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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 6, January 26, 2013 - Republic Day Special

Wanted: Public Intervention


Tuesday 5 February 2013, by SC

As we approach our sixtyfourth Republic Day, the political class in the country has been gripped by an unprecedented crisis—the crisis of credibility. This has been recently witnessed in the unique spontaneity of the youth upsurge on the major streets and thoroughfares of Lutyens’ Delhi taking the ruling circles at the Centre completely by surprise thereby resulting in a panic reaction on the part of the latter—the indiscriminate use of force and coercion with lathis, teargas and water cannons just to “control” the largely peaceful demonstrations. These could have been easily tackled if the authorities had just walked out of their comfortable offices in South and North Blocks to talk to the young agitators justifiably incensed by the indifferent, complacent and apathetic attitude of the powers that be following the horrific gang-rape of a 23-year-old paramedical student in a moving bus in the national Capital.

The members of the Union Council of Ministers, who are completely alienated from the public at large, did not dare do what our first PM Jawaharlal Nehru would have instantaneously done were he alive today—rush to meet the protesting youth to share their agony and anguish at such a dastardly act while promising prompt action. The anger and indignation of the young people, mostly students, was fully legitimate and this has been acknowledged across party lines. But mere lip-service has no meaning unless deterrent steps are taken by all concerned to ensure such ghastly happenings don’t recur. That is possible only if the political class unitedly displays its resolve to check such crimes forthwith by launching an allout crusade. (The absence of such a move is glaringly evident in the fact that even after the horrendous incident of December 16 and the widespread media publicity it has drawn, such gang-rapes are taking place with frightening regularity countrywide cocking a snook at the rule of law characterising Indian democracy.) And for that to take place it is essential for this class to demonstrate leadership. Unfortunately that is what is missing. Hence the chalta hai approach that evoked such an outcry among all sections of civil society and the young, impressionable minds in particular. And any perceptive observer endowed with a sense of objectivity would readily concede that this phenomenon is not confined to the ruling party or coalition but encompasses the entire political spectrum. If the Congress, as the epitome of dynastic politics, is worried over the problem of leadership, then the principal Opposition party, the BJP, too suffers from the same anxiety. The other political formations, including those of the Left, are afflicted by the same malaise as well. This is precisely where the root of the crisis of credibility lies. Needless to underscore, this poses a grave threat to our Republic and Constitution based on the democratic structure we inaugurated sixtythree years ago.

The country is beset with enormous difficulties which were spelt out in detail in these columns on the eve of our sixtythird Republic Day last year. It is necessary to recall those lines as the ground situation has not improved in the least in the past one year. If at all, it has worsened of late.

...two-and-a-half years after our attainment of independence, we were able to draft, finalise and adopt a Constitution while proclaiming free India as a Republic. This not only consolidated our liberation from colonial yoke but also helped construct a democratic structure which has weathered many a storm and enriched in the process the quality of our nationhood while projecting our country in the international arena as a leading member of the developing states worthy of emulation. At the same time it has ensured our undeniable advance in various sectors of science and technology in particular while guaranteeing a noteworthy rise in our GDP of late.

And despite all these successes resulting in the emergence of a burgeoning middle class, there has been a conspicuous widening of disparities between India and Bharat, the haves and the have-nots, the handful of top billionaires of the world enjoying Indian citizenship and the multitude of the poorest of our poor comparable with the hapless populace of sub-Saharan Africa. Needless to underline, such a stark contrast—between the small segment representing our wealthy class on one side and those subjected to incessant penury, destitution, deprivation, oppression and exploitation and living in abysmal conditions in our rural and urban areas on the other—cannot last for long and is bound to enfeeble, weaken and destroy the fabric of our democracy, one of our most coveted possessions. As a matter of fact democracy is at a discount in vast tracts of our landmass where the Dalit assertion at one end and the Maoist upsurge at the other are eloquent expressions of the enormity of the problems confronting us. The mass struggle to uproot corruption is a reflection of the public impatience with the status quo that has contributed to our present-day maladies which the unscrupulous elements in our society have harnessed to reap massive benefits at the cost of the bulk of our citizens. It must be also borne in mind that the neoliberal paradigm of development—which our political leadership, wholeheartedly backed by our elite, has unquestioningly embraced—is at the source of such phenomena that pose a serious challenge to our sovereignty, independence and secular democracy.

The day the Delhi gangrape victim breathed her last in a super-speciality hospital in Singapore, countless people had gathered at Jantar Mantar in the Capital to silently mourn the loss. This journalist was also there when he overheard someone conveying to another person in Hindi: “Yeh sab bazarbad ke pradurbhav hai (these are all manifestations of marketisation)” bringing out the ill-effects of the neoliberal paradigm in operation here. But one was not in a mood to discuss such issues, doubtless important, at that point in time; instead one sent SMS to some friends that read: “Went to Jantar Mantar when dusk was setting, saw four young men sitting silently on the road having lit four candles and placed them on a sheet of paper on which was written: ‘Ashamed to call ourselves Indians’, lit a candle myself and placed it also on the sheet. Silently stood there for some time. Much has been uttered in the last few days—I feel it’s now time to bow one’s head in shame and stand in silence to offer homage and thus repay one’s debt of gratitude to that intrepid 23-year-old for having aroused our collective conscience even as we cannot conceal the guilt behind our collective failure to save her from untimely demise. Silence alone being holy at this moment, let us silently try to introspect.”
With this silent introspection we all bade farewell to 2012 fully conscious of the scale of the challenges before us on practically all fronts—social, economic, political—that our political class, bereft of any worthwhile and effective leadership, has failed to meet.

What is in store for us in 2013? It is difficult to forecast the future. And the latest deterioration in India-Pakistan relations following the Pakistan Army’s mutilation of the bodies of two Indian soldiers on the LoC has raised considerable concern over the fate of the ties with our neighbour as extremists baying for Indian blood in Pakistan get tacit, if not active, support from the authorities there while jingoists here have come to the fore to vitiate the atmosphere spouting venom against Pakistanis in general.

Yet one should not submit to allround cynicism, gloom and despondency. Regardless of the ups and downs of the popular anti-corruption struggle, the latest upsurge of the youth on Delhi’s streets that found reverberation throughout the country offers a ray of hope. The civil society initiative for a better tomorrow certainly has the potential to safeguard our cherished values and weed out the scourges that plague our society even after more than sixtyfive years of our independence and sixtythree years of the proclamation of our Republic coinciding with the adoption of our Constitution to consolidate our freedom and democratic ethos.

That is why it is necessary to reinforce that movement in order to help intervene at the earliest to save our Republic and its Constitution from decay for the purpose of protecting both our independence and democracy. This intervention by the public at large with the full backing of well-meaning individuals (who have only the interests of the nation at heart) does not brook the slightest delay.

January 22 S.C.

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