A write up sent to Statesman in Feb, 2012
…….. And the Farce Continues
Elections are again round the corner. Everything is same as it used to be ~ about one third of the candidates with criminal record (no, they are not independents but are fighting on the symbols of all major political parties), campaigning and media coverage centering on leaders calling each other names, doling out of liquor and cash to voters by the political parties, the false promises promising the moon, manipulation in voting and who knows if manipulation of the voting machines. Ramdev and Anna Hazare who kindled hope in naives like me don’t appear to be of much consequence when it comes to grass roots of politics in India. The masses appear to be more enamoured of the crown prince than being bothered about the real issues concerning them. Or so the media and results of surveys presented by it make us believe. Why to blame uneducated masses when the cream among the literates, the media persons themselves, is fascinated by the prince. And what are the credentials of this prince?
Rahul Gandhi, the crown prince, is being projected as the Prime Minister in waiting and is the main campaigner for the ruling party. Is he a great orator? Is he a great thinker? Is he exceptionally talented? Has he got exceptional organizing capabilities? Is he an exceptionally gifted leader? Does he possess an overall personality to stand out in comparison to all other leaders and eminent personalities? Answer to all above and any other such question will be a loud ‘no’. On the contrary, of late whenever he has conducted himself publicly, more often he has given the impression of being a moron, especially while reading out that borrowed idea on Lokpal from a text written by someone else during zero hour in the Loksabha in late August, 2011. But he has a peculiar worthiness which no one else (except his sister) has or can have. He is son of Rajiv Gandhi, grandson of Indira Gandhi, and great grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru, all having been Prime Ministers of India. If I am not able to grasp this great virtue, it must be my problem.
I have some other problems as well. I expect that when elections are being held to elect the governments, there must be detailed analysis and discussions on what those in power had promised before the last elections and what they had delivered. Where did they succeed and where did they fail? Were reasons for failure beyond them? What did the parties in opposition deliver as a responsible and constructive opposition? I expect to know the bare and objective data about the performance or non-performance of the government. How did the crime rate behave? How many FIR’s remained unresolved? How many children were under-nourished and how many died of hunger? How many farmers committed suicide? How much time did courts take in deciding cases and imparting justice? How much money was squandered or how much saved and utilized for public welfare? With the mushrooming of 24x7 news channels, I expect the media to provide me, the voter, with the answers to these and all such questions during election time. I do not expect it to act as agents of a particular family or bombard me with who called whom what names. But our media is not irresponsible like me. If they don’t report the utterances of the leaders and the ministers, even if those were worse than non-sense, they won’t be doing their duty. To find the answers to my questions is not their necessary job. They know better than me what an average viewer wants.
Winston Churchill certainly was a wise man. It was not without reason when he said, “the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” In India, this can be extended further: “the best argument against democracy is a five-minute viewing of debates at prime time on prime TV channels,” or “the best argument against democracy is a five-minute hearing of the utterances of the central ministers who are supposed to be running the government,” and so on.
There is nothing what has not been said or written about the corruption and shamelessness of the central government during last one year repeatedly, a lot in the columns of this newspaper. But all the ministers or their favoured ones who have distinguished themselves in corruption, incompetence or shamelessness, from PM himself to Montek Singh Ahluwalia, continue to be in power with their heads held high. The distinguished among the distinguished being Pawars, Sibbals, and Chidambrams. Those known (I believe at times knowledge is something much superior to evidence) to have stashed away billions in foreign banks control the government while petty thieves remain in jails without trial.
Ruling politicians and the people they rule don’t complete democracy. Opposition is another major player. In the federal structure India has, those in opposition at the centre can be and are the rulers in the states. There is a main national opposition party and there are regional parties in opposition at the Centre. When the ruling party was blundering now and again, the opposition’s space was being taken by some individuals, Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare, and their teams. The supposed to be main opposition party, apart from counting its own chickens in the states ruled by it, was non-existent barring mouthing something here or there. When it could catch the ruling party by the scruff, God knows for what reason, it continued to get snubbed itself. The regional parties were too busy doing in their ruled territories what the ruling dispensation was doing at the Centre.
Many learned Indians have started seeing hope in the Hon’ble Supreme Court as a result of some recent judgments taking the Government to task. They conveniently forget that judiciary as such remains the weakest pillar of Indian democracy. An average Indian who has ever had to seek legal redress of his or her grievances knows it too well. One has not only to face corruption at every stage; there is no deliverance of justice for years together. While the Hon’ble Supreme Court has rightly been taking the bureaucrats and the government to task, it has miserably failed to put its own house (the judiciary) in order. There is no other outside institution except Parliament that could deal with this worst aspect of Indian democracy, but its members, the elected representatives of the people, have some better jobs to do. They have to ask questions for money or make false complaints to harass vigilance officers whose efforts lead to unearthing of scams worth hundreds of crores of rupees and registering of cases by CBI.
That leaves bureaucracy. The least said about it the better. What can poor bureaucrats do? They have to worry about their transfers, postings and promotions all the time, while making or not making money. Over and above, they are not expected to see beyond their noses and the feudal mindset doesn’t allow them to see beyond what the boss sees. There are umpteen agencies and bureaucrats empowered and responsible to prevent corruption. When they catch a few (the unfortunate ones) among hundreds of thousands of corrupt, with huge unaccounted wealth, they only confirm their incompetence and failure. What were they doing when mind-boggling sums were being amassed?
Aha! How do I forget of religion and castes while talking about the world’s greatest secular democracy? Whenever elections take place, Muslim votes and Hindu votes is the first thing worried about and talked about by the political parties, the anchors, the media-persons and the learned citizens that take pride in being secular. And then there are castes - religions within religions. The religion and caste equations along with money power play major role in choice of the candidate by the political parties. His or her capabilities come in the end and character is hardly counted. While even a group D employee is recruited on merit within specified quotas, merit is rarely a consideration in choosing the chief executives (the ministers) at the centre or in the states.
Very recently an editorial in this very newspaper explained how India was a sham democracy. How decisions were taken by those in power, not as per people’s wishes, but driven by extraneous considerations. Mr. Rajinder Puri also illustrated how Indian democracy was a farce as those responsible were not considered accountable. True. What further needs to be understood is that it is not only those in power who are rendering the democracy a farce. All the constituents are responsible. The voter, the backbone of democracy, the most. Clearly the shamelessness of the present government emanates from its belief that inspite of all its misdoings it will be able to hypnotize or hoodwink the voters to vote it again to power or that the voters will have no better choice even otherwise.
The majority of the voters are illiterate or uneducated if not illiterate. They may not understand many things which their more blessed brethren, the educated ones, are supposed to understand and explain to them. It is here that the responsibility shifts to the educated class of the country and basically it is their collective failure that has turned Indian democracy into a farce. Everyone criticizes everything, and yet accepts everything. Even after being enriched with sixty years of experience, nobody is willing to see and think beyond the revered Constitution and Parliamentary democracy. Within the framework of the existing systems, a colossal leakage of public money goes on unhindered (an estimated Rs. 7000000000000 (seven lakh crores) annually from procurement of goods and services alone) and a chunk of the educated class ~ the vendors, the businessmen, the bureaucrats, the liaison people and the politicians continue to share the loot. Another chunk - the journalists, the columnists, the activists feel ecstatic whenever a big fish gets caught in the net or an historic judgment is pronounced, blissfully ignorant of the fact that at the grass roots the corruption and depravation had been continuing blossoming. Rest of the time, just being able to vent their frustrations and anger satisfies them. Baba Ramdevs and Anna Hazares while successfully conveying to the voters what was wrong fail to provide an alternative to choose for better governance. They don’t get support from the educated class as they should have got if that class were really interested in better governance. They deceive themselves in believing that they would be able to change the hearts of the rogues as an outside pressure group consisting of a few.
What all above boils down to is simply that democracy, though highly desirable for the freedom it gives, is inherently a farcical way of governance as one of the greatest philosophers of all times, Socrates, could foresee two thousand and five hundred years ago. The world’s largest democracy is only proving Socrates correct. The way the candidates are chosen and the way the majority votes, all said and done, the farce that Indian democracy is, is there to continue for a long time in the name of the Constitution and the Parliament. To look beyond that, nothing short of a revolution is necessary and we, the nice and tolerant human beings, as a people are far- far away from it. Till such time, reducing the duration of the license to loot from five years to, say, three years could help.