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Mainstream, VOL L, No 35, August 18, 2012

Uneasy Twilight

Monday 20 August 2012, by Nikhil Chakravartty



When a cliche boomerangs the effect is devastating. The golden jubilee of the August Revolution, officially celebrated with so much fanfare, has brought no dividends for those in power. If anything, it has heightened the bitter feeling that the commitments of the Do-or-Die injunction served by Gandhiji on August 8, 1942 have been cynically violated in the five decades since then.

While Aruna Asaf Ali was honoured for having bravely hoisted the Tricolour defying the police ban in Bombay fifty years ago, and the Prime Minister dedicated to the nation the historic barrack in the Red Fort that had housed the Azad Hind Fauj prisoners on trial fortyseven years ago, in that very week of sacred memory one found a high-profile Planning Commission Member, decorated with Padmavibhushan, being arrested for multi-crore misappropriation, and Members of Parliament making public statements about having been offered handsome bribes—never mind, whether it’s ten lakhs or forty lakhs or more—to defect from their party in Parliament.

Who represents the archetype of India today—Aruna Asaf Ali, or V. Krishnamurthy or the bribe-giver and the bribe-taker among the Members of Parliament? From the August revolutionaries to the scam crooks—a fifty-year journey for our nation, marking the vicious pollution of our public life. And with it the great betrayal of the interests and aspirations of the common humanity that live and toil in this far-flung country of ours.

There is concern all round for stability. Would there be a solution to the explosive Mandir-Masjid dispute at Ayodhya, or would there be outbreak of communal violence? Caste domination raises its ugly head in some area or the other, once again underlying the inequity in our social set-up. There is instability within political parties, acrimony even within the most well-knit of them and the ruling party is providing a public spectacle of personal rivalries masquerading under ideological shibboleths.

In clearly identified regions of the country—Kashmir, Punjab, Assam and other pockets of tension—violence has virtually become the order of the day. Normal administration and political authority have been replaced by continuous armed exchange between militant groups and the state apparatus. There might be instigation from outside, but each of these cases represents the bankruptcy of the political leadership, both in the government and Opposition. Nearly five decades of political profigacy has brought about this cracking up of national integration.

The ‘Quit India’ resolution of 1942 ended with the promise: “The power, when it comes, will belong to the whole people of India.” That mandate is supposed to form the basis of the Constitution of our democratic republic. Today, fifty years later, we find that elections to democratic organs of power vitiated on a large scale by the demonstration of big money and muscle strength, which negate the very process of elections. With the open nexus between politics and moneybags, venality in public life has been legitimised. Today, there is no shame in being corrupt or greedy.
The wealth of the nation is cornered by a handful minority of the affluent who constitute less than ten per cent of the population, while the remaining ninety per cent is left in the category of the underprivileged. This immoral coexistence between high-rise opulence and shanty-level impoverishment is the most serious threat to the unity and integrity of the nation. The economic reforms now being ushered in make no bones about its objective of promoting the interests of the affluent top while the stretegy behind them promises to widen the disparity gap in society. Even in the very first round, large sections fo the working people are being threatened with joblessness, while in the name of scrapping the subsidies, the peasantry would have to pay more for fertiliser and energy.

There is blatant cut in allocation for education and health, while the vast tribal belt is allowed to be fleeced by predators. In the name of inviting foreign capital, our indigenous enterprise is sought to be stifled. The prospect is that our BHELs will be crippled and then dismantled, while the robber-brothers of the Union Carbide will lord it all over. Manmohan Singh’s globalisation means good-bye not only to self-reliance, but to self-respect too.

More pointedly, the entire populace, barring the handful of the affluent, are already facing hardship through enhanced prices, while it is no longer an official secret that most of the budgetary estimates have even at this stage gone wrong with depleted exports and enhanced imports, together with deficits mounting beyond control.
Manmohan Singh has tenaciously defended his Ministry’s record in the securities scandal, putting up the feeble defence that he personally made no quick buck in the scam. But what about the competence of the Ministry that is entrusted with the responsibility of running the nation’s finance, when crores of rupees are literally mishandled by the government-owned banks and enterprises? By the same yardstick, the Finance Minister has so far valiantly defended the criminal negligence of the Reserve Bank authorities. Apart from the patent dishonesty in such a stand, it makes a mockery of the principles of accountability under the parliamentary system.

It is such an attitude of irresponsibility on the part of those at the top in government that has enabled the Harshed Mehtas and the Krishnamurthys to flourish will impunity. Let it be noted that in the ethical standards of today’s elite circle in our country, there is hardly any feeling of revulsion at the criminal doings of characters like Krishnamurthy, while thousands of the deprived sections have been rotting in prison as undertrials because our judiciary does not seem to believe in speedy justice.

What is disconcerting is that fifty years after the August Revolution, there is no tangible sign of earnestly setting up a democratic order that promises to eliminate poverty, hunger, ignorance and disease. When the leaders loudly proclaim that they are committed to bring about the well-being of the common man, there is only cynical stare, as nobody takes their word seriously. Cynicism is thus rampant, and out of cynicism wells up discontent and then, social tension takes one to violent outbursts.

Bankruptcy is writ large in the incapacity of the political leadership in finding a solution to the protracted crisis in Kashmir and Punjab. Different parties blame each other for this failure, whereas alienation of large sections of the people from the established authority is palpable and can no longer be concealed. To brand this as terrorism does not solve any problem. Elections by themselves bring no peace as could be seen in the case of Punjab. Catch phrases do not pacify, they only irritate.

There can be no peace—communal or social—by exhorting the common people to behave nicely towards their neighbour. Political parties are fast losing relevance in the public eye because most of them in large measure are guilty of perpetuating the present order of inequity and corruption. In the last few days one heard a lot about the need for a second August Revolution to cleanse our public life and invest it with new commitments of service to the common humanity of this country. No doubt there are rumblings of a new revolution, but one does not yet know from where it is coming and who is leading it.

An ominously uneasy twilight faces this great nation as it steps into the fortysixth year of its independence.

(Mainstream, August 15, 1992)

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