On Wednesday December 29, 2010, I heard Rick Santelli proclaim on CNBC that “This is the best country in the world and we are going to fight for it to keep it great and solvent”. This was a couple of minutes after he warned, “…I tell you what Joe, in the next couple of years I think we are going to have an internal conflict in this country of huge proportions…” Rick Santelli, the voice of the Bond Market on CNBC, is better known as one of the founding spirits of the Tea Party.
The Tea Party was the most important phenomenon in America in 2010. I am less concerned about the message, the political views or the social stance of the Tea Party. What is relevant to the rest of the World and to India in particular is the deep passion of the people who came together to form the Tea Party, their outrage at the direction in which the country was headed and the arrogance with which they saw the political establishment treat the American people. The Tea Party came together to take back their country. And they did in the November 2010 elections.
In sharp contrast is the ennui in Europe and in India. Europe seems headed towards economic, social, and perhaps demographic disaster. The desperate state of Europe’s youth, the highest-educated generation in Europe’s history, is well described in the New York Times article Europe’s Young Grow Agitated Over Future Prospects. Europeans have realized their social system is a “Ponzi scheme,” in the words of an expert in fiscal policy quoted in the article. Yet, the European people are quiet, supine and inclined to wither away in relative silence.
In recent months, we have seen a massive corruption scheme come to light in India. The entire Indian Establishment has been shown to be a giant web of cronyism – from cabinet ministers to politicians to TV anchors to corporate lobbyists. If you are inside this web, you sit pretty. If you are outside, you face the doubling of the price of onions, the most basic food in India. This is on top of a chronic food inflation virus that is eating away at the incomes of all but those in the politico-business circle. At the same time, one hears that the education system in India, especially the College-University system, is in serious decay. Degrees are proliferating, students are graduating but the education keeps getting less and less relevant to the needs of the job market. And on top of all this, the Indian Government is giving away enormous sums of money in the name of protecting the poor.
The Indian middle class and the poor are getting caught in a vicious pincer. Yet, you do not see the middle class in India expressing their outrage. There is no evidence of either a spontaneous or an organized movement by the middle class in India to pull down the corrupt or to launch reforms that will cut down on government waste. Tea might be a great Indian export, but there is no Tea Party in India.
Unfortunately, this ennui of Indian society has been imported by Indian-Americans into America. The current downtrend has been rough on many Indian-Americans. In some sense, Indian Americans are more vulnerable. They have no political power; they are known to be quiet people. There is little risk of a backlash if Indian-Americans are laid off or fired.
Ironically, the success of a few Indian-Americans and the current media darling status of India have made it more difficult for the average Indian-American to argue unfair treatment. We forget and most don’t realize that the few Indian-Americans that have made it to the top are people who succeeded from the inside and often with the help of mentors within their own circles.
But, despite their successes and troubles, the Indian-American community has not thrown up a vocal activist in the genre of Rick Santelli.
This is surprising. After all, being a “loud mouth” is an Indian characteristic. The Indian protest against British rule began with “loud mouth” lawyers, professors and journalists expressing their anger in print and in political forums.
But today’s Indian-American middle class does not exhibit this spirit. Without this spirit, the Indian-America community will remain on the periphery of American society, a quiet, affluent but powerless and invisible microcosm. That would be a pity.
It is necessary for each Indian-American to make a resolution this New Year to fight for some goal or against some problem. Speak out fervently and rationally for or against issues that they care about. No issue is too small or too large. It is important that you protest, in person, over the phone or via email. Share your outrage with your friends and build a movement.
If you don’t fight for what you believe, you truly doom yourself and your community to obscurity.