Forest in Chhattisgarh from being razed for coal mining, had a frustrating response, when I suggested he write about the fact that years ago the Congress state government, had promised the area's tribals that it would protect their lands, but was now reneging. "We should not make this political but focus on the ecological question in this debate."
Pointing out the 'newsy element' in his campaign, I suggested he write about the abject irony in the Congress' response to the coal mining project. The principal opposition party, which repeatedly attacks the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for furthering crony capitalism and benefiting the Adani Group and Reliance Industries, had awarded the coal mining project in Hasdeo to the Adani Group. I was, however, setting myself up for failure. He rejected my suggestion, and posted a rather lame and uninteresting update to his petition. That was the last time he followed up with me about working on his campaign.
Does our fear, over being caught on the wrong side of a political debate, trump our exhaustion about the state of affairs in our country? So much so that the daily events in our country continue to feed into our exhaustion, but fear prevents us from doing anything about it?
This fear is obviously more pronounced for those who, theoretically, have a lot to lose. But it leaves common folks like us with great scepticism about the direction in which our polity is headed! For we see our idols, bending over backwards, so they can continue keeping themselves insulated from all that is bad, and going worse, in our country.
I was horrified when I saw AR Rahman, Ranganathan Madhavan and Deepika Padukone, posing for photos with Union Minister Anurag Thakur, who heads the Information and Broadcasting, as well as the Sports Ministry, at this year's Cannes Film Festival. Thakur appears on public fora as a suited ambassador of Indian soft power. It's a far cry from two years ago, when as the Minister of State for Finance, he gave ahateful speech with the chant, "Desh Ke Gaddaro Ko, Goli Maaro…".
In January 2020, Padukone visited the Jawaharlal Nehru University to express solidarity with students who had been attacked by masked goons amid anti-CAA protests in the country. She was slammed at the time by BJP supporters who had called for a boycott of her films. Months later, her name was dragged through the mud when the Narcotics Control Bureau began probing a 'drugs' angle, in the aftermath of actor Sushant Singh Rajput's death by suicide. Two years later, at Cannes, Padukone seated beside Thakur, said, "India is at the cusp of greatness."
One gets the sense that the Indian 'deep state', which strives for the country's ideological homogenisation, is omnipresent. It doesn't spare anyone, either the editors of big media houses who take it upon themselves to whitewash the Prime Minister's ongoing second term in office, or actors who were once free to make films about corruption in the administration, but today find it well to kowtow to hateful bigots in the government. One remembers the UPA-II era, when the Prime Minister would be lampooned by the young and old alike. And in that widespread derision, Indian democracy thrived.
Eight years into PM Modi's tenure, the 'India' that suits up and goes to Cannes might be at the 'cusp of greatness'. But the 'Bharat' back home is despondent, exhausted, with an empty stomach and no voice!
Harshit Rakheja is a 25-year-old former journalist based in Delhi. He's previously reported on sports, business and technology.