Have political incapacity and corruption reached a point of no return in India? Can we never salvage lost pride and trust in the political class? Or is an entire class of people and a whole system of governance being crucified for the wrongs of a few?
An edited version of this article was published in Vidura—a journal of the Press Institute of India in January 2014.
“…The stars move still, time runs,
the clock will strike The devil will come
and Faustus must be damned…”
This feeling of inevitability that Christopher Marlow portrayed in his masterpiece, Dr. Faustus, some 400 years ago, seems to be now engulfing India. Dr. Faustus knew that Lucifer and Mephistopheles would claim his soul shortly; so do we today fear that corruption and political incapacity will dilute the very fundamentals of Indian democracy and consign it to oblivion in the years to come.
How far is this futuristic projection justified today? Have we really reached such a point of no return that we see ourselves no more in a position to salvage lost pride and trust in the political class? Is this just a wishful speculation or are the cards really in favour of it?
Kautilya in Arthashashtra commented on society then as:
Just as it is impossible not to taste the honey or poison that finds itself on the tip of the tongue, so it is impossible for a government servant not to eat at least a bit of the king’s revenue.
The line gives us an idea that the devil of corruption is not something that our society has recently manufactured. It was very much prevalent throughout history. This parting kiss from our ancestors to us (to which we have immensely contributed) has today drenched us deep in a quagmire of utter disdain.
There is no denying the fact that the events involving corruption that we have witnessed in recent times are leaping ahead (in terms of both the money involved and the content) of those that we hitherto saw in our entire independent history. In a situation like this, wherein the image of the nation and the society at large is being coloured by a seemingly never-ending train of scams on the one hand, and the enthusiastic and exuberant anti-graft crusade by Anna Hazare and others on the other, inevitably raises the question whether democracy and rule of law is alive in India.
It is indeed sad to see that khadi and khaki (common dress of the politicians and the police respectively) today have become the hallmarks of all malicious activities. Seeing a politician or a policemen should ideally give us a sense of pride, a sense of security and a sense of belonging in us. However, the irony is that, on most occasions seeing them today, we feel more insecure, ashamed and powerless.
In recent times, many of us have been denouncing the government, the system and the politicians in particular, for their apparent incapacity. We have at times even tagged them as low as- “sab chor hain” (all are thieves). But is it fair to crucify the entire class for the wrongs of a few? I do not wish to be a political propagandist nor am I interested in blunting these catastrophic scams and scandals. What I intend to highlight is that only a handful of our ruling class wears tainted apparel. It is not that every politician and every public servant is corrupt and an enemy of the people. The irony is that in the present scenario the malicious acts done by the handful are tantamount to the ones, God forbid, that the entire class in unison could have perhaps committed. In such a political scenario, let us restrain ourselves from denouncing the Indian democracy itself.
I am not a stonehearted zombie who is unmoved by the pinch and punch that the recent developments across the national spectrum has dealt us. I too, like all, am disgusted by this splashy chronology. Yes, some demagogues have definitely entered our political system. Yes, a trace of muscle power has percolated and is perforating our system. But should these be reasons enough for us to believe that we are somewhat a failed state? That our political system and our society are incapable of solving these issues? That the very form of government, which happened to be the inspiring and motivating factor for many revolutions the world over, now, appears a cacophony?
I find it very strange that whenever something goes wrong in our country we headlong run to compare ourselves with other democracies of the world, be it the US or Great Britain. I fail to understand the rationale behind this comparison. In fact, at times, it does appear quite bizarre to me. How can you compare a country that has been democratic just for 65 years to the one that has been so for well over two centuries? Yes, this is not an excuse enough to defend these malicious scams but for a fair comparison we need to have level playing fields, don’t we? Ours is a young democracy, which is still on its early learning curve; let us not make it an expedient one.
Sixty-four years may sound quite a long duration in a person’s lifetime, but the fact is that it is nothing more than a microscopic fraction of a second in the dial of history. The situation that we find ourselves today in, have been faced by all the older democracies that we often talk about. Dig into history and you will find that UK, USA and other were drenched in the river of corruption for a fairly significant period after them being a democracy. They may not appear scandalous in present times but they were relatively of the same magnitude as the ones we see today in that era and that society. I see these events as the price that the country is paying for a better and vibrant future in the days to come. No life is without a spark or two. Isn’t it?
Lord Acton once said- “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I think we need to give some more time to ourselves to be acquainted with power. Power is a multifarious toy that, if handled with care and caution, can do wonders to democracy and humankind; but can be catastrophic, too, if mishandled. Only time and intent can alone make us friends with this toy. Forcible obligations, have never and shall never, result in anything that humankind can cherish and feel proud of.
The bitter and well-accepted fact is that the elements of negativity surge faster than positive forces in society. This portrays a picture wherein every single wrong appears magnified and gigantic to us. We get the illusion that everything is wrong, when it actually is not.
The need of the hour is not to be swamped in hysterical commotion, but to ponder and retrospect on where we have gone wrong. Where are we heading? This is not something that our founding fathers intended for us. This is not what our exuberant culture and religions teach us. Then why, and more importantly, how, have we landed ourselves in this apparently inescapable quagmire?
The Indian democracy definitely is alive. And kicking…? I am not sure, but it certainly is jogging. While any criticism, or idea for that matter, which helps in nation-building, should be welcomed with open arms for debate and discussions, it is simultaneously imperative that in this process we do not create an environment where people start loving to hate Indian democracy and its principles. The Indian democracy definitely has many loopholes; it definitely is fallible; but by no stretch of imagination can it be considered an outcast. It may appear dormant at present, but definitely it is not a carcass.
A friend of mine eloquently sums up the position in this fashion:
Democracy is like an old mother who takes all her children together; who loves to give all her children equally with no inconsistency. But children, they sometime get corrupt, inefficient and unruly too. But then can the mother be blamed completely for it? Similarly, the fundamental structure of democracy cannot be questioned entirely. But yes, being in a democratic country we can question the people running the democratic government.
And that we must unquestionably continue to do so.
- An edited version of this article was published in Vidura—a journal of the Press Institute of India in January 2014.