We are a nation that is always swayed by milestones and landmarks. So, in the run-up to India’s 60th Independence Day, there has been an all-encompassing euphoria and media hype surrounding this landmark. Yesterday, my young colleagues – far removed from August 1947 -- put together a compilation of the very special shows and other very special content across print, television and radio. One paper, I am told, is bringing out a 24-page 60th year of Independence supplement! It’s all about money and not about 60 years – if one can go laughing to the bank riding on the comfort of a humungous amount of per column centimetres sold, why not! The sheer hoopla of the past 10 days on many of the leading television news channels has had a numbing effect on the minds of many.
So what is all this drum-beating about? Mouthing platitudes and coining slogans are the simplest things to do – they are the most effective ways to turn a blind eye to the ugly warts, and give a touch of statesmanship. But I am not convinced that all is right with this democracy that has survived so many odds and has remained a functioning democracy over the last six decades. I don’t want to sound like a party pooper, nor do I want to sound completely negative. It is easy to take a macro view, stand on a pedestal and proclaim to the world that we are the next economic superpower in the making. Of course we are a democracy. Of course we have begun to take the first successful steps in our global economic conquest. Of course we are India Shining. Of course it is a Rising India.
But let me ask one simple question: Would the Mahatma be able to look down on his beloved country in its 60th year and say “Well done India”?
Are we truly secular?
In all this euphoric back-slapping, let us ignore the macro and take a somewhat more micro view of the realities of this 60-year-old nation. Somebody said we should be proud of being a secular democracy. I am game, but only if some ugly warts are explained to me. So how are we secular? Not too long ago, a party came to power at the Centre, scoring political success after its leaders led cadres and mobs on an assault on the Babri Masjid. The reverberations of that one misguided act continue to be felt even after one and a half decades. Are we really a secular democracy?
Babri Masjid became Ayodhya and the backlash finally had an impact on the country’s financial capital. Mumbai’s communal riots – in which some 900 people lost their lives – led to another ugly backlash which has gone down in history as the ’93 Mumbai blasts – some 300-odd people perished. Almost 15 years later, the minority community perpetrators of the Mumbai blasts were recently handed out sentences ranging from the gallows to life terms.
India has a great judiciary and I have nothing against the law taking its own course. But in this great secular democracy, the perpetrators of the riots in Mumbai, prior to the blasts, are still free men despite the voluminous Srikrishna report coming down heavily on the fundamental elements of the majority community that roamed the streets of Mumbai wreaking mindless murder and mayhem. Why is it that government after government has allowed this report to collect dust on the shelves of the Mantralaya? Are we really a secular democracy?
What transpired in neighbouring Gujarat during the Godhra riots defies all logic of a democracy at work. Many have termed the nightmare in that state as a “pogrom”, a state-sponsored genocide against the minority community. Some skeletons are now coming out of the shelf – with sustained pressure from the Supreme Court and the Centre – but even after so many years Narendra Modi continues to be the monarch of all he surveys in the state. Are we really a secular democracy?
Shining India in a sea of poverty
It sounds beautiful to the ears with so many pundits holding forth on the inexorable journey of the Indian economy marching towards global supremacy. We have broken the jinx of the Hindu rate of growth – the economy is actually clocking a 9 per cent growth rate and the Prime Minister is exhorting all and sundry to strive for a double-digit growth rate! Of course, the China miracle is something that the Indian think-tank has still not been able to figure out! Hey, we are buying out the Arcelors and the Coruses of the world. This is India Inc finally flexing its muscles! Pure music.
But the notes turn quite discordant if only one is to look around through this bright shine. A third of the population still lives on a paltry Rs 20 a day! The Delhi School of Economics-cum-Harvard bred economic planners may periodically rewrite the definition of what constitutes poverty – but they can’t wish away the sheer magnitude of poverty in the country.
The reality of Rising India hits me square between the eyes every morning on way to office. It is heart-breaking to see scores of children aged between 8 and 15 years at the multitude of traffic signals knocking on the car window, hawking magazines. They have never gone to school, and never will. They are being used by the same media houses which have raised this hoopla and din over the miracle of an India at 60! Are we really shining and rising?
Just last week, the country was witness to a bizarre incident in Hyderabad when three MLAs belonging to a Muslim political outfit attacked Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen at a book launch function. They publicly proclaimed that she would be beheaded if she returned to Hyderabad! Yet, the Hyderabad police lodged an FIR against Nasreen – but not those who attacked her! Are we really a mature democracy?
A corrupt democracy
India’s functioning democracy is a haven for the corrupt – make hay so long as the sun shines seems to be the overriding motto, starting from the political leadership to the lower bureaucracy. If you have the clout, you can get away with stealing the fodder meant for cattle to the extent of Rs 1000 crore! The cow may be revered in a religious sense, but the lure of big bucks easily overcomes the religious sentiment!
The cancer of corruption has spread so much in the lower bureaucracy that for a price one can get a driving licence, voter ID card and even a passport! ‘Money, money, money’... One wonders if Abba is their favourite pop group. The sting operation by CNN-IBN last week on how a non-existent person got himself a bonafide ‘identity’ – all for a total payout of Rs 35,000 – was a stark reminder of what has gone awfully wrong in this functioning democracy. Are we a good democracy or is it a free-for-all democracy?
I do not wish to be a party-pooper. Tomorrow, as we all celebrate our 60 years, it may be worth everyone’s while to ponder if we have really been sincere to the real ethos of a good democracy. Otherwise we will continue to live by very shining and rising slogans, and platitudes which do not necessarily cover us in glory. Somebody had to do the hard talk – I decided to do it.