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
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
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
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.