Has anything changed? The reason we ask should be clear once you read what President Sanjiva Reddy had said in his address to the nation on the eve of the Republic Day in 1978: “…while everyone is entitled to freedom of expression in appropriate forums, no one should be permitted to drag each and every issue to the street, excite dormant passions, advocate disrespect for law and order and incite violence… A policy of unprovoked confrontation backed by provocative action on the slightest pretext is a challenge we as citizens of a free country need to face with determination… Let not a few misguided and disgruntled sections of society imagine that they can hold the rest of us law abiding citizens to ransom…”
A good 40 years later, were President Ram Nath Kovind, instead of Sanjiva Reddy, to address the nation on this R-Day with the same words, we bet, it would have gone unnoticed. Because the thrust of Kovind’s address this Republic Day was no different. For, the continent-sized country is still beset with some of the same problems of unregulated protests, endemic violence, displays of visceral hatreds and prejudices, an unconcern for fellow citizens’ rights, sheer partisan politics uninformed by national interest, and above all, economic inequalities and iniquities.
The contexts and situations might have altered, the socio-economic canvas we operate on might have expanded enormously, the technological advances might have lent a sharper edge to what we do—or don’t do—and helped magnify smaller incidents into huge events, and relay in real time these to national audiences than was possible four decades ago. Yet the human nature being a constant, the lack of a firm authority willing to crack the whip and discipline the lawless and the wayward was a problem then, as it is now. Hunger for power was a driving force for the rulers and the opposition then, as it is now. Hence, the long rope given to the thugs of the so-called Karni Sena, who target a bus of school children. Or the instigation the ruling party in Karnataka, facing a tough election ahead, provides for a needless bandh.
The point is that nation-building is a painfully slow process. And, contrary to the popular belief that it is the task of politicians alone to assemble the bricks and mortar to build a republican order for all of 1.25 billion people to take shelter under, each one of us has to contribute to that task for us to be able to co-exist peacefully and to try and attain a decent standard of living. If we, all of us, looked ourselves in the mirror, we will find that no one is blameless, no one is innocent. We, in some way or other, are as responsible for the current state of the nation, though it is wrong to think that we were in a better state yesterday or the day before. Every generation has had its problems, some more so than the others.
Yet, there is no need to despair. In some ways, India is doing much better than it had in the previous decades. For instance, a growth rate of near 7% overall in recent years was unheard of all through the Nehru-Indira decades, which only clocked what was derisively called the Hindu rate of growth of about 3%-3.5%. Notwithstanding the strident noises from the Dalits and the Muslims and other such groups, they are freer today, far more assertive for their constitutional rights to economic and social equalities, than at any time in the Nehru-Indira decades, when they felt obliged to stay meekly tied to the little fingers of the very village tormentors who heaped daily humiliations on them. Now, they seek equality, a fair share in power in the national cake, something unheard of in the early decades after Independence, when the token presence of a Jagjivan Ram in the Central government was meant to act as an emollient to keep the traditionally suppressed classes fully suppressed.
So, let us not delude ourselves. Despite the egregious behaviour of the so-called Karni Sena, despite the pettiness of the leaders of the ruling and the Opposition parties in failing to observe minimum courtesies in political discourse, we have moved miles ahead from where we were in the so-called golden era of Samajwad. And we are headed in the right direction. Regardless of what your view on the social and cultural thrusts of the party in power—and this columnist has strong reservations on the dirty doings of the fringe claiming proximity to the rulers—Prime Minister Narendra Modi has in under four years already done a lot to fix the plumbing, as it were, to enable the system to deliver good governance. Increasing digitalisation of the government overall has been a boon for the citizens.
Yes, there is a lot that is wrong with the system. But before you say the crisis in the apex court, remember for nearly four decades after Independence, both the Election Commission and the higher judiciary were virtual appendages—yes, appendages—of the ruling party. The judges of the highest court in the land holding a press conference to gripe against the Chief Justice might have shocked us, but do not forget that playing durbari in Indira Gandhi’s court was considered an honour by none other than the honourable judges of the highest court in the land. Therefore, let us stop this reflexive glorification of the founders of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, which cumulatively inflicted far more harm than good on the country.
Meanwhile, at least for one week in a year, do feel grateful for the progress we have made. The other 51 weeks you can mope about all that is wrong with the country—and blame the politicians rather than concede that at some level the fault may indeed lie with us citizens as well. Yes, we still have a long way to go to attain full economic and social freedoms. But we are headed that way. We have no doubt about that. Hopefully, when we finally become a developed and prosperous nation with a high per capita income, at least we will feel no need to appoint a Minister for Loneliness, as they did in the UK recently.
The move to impeach the Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra seems to be a non-starter. Yet, it barely conceals the ambitions of a perennially recalcitrant judge, who has a direct line of communication to a politician from his home state and whom he encouraged to float the trial balloon a few days ago. We need say no more to save the good judge further blushes.
VOTES COME FIRST FOR ORG
The Office of Rahul Gandhi tweets, but in vague terms about violence in the country, criticising Modi for not containing it. But why cannot ORG bring itself up to name and shame the Karni Sena, which has caused so much mayhem, not even sparing schoolchildren from the madness? Simple. Two crucial byelections to the Lok Sabha from the heartland of Rajput politics are underway in Alwar and Ajmer in Rajasthan, that is why. Clearly, ORG—we stick to that acronym since we don’t know the identity of the person(s) tweeting under that rubric—is keen to stay on the right side of the Karni Sena as is the BJP.
O TEMPORA O MORES!
Heard in the Central Hall of Parliament: “These days ministers fight over lucrative portfolios, lawyers over rich clients, doctors over prosperous patients, so what is wrong if judges fight over important cases?” Yes, indeed.