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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 43 New Delhi October 15, 2016

Allround Decadence and Ray of Hope

Sunday 16 October 2016, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

While there is no doubt a lot on which to attack those in authority for their dereliction in running an orderly system of governance, one has to ask at the same time why there has been such an appalling deterioration in social conscience in most of our public activity. In other words, the corrosion of values in public life is not confined to Ministers and top bureaucrats, but has become all-pervasive, the pollution of morals seem to choke out public service.

If we look around, there is undoubtedly a widespread feeling of being let-down by those in power, those who have been assigned the mandate to rule by the public that has elected them and placed them on the position of authority. It is precisely because of this reason that the Chief Election Commissioner has suddenly become a phenomenon—applauded by the public that expects him to weed out corrupt practices from the business of election, while he is the target of attack largely by those who feel that their citadel of vested interests in the business of vote-collecting is being invaded by Seshan’s attempt at weeding out irregularities in the running of the election machinery. Khairnar might be reckless in his charges against Sharad Pawar, but the fact that he, a minor fry in the bureaucratic set-up, could brace up to make such charges of corruption against the Chief Minister, who is patently on the defensive, shows that in the public mind Pawar’s reputation cannot smother out such a critic from inside the very government over which is presides. And quite likely there are many more Khairnars waiting to be counted in the months to come. Obviously the ministerial standing for probity has plummeted so much that it cannot make short shrift of critics from within the bureaucracy itself.

If we look back on the immediate past, we find that in the last ten years corruption has become a by-word in our public life and is having a deleterious effect on the stability of the government. The fact that criminalisation of politics has become a serious item of concern for responsible people in politics irrespective of party labels—and not just the exaggerated outburst of some chronic critics of the establishment —shows the dangerous deterioration in our public life. All this has begun to stir the public in general. The shock of the scam, that nobody in authority is prepared to take the responsibility for, has contributed in no small measure towards the sapping of public confidence in the government.

But the government apart, the callous irres-ponsibility of people at different stations of public life is now becoming an issue of intense comment and concern all over the country. The scandal of the capitation fees for entry into educational institutions—and the angry objections at any ban being imposed on this vicious practice—has been widely commented upon and one would not be surprised if this touches off violent protests. It is not merely the crass commercialisation involved in this practice—which is nowadays sanctified by the authorities in the name of worshipping the God of the Market—but the bankruptcy of any coherent education policy of the government that is going to be the target of popular attack.

The mismanagement of hospitals, with large-scale pilferage of medicines, and the mercenary attitude of many of the eminent people in the medical profession bordering on venality, is widely talked about and may one day break out into angry outbursts from the deprived sections of the public. Meanwhile, the hospitals are not only neglected but left almost uncared for in large cases, while these are overcrowded indicating the magnitude of the needs of the people.

While there is a lot of enthusiasm in the community of students and youth, one finds very little effort at harnessing the youth power for gainful public activity. The universities are riddled with factional politics for which all parties are equally guilty, and one finds no effort at providing leadership on the part of the teaching community towards creating a sense of dedication and public service among the students. There are pockets of inspiring initiative on the part of the students in such activities as the mass literacy campaign, but one finds little effort on the part of those in public life to divert youth power to nation-building activity. The political leadership diverts the youth mainly for election purposes, while there is conspicuous absence of any sustained activity for socially relevant issues. While there is a proliferation of high-cost entertainment of the disco and pop types for the rich, there is hardly any concerted move to involve the vast segments of the less affluent and the impoverished among the youth. Whatever gainful activity by way of recreation and healthy social pastime comes to view is mainly through individual and local enterprise.

The sense of public accountability has gone down so miserably in service sectors all over the country where bribery has become the rule. How shocking this has become could be noted by the present writer during a recent visit to Gujarat. A leading member of Mrinalini Sarabhai’s Darpana Academy had lost his brother in a car accident. After post-mortem, the body was deposited at the well-known government hospital, Sayajirao General Hospital, Baroda. The mortuary was found to be in a state of utter dilapidation—without any effective cooling arrangement, bodies in a state of decomposition, limbs thrown apart, blood oozing all over the place, and a putrid unbearable smell with insects swarming all over. The locate the body, the staff there extracted a bribe, and to get a piece of cloth to put the dismembered body together, he had to shell out more money. Even the autopsy is carried out in a primitive manner with dismembered parts of the body often found scattered all over the place.

This hideous state of the morgue has long been commented upon by the local people but no action has been taken by the authorities. A local reporter commented:

There is no respect for the dead as the administration has been running the mortuary and the post-mortem department in a most callous maner for the last several years. Time and again, people who come here to claim bodies of their dear and near ones have complained of the appalling condition. But the dead command no priority in this hospital.

Why the dead, the living are relegated to a low priority attention in this allround decadence. While such a state of decomposition in many of the services hits the eye, one cannot help contrasting this decadence with the inspiring and uplifting experience of the work of many of the activist groups all over the country. A conspicuous feature of Indian public life in the last twenty years has been the phenomenal proliferation of what may be called NGO activity in different departments of public life. While the preoccupation of the political parties is almost wholly confined to election politics from the panchayat to Parliament, these activist groups can be found engaged in multifarious activities—from helping in rural-welfare, housing for the poor, literacy and education, environment protection, appli-cation of appropriate technology, popularisation of science, medical services and numerous experiments in cottage industries. Some are groups which are intensely rational in their outlook, others with a religious motivation. Their standards and approaches may be diverse and uneven, but their eagerness to serve the people can hardly be questioned.

But in the arena of power politics, these dedicated soldiers do not figure at all. Here is the basic problem of the Indian reality today: the state of our conventional politics or the silent dedication of the activists—which of these two will finally win?

(Mainstream, September 24, 1994)