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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 35, August 15, 2009 (Independence Day Special)

The Night Must End

Wednesday 19 August 2009, by Nikhil Chakravartty

Fifteenth of August continues to be a sacred day in the mind and heart of the people of this great country. To celebrate the end of the long night of foreign rule and to breathe the air of freedom cannot but be a proud occasion even after thirtytwo long years.

And yet the concept of free India that one had on the day the Union Jack was hauled down and the Tricolour unfurled over the ramparts of the Red Fort is very different from the state of our national life as we see it today. Foreign rule was held responsible for keeping our millions hungry, for denying them the light of learning, for fleecing our wealth to enrich the foreign masters. Today, after thirtytwo years, hunger still stalks the land, millions are left unlettered, and the wealth of the nation, the bulk of it, is held in mortgage by an affluent minority the pigmentation of whose skin may be different from that of the White Sahib of bygone days, but whose outlook and value system are not very different from his.

All this is not to say that these thirtytwo years mark only a fruitless journey through an arid waste. Much has happened through the toil of our millions, their skill, industry and enterprise: in every sphere—industry or agriculture, science or engineering, there are signs of solid progress that should make every Indian feel proud. But overshadowing all the glory stands out the shame of three decades during which this great nation has permitted the rich to become enormously richer while denying the poor his or her due share of the national wealth. If our green fields have turned out the golden corn in abundance, it has not followed that the famished toilers have had their share of the harvest. High-rise mansions have come up permitting the rich to enjoy all the luxuries in the world, while the shanties, the chawls and the bustees of the poor continue to coexist—not to speak of those lakhs who are calmly dubbed as pavement-dwellers. Our economists and planners talk of the widening disparity between the have and the have-not, providing statistics with clinical precision: permeating all this is the enormity of the dehumanisation of a nation whose leader in the struggle against foreign rule had enjoined that every tear has to be wiped off the eye of every Indian.

Why has this great people tolerated this inhumanity for so long? Can we hold our heads high in the comity of nations and pontificate on ethics and morality when we impose injustice and deprivation on the majority of our own people? We may brag of the heritage of our ancient culture and the achievements of our generation in the field of science and technology: but have we not denied two square meals a day for the majority of our people? A leadership which has brutalised itself to this extent is bound to find its greatness fade away; instead, it can only earn the wrath of the deprived millions and the contempt of good men and women all over the world.

It is this betrayal of the promise of August Fifteenth that we have to remind ourselves about today. There was a time when politics in this land was the vocation of the noble and the dedicated: that was the time when all joined hands, rich and poor, high and low, the learned and the unlettered, to set the country free from the bondage of foreign rule. Today, in contrast, politics has become not only the last refuge of the scoundrel but verily the school for scoundrels. The venality of our politicians, their unbridled greed and corruption, their total abjuration of all decencies, their ghastly nakedness in the abuse of power, are not only unmistakable symptoms of the most debased affliction but also threaten to pollute almost every branch of our national life.

In this background, it would be invidious to have to make a choice between one combination of unscrupulous politicians and another in the sordid drama that has now been going on for months. To think of this whole lot of discredited politicians as the actors with a monopoly of our political stage is to really surrender to defeatism, and finally to the atrophy of the system itself. It is not merely a question of our having to reconcile ourselves from now onwards to the politics of coalition instead of one-party rule. By itself any principled coalition of like-minded parties or groups is a development which may be welcome. What we are witnessing today is the thoroughly unscrupulous ganging together of leaders or groups which were only yesterday at each other’s throats, or alternatively, fierce civil warfare between elements which only yesterday were seemingly abiding allies. The possibilities of permutations and combinations in present-day Indian politics are more shocking than all the pornographic postures against which our leaders moralise. In fact, the political pornography of today is the most obscene and vulgar that our people have ever experienced.

Inevitably all the lustre seems to have fled from our parliamentary system. If Charan Singh and his supporters hope to survive their Ides of March next week in the Lok Sabha, they do not necessarily command the moral strength to reinforce their authority. Nor can Jagjivan Ram, despie his desperate perambulations and reckless statements, claim to have a cleaner record: understandably, he may be having nightmares about his shady Jaguar deal being brought out into the open by his political adversaries. And this motivation may be responsible for his tearing campaign to install himself in power. To those who have been following this lowly game, there is nothing new in last week’s press disclosures about the letters that Charan Singh and Bahuguna had written last year to the then Prime Minister, Morarji Desai, accusing each other of the worst misdemeanour. And the country at large is not likely to be shocked because our public is getting immunised against the present-day politicians’ total lack of integrity, not to speak of consistency. If these two must part because of these disclosures—as their opponents are clamouring for—then what about those, including Morarji Desai himself, who had sat on all these charges and counter-charges without doing anything about them? Is it because he and his tribe had long past the days when such allegations were made with a sense of responsibility and, once made, were not allowed to be put into cold-storage?

Today, a different level of culture is flourishing, the culture of the gutter, of cut-throats turning colleagues. With all his anger against Jagjivan Ram, it was not possible for Morarji to investigate into the Jaguar deal as it was not possible for Jagjivan Ram to fight out over Kanti’s widely-known misdeeds. The overriding consideration in all these cases has been the abuse of power for personal and factional ends without the least consideration for what happens to the nation.

If by present indications, the chances of Jagjivan Ram and his Janata comrades recapturing power seem to be getting dimmer, it does not follow that Charan Singh and his alliance partners are in a position to take this country out of the woods. After the over-governance by Indira Gandhi’s nineteen months of Emergency followed by the non-governance by Morarji Desai’s twentyeight months of Janata Raj, the country today is confronted with a situation in which the discredit and devaluation of politicians have spread among all sections of the people at a pace which can only be equated with the rate of neglect of our economy and other nation-building activities. In the bid to retain power, it is quite possible that the Charan Government may announce many concession to make itself acceptable to the public, but in the ultimate analysis, it cannot solve any of the problems that loom large before it. Apart from the non-stop barrage of attacks it will have to face from a desperate Opposition, it has to provide something more solid than Raj Narain’s unlimited obiter dicta to assure the people of this country that it means business and has the capacity to provide a well-run administration—by all calculations, a remote possibility.

Rather it is likely to be overwhelmed by the complex that its days are numbered and the best it can do is to prepare for the mid-term poll. Such an attitude itself is bound to lead any government into the disaster of making tall promises without the capacity to keep them. The mid-term poll, if and when it takes place, would not be an easy matter. Even with all the strange electoral alliances and understandings, the danger of any such poll reducing itself to a mockery of the electorate’s verdict, is very very serious. In each and every one of the satrapies that have come up in the form of virtually autonomous State governments, the group in power is likely to force its own selected list to get through, and by means of large-scale violence, both official and political, keep its opponents away. The picture that will emerge from such a bizarre poll would be surrealistic indeed—a reflection of the balance of forces in different States, with the scars of strong-arm interventions that will deprive it of the claim of being a peaceful election, not to speak of its being free and fair.

This is the nemesis of a political culture that gradually but relentlessly has forgotten its original mission—that is to build a nation strong not only in its economy and political integration, but in the well-being of the downtrodden millions with whose mandate our democracy is supposed to run. The betrayal of that mandate thus amounts to the betrayal of the promises made on August Fifteenth thirtytwo years ago.

And yet, it is difficult to accept that the millions of this country would resign themselves to the misdoings of the guilty politicians, one and all—from Morarji to Charan Singh, from Jagjivan Ram to Indira Gandhi. Tragically, the Left at this crucial juncture is reduced to playing a peripheral role: at best it sometimes wields the casting vote, but that makes no radical difference to the overall situation.

New situations throw up new leaders, totally unknown till yesterday but capable of making history tomorrow. Many a time this has happened in the life of many a nation. And there is no reason why India will have to suffer for long the ignominy of its present political degeneration.

Those of us, you and me, who are concerned about tomorrow, must fight to see that new forces are awakened, the forces which can drive away the present discredited lot. Then and then alone will the pledge of August Fifteenth the redeemed.

From over the hill, the bright dawn must break over this mighty nation.

(Mainstream, August 18, 1979)

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