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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 44 New Delhi October 20, 2018

In the Context . . .

Friday 19 October 2018

by Sardar Amjad Ali

With the 2019 parliamentary elections approaching, speculations over the electoral prospects of different political parties are getting more intense.

The ‘Journo-Mastradamus’ of our time is leaving no stone unturned in speculations as to who will get most of the 542 seats in the Lok Sabha to form the next government.

Any government overtly running with the circuitous motive and clandestine process helps not only to break the popular unity and breed a conducive situation of lawlessness but also leads to financial and social degeneration ushering in an era of political and financial anarchy.

The instrumentality of an elected government plays in situations like the one at present either as an accomplice or an abettor to such perversities.

The pertinent question that arises in such a situation is:

Who is to sing the carol of resuscitation of hope in such a beleaguered situation?—The party in power? The political parties? Intellectuals? Judiciary or Media? Or the Common People?

(A) Party in Power: Parties in power, all over the world, claim to be harbingers of peace, prosperity and development of the citizenry.

In our country, be it at the Centre or in the States, there are no exceptions to the rule.

Those unseen, ‘astounding developments’ and progress’ of the country under the leadership of Narendra Modi during the last four years of the BJP rule (though Modi is larger than his party, namely, the BJP) are orchestrated by the ruling party’s spokespersons or Ministers. And it is their onerous duty to do so. But the role of the Media in the symphony is no less worth mentioning.

The BJP’s or for that matter Modi’s govern-mental role in the process of the so-called achievement of a brand of economy, develop-ment and popular welfare appears to be honest to the dogmas catered, preached and followed by them as tutored in the locale of Nagpur. In Nagpur’s tutorial curriculum, a unique identity of Bharat in diversity of a multilingual, multi- religious, multi-racial and multi-cultural society based on the concept of assimilation, tolerance and mutual respect, is nothing but a ‘travesty of historical truth’. Other than the doctrine of ‘Hindu Nationalism’, any other concept of nationalism is a ‘historical distortion’, as they claim. Crony capitalism is the guiding principle of their economic development, carrying forward the bad debts on the books of account of the banks is meaningless according to their financial ethics, to enable the defaulters to further plunder the people’s money from the banks, striking-off the non-performing assets from the rosters, ignoring the Securities Act, paving the way for the disastrous deaths of medium and small sector industries conveniently forgetting the impact of such a consequence on the indigenous labour market, are their developmental yardsticks!

With changed nomenclature though, some of the welfare programmes initiated by the erstwhile Union Government like the MGNREGA, Awas Yojana or the likes are being followed. But delving deep into the hidden object, it is clear that the Modi Government does not want to abdicate the schemes as these help in party-building at the expense of the public exchequer, not only for its own but also for its coalition partners in the States as these are no less beneficiaries of the largesse.

I wonder if our economists find fault with not all but some of these welfare programmes, a silly ploy of making the beneficiaries thereof bonded entities of the government. Can the perennial overreach of doles or state financial amnesty to the poor and indigents, notwithstanding the humanitarian aspect, be a permanent solution to alleviate the perennial poverty of millions of individuals?

In States also, the parties in power have not been able to register any inspiring picture.

After all, the government is formed on the basis of the numbers of legislators elected through adult suffrage. With 17.5 per cent of the world’s total population, we in India have nearly 22 per cent of our people living below the poverty line (as in 2012). Existing below the poverty line does not disenfranchise an 18-year-old adult citizen. The value index of one vote of a hapless citizen in the BPL category does not diminish the value of one vote of a citizen in APL. In such a scenario, with them as also with those in the APL category, our vibrant democracy is safely guarded by our parties in power. Large sections of our electorate are, however, made to believe that those in the Opposition are the real culprits for their misfortune.

Victims of dishonest, arbitrary or expropriatory actions of the parties in or out of power are the helpless citizens. They are, truly speaking, pawns in the hands of those in power, nay, of the political parties in general.

(B) Political Parties: In a mature democracy the role of the political parties opposed to the government is no doubt the most important shield of defence against governmental/institutional highhandedness. But democracy being a political system, its maturity is exhibited in its conscious practice with diligence, without inhibition and without fear.

The system is catered through people’s participation. There has been in our country the mushroom growth of political parties which in the year 2014 numbered 1709.

Every political party, with its own avowed objectives, seeks to organise under its banner, the common people within its reach, in its own way. They identify the ills of the socio-politico-economic situation, the faults of the government of the day as also the contradictions, short-sightedness and inadequacy of programmes or the strategies to fight the ills as pursued by the rival political groups, with the single common objective to seize power.

(C) Intellectuals : It is trite knowledge that a social revolution needs architects like Rousseau or Lincoln, Petovi Sangor or Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir or Noam Chomsky or Che Guevara.

An intellectual, being ordained with the instinct of quick perception to gaze at the social interactions on various issues, analytical mind and capability of dissecting the odds and the evens, is able to put the right things in order to reach a destination congenial enough to build the one which ensures benefit to the people and posterity as a whole.

The word ‘intellectual has been a favoured label throughout the 20th century acquiring in the course of usage many other positive conno-tations like fearlessness, autonomy and even a contrarian bent,’ said Randolf S. David, Professor Emirates of Sociology, University of Philippines.

Pragmatic, if not revolutionary, achievements can be guaranteed only by being bold and brave, immune from the heinous instinct of personal gain in any form whatsoever. In the process, the intellectuals utilise their lives in giving guidance, direction to and as pathfinders of the people and society as a whole.

With their dedication, a gasping, bewildered or beleaguered society gets back its lost vigour.

Searching for the public intellectuals in the Indian scenario species like Raja Rammohan, Vivekananda, Tagore, Acharya Vinoba Bhave, Adi Sankaracharya, Jayaprakash Narayan, to mention a few, are the rarest of the rare of the bygone years. They minced no words in engineering a sound direction for a society which fell in the grip of degeneration, socially, culturally and spiritually.

Though not many in numbers, but even in today’s India some names like Prof Romila Thapar, Dr Irfan Habib, Prof Amartya Sen, Kaushik Basu, Late Dr Sukumari Bhattacharya, Late Dr Atul Sur are worth mentioning. These geniuses, in their own way, have been trying to vindicate their considered views by not only identifying the social evils, religious bigotry, cultural malfunctions due to perverse thought processes with the sole object of arresting and recuperating from the unholistic decay of our nation.

Nonetheless, with all humility I would like to say that their deliberations on contemporary issues, although fact-oriented, are intellectually so high and subtle that their impact on the common mind is of lesser magnitude.

With rare exceptions though, many of our intellectuals made themselves marketable commodities and vulnerable to governmental influence either for a public post with some monthly dole or a state decoration of honour. The social evils of governmental misconducts hitting at the root of public morality, lay before them as unseen events and unsung ballads.

Intimidation from the government of the day, in certain cases gagging the voices of protest or contrarian views, is also true.

(D) Judiciary:

The framers of our Constitution, with sacred and pious hopes, endowed our judiciary with an independent status answerable to none. Departure from the legal provisions is unacceptable and is decreed null and void by our judiciary. The Apex Court is vested with the right to protect the Book of the Nation, namely, the Constitution.

Down the ages, our judiciary has played its role with brave hearts and the highest traditions of judicial sanctity, impartiality and brevity. Executive highhandedness, even by the most powerful Prime Minister like Indira Gandhi, could not deter the judges from stepping down from their Lordships’ revered seats. Onslaught on individual freedom, even on the pretext of national security, have been condemned and all actions of gagging the freedom of speech, association or protestations summarily dismissed. Hoodwinking the electoral process even by a sitting Prime Minister, when unveiled, a decree of annulment of the election of the Prime Minister came sharp without any bewilderment by our judges. The hallowed seat of justice was not allowed to be soiled by our judges even at the cost of personal humiliation at times.

But with the passage of time the scenario rapidly changed. Corruption, favouritism and nepotism, the ‘vices’, which in the Constituent Assembly the Hon’ble G.B. Pant sarcastically said, as not being the monopoly of the politicians alone, permeated in the genre of our judges, instead of the virtues of honesty, integrity and neutrality that had been their sole monopoly, as said by Pant; of the 16 Chief Justices of the country nine of them are ‘corrupt’, said the former Law Minister and one of the seniormost practitioners of the Supreme Court, Shri Shanti Bhushan. Undeterred by a contempt proceeding initiated against the father and the son, Sri Prashant Bhushan, they stood firm in their stand on the issue and resolved to prove in the dock what they had said about the personal honesty of the judges.

One of the High Court Judges, Justice Karnan, in uninhibited language charged the Judges of the Supreme Court with intolerance, discriminatory and unjust treatment to him because of his heredity but was sent to jail unheard.

Right to individual privacy is declared as the fundamental right of a citizen; yet such a constitutional freedom remains an unresolved snag in the Aadhar case, whereas Our Lordships are busy in controversies arising out of male and female genitals, constitutional sexuality or the likes relegating the cases of human lynching to be addressed by the virtuous governments.

Making a journey through the constitutional route while adjudicating various public laws, our judges of the Supreme Court have of late been apparently playing the role of social reformers. The equality Clauses/Articles of the Constitution are considered much too handy a medium for radical and/or too liberal inter-pretations of the rights of jurisprudence in the context of social-religious or social-govern-mental fields but with conspicuously conser-vative approach when issues relating to socio-economic-governmental interface comes on board.

Our judges are much too jealous of allowing any outsider ‘chanting the infallible mantra’ of “judicial supremacy” while entering into a hallowed chamber called Collegium for selection or rejection of new entrants in their clan. Right to know the reason of approval or disapproval in the processes of selection of a public office, a much nurtured doctrine of right of jurisprudence or the Rule of Transparency, is given a sordid farewell. Any question of propriety of the process is condemned by an ugly threat of contempt.

Public opinion congenial to social, ethical, or cultural ethos hardly bears impact in their juridical deliberations. Wisdom of all subjects is their monopoly.

For a nation of diverse ethnicity, religion, culture, language, customs, pedantic interpretations of the letters of law may be sound but often times, it cannot cure the ailments the nation suffers from.

(E) Media: The media plays the role of the conscience-keeper of a nation. The journo community of any given nation, as the architect of public opinion, thrives on popular confidence for their sustenance.

Of the five canons of journalism, namely, (1) Truth and Accuracy (2) Independence (3) Fairness and Impartiality (4) Humanity and (5) Accountability, not any one can be severed from the others.

I feel much emboldened to quote what the Egyptian priest in Plato’s ‘Timaeus’ had said— ‘You Greeks are always boys; there is not an old man among you; you are young in your souls.’

Plato’s priest would have been cent per cent right had he predicted the same about India’s journo community.

Our journalists, with their Grecian entrepre-neurship, seek to do justice to their craft. Truth, though not considered as inviolable as ethics for journalism, is more often than not catered by our journalists for the obvious reason that their independence, fairness and impartiality do lie not in their own domain but in the domain of the barons who control the system with their investments. After all, media, like all others, is an industry where the journalists are essentially bread-earners. In the process, there-fore, the canons of independence, fairness and impartiality become soft targets to be hacked in the hands of the press barons. But such a situation cannot be said to have been in perpetiuty in the past. The malady of govern-mental control over the media ‘industry’ was there in the past too, but it was not as pervasive as today. The DAVP (Directorate of Audio-Visual Publicity or PCI (Press Council of India) are not organisations of recent origin. Those were there before too. Through their distribution of favour in various ways, such as allocation of news- prints, release of audio-visual publicity materials, free ride the world over accompanying the President or the Prime Minister or the External Affairs or Defence Ministers, allocation of accreditation were not unknown in the past as well. Yet then, with the passage of time, the balance tilted, in a heinous manner, towards a concept of obligation for a ‘favour’, for an ‘alm’ from the reserves of the public exchequer.

The decline of standard or status is so obvious and overt now that opinion-makers like R.K. Karanjia, Khushwant Singh, Nikhil Chakra-vartty, Nihal Singh, Kuldip Nayar, Ranajit Roy, Khusro Irani whose candid dissection of govern-mental approach/policy towards issues affecting the nation or the select group of people, both in its splendour as well as sordid sides, used to generate public awareness in the right perspective are not there. Corporate discipline in their professional life did not/could not slaughter the deity of liberty.

I may be cursed as a sceptic who fails to find the status of today’s media maintaining the grandeur of the past. I admit that I may be a failed soul not to identify brave, impartial, unbiased media personalities of the kind of Barkha Dutt, Rajdeep Sardesai, Siddhartha Varadarajan, Ravish Kumar, Vinod Dua, Ashutosh, Punya Prasun Bajpai who did not barter their liberty or free conscience in exchange of a favour from those in power.

The output of a journalist in the context of public pursuit may shake the archaic conviction of governmental mechanism, profiteering pshycie of the press barons, expectation of public honour, a seat in either House of Parliament, but does not suffer from the disease of privation. Let us remember what Demesthenes said—

“No greater calamity can come upon a people than the privation of a free speech.”

(F) People: Down the ages people, in any country, have been the beneficiary of the civilised institution called the government. Building up of such an institution, as we know, has under-gone different stages from the paleolithic age and through such processes which cannot be said to have been very peaceful, cooperative or rationalistic transgression. The evolution of the social revolution is, of course, an interesting story where the salutary role of the common people is the basic mechanism.

It is they who suffer but out of their sufferance build a new society by sacrificing the ramshackle past.

Though the process might take years to complete the circle, yet then losing hope on the role of the people otherwise means losing hope on the collective strength of the components who build a world conducive for the lives of multitudes whose only identity is nothing but human beings.

The author is a former Congress Member of Parliament (of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha) and a Senior Advocate of the Calcutta High Court.

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