IT is time that we looked at ourselves. India is entering 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 money and muscle power have reduced poll fairness. Castes and sub-castes are factors increasingly swinging the voters. The current crop of political leaders is stuck in narrow caste, language and religion loyalties. Democracy faces danger from sectional and sectarian identities.
Criminals constitute one-fifth of parliament and the state assemblies. One criminal was brought to the House last year to vote for the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) facing a no-confidence motion. The rules are such that a candidate or an elected member is not disqualified until he/she is convicted. The charge-sheet is not considered adequate. That may be the reason why numerous criminals are getting ready to contest the Lok Sabha elections 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 Rs7,000 crore scandal in an information technology firm, Satyam, is partly the fallout of land contracts and other deals which the Andhra Pradesh government gave it. The lead may stretch 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 recently, her MLA killed an engineer for refusing to fudge figures to give him money for the 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 the 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 about judges taking bribes. 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 asked by colleagues to face an inquiry, has been silent. His sons had used the official residence for their property business. The government has expressed its helplessness. He should personally volunteer for the 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. 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 decreased the distance between the top, cited in Forbes as among the richest in the world, and lower classes.
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 a 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 pay for the failure of the government? The new act puts the onus of proving one’s innocence on the person arrested. It is the government which has detained him and it should explain the grounds.
In fact, the ruling UPA government has brought back the anti-terrorism POTA through the back door. The Vajpayee government had framed the law to detain critics without a 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 charges that he was carrying messages from the Naxalites to their sympathisers. Even if this is true, the crime is that of ideological differences.
Where the republic has failed the most is in the domain of pluralism.. Muslims want to join the mainstream but are kept away. The narrow-mindedness of the Hindu community is at fault. It is the duty 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 the 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 their mistakes and expect them to do better the next time. Yet no political party has learnt its lesson.
The writer is a leading journalist based in Delhi.
Courtesy: Daily Dawn, 16/1/2009