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India: The Mrs. Lot who looked back

“But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.” This is a telling example from the Bible to show what happens to people who look back to the past and forget to look at the present to improve the situation. Already several sociologists and historians have termed Indians as a people hooked on to the past and forget the present.

India: The Mrs. Lot who looked back

By Joe Palathunkal
2018 was the culmination of a process that coerced India to look back and live the past with dangerous consequences, a trend which was there already since so many years but in a mild form. It became assiduous and aggressive in 2018 compelling an observer to recall what happened to the wife of Lot when God sent fire and brimstone on Sodom the wicked nation. Lot and his family members were fleeing to Zoar (Genesis 19): “But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.”

This is a telling example from the Bible to show what happens to people who look back to the past and forget to look at the present to improve the situation. Already several sociologists and historians have termed Indians as a people hooked on to the past and forget the present. But the effects of this process have been devastating.

Looking back to the past to find solution for the present is like tying the horse behind the cart and asking it to move forward but the greatest danger is going back to the kingship days living in a democratic structure. Kings always had a one-man show and a sudden decree or proclamation.

The midnight decree of demonetization on 8 November 2016 is a clear example of that kingdom syndrome which makes the king the sole authority and what he says and when he says becomes the sole law for the whole kingdom.

The effects of demonetization are there for all to see and whether it benefitted the king or the people will be an arena of endless debates among economists and sociologists. However, the towering economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen said this much: “This decision is about minimal achievement and maximal suffering… We all want something to be done about black money. But surely, it also has to be intelligent and humane. That has not happened.”


Amartya Sen

Stopping 86 % of cash in circulation with a midnight stroke will definitely choke the economy but that is not the concern of the king but the status he gets through his royal decree.

Another characteristic of the kingdom syndrome is uniformity in the whole land and among all the subjects and enough symptoms are there to show this uniformity in India. One religion, one language, one land rhetoric has been sounding in India vociferously and violently and for this the enthusiasts get inspiration from a selective past and a king of their choice. Stretching Indian history back to 12000 years is an attempt to find that right inspirational point. The insistence on vegetarian food for all is part of this uniformity drive.

One obvious symptom of this past-complex is the chariot-march or the rath-yatra which has become endemic in Indian politics when modern means of communication are easily available with the strides in information technology. But Indian politicians are busy with rath-yatras to make them visible before the people like the kings of India in the past and to proclaim their plans and ideas to the people creating social disharmony in the process.

Construction of the statues is another symptom of this past-looking thinking and political class in India is very much fond of statue-building with a tremendous spirit of competition to outdo the other. By looking at the height of the statues the politicians get a vicarious pleasure and feel their own stature is on an upward swing forgetting the fact that the height of the statue does not decide the stature of any individual but it depends on the quality of life and works of the person. You may build the statue of any Indian to any heights but nobody can become the tallest Indian other than that half-naked staff-holding man who led his people to freedom.

This past-ward looking syndrome is not at all befitting the democratic structure and culture which compels a modern nation like India to have dynamic diversity and freedom. Democracy means freedom of choice not only in politics but in every sphere and that is why our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru gave us the right motto: unity in diversity. Remember, this most modern prime minister of India never undertook a rath-yatra.

There is no uniformity in democracy but only unity with a lively diversity where the fear of the ruler will be absent and in its place respect for the rule of law will become paramount. In democracy it is the people who decide but in kingship it is the subjects who bow to the royal decree.

Freedom of thought, expression and conscience will be the lifeline of democracy but in a past-looking India this greatest freedom will be negated. Control over social media and media in general in the year 2018 is a clear sign of this.



Ultimately, a past-looking India will have the fate of Mrs. Lot and it will turn into a backward looking statue without life and movement incapable of looking into the present and seeing what should be done. A powerful and dynamic India will be a nation that lives the present for its people recognizing ‘the power of now’ as Eckhart Tolle tells us.

(Joe Palathunkal is Associate Editor, Living in Faith)

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