I suppose you all know that I love them internets. It is the most potent instrument for the minor enlightenment of humanity. By “minor” I mean that which enables knowledge and therefore prepares the way for the major enlightenment. Once upon a time, not too long ago, you could only know what was allowed by those who were in charge of the information channels such as print, radio, and TV. The rich and powerful controlled what information the unwashed masses could be trusted with. Dictators found this very useful.
I think one easy test of whether a society is free or not is to check whether there is freedom of expression. Can you say, read or write what you please? More importantly, can you say, read or write what you please without being hauled off to some gulag? How does India figure on this test. Not very well, I am afraid.
Radio and TV in India, until very recently, were controlled by the government to the extent that those were totally owned by the government. Add to that, the entire education system was (and still is to a disturbing degree) controlled by the state. That made it very easy to brainwash the kids and raise the next generation of obedient citizens who knew nothing other than the party line. The government routinely censors movies, bans books, and fails to protect writers who are unpopular with specific vote banks.
No, India does not epitomize the free society, although it is most certainly not at the bottom of the barrel. For real oppressive government, one has to look to India’s neighbors. In any case, considering that India is tom-tommed as a democracy (the largest in fact, although how that is supposed to impress one is not clear), it could have been a freer society.
But now it does not matter any more. Censorship was a technical problem and it is technology that has crippled the once-powerful state’s ability to control what people talk about and consequently how people think. Let me take a concrete example. Cha-cha Nehru.
I like to call him “Cha-cha” (uncle) rather than “pundit” (learned scholar). Cha-cha sits better on the man. His policies were paternalistic. His syle dictatorial, like that of a strict uncle towards his rather dissolute nieces and nephews. Besides, calling him a “learned scholar” would be stretching the term beyond any recognition.
Indians who were brought up on a steady diet of state-approved educational content have no idea that Nehru was a petty tyrant and his policies really were pretty harmful. Of course, I can only judge his economic policies to be brain-dead. But others with varied expertise have judged his other policies and come up aghast. Books have been written about them but those are the types of books you don’t get to hear much about in school or in the popular press.
Thanks to the internet, though, now it is all coming out. I am doing my bit of course by recording my opinion of Nehru. (See Was Nehru a Dictator? on this blog and the category Jawaharlal Nehru.)
Recently Vipin on his blog First Principles wrote a piece on “Respecting Tyrants?” which brought out a few comments in defense of Mr Nehru. I would surmise that the dissenting views are from people of the previous generation. Vipin’s blog is definitely recommended.