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Between the line

Crisis of confidence
March 09 , 2011


GOVERNANCE is not a matter of wishful thinking. Nor is it some political trickery. For this, a clean, transparent administration is something minimum. By providing more funds for different fields, as the budget has done, does not automatically ensure improvement, particularly when the aam admi has been consciously left out. If the past experience is any guide, the bigger the expenditure the greater is the scope for siphoning off money. A few scams, which have come to light, show how large allocations have given an opportunity to ministers, bureaucrats and their men to fritter away the money.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s admission that there have been “aberrations” does not wash. All that he says is that they will be “more cautious” in the future. The crisis is that of confidence. How do we stand in our mind and spirit? How far do we adhere to the basic principles that give strength to people? The deterioration in public life in the Congress as well as in other parties and groups is matched by growing disruptive tendencies, rooted in province, religion, caste and language.

People intrinsically decent are forgetting major issues and getting excited over minor matters and thereby harming the country’s unity, strength and progress. There is need for new thinking, in terms of not slogans and dogmas but of a pragmatic idealism related to both modern conditions and human values. It is not necessary for all Indians to think alike. Indeed, it would be unfortunate if they did. But they should try to share some broad objectives and methods, within a framework, to persuade each other if they differ on specific issues.

Punishing one former Telecommunication Minister A.Raja or one Commonwealth Games in charge Suresh Kalmadi does not mean that the government has cleansed its stables. And what the two did is by no standard an “aberration.” They acted fraudulently and went on doing so over a long period. The prime minister may not have known the nitty-gritty of the corrupt deals. But he was aware that there was some hanky-panky. He could hear the noise the media and others were making. The entire system is reeking with arrogance of power and little fear of punishment. The rot has gone down all the way, making those at positions confident of going scot-free even if a few from among them are caught with their fingers in the jam jar.

I concede that this situation has not come about in one day. Yet I have never seen in my life so much corruption on the scale it is found today. Take any field. It seems that everyone is devising ways to make money and evade the law.

Members of Manmohan Singh’s cabinet, if assessed by an independent body (not the government-controlled CBI), practically all of them would be found wanting in integrity in one way or the other. And this holds good for the states, ruled either by the Congress or the BJP. In fact, both parties have brought down the public life to such a low level that people do not know whether India had ever maintained high standards.

The Prime Minister has advised the people to improve the tone of public life. How do they do? The common man does not count. He is so burdened with ever increasing food prices that he is all the time busy trying to keep himself afloat. Civil society is itself a participant in the loot. And the top is so mixed up with the ruling party at the Centre and in the states that it has developed a vested interest in what is going on in the name of governance.

When morality goes out of politics and power becomes the end by itself, the parties do not mind what methods they adopt to reap benefits. What the different governments have done is that they have wiped out the line dividing right and wrong, moral and immoral. People do not have any compunction in adulterating medicines, fudging degrees or even leaking question papers. There is nothing called wrong per se.

In the process, violence has come to be accepted a normal way in a country which has forgotten how it won independence through non-violence. Since most political parties have become mafias themselves, they have in their cadre criminals, black marketers and sheer killers. But then they are the ones who are able to “manage” elections, now that Assam, Pudhucherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal go to polls in April.

Another ill that has crept in is the assertion of identity. All communities want an identity of their own. This is fair as long as the Indian identity is above the rest. The media, a strong pillar of the democratic structure, has itself become part and parcel of the corrupt system. Newspapers and TV channels sell space for consideration. The phrase “Paid News” is not an affront any more. An unpublished report of the Press Council of India has proved beyond doubt that most leading papers, the English press is not an exception, have accepted money to publish a candidate’s propaganda as news and has kept out the opponent’s from the paper.

When no field remains unpolluted, the blame lies on the shoulders of the intelligentsia. It has ceased to be sensitive. It has no realisation of what is wrong. Yet the nation has to preserve the fundamental values of a democratic society. The ethical considerations inherent in public servants have to be refurbished. They run the system. I agree that cleansing has to begin from the top. The Lokpal bill has to be enacted soon. The CBI should be put under charge of the Lokpal. Maybe, the institution should have more than one person, approved by the Prime Minister and the opposition leader in the Lok Sabha.

But the top most priority has to be given to the functioning of Parliament. What the Congress has experienced—stalling of the winter session—the party has done the same thing when the BJP was in power. I was then in the house and found some members equally exasperated over the daily disturbance. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee is quite right when he says that some mechanism should be found to ensure the functioning of Parliament. But this depends on the political parties, especially the Congress and the BJP.

I recall how on the 50th anniversary of Parliament all members swore never to disturb the house. The Congress, then in the opposition, was the first to violate the consensus. Timely action could have been taken to stop the slide. To say that the government will be “cautious” in the future is neither here nor there. People want to see quick results. And they are losing patience.

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