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Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 21

Black and White

Wednesday 14 May 2008, by Nikhil Chakravartty


On September 2 came a proud moment in the nation’s history when Ms Harita Kaur Deol, a young girl from Chandigarh, landed at the Air Force Station at Yelahanka near Bangalore after completing her first solo flight—the first woman cadet of the Indian Air Force to do so. There have been other women pilots before in our country, but this was the first time an Indian woman was trying on her own in the Indian Air Force.

What a lifting thought for the entire country—the majesty of India’s womanhood flying across the open sky of this great land of ours. And yet in that very same week has come a piece of ugly news, marking the contrast in degeneration of our public life. A progeny of the Chief Minister of Punjab, alongwith his security guards, have been detected as having abducted and molested a visiting French girl at Chandigrarh; the authorities are trying to hush it all up while the Opposition has made it a first-class issue in the State Assembly.

What is the picture of India that one gets out of these two incidents—a daughter of Chandigarh flying solo in an Air Force plane, and a dirty brat from the same city caught in a despicable escapade in the company of a gang of his security guards? If the report from Bangalore brings glory for the nation, the monstrous news from Chandigarh underlines the depth of decadence that our political life has come to represent today.

This is not just the tale of two cities—it is the reflection of the true state of things—the noble and the hideous coexisting under a malevolent order. The politician, by and large, has come to represent the filth and the dirt and wallows in it all. And more and more, the public in general is moving from a state of indifference to a sense of outrage at the misdoings of those in authority.

Why Chandigarh? Come to Delhi. A scandal involving Rs 1000 crores has been detected in the government purchase of sugar. The Food Minister publicly sought to pass the blame to his Secretary, while the entire country—all parties—knew that the Minister deserved to share the blame for the scam.

The Food Secretary wrote to the Prime Minister. The government told Parliament that a high-powered enquiry has been initiated. But before the probe is over, the Food Secretary has been transferred, or rather demoted, to another post. There is no sign that the Minister concerned will face any reprimand.

The same has happened in the Ministry of Communications. The Minister and the Secretary have fallen out over major issues of policy and execution of policy. Suddenly, the Secretary has been shifted to another post, while the Minister continues in his office—the Minister who had figured prominently in another sugar scandal five years ago.

The Health Minister has been named in the Joint Parliamentary Committee Report as being guilty of irregularities, but he is left untouched, and even sent to Cairo to represent the country at the United Nations Conference on Population. In fact, no Minister has had to face any flak after the Joint Parliamentary Committee Report, because the government has well and truly become the ma-baap of the corrupt and the delinquent. In short, the government seems to have abjured all pretence of morality and is fast losing any claim to decency.

Can this state of things last long? We may be attracting foreign investors in thousands, bringing in millions in dollars. Our Prime Minister’s peregrinations may take him to the farthest point in the horizon and beyond to Antarctica, in search of trade partners. He may get the testimonial from the mighty empire of Singapore or multinationals from Houston.

Our Finance Minister may pocket a dozen more awards of being the best Finance Minister in history. Our swamis and shankaracharyas may bless our Ministers or the leaders of the Opposition. Our politicians may clamour for the atom bomb, saying as did one of them last week, that Mahatma Gandhi would have asked for it.

But will all these rejuvenate the country, so long as corruption is made legitimate and the Ministers permit themselves to be afflicted by son-strokes, and such sons and grandsons have to be protected by security guards provided by the state? And our Railway Minister, while broadening the gauge, confirms his faith in broadening the extent of the loot of public funds.

As for the health of the economy, we may get the testimonial from the stock exchanges of the world that our country is a safer bet than China for both investment and market. But the touchstone of our economy rests on the well-being of its eighty hundred million—not just that of the hundred million perched at the top.

By this yardstick, should not the warning bell ring when the Civil Supplies Minister makes the ominous admission—though unreported in the media—that he has stock in hand in plenty, but the people find it difficult to purchase? And the people here comprises the half-starved millions who constitute the majority in this Republic of ours. A country in which the majority face penury can never be strong and prosperous.

Our politicians are fighting for caste loyalties, for caste votes, for communal bloc votes at the next poll. Our government uses the TADA, the terror of custodial death to put down angry dissent. The law courts everywhere are piled with mountains of unattended cases and are not bestirred at this patent denial of justice.

The prospect of getting jobs is becoming more and more difficult every day for a young person, while the well-off have lost all sense of shame in wallowing in opulence—pushing away the pavement sleepers to enter their high-rise apartments, the perfumed gardens of the rich and their parvenus. This hideous spectacle of venality brings back the memory of the days of the Romans, the crumbling edifice of utter decrepitude.

Against this ugly exhibition of degeneration, it is but natural and healthy that there should be anger—the anger of the common man. And out of this seething anger is born in places the fearsome militancy where scores are settled by AK-47s. And as this game goes on, the mafias come up—the mafia that serves the politician and their patrons. How can the normal laws of civil society deal with this kind of people?

And when the rulers assume extraordinary powers, their moral degeneration enfeebles them and they forfeit the authority to rule. Irrespective of party labels, it is the politician in power who needs to be put on the dock. By his own misdeeds, he is hastening towards his day of judgement.

This great country of the East shall certainly purge itself of its dross, so that its mighty humanity may soar higher and higher, as did Flight Cadet Harita Kaur Deol in the boundless skies of Bangalore on September 2 this year.

(Mainstream, September 17, 1994)

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