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Between the line

Stormy New Year beckons
January 05, 2011


Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has said at the International Tagore Conference in Kolkata that “a deep political analysis” was required to understand the reason behind violence. This is a pertinent question posed to a country which won independence through non-violence. Besides, it also claims that it has rejected violence as an instrument in the formulation of its policy, internal or external.

Yet there is hardly any city where violence has not marred the rhythm of life and development. Women and children live in a sense of insecurity. And most of the countryside and the tribal areas are pushed by the security forces on one side and the Maoists and the religious leaders on the other.

There are various reasons which have brought India to this stage. What is most discernable is the loss of people’s faith in functioning of the institutions, whether parliament, executive or even the judiciary. The common man doubts the bona fides of the government and the instruments it has. Nor does he trust the legal system to deliver him justice. Over the years he has come to believe that the pressure works. This manifests itself somewhere in the shape of peaceful agitation and somewhere in the form of violent defiance.

Since disconnect between the rulers and the people are lessening rapidly, the outbursts take the government by surprise. These are pent up feelings, finding abrupt outlets. They can be anticipated and probably stalled if only the government is responsive and humane. But the entire system has come to be so manipulated through corruption or other considerations that the aam aadmi (common man) cannot get even routine things through, like getting his dues or paying bills without greasing the palm.

If people responsible for this were made accountable and taken to task quickly for their misdeeds, the punishment would serve as an example for others and gratify the sufferers. In the long process of pinning the responsibility, if ever that stage is reached, there are many loopholes, not only legal or procedural but what is known as sirfarish (recommendation). The godfather can be a politician, a bureaucrat or a media hand. India has seen this in the series of scams which have come to light in the last few months.

The society has inferred that every thing can be managed through money, if possible, or political interference, if necessary. And when the top persons involved in a scam or scandal gets away with it, the general impression that the powerful is never touched deepens further.

This increases insensitivity. Already inured to religious class and caste prejudices, people have lost hope in the rule of law which treats everyone at par. They are so used to violation of human and other rights that they do not complain even when they are themselves a victim. They are afraid to be categorised as Maoist or anti-national. The life imprisonment given to Binayak Sen, a doctor working in Madhya Pradesh among tribals, reportedly supporting the Maoists and questioning the repressive measures has shocked the society.

A few NGOs have pointed out that the whole case was fabricated to instill fear. There is yet another example of Nirmala in Tripura in the northeast. She has been on fast for the last 10 years to have the Armed Forces Special Powers Act removed. Protests by the activists do not worry the government. In fact, their example is cited to show how free the system is.

Then there are numerous laws to “maintain law and order.” On top of lessening democratic space comes the escalating cost of food prices. With the basic commodities getting dear every day, how does the lower half live? If he becomes desperate, however condemnable, he conveys a message to those living in comfort that when will his turn come to have two square meals?

No one person, not one party, not one bureaucrat is responsible for the situation in which we have landed ourselves. All have contributed to the mess. The entire nation has to ponder over the scenario when there is still time to take remedial steps. We have to get out of the rut that a government lapse is an opportunity for the opposition.

In fact, we have been going down the hill from the day we won independence. Lakhs of people who had suffered and sacrificed during the national struggle were left with no focus, no ideal to pursue. The target was independence. Once that was achieved, there was no road map to go ahead. Freedom fighters were not soldiers, who would disperse after the war had been won.

Many of them had not even a place to go. Words that only political independence had been achieved and that economic independence was yet to be won were commendable, but they were mere words. They did satisfy those who wanted jobs or assistance to build industry or business on their own. Some even sought to cash in on their sacrifice.

Leaders, no doubt, in the forefront of the struggle were expected to occupy chairs on the high table and most of them did. But what about others who had given everything they had? What was their future? They were left to fend on their own.

True, the experience of partition was traumatic. Seeking new places in harsh surroundings was bound to be upsetting. But that was long ago. Deducting even a decade of troublesome period, the rulers had clear 50 years to give people the minimum standard of living and the security. Roti, kapada aur makaan (bread, clothe and house) was a pipe dream, meant to bamboozle people for the election purposes. If nothing else, at least starvation should have been averted.

When Amartya Sen was asked if the violent situation could derail the state’s economic growth, he said: “Violence produces a terrible state of agony, insecurity, loss of life and loss of sense of peace.” That is obvious. What has happened to the society is that it has erased the thin line dividing right from wrong and moral from immoral. There is no desire, much less effort, to act according to what is right. Nor is there any realization of what is wrong.

Parliament is the best place where the deficiencies of the system can be discussed and steps taken to check the rot. But the forum itself has become a playing ground for the ego of politicians and their dirty tricks. To stall parliament for some days is a protest, but stalling it indefinitely is a slur on democracy.

The cup of people’s patience is full. If political parties are to behave as they did in 2010, they are in for a big trouble. Indeed, the New Year looks stormy.

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