With Leftwing influence spreading like a plague in the country, many dangerous ideals are being ardently promoted by the intellectual class?the ideals whose virtues are imaginary rather than real or even apparent. One such ideal is empowerment.
Such is the terror of conventional wisdom that empowerment is blindly accepted as a recipe for a paradise on earth; anybody challenging it is immediately dubbed as an ?elitist? fossil that does not deserve to exist. Not surprisingly, the malaise is spreading at a frightening speed. In every walk of life, empowerment is being promoted. The simple questions that need to be asked are: Why empowerment? Who wants empowerment? What does it do for mankind? Why this fascination?rather fetish?for empowerment?
Once upon a time, great philosophers, thinkers, writers, social reformers and philanthropists were concerned with emancipation; they wrote and philosophised for the sake of human uplift; they inveighed against the tyranny of state, the rot in social institutions and the rigidities of religious rituals. Their concern was liberty and freedom. In a way, their concern was disempowerment: most importantly, the disempowerment of state. Hence, the modern concepts of minimum government, civil liberties, individual rights and human dignity.
In fact, all great philosophers of liberty?from Locke and Mill to Acton, Karl Popper, Milton Friedman and Fredrick Hayek?have emphasised the need to limit the power and authority of the government. They love liberty and they disdain power; and there is a harmony between their love and their disdain: for human liberty is, and can only be, explained in a context where power is a reality, a reality that is at once obnoxious and necessary. Which explains why their fascination with liberty is always complemented with their disdain for power. This is also the reason that Acton made the famous observation: power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
While great liberal philosophers were paving the path for human emancipation, some misguided people were also at work?ostensibly working to attain the same ends. Misguided, because their concern was not liberty but power. Not surprisingly, Karl Marx'sdream was not emancipation but dictatorship, though he tried to make it appear acceptable by calling it the dictatorship of the proletariat. Result: more than 100 million dead under various communist regimes in the twentieth century. Another worshipper of power?and enemy of liberty?was Hitler. He was responsible for the millions of deaths in Europe and other parts of the world.
The champions of empowerment, of course, do not talk about seizing power and effecting violent revolutions; they are nice people who go to the India International Centre and wax eloquently about the displaced Vanvasis and children employed in hazardous occupations; they just want the poor to have a say in the power structure. As the grandfather of empowerment in India, V.P. Singh, once said, while justifying the Mandal Commission, ?We want to give these people participation in the power structure? (Notice ?we? and ?these people?).
But do ?these people? want such participation? Talk to any poor man or woman; the only thing he or she laments about is government in one form or the other, be it cops or municipal authorities; their complaint is about the dereliction of duty by state, e.g., failure to maintain law and order and provide proper administration. Everybody wants to be free to do whatever they can to keep their body and soul together; everybody wants economic freedom; few want ?participation in the power structure.?
Further, our intellectuals refuse to look into the reality of empowerment as it exists in India. Bihar figures quite high in the list of socialism-infested states in India; and inarguably, empowerment has made great strides in the state, with a former chief minister being both a woman and from a backward caste. But the worst sufferers are also the poor, who migrate hundreds of miles to Punjab to make both ends meet. We also have the examples of empowered weaker section leaders, who have done nothing in substantive, economic terms for their caste brethren. Yet, they are most vociferous in championing the cause of the poor and in demanding an increase in the scope of empowerment?more participation in legislative bodies, in government educational institutes and jobs, even in private jobs.
Empowerment is not just ineffective; it is downright dangerous. To begin with, it tends to perpetuate the deep-rooted malaise of Indian psyche: the-government-should-do-something syndrome. Be it the issue of poverty, increasing population, pollution or obscenity on television, the stock response of most people is: the government should do something. The result is further empowerment of government. Due to the government-should-do-something syndrome, today the state is much more powerful than it was in 1950, when the Constitution came into force. The leitmotif of the empowerment of the state, and the concomitant disempowerment of the individual, was the abrogation of a fundamental right, the right to property.
Second, empowerment ends up helping those who should be disempowered. Raag Darbari, the classic in Hindi literature, realistically depicts how all the great talks, policies and programmes about government-sponsored development revolve around the personality of Vaidji. He promotes his own son in the name of infusing young blood in the polity; his servant becomes village chief in the name of the empowerment of downtrodden. All this is not different from women empowerment promoted by Jawaharlal Nehru: he used this ruse to get Indira Gandhi elected as president of the Congress. The context of Srilal Shukla'snovel was small, a village, but it was an allegory of empowerment.
Therefore, we shall identify empowerment as it is an essentially illiberal and fraudulent concept. It is another matter that liberals have blindly imbibed it, in the same fashion in which they imbibe other Leftist concepts.