Still slaves, even after ‘Independence’

Still slaves, even after ‘Independence’

By M.D. Nalapat | 12 June, 2011
Police officers beat a man during a protest in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra on 19 April: ‘If the notables close to Dus Number visit a police chowki in rural India or a government office in the exurbs as ordinary citizens, they will soon come to understand the

Amartya Sen, Sunil Khilnani and the other notables close to Dus Number may not notice this, but India is hardly a democracy for the 99%-plus of the population sans access to money and its Siamese twin, power.

Although the Congress party claimed to be opposed to the British Raj, they have retained each and every one of the accoutrements of the colonial authority, including the laws and the administrative structure. Not coincidentally, such an institutional framework sucks away rights and authority from citizens and places them in the hands of the — admittedly elected — political executive. Hopefully, some day Sen and Khilnani will wander away from the air-conditioned environs of British-built Delhi and visit a police chowki in rural India or a government office in the exurbs, not as favourites of Dus Number, but as ordinary citizens. If they escape arrest or worse, they will soon come to understand the reality of democracy, Nehru-style.

During the Raj, any Indian needed the permission of the white masters to undertake most activities. Any that was seen as detrimental to the interests of the few hundred thousand British in India and their fellows at home was banned. Has anything changed since then? Circa 2011, the permission of one agency of the government or the other is mandatory for any activity, including those regarded as routine in genuine democracies. The home ministry and the HRD ministry, in particular, have worked in tandem to snuff out independence and initiative in thinking in our institutions of learning. If Jairam Ramesh is correct that the IITs and the IIMs are not of the standard that he is used to in his peregrinations abroad, the reason lies in his own government which has tasked a 76-year-old (Professor Yash Pal) to come up with a roadmap for a 21st century education system. Hopefully, the good professor will suggest policies that are internationally in sync with the values and needs of the 1960s, rather than the 1930s.

Several hundred thousand officials in India have — individually — the power to take away liberty and assets of a citizen. Many of them exercise such discretion in a manner that is designed to quicken the flow of funds to unnamed accounts in tax havens. It is characteristic of Dus Number that it got set up a committee to examine how black money could be eliminated, that was staffed entirely by exactly the same team that has presided over the biggest accumulation of black money in the nation's history. Naturally, these worthies would like even more extreme punishments to those they finger as wrongdoers (for a consideration of course, or the lack of it). They know that each turn of the thumbnail screw will increase the bribes that need to be paid to them and to their political seniors to escape torture. A Baba Ramdev and an Anna Hazare, with their prattle about death sentences, suit their purposes perfectly.

We have a Reserve Bank of India that cannot get beyond undergraduate textbooks in economics, and which ignores the fact that the single biggest cause of inflation in India is corruption; a defect that no increase in interest rates will touch. The RBI has allowed the same US and European financial entities responsible for cheating investors of more than $4 trillion to set up shop in India and fleece unwary investors. Today, India has become as much a haven for commodity speculators as is the US and the UK, including in foodgrains. Instead of seeking to bring such elements to book as international criminals, Dus Number gives them access to the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister.

Dropcap OnJust as the authoritarianism of the 1970s led to the 1977 reaction against Indira Gandhi, the reversal of the — far too slow and incomplete — liberalisation of 1992-2004 by the UPA has created a public backlash against the state and its instruments. The people of India are even more circumscribed by the state as they were pre-1947. The ersatz democracy created by politicians unwilling to shed colonial-era powers needs to get replaced by a structure of administrative governance that returns to the people the rights they would enjoy in a democracy. There is a contradiction between the Constitution of India and the colonial-era criminal and civil procedure code and between the rights given to the people under the Constitution and the British-era administrative structure of Nehruvian India. That the people of the country are finally realising that they are still slaves is the only harbinger of hope.


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