Sympathy weakens our democracy | Herald of the Deccan


Democracy is deceptively simple in form and appearance, but complex and complex in its actual manifestation. The point is that democracy, when improperly practiced, becomes worse than dictatorship or totalitarianism. Its essence will be lost if it is not treated with sensitivity.

As a nation, we are proud to proclaim that ours is the greatest democracy in the world. While this is a plausible claim, the real danger lies in the perpetuation of certain erroneous practices and the corruption of the very soul of democracy.

Sympathy is one such practice, which sullies the sanctity of democracy.

Sympathy is defined as “obsequious behavior towards someone important in order to gain an advantage”. The tendency to flatter someone in power and do things normally seen as degrading human dignity with the ulterior motive of pleasing someone in a position of authority is one of the most heinous sights to watch. That this is done by those who are believed to be educated and cultured makes it utterly repugnant. In doing so, the dignity of the sycophant is compromised, which is the very negation of a democratic way of life.

Recently, a video surfaced showing a district collector touching the feet of the chief minister of the state. Some eyebrows rose, but the matter was quickly forgotten.

Bureaucrats touching the feet of ministers, helping the master with his shoes, opening the car door when the boss wants to get in or out, etc., are regular sights.

Some might argue that this is part of our culture. Sorry, this is not the case. Showing reverence to elders and gurus by touching their feet can be justified, if it is voluntary and without ulterior motive. It is a sacred Indian tradition to show respect to elders and to receive their blessings. It is not a hypocritical act to curry favor with someone powerful.

Public service often shows how sycophancy operates both overtly and subtly. The fun part is how the boss seems to be getting all the attention. Gradually, not only does he appreciate it, but he also begins to expect it. If someone doesn’t care to show such servility, chances are that person will sooner or later face their anger.

Sympathy can also take the form of medics. Both officials and police officers in senior positions have a suite of officials to carry out their orders. It is a colonial vestige that smacks of slavery and involuntary sycophancy.

The police escort of certain officials is still a farce exercise which we witness with a mixture of amusement and derision. Fortunately, the red beacons and sirens were turned off a few years ago. Sounding sirens and stopping traffic for the VIP movement is another demonstration of their importance. What a sham! Such things do not happen in mature democracies. There, ministers even travel incognito.

The title or prefix ‘Hon’ble’, for example, is absolutely at odds with a democracy. Terms like “Your Lordship”, “His Excellency”, “His Grace”, etc., used in both judicial and religious contexts all recall a servile state of mind. Modern democracy cannot tolerate such primitive practices.

We hoped that all of these practices would end when we become a mature democracy. Our experience, however, is that sycophancy has taken on a national character and is entrenched as genuinely ethnic and acceptable. It has become an integral part of our culture.

Is sycophancy harmless? It is not quite so. For example, there are people who perfect the art of sycophancy to enviable heights. Selfish bosses will be easily knocked down. The more superficial the master, the easier it is to flatter him.

Ask anyone who practices these things. They do it because that’s how we usually do it. They do it to please the master, with the later aim of obtaining some favor. They take comfort in the belief that it would do them good. At least that won’t endanger their prospects. This would obviously mean that people do these things not because they are happy or willing to do it. Perhaps they curse the recipient of their sycophantic genuflections even though they seem to be paying homage to him. Look at the emptiness of it all!

The flip side of a sycophancy culture is that decent people who don’t want to play this masquerade will soon be in the teacher’s bad books. Such innocent mortals suffer in this murky situation. Their merit or effectiveness would not count, thus demoralizing truly capable hands. It certainly goes wrong in a modern nation.

The centrality of citizens and their dignity should not be negotiable in a true democracy. Sympathy is nothing but hypocrisy glorified to fuel the grand illusions of those in power. Obviously, this goes against a genuine democracy.

(Writer is Principal, Little Rock Indian School, Brahmavar, Udupi)

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