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T C A Srinivasa-Raghavan: The Fool Constant

Everyone who has been to school knows that the physical sciences and mathematics both have things called constants, like pi and the Planck constant, for instance. Their value always remains the same, regardless.

For a long time now, I have wondered if there are constants in the social sciences, most notably in political science. So I have been posing a question, to which as yet there seems no answer.

The question is this: given a population sample – in, say, a bus, a classroom, a village, a newspaper, a town, a metro, district, a state and finally a country – is the number of fools in it a constant?

We can define a fool as a person who lacks good judgement, where good judgement comprises the ability to maximise your self-interest for at least 90 per cent of the time. The legal, economic and social constraints remain the same for everyone.

Assuming that the number is no more than five per cent – it is probably closer to 10 – India can reasonably be expected to have 60 million or so fools resident within its boundaries. The probability that some of them would, in the natural course, find their way into positions of power is positive.

Whence the problem: even if no more than one per cent of them work for the State – Parliament, Executive and Judiciary – it means as many as 650,000 persons lacking in good judgement (hence fools) are acting on behalf of the rest of the 1,300 million. Thus, as the poet rightly observed, “Har shakh pe ullu baitha hai.”

The minister of state for food processing, Niranjan Jyoti – why call her a sadhvi and downgrade genuine religious scholarship? – must surely count as a person lacking wholly in judgement. One wonders what prompted Narendra the Great to include her in his ministry.

Her remark, quite apart from its utter venomous tastelessness, is politically in the same class as Mani Shankar Aiyar’s chaiwallah remark about Narendra Modi. If his tastelessness and venom contributed to the defeat of the Congress, the one by Ms Jyoti could well ensure the end of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s dreams in the Jammu and Kashmir elections.

Indeed with that one moronic remark, Ms Jyoti has erected a huge problem for Amit Shah in Kashmir. Sajjad Lone, for one, will now wonder about his strategy of playing footsie with it.

The radioactivity of fools
Generally, fools always extract a price from someone or the other. The idiot who jumps the red light, the duffer who smokes at a petrol station, the halfwit who wanders off at aircraft boarding time are some examples of this.

But fools in power are different: they extract a price from everyone. No one gets an exemption, not even, as he will discover, Narendra the Invincible.

But what is truly worrying is that even as they pay for someone’s follies, a large number of people endorse the folly. George W Bush invading Iraq and one-half of America going rah-rah over it is an example of that. Tony Blair following him is an extension of the same problem.

It is almost as if folly has a constituency and that the greater the folly, the larger is the constituency for it. You only have to look at Pakistan to see how this is true.

The tendency to endorse fools is especially pronounced in political parties. If my conjecture about the Fool Constant is correct, then the Congress with about 20 million members and the BJP with about 30 million members must have around 2.5 million (five per cent of 50 million) such persons. Some of them become ministers, which is where the problem lies.

Add to that other political parties and we are looking at something like three million persons of very low intellectual calibre and weak moral fibre who partially determine what India has been, what it is, and what it will be. What’s worse, as we have seen repeatedly, the follies that such persons commit live on. It is, if you like, radioactivity of a different kind.

Making it foolproof
Fools are born, and their folly is not an acquired trait. It is nature, not nurture, that provides us with a non-stop supply of fools.

However, every single calling has filtering mechanisms to keep fools out. One or two may manage to beat the filters but, by and large, the system works.

But, perversely, politics – which should have the strongest filters – has not created any. Indeed one might argue that it attracts more fools than scoundrels as is generally believed.

Even so, most political parties manage to filter out the fools from succeeding within the party at least. But sometimes the unexpected happens because the choice set from which the party can select its leadership is very limited. In the Congress the choice set is at the top and in the BJP it is in the middle.

Result: great embarrassment all around. Examples over the last 50 years abound. You can check for yourself.

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