Recapping Democracy 2010: All We Need Is Introspection

Posted on December 29, 2010

By Shray Mishra:

A recent report by the Amnesty International says that nearly four million people are currently living under the Taliban in north-west Pakistan without rule of law and are effectively abandoned by the Pakistani government. In the report titled, As if Hell fell on me, the Human Rights crisis in Pakistan’ the London based rights organization asked the Pakistani govt. and Taliban to comply with International Humanitarian Law. Tanseem Noorani, a former interior secretary of Rawalpindi says, “From a safe and lovely town, it has been turned into a bunker.” A senior I.P.S Officer says that during his visit to several important countries last year, the general assessment about Pakistan everywhere was expressed just in two words- a “FAILED STATE.”

In India some hardliners with a myopic vision should be wallowing over it while back home it is not a different story either. In a village in Punjab kids are having neurological problems as there is uranium in the water due to the pollution by a nearby plant. Over 25 years after the world’s worst Industrial Disaster in Bhopal, which left 15,000 dead and injured 5.7 lac people, seven get two years in jail as the Apex court diluted the charges from culpable homicide not amounting to murder, to that of rash and negligent act.

The sense of anger and outrage was felt across the world as the international media and prominent American senators condemned the verdict and the fact that the alleged “Butcher of Bhopal”, the then chairman of Union Carbide corporation, Warren Anderson‘s name did not even appear in the list of the convicted. On the contrary, Anderson was granted safe passage by the Indian govt.

A nation that cannot uphold its law, can’t maintain order either. When Anderson was virtually escorted out of India, the State abdicated its responsibility. Anderson sneered at the establishment that knelt before him.

The gross mismatch between the quantum of punishment and the havoc caused has outraged the survivors who see it as a travesty of justice. Most of the survivors and their family still suffer from MBC related disease. Worse, an NGO alleges that these victims were used as guinea pigs. Hospitals conducted trials without patients’ knowledge, causing many deaths. Muslim Intellectual of the stature of MJ Akbar incisively sums up: “Justice for Bhopal is a serious issue. We treat poors as dispensable chattels whose death is meaningless in the economic calculus since there is no shortage of supply. Bhopal is a class war. If thousands of politicians, or their cousins, the nouveau rich, had died on that apocalyptic night in Bhopal, Anderson would still be in Indian jail rather than in America under protection.”

And nothing much different in Dante —Wada (Chhattisgarh) where 76 CRF jawaans are killed in one go by the Naxals/Maoists. A few days later a bus is blown up by them near Dante-Wada killing 40 people on the spot. A shaken Home Minister bemoans, “I have a limited mandate.” He wants army’s help. But at the highest level the army expresses strong disinclination to intervene. And a supine Prime Minister acquiesces. The ball is thrown back in the court of the states saying law and order is a state subject. The matter thus comes back to square one. Whatever may be, in a democracy perception becomes the operative truth. The operative truth here is, “The govt. just gives away people’s lives to naxals/Maoists. What’s the point in having this huge army if it can’t even protect people against a group of brutal fanatics?”

Comes next, the ‘Death at Dawn’ the Mangalore air crash. All the 158 occupants on board were killed. The civil aviation minister offers to resign as a matter of routine and the Prime Minister refuses to accept it ‘as a matter of routine’, or should I say Air Mishaps are a matter of routine now.

Follows closely on the heels the Jhargam train disaster in West Bengal killing hundreds of passengers and injuring and maiming many. A C.B.I. inquiry puts a cap on the matter.

In Pakistan four million people may be under the Taliban’s, in our country out of 640 districts, 120 districts are officially stated to be Naxals dominated where over large areas there writ runs. Thus we have far many million people who are living at the mercy of these insurgents.

M.J Akbar further says, “The divine right of kings is dead, it has been reborn as the secular right of an elected parliament”. In our nation the Prime Minister sits in Lok Sabha without voting rights for the seventh year running. He even complains about empty chairs at cabinet meetings. This is not because his ministers are more usefully busy elsewhere. They simply do not care. Would they have been absent from a Sonia Gandhi Cabinet meeting? Indian Politics reduced to notional ideology and devoid of accountability is suited to coalitions. If there were accountability, the D.M.K’s A. Raja would not remain in Man Mohan’s cabinet. The D.M.K’s other minister Alagiri remained missing during the budget session of parliament, government having no clue about him. Later it was transpired that he was sojourning abroad. But he still remains in the cabinet.

This is also due to an erosion of the P M’s authority. Major decisions are no longer in the domain of the PMO. They are taken by the UPA chairperson—cum-head of the national advisory council. The PMO remains a notifying agency. A captive PM then adopts a please-all-offend none policy. Compromise is a virtue in interpersonal relations. If it becomes the guiding principle of governance it may lead to disaster. The world renowned weekly ‘The Economist’s’ cannot thus be faulted when it writes, “Manmohan is the prime minister. He has no power.” Even while making its choice of Congress just before the 2009 general elections referred to him as a night watchman at the batting crease.

The Prime Minister has shown a penchant for giving extensions to bureaucrats without caring for the demoralization it causes down the line. Just after taking over as PM in May, 2004 he replaced then cabinet secretary Kamal Pandey with B.K Chaturvedi who had nearly sixty days to retire. He was given several extensions. M .K. Narayanan, NSA was given repeated extensions, and present cabinet secretary is also on two years extension. It appears that the Prime Minister has a propensity for pliable officers to form his think-tank. This is in sharp contrast to the mother-in-law of his mentor who let retire six secretaries to the government of India on the same date including L.P. Singh and L.K Jha who were her brain trusts. She did not give extensions to anyone and thus kept the bureaucratic slate neat, clean and non-controversial.

At the end of the day, one must be fair to Manmohan Singh ji .He has raised to such heights from the grass roots through sheer dint of merit. After Europe’s capitalist revolution, Napoleon came along. To institutionalize socialism in Russia, Lenin Appeared. In India to institutionalize liberalization, Manmohan appeared. His shining hour came in Narsimha Rao’s Cabinet when he introduced bold economic reforms. But this Oxford Blue reached his ceiling then too. Thus far and no far, repeat no far please. The top job is not a badge of honour but a negotiable instrument to balance the arithmetic of politics in the quest for power. The erudite professor is not cut out for that.

To conclude, a nominated prime minister ruling through a coterie of overage bureaucrats thus blocking the pipeline for emergence of fresh ideas and better strategies, health care and civic facilities in shambles, environmental degradation, failure to even detoxify the gas disaster site posing a threat to those living in the vicinity, rising crime rates, criminal justice system on the verge of collapse, corruption ruling the roost, govt. raising hands in the face of left-wing insurgency, politician-bureaucrat-criminal nexus running a parallel economy, people’s anger high on the Richter Scale as cost of living is getting exorbitant by the day, what is the ‘delivery-quotient’ of the Indian State?

A little self Introspection should provide an answer. Forget Pakistan and Taliban.

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