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Between the line

The weave of India
January 21 , 2009


 IT is time that we look at ourselves. India is entering this week the 60th year of its Constitution’s initiation whereby the country became a sovereign democratic republic. All citizens were promised justice, liberty and fraternity. It is a long story of failure in many ways.

True, India is a democracy in the sense that elections are held on time, freely and independently. But the money and the muscle power have reduced fairness at polls. Caste and sub-caste are a factor which increasingly swings the voters. The current crop of political leadership is stuck in narrow loyalties of caste, language and religion. Democracy faces danger from sectional and sectarian identities.

Criminals constitute one fifth of total strength in parliament and state assemblies. One criminal was brought to the House last year to vote for the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) facing the no-confidence motion. The rules are such that a candidate or an elected member is not disqualified until he or she is convicted. The charge-sheet is not considered adequate. That may be the reason why a horde of criminals is getting ready to contest the Lok Sabha elections, scheduled to be held in the next three months.

Corruption knows no bounds and the nexus between politicians and the dishonest is firmer than before. The latest Rs 7,000-crore scandal in an Information Technology firm, Satyam, is partly the fallout of land contracts and other deals which the Andhra Pradesh government has given it. The lead may stretch up to New Delhi. Two sugar mills in Uttar Pradesh also got the largesse and they have been transferred to a company close to the apprehended owner B. Ramalinga Raju.

One state chief minister who has been repeatedly accused of corruption is UP’s Mayawati, a dalit leader. She is already facing the charge of accumulating disproportionate assets. Only a week ago did her MLA kill an engineer for refusing to fudge figures to give him money for Bahujan Samaj Party she heads. She is reportedly converting black money into white through donations during her birthday celebrations.

Justice, figuring at the top of the preamble of the Constitution, is distant from people. When there are millions of cases pending in law courts, many for more than a decade, justice is almost denied. Then the judges are not above board. A former Chief Justice of India has said that 15 per cent of the judiciary is corrupt. Serving Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan has disclosed that he is getting more and more complaints of judges taking bribe. Investigation agencies are already processing a few cases in which even a Supreme Court judge is involved.

A retired Chief Justice of India, even when pleaded by some of his colleagues to face an inquiry, has kept quiet. His sons had used even the official residence for their property business. The government has expressed its helplessness in the case. He should personally volunteer a probe to save the judiciary from ignominy. The process of impeachment is so cumbersome that the government is considering an amendment to the Constitution. The earlier proposal to set up a National Judicial Commission would have laid down a concrete procedure to deal with dishonest judges. But the Supreme Court does not favour such a body.

Justice also means “social justice.” The Supreme Court has spelled it out to mean elimination of inequality of income and status and standards of life, and to provide a decent standard of life to the working people (Nakara Vs Union of India). Yet the fact remains that two-thirds of India’s one billion population lives in poverty and one fourth goes without food at night. The financial meltdown has pulled down the lower half still further. Even the verdict on social justice has not in any way decreased the distance between the top, cited in Forbes among the rich in the world, and the low who wallow in denial and drudgery of nothingness.

However, one positive step by the centre is the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. It guarantees work to anyone who is willing to do manual labour at the statutory minimum wage within 15 days of his or her request to the Deputy Commissioner. A household can get job at local public works for 100 days. But this only sustains the family. It does not take them out of the maelstrom of poverty in which they have been stuck for centuries.

Liberty which the Constitution has consecrated is being restricted every now and then. To an array of oppressive laws which India has, a new law has been added after the attack on Mumbai. If terrorists are out of reach, then why make the Indian citizens to pay for the failure of the government? The new act puts the onus of proving innocence on the person arrested. It is the government which has detained him and it should furnish the ground to the court.

In fact, the ruling UPA government has brought back POTA through the backdoor. The Vajpayee government had framed the law to detain the critics without trial. The UPA was applauded when it did away with POTA. Home Minister P. Chidambaram promised a “fair balance” between human rights and tough laws. He should prove it by precedent. Dr Binayak Sen, a member of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, has been under detention for 19 months. He should be released immediately. He is a practising doctor, detained on the ground that he was carrying the messages of Naxalites to their sympathizers. Even if this is true, the crime is that of ideological difference.

Where the republic has failed the most is in the domain of pluralism. Muslims want to join the mainstream but they are kept away. The narrow-mindedness of the Hindu community is at fault. It is the duty and responsibility of the majority not only to deal with the minorities but to win them over, to make them feel that they “belong” to the nation and not merely to a smaller group in it, to have a sense of solidarity with others.

What India represents is what Yehudi Menuhin, the famous violinist, wrote to Nehru: “To me India means the villages, the noble learning of the people, the aesthetic harmony of their life; I think of Gandhi, of Buddha, of the temples of gentleness combined with power, or patience matched by persistence, of innocence allied to wisdom, and of the luxuriance of life from the oxen and the monkeys to flame trees and mangoes; I think of the innate dignity and tolerance of the Hindu and his tradition.”

How far India has strayed from that path! What makes our rulers more answerable is that people forgive them for their mistakes and expect them to do better when they return next time. Yet no political party has learnt any lesson.

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