You the Sheep, Me, the Shepherd

Modern Mythmaking 8 Comments

Published in Devlok, Sunday Midday, August 21, 2011


Fasting is the new whip to ensure compliance. The other whip is the law. But who is wielding this whip? Is it the prophet-shepherd who is leading the faithful sheep to the pastures of the Promised Land? Or is it the pharaoh who is forcing his slaves to build his pyramid?

The similarities between the Exodus in the Bible and the story of post-independence India are striking.

In 1947, we broke free from the tyranny of the pharaoh. No more would we be slaves of the British. No more would we suffer the whip of the Raj. No more would we build their pyramid. We had set ourselves free.

The founding fathers of the land acting as prophets revealed the Promised Land for us, the land of milk and honey where there would be equality and justice for all. And we began our trek in its direction, through the wilderness, with no map, with few resources, but a lot of faith.

But freedom was not complete freedom. There were rules – the commandments, our Constitution, that had to be adhered to if we were to ever reach the Promised Land. Everyone had to follow this rule.

It is we, the many tribes of India, who agreed to be the sheep. It is we, through the process of democracy, who made ourselves God and put forth the commandments.   It is we, once again through the process of democracy, who appointed the legislative, the executive, the judiciary as our shepherds.

But in the Biblical construct, the shepherd was also sheep, bound by the law. A prophet was not above the commandments. This has not been so in India.

In the past 60 years, our shepherds have assumed they are above the commandments. They can do as they please: break, bend and ignore laws to their own convenience. Our prophets have become pharaohs. Our Promised Land has been forgotten. They are busy building their own pyramids.

The sheep of India have had enough. We have turned on the shepherd. Through Lokpal, we want to ensure the shepherd becomes sheep once again.

And so we find ourselves in the midst of war of two shepherds – the democratically elected Manmohan Singh and the face of exasperated civic society, Anna Hazare. Two honest well-meaning men insisting that the other is at fault. One quotes the constitution, the other fasts. Even God – the people of India – is confused. In cheering the fasting Anna are we rejecting democracy and favoring mobocracy? In supporting Manmohan Singh are we stoking corruption?

Look carefully around the two. Those who stand around Manmohan Singh seem less like shepherds and more like greedy hungry salivating wolves. And members of civic society standing around Anna are no sheep; they are stubborn angry goats, who only want things to go their way. So what is apparently a fight between shepherds for legitimacy and over issues of righteousness, is actually a fight between sly wolves and stubborn goats.

In the war between wolf and goat, everyone wants the goat to win. It is what makes the stuff of legends! The meek shall triumph the mighty! The predator will become prey! Halleluiah! And then? Who leads? Goats?

Wolf is the symbol of the Devil, in Biblical imagery. So is the goat. The wolf, because it feeds on sheep. Goats, because they are not as compliant as sheep. Goats are no prophets; they will take us to ‘their’ Promised Land, not ‘our’ Promised Land. They are pharaohs-in-waiting.

What has gone wrong? What makes a shepherd turn into a wolf? What makes sheep turn into goats? It is the absence of faith.

Faith in whom? God.

Who is God in a democracy? It is the people.

In the Bible, lack of faith always results in failure to comply. Every day God sends down enough manna to feed the tribes and invariably there are a few who take fistfuls more, just in case God forgets the next day.

Like the tribes in the wilderness, we have lost faith: in the shepherds who have been elected and in the sheep who elect shepherds. Every shepherd appears like a wolf. Every sheep appears like a goat. There are no prophets anywhere, because there are no faithfuls anymore.

And how do we resurrect faith? More laws? More fasting? How do we get people not to succumb to vote bank politics? How do we get people not to vote for criminals? How do we stop slum dwellers from not voting for people who promise them they will not get evicted to make way for a key artery road? How do we get people not to vote for people on the basis of caste or religion, but on the basis of merit?

We cannot domesticate a wolf with rules and regulations, and expect him to be a shepherd. Nor can we domesticate the goat to be sheep. Lawyers and judges cannot force a husband and wife to trust each other. Regulators and auditors cannot hold a family business together if two brothers hate each other. A CCTV over every policeman will not take away corruption. A watchdog over every bureaucrat will not take away corruption. Disciplinarian parents create rebellious children, not obedient ones. Whips never inspire.

What then? This is a moment to introspect.

Anyone who reads the Bible identifies himself, or herself, with the faithful and with the prophet. No one sees himself or herself as the pharaoh. We all take ourselves to be good and righteous and noble. We are the victims and we want to be heroes. But we are never the villains. Outside is the goat, outside is the wolf, but inside is the sheep and the shepherd. But is that really the case?

We seek to control what we have no faith in. We get controlled when others don’t have faith in us. Don’t we enjoy controlling? Don’t we hate being controlled? Don’t we enjoy demanding faith? But how many of us work towards commanding faith? And how many of us have faith in others?

We all want to be in charge of our own destinies. We all want to run free like wolves and goats. We refuse to toe the line like stupid sheep; we find it disempowering. Yet we fear the forest and its predators. So we clamor for shepherds.

People need to be led, but I do not like to follow. The world is wonderful so long as I am the shepherd and everyone else is sheep. And this private mindset is the root of public corruption. That is why we wander the wilderness and have not yet found the Promised Land.

  • Totally Alive Online

    Rules give us certainty to overcome the fear of the forest of uncertainty , will help the sheep in all of us !
    Competition will control the goats to a certain extent :)
    Constitution/ Parliament can provide 40% of the rules to enable the humane level of existence for all e.g. a social security for all !!
    Lokpal / Unions / NGO’s / Companies can provide 60% of the competitive rules , for us to feel powerful and to be in charge of our own destinies :)

  • Phadke S. N.

    Namaste Sir,

    Well thought written article. Thanks a lot.


  • Vinoth

    A very nice article sir. your comparisons and analogies spiritualizing me.

  • Shiva

    oh come on..dnt force comparison..

  • Pradyumna

    Hello Devdutt.

    I do agree with the overall intent of the article, to introspect. but i do not agree with the convenient simile drawn with the bible and the bit with sheep, shepherd, goat, wolf, pharoahs etc…They seem a little stretched.

    i think all of us are shepherds in a sense. yes we are ready to be led by right leaders, and ready to submit to the right rules applied uniformly, but we are also ready to stand up against arbitrary rules and unjust leaders. i don’t think there is any contradiction in this stance.

  • Denis Khan

    On October 20th, 2011, two youths were brutally murdered, while protecting their women friends from being molested. Although it was a densely crowded area, nobody came forward to help.
    The funeral on Oct.31st was packed. Should we cocoon ourselves in our socio religious egos, or should we emulate the Good Samaritan who helped a wounded traveler, unlike the church going Priest & Levite in the parable (Luke10:29-37)?

  • Devdutt,

    Very good article. Fairly good analogy to help the audience to understand the dilemma of Indians.

    But my question is how to create this faith? Who will break this vicious cycle? Are we waiting for another Egypt or Libya like movement here? Are we waiting for China like crusade of mass? Are we waiting for Pakistan like Takhta-Palat in India?

    Only Mahatama Gandhi didn’t bring freedom for India people like Subhash Chandra Bose also played key role. Are we waiting for Subhash Chandra Bose of 21st Century in India?


  • ranjith

    Bible has not taken anyone to the promised land. Democracy will not take anyone there either.

    Nature of human condition is suffering. Just like Gautam Buddha said once.

    For time immemorial rulers have had the ‘right’ to take away what is rightful of their subjects.

    And civil society is just another of those wanna be revolutionists.

    According to my Sanskrit teacher in school a leader should be ambitious. Social service and well being of society is not a reward enough for doing good to the masses. Where is the good in that to the individual who does that?

    Selfishness needs to be acknowledged and regarded as the mantra I guess. Because all are selfish and till you regard that as the basic idea behind every action by everyone, we can not really hope to make the system better. The current system relies too much on the selflessness of the leader.