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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 1, December 25, 2010 (Annual 2010)

Country’s Economy has Grown but the Nation’s Moral Fibre is Gone

Friday 31 December 2010, by N A Karim


In a Malayalam feature film of yesteryear, the then reigning comedian and character actor, late S.P. Pillai, is in the role of a small-time gentleman thief. If he is found out with the stolen thing he, in his unperturbed cheerful manner, would say: “Oh is this yours? Then take it.” If the owner makes any noise about it, in his same characteristic calm, casual manner he would respond: “Why then the fuss? The moment I knew that it was yours I gave back the thing to you.”

Some of our political pilferers are like this character in the Malayalam movie. When the sons of the beleaguered Chief Minister of Karnataka, Yeddyurappa, were found to have grabbed prime public land evidently with the help of their father, they easily decided to surrender the land mainly to save the father’s Chief Ministership.

So also is the case of a top Army brass who with all kinds of manipulations managed to procure a flat in the now notorious Adarsh apartments in one of the posh areas of Mumbai for a throwaway price. When the whole scam surfaced, he offered to surrender the flat if it were meant for the Kargil widows. These are some of the recent funny examples of plain plunder and pretence of honesty that reminds one of the character in the Malayalam film filcher.

When a politician or a bureaucrat is found out in any fraudulent action, he justifies it by saying that the same thing his predecessor did and was not caught. Can a plain thief defend himself in the court by saying that he knew dozens of his ilk who are at large even after having committed the same crime? It is true that several such gentlemen thieves go scot-free in our country where a culture of crony capitalism is flourishing under the UPA dispensation of Manmohan Singh and his half-a-dozen Cabinet cohorts whose only concern is percentage of GDP growth at the expense of a vast majority of cruelly exploited, inhumanly deprived workers whose deplorable plight was shockingly brought out by the Rajya Sabha member, Dr Arjun Sen Gupta, a reputed economist too who died just a few weeks ago. This shows that the country has economically grown but the nation’s moral fibre is gone.

The corrupt Minister, even when he is in an inescapable tight spot, his usual first firm reaction is that there is no question of my resigning. The magnitude of scams are increasing day by day involving public money now of astronomical proportions as in the 2G spectrum scam. Before that we saw with great shock and dismay how the Organising Committee of the prestigious Commonwealth Games played ducks and drakes with those thousands of crores of rupees advanced to organise a nationally important sports event and tarnished the image of the country. All these repeatedly surfacing scams at frequent intervals show how far the moral fabric of the life of the nation has been torn. But this was not the position in the early one or two decades of independence.

The first Finance Minister of free India was a very distinguished civil servant, Sir R.K. Shanmugham Chettiar. He had to make an inglorious exit from the fist Nehru Government for his cronyism. The legendary Coimbatore industrialist, G.D. Naidu, was the beneficiary of Chettiyar’s indulgence. However, he had to resign his ministership. We heard of him after that only when he died in Coimbatore. after several years. Many a promising political career were cut short by such financial faux pas. T.T. Krishnamachari was another instance in those days when the moral sense was generally strong in public life and administration.

Even though Prime Minister Pandit Nehru’s first impulse was always good in everything including corruption, he didn’t often take his position to its logical conclusion with any firmness and determination. When there was serious shortage of food and hoarding and black marketeering became rampant, Nehru in his characteristic indignation shouted that those enemies of the people should be caught and hanged on the nearest lamp post. Not even one blackest of the black marketeers was hanged to death like that. Even in the first major scandal after independence, the Jeep scandal, Nehru showed indulgence in the matter perhaps because his friend V.K. Krishna Menon’s name was involved in that. Nehru was never firm in his attitude to political corruption though he was uncorrupt and incorruptible.

When once Congress leaders from Punjab represented to Prime Minister Nehru of the various corruptions of the then Chief Minister of the State, Pratap Singh Kairon, Nehru’s response was uncharacteristically shocking. ‘Let him make some money. After all, he alone can control Punjab’—was his reply to the represen-tationists. This was what I heard from Sarvapalli Gopal, Nehru’s biographer. Nehru never lent support to any move that might upset the apple-cart. But he was the only man who could have stood firm against corruption and rooted it out. He did not put his down foot firmly on any case of corruption brought to public notice. Kairon in Punjab and Bakshi Ghulam Mohamed in Kashmir had their field day during the Nehru era. There were others of equal notoriety in the matter of corruption. In those days it was largely political corruption.

With liberalisation of the economy and large scale privatisation corruption has been integrated with economic development through instruments like Public Private Partnership (PPP) and Build, Operate, Transfer (BOT) not only in huge infrastrucural projects but also in service sectors like education and health. This is a convenient arrangement to loot public money jointly by the political class, business entrepreneurs and bureaucrats as in telecommunications in which now Central Minister Raja has broken all records of the past.

Even after scams of this magnitude that have undermined people’s faith in government, there is no effort on the part of the ruling class to clean up the system. On the other hand they are desperately trying to cover up as they very well know a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe might dig up more ramifications of the kind of collaborative corruption that is going on in almost all departments. The sheen of eight or nine per cent of GDP growth is already lost with the shocking revelation of the Arjun Sen Gupta Committee Report that more than 83 per cent of the people in the country live on twenty rupees a day while we have hundreds of world class billionaires and a burgeoning middle class who subscribe to the political and economic values of the establishment of both ruling and official Opposition parties. The remaining vast population is systematically exploited in several ways including the implementation of the flagship poverty alleviation programme, the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee programme.

The country is indeed in a deep moral crisis the magnitude of which the ruling establishment is blissfully ignorant of or at least behave as if nothing has gone wrong on the domestic front. Parliament, the judiciary and the press are giving daily dressing-down to the government in their own separate characteristic ways of which the government has found the judiciary’s role most painful and most damaging. But the shameless ones greet all these with an unholy glee and defend themselves with the device of repeating the GDP growth. In his memorable tryst with destiny speech at the midnight of August 14-15, 1947 Nehru spoke of the soul of the nation long suppressed regaining its utterance. After more than sixty years the same awakened soul of India is being trampled upon by its own citizens in their mad rush for power and pelf.

Dr Karim is a former Professor of English and erstwhile Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram.

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