Saturday, May 02, 2009

Elite vs elite

Retributions accuses elite South Mumbai citizens of letting down Indian democracy by not voting. The rant reflects a broader fashion this summer of holding the elite as scapegoats for a democratic process that is seen (by the elite, of course) as not producing satisfactory results.

Ironically, the blogger in question also acknowledges that elites play an important role in guiding democracy and governance through their financial resources and intellectual ability.

Why then make a big deal about the vote? Is it not statistically obvious that well-meaning (or crooked) elites around the world have historically influenced societies not through their numbers but through precisely the two qualities that the blogger already identifies? By their very definition, elites in any society represent an insignificant fraction of the population which makes their vote a purely symbolic gesture.

This insistence on unreasonable symbolic acts is what I privately identify as the Detroit-Jet Disorder. Remember when car executives from Detroit flew in their private jets to Washington for their congressional hearings and the mainstream media made such a big deal of it that the next time around they drove or took commercial flights? Without going into a discussion about how well the execs were running their business (they were not running it well, I know) and a debate about capitalism, it is likely that not using the private jet was a purely symbolic act that, if at all, hurt their own efficiency and ultimately Congress' cause.

(An excellent instance of the Disorder surfaced yesterday when the American media lambasted Michelle Obama for wearing trendy $540 sneakers to a poverty event. Wtf?! Not that the cause of the food bank was hurt or helped by what she wore, but she was supposed to undertake the completely symbolic gesture of wearing cheap shoes anyway.)

Back to the Mumbai elite chargesheet, of course the allegation of "letting down Indian democracy" is ridiculous. Democracy, like capitalism, is a disaggregated, selfish game - you don't vote for the sake of democracy, you vote for your own sake. There are 542 other constituencies in India and when the Jat farmer in Haryana, the industrial worker in Jharkhand, the tribal daily-wager in Madhya Pradesh, and the religious believer voted with their own narrow objectives (reservations, union power, or temple as the case may be), they made democracy work for themselves; no one lets no other down.

* * * * *

When elite actions are criticized by elite commentators, it comes full circle. And when allegedly-elite bloggers like yours truly criticize other elite bloggers (instead of choosing to look at the countless fascinating instances or Indian democracy going good or bad elsewhere), it comes fuller circle, so to speak.

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