Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 37, August 29, 2009
Whither India: The Way Up or the Way Down?
Monday 31 August 2009, by#socialtags
The Indian National Congress is back in power at the Centre. The small regional parties have practically disappeared from the scene. The Trinamul Congress party is a regional party and a shadow of the Congress itself. This government can safely be assumed to last for the next five years. The Congress has won much larger number of seats than all other parties and is the largest single party in the Lok Sabha. This government can safely be called a Congress Government, because the constraints which were there in the last government have disappeared. There was a great deal of euphoria in the media and a rosy picture of growth in GDP with industrial advancement had been painted. But there are shadows of doubts over the high hopes for all-round prosperity for the people being trumpeted by the Congress netas and the press.
Swami Vivekananada said: “According to the Upanishads, the present is determined by our past actions and the future by the present.” (Complete Works, Vol 1, p. 10) The Congress has ruled India from the Day of Independence, August 15, 1947, to 1996 with a short break from 1977 to 1980 which was the period immediately following the Emergency. Therefore it will be useful to recall, in short, the history of this rule so that we may get an idea of what we, the common people, can now really expect. The bright side has already been highlighted by our media and is being done every day. Therefore, recalling the other side, which is not so bright, or at times really murky, may make us a little circumspect about the present and the future being propagated.
First of all, the larger number of seats won by the Congress may not be by virtue of their enhanced popularity. The National Election Watch (NEW), an NGO comprising of 1200 NGOs and other organisations and some individual citizens, has found that in this election three hundred “crorepaties” have been elected as against only 154 in the previous election. The Congress leads with 137 crorepaties as against 58 for the BJP and 14 and 13 for the Samajwadi Party and BSP respectively. The NEW has also found, after elaborate investigation, that use of money to purchase votes has increased sharply compared to the previous election. (The Times of India, New Delhi, May 18, 2009)
Now back to the past.
British Prime Minister Atlee had said in the British Parliament that the Indian National Congress would be the successor to the British, and in real fact the Congress has ruled India just like the successor to the colonial British. Although the Congress leaders preached equality, social and political, they practised the opposite. The government the party gave to the people was in every way exactly similar to the colonial government of the British. Even the luxurious and ostentatious style of living of the Ministers was similar to the British in India.
Dr B.R. Ambedkar said in the Constituent Assembly:
…What does democracy mean? It means a way of life which recognises liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of life. ……… They form a union of trinity in the sense that to divorce one from the other is to defeat the very purpose of democracy. Liberty cannot be divorced from equality, equality cannot be divorced from liberty. Without equality, liberty would produce the supremacy of the few over the many...
This was a very correct, laudable and inspiring statement coming from a top leader of the country in charge of drafting the Constitution which would be the machine to bring these sentiments into effect. He must have been fully aware that openness, public accountability and answerability of the government were essential requirements for attaining those objectives that he professed. But he introduced a Constitution for India which was completely bereft of those essential requisites. It was, by and large, only an adaptation of the British enacted Government of India Act, 1935 which governed India from 1936 to 1947. The draft Constitution was mainly, by and large, the handiwork of the bureaucrats in the Legislative Department of the Government of India. Dr Ambedkar was silent about the absence of these basic requirements in the Constitution essential for attainment of the fundamental rights he himself provided in Part III of the Constitution. Nor did any top leader of the Congress party in the Constituent Assembly speak a single word on this gaping lacuna in the Constitution. No one raised a single voice to say that without accountability Part III of the Constitution would be of very little benefit to the common man and this was amply demonstrated during Mrs Indira Gandhi’s Prime Ministership. Continuation of the colonial system, however, showed its effects almost immediately after independence.
All our democratic Congress leaders, disciples of Gandhiji, started living in luxurious bungalows in colonial British style at the expense of the taxpayers. Gandhiji had said that after independence the Viceregal Lodge should be made into a hospital. Instead, the Congress only changed its name into Rashtrapati Bhavan, and Babu Rajendra Prasad started living there with all the colonial paraphernalia. Jawaharlal Nehru occupied the palace used by the British Commander-in-Chief. Each one of the Congress leaders occupied palatial colonial bungalows, lived in lordly style and moved about in huge luxury cars at government expense. The anticlimax was that much fanfare was made in the press that our national leaders were drawing nominal salaries at great personal sacrifice. Even the bureaucrats continued with the life-style enjoyed in the British colonial days at the expense of the taxpayers. The Congress rulers did not realise that the British Government was the owner of the revenues, the Congress party was only a trustee of the revenues. It was the people who owned the revenues of the country. The judicial system, already weak and corrupt in the British days, became more inefficient, dilatory and corrupt. Nepotism and favouritism became so rampant that if Mr Nepot, by some miracle, was reborn in India, even he would have died of shame.
In 1835 Lord Macauley in his address to the British Parliament said:
…………I have travelled across the length and breadth of India and have not seen one person who is a begger, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and therefore I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation. (Lawyers Update, Part 5,
May 2009, page 28)
The colonial British succeeded. They broke the moral backbone of our nation. The Congress leadership only carried on that tradition instead of striving to revive the native culture. The slavish mentality of the people, born out of poverty and lack of proper education that was nourished by the British, continued during the entire period of Congress rule.
Hero worship was enjoyed by the netas. In the sixties of the last century, I had on one Sunday morning met Mrs Aruna Asaf Ali, who used to live in a second floor flat on Asaf Ali Road. I lived in Daryaganj, a walking distance from her house, and met her off and on. One morning she said that a couple of days ago a huge public meeting was held in the Ramlila Ground where a rostrum was newly constructed. Mrs Asaf Ali was present with Jawaharlal Nehru at that meeting. She said:
……..After the meeting poor common people, men and women, crowded below the rostrum to have a close look at Nehru. Young and old villagefolk, old men and women were jostling to come closer and some touched his feet. I saw a look of awe and tears in the eyes of these men and women as if they were looking at a deity. ………Is this the freedom we fought for, undergoing extreme privation and sacrificing all our comforts and family life? Thousands and thousands of young lives were sacrificed to achieve this. Is this the equality we promised to the country?
The Congress has throughout maintained this “ruler-and-ruled” colonial style of functioning inherited from the British. “India must be ruled from palaces,” Lord Cornowallis had said and the Congress continued the tradition.
Parliamentary democracy succeeds only on a strong and functionally effective party system. A political party, to be strong and effective, must have an ideology shared by its members, its leadership must be strong and honest. Thirdly, it must have strong internal discipline. To attain these objectives the country also needs a free-and-fair election system. The Congress and of course all the other political parties in India today have no ideology to follow, the only objective is to devise means for enhancing the strength of their vote-banks. The internal discipline in the Congress party is further weakened by dynastism and sycophancy. The volume of corruption amongst the Congressmen disillusioned and disheartened even Gandhiji who had suggested dissolution of the party after independence so that politicians stood on their own feet. But the party bosses overruled him.
The Nehru era, which started on August 15, 1947, ended in May 1964 with his demise. Lal Bahadur Shastri succeeded him for a very short period as the Prime Minister, but he too died prematurely. Mrs Indira Gandhi became the Prime Minister in 1966. Very soon thereafter the Congress party was split into two. Senior leaders like Kamaraj, Atulya Ghosh, Nijalingappa etc. remained with the party called Congress (O) and a very large section, with Mrs Indira Gandhi as its leader, separated and called itself Congress-I or Indira. The original Congress gradually disappeared from the political scene.
It was during the long rule from 1966 to 1984 with a small gap of about three-and-a-half years; the weakness in the Congress was amply demonstrated. The internal democracy in the Congress party, which existed in the Nehru era, disappeared, weakening the very foundation of parliamentary democracy.
In England a strong Prime Minister like Margaret Thatcher was forced to resign by the party because of her mishandling of the Faulkland issue. The British press reported that she was seen in tears after tendering her resignation. The lapse on the part of Margaret Thatcher was much less in gravity than the Emergency proclamation and the oppression unleashed thereafter by Mrs Gandhi. The Congress party members were entirely neutralised and cowed down. In more recent times Tony Blair was forced to resign from the Prime Minister’s Office by his party for his role in the Iraq episode for playing second fiddle to the Americans and failing to keep the British Parliament fully informed. He tried his best to avert, but did not succeed.
In contrast we can recall the sycophancy publicly demonstrated by the Congress netas in front of Mrs Sonia Gandhi’s official residence, 10 Janpath, New Delhi, vividly publicised on the television screen on the day when Mrs Sonia Gandhi took the decision to nominate Dr Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister after the 14th election to the Lok Sabha. The basic principle of parliamentary democracy, that the leader of the political party is only the first amongst the equals, was banished by the Congress party since the Prime Ministership of Mrs Indira Gandhi and that culture apparently still continues in the Congress. Stability of a government is not a mere periodicity, and prosperity of the country does not mean the affluence of a few.
The consequence of this basic weakness is exemplified by the reaction of our Congress Government to the arrogant and insolent behaviour of an American airline’s petty security officer towards Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the former President of this country, and that too after four months of the occurrence and only after an uproar by the Opposition in Parliament. Can we imagine what would have been the reaction of the US Government if the same episode had happened in the reverse, and a petty recalcitrant Indian Airlines security officer had meted the same kind of insult to Bill Clinton, a former American President? Would the American Government have sat over the insult silently for several months and issued a show-cause notice to the Indian Airlines only after a hue and cry was raised in the American Senate? Or if this had happened with a dignitary or highly respected national figure of Britain?
More demoralising is the news published in the Mail Today (July 22, 2009), in the front page. An excerpt is quoted here:
………. New details about the case reveal that a Security Official at the Indira Gandhi International Airport had filed a formal report giving extensive details of Dr Kalam’s humiliating body search in his own country before leaving for the US on the night of April 21.
The report was sent to the Union Home Ministry and the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) of the Civil Aviation Ministry.
But, raising the possibility of connivance with the foreign airline, the two Ministries simply buried the case, perhaps knowing that the former President would not go public on the issue.
No comments are necessary.
A few words about economic prosperity in the near future, so much fanfared by our Congress Government and the media, may not be out of place. A Hungarian millionaire, George Soros, wrote in the Atlantic Monthly in February 1997:
Although I have made a fortune in the financial markets, I now fear ……..that the spread of market values into all areas of life is endangering our open and democratic society. The main enemy of the open society, I believe, is no longer the Communists, but the capitalist threat. The blind faith in the wisdom and honesty of the free market is causing havoc………
In India, the Satyam episode is a clear proof of the correctness of the statement by Soros. A thorough probe may reveal worse frauds in many more apparently respectable business establishments.
Another grievance of an ordinary Indian citizen is that the Congress party has done nothing worthwhile so far to wipe out or even minimise criminalisation of politics in India. Bribing or intimidating voters to get elected is perhaps the worst crime by a politician against parliamentary democracy.
The Bhura Committee report in October 1993 after the bomb outrage in Bombay said:
This could not have happened without these elements having been protected by the functionaries of the concerned Government departments specially Customs, Income Tax, Police and others……..
It further said:
The investigation into the Bombay Blast cases have revealed extensive linkages of the underworld in the various Governmental agencies, political circles, business sector and the film world……. [para 6.2 (iv)]
More than fifteen years have gone by since the Bhura Committee report. Organised crimes are more frequent now and more widespread. Bomb blasts have taken place in Delhi Itself recently and in various other places. Even foreign terrorists are organising crimes in India today.
The allegations of killing innocent people by the dishonest police in fake encounters are more numerous now than before.
What has been unleashed against the Naxalites and Maoists in West Bengal by the combined wisdom of the CPM and the Congress can only be called “state terrorism”. The whole episode has been bolstered with great media publicity and TV coverage as if the Army and the police have achieved a heroic victory. After watching some TV coverage of this episode I was reminded of a line from a poem by Kazi Nazrul Islam: “Mosha mere oi garaje kaman, biplab mariachhi ….” (“after killing mosquitoes the cannon roars, I have killed a revolution)”; translation is mine—P.K.C.)
After intensive agitation of Medha Patkar and others over deprivation of all means of livelihood to thousands and thousands of poor peasants, artisans and other small professional and other people due to the raising of the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam in Madhya Pradesh, a Group of Central Ministers (GoM) led by Mrs Meira Kumar toured the region on a fact-finding visit. Their report, which was published, stated:
(a) Alternative land for cultivation could not be provided to thousands of uprooted peasants.
(b) Full cash compensation promised to be paid in the alternative was not received by thousands of uprooted peasants and others because the cash provided for that purpose was grossly insufficient. Even for those who received cash, the amount was inadequate and even that inadequate sum was paid only after the poor people paid bribes to the corrupt bureaucrats.
(c) Thousands of uprooted peasants and other people were left destitute.
A huge number of these unfortunate people became Naxalites.
The bulk of the Naxalites in Andhra, Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal and elsewhere comprise of such poor people who were victims of greed and oppression. They were left without remedy due to corruption in the State Police and the administration. This class of Naxalites has originated and multiplied during the fifty years of Congress rule at the Centre and in almost all the States in India after independence.
Risings of these aboriginals, the tribals, of the Scheduled Caste and the poorest was inevitable. The standard of their living was sub-human, and could safely be termed as “animal existence”. This was a shame for any civilised government. Hence sending the Army and armed police of the State Government to subdue their uprising, instead of giving them their legitimate dues as citizens of the country, is surely anything but heroism.
Hence, the prospect of a long spell of Congress rule may not fill the hearts of many with delight and expectation for a bright and prosperous future for the people. The Mittals and Ambanis and Tatas and Birlas may join the ranks of the richest people in the world, but the teeming millions of Indians living in perpetual poverty will not be touched by these facts. Gandhiji said:
………… The contrast between the palaces of New Delhi and the miserable hovels of the poor labouring class nearby, cannot last one day in a free India in which the poor will enjoy the same power as the richest of the land. A violent and bloody revolution is a certainty one day, unless there is a voluntary abdication of riches and the power that richness gives and sharing them for the common good…..
Perhaps the combined wisdom of the CPM and Congress netas will not appreciate what Gandhiji had said. They will learn the hard way when the opposite reaction comes with equal force.
The author is a Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India.