When power outstrips ability

When power outstrips ability

By M.J. Akbar | 21 August, 2011
People take part in a rally to support social activist Anna Hazare, in Mumbai on Friday. PTI

 The eloquence of Jawaharlal Nehru at the approach of the midnight hour of 15 August 1947 was so magnificent that it has overwhelmed the contributions of other great Indians to that memorable evening, a landmark in the history of democracy and its institutions. Sixty-four years later, let us also hear the member from United Provinces, the philosopher-academician and later President, Dr Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan. He rejoiced in this wondrous achievement but cautioned about dangers ahead.

He demolished the culture of blame, the favourite alibi of Indians. "Others," he said, meaning the British, "were able to play on our weakness because we had them." The weaknesses that lay ahead were equally dangerous: "When power outstrips ability, we will fall on evil days." If this precept alone were made part of the oath of office, it might have a salutary effect — on those capable of understanding it. Dr Radhakrishnan warned that a venal ruling class might turn a dream into a nightmare: "Unless we destroy corruption in high places, root out every trace of nepotism, love of power, profiteering and black-marketing which have spoiled the good name of this great country..." Corruption and nepotism have become the bookends of Indian governance.

Anger is concentrating against the triumvirate of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh, although Mrs Gandhi is abroad for medical reasons, Rahul Gandhi is visible only at judicious moments and Dr Singh uses silence as tactical weapon.

The genius of democracy lies in its ability to offer renewal at a time of despond. That is what Anna Hazare, unknown yesterday and unforgettable today, has promised the children who will shape India's tomorrow. When a ruling party descends to abuse against a simple man and the rhapsodic popular movement he has inspired, then it has sunk to an irrational nadir.

Anger is concentrating against the triumvirate of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh, although Mrs Gandhi is abroad for medical reasons, Rahul Gandhi is visible only at judicious moments and Dr Singh uses silence as tactical weapon.

Piloo Mody, thou shouldst be living at this hour! Or, at the very least, we should be able to recall this wonderful Parliamentarian of the 1970s, the last time we had nationwide rage against a government whose power had outstripped its ability. It is a cliché to call someone larger than life; and the phrase is not merely physical. Piloo had a boom that echoed incessantly through the corridors of power, and a wit that reduced any ivory tower to a bamboo hut. These days a Congress spokesman like Rashid Alvi seems a bit reluctant to use "CIA", but in the 1970s CIA was the public apotheosis of evil. Anyone who dared to question the majesty of Congress was immediately driven into that seventh circle of hell. That is where the Alvis of 1974 banished as fine a patriot as Jaya Prakash Narayan, leader of the people at another high point of anger. When CIA was considered insufficient condemnation, they added the "RSS" tag, as if that became condemnation beyond redemption.

Dropcap OnNothing terrorises an autocratic government more than laughter. Piloo Mody knew how to laugh. One day, he came to the Lok Sabha wearing a large badge that said, "I am a CIA agent". The government never recovered. Since there is no Piloo Mody around now, the children manning Anna's barricades have made laughter their primary weapon. If the government is not worried by Anna Hazare, it should be seriously apprehensive about the sarcastic, pointed and sometimes hilarious slogans bursting around him. The icons of the Congress might believe that they can distance themselves from the tirades of their silly spokesmen. That is an illusion. People know that a spokesperson is a puppet.

Anger is concentrating against the triumvirate of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh, although Mrs Gandhi is abroad for medical reasons, Rahul Gandhi is visible only at judicious moments and Dr Singh uses silence as tactical weapon. Anna Hazare has become a symbol in exactly the manner Jaya Prakash was in 1974. The specifics of his demands are less important than the fact that he is making them.

The Big Three mobilised against Anna, Lion Chidambaram and Tigers Kapil Sibal and Salman Khurshid, opened their offensive with a send-him-to-jail roar that shook every television station and made the more compliant ones tremble with excitement. Within 24 hours the three resembled Alice in Wonderland's Cheshire cat, whose broad fixed grin vanished in stages. A more competent government would have accepted Anna's initial demand, placed his draft for a Lokpal bill in Parliament, and let the long process of legislation take over. This would have also expanded ownership of the official response to all political parties, instead of making it a largely Congress enterprise. But the Big Three decided to be potent, making their current impotence even more abject. If public anger is now focused on Congress, the party has only itself to blame.

There is one slogan eerily reminiscent of JP's movement in 1974: "Yeh andar ki baat hai, police hamare saath hai [The inside story is that the police are with us]". Forty years ago, this was condemned as treason. The world has moved on from such plastic prescriptions. This is not about CIA or RSS. Corruption is neither a foreign agent nor a partisan force. It is an evil that the prescient Dr Radhakrishnan foresaw on 15 August 1947. 

 

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