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Home > News > Columnists > C Uday Bhaskar

Gandhi Jayanti calls for multiple levels of introspection

October 01, 2007

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This year, Gandhi Jayanti comes against the backdrop of the 60th anniversary of Indian independence and the growing gap between what Bapu stood for and the current orientation of the Indian state and society at large make for unsavory reflections.

The last time such juxtaposition took place was in 1997 and at the time India was justifiably celebrating its 50th anniversary -- having managed multiple challenges that included a complex political transition (PV Narasimha Rao as prime minister), a fiscal   crisis when the nation faced the ignominy of moving its bullion to establish its credibility and the (Babri) Masjid-Mandal turbulence.

In the intervening decade, two unrelated markers may be identified for illustrating the mismatch between what Gandhiji stood for and the more recent Indian experience. The first is the 2002 Godhra-related Gujarat carnage and the second is the less flattering 2007 corruption index accorded to India by Transparency International. India is ranked at 72 and is deemed to be just above the benchmark for "rampant" corruption. Regrettably the world's largest democracy is largely corrupt.

Bapu is identified with many values and principles which he practiced with great conviction but at the core were his belief in non-violence (ahimsa), truth, honesty and rectitude in personal and institutional conduct.

Notwithstanding the robust GDP growth rates and the empirical reality that some parts of India are shining while Bharat lags behind and that the latter is also getting empowered by the mobile phone as a symbol of modernity and globalisation, the overall national balance sheet apropos Gandhian values and the Indian trajectory is cause for deep
introspection and anguish.

The 2002 Gujarat carnage will remain the proverbial Lady Macbeth stain on the collective Indian palm and five years after this dastardly incident, the hapless victims are yet to receive meaningful justice and the perpetrators are free -- and likely to use this card at the next election -- alas with the certitude that they will succeed. The complicity of the
Indian state in nurturing and supporting the worst kind of communalism at the time and the venality of its conduct are a far remove from Bapu's vision. The catharsis, regrettably, has not even begun and the incident has been swept under the equivalent of the Rumsfeld quip that 'stuff happens'.

Equitable justice in an independent India -- a Gandhian objective -- remains a mirage and the courts are clogged with pending cases that go back to three and four decades! At last count, the total number of cases pending before courts in India totaled 2,59,00,000  (2.59 crores)  of which the apex court accounted for 43,000 and the high courts had 98,00,000 (98 lakhs) pending with the rest floundering in the lower courts. And the degree of corruption and bribery that is rampant in the system makes a mockery of the centrality of the rule of law in a normative democracy. More recently the stand-off between the judiciary and the media over 'contempt' vis-�-vis a former chief justice of the Supreme Court and the tenet of freedom of speech reveals the brittleness inherent in the system and its inexorable drift from the Gandhian dictum of institutional rectitude and transparency in public life.

Wiping the tears of the most oppressed in society and giving them succor remains central to the Gandhian vision and the mismatch between rhetoric and reality in the current Indian context is glaring. The Sachar Report draws attention only to the Muslim community but much the same could be said of many minority constituencies such as the  tribals and other disenfranchised groups scattered in rural and urban India. It is not the asymmetry in affluence and opportunity inherent to a large one billion demography that is cause for despair -- but the sense of sheer individual helplessness.

The Indian systemic has become so distorted and manipulative -- aptly captured in celluloid -- that commitment to Gandhian values is considered to be a sure path to failure by young India. Thus corruption is rationalised at every level and the cynical quip now is that if Rajiv Gandhi as an earnest young prime minister in 1985 bemoaned the fact that only 15 paisa of every rupee allocated by the state was actually utilised for the given purpose, the figure has slid down now to five paisa! 

On current evidence and the transgressions associated with the political establishment, it is more likely that India will slide further down the index of global corruption. An increasingly predatory state apparatus where even chief ministers, chief secretaries and DGs of police have led the charge in (mis)using their high office for personal gain makes mockery of the Gandhian concept of a 'public servant'. Servility and sycophancy towards those ranged above in any pecking order and unconcealed superiority laced with rank surliness for those below is the order in the contemporary Indian state polity. However there appears to be a nascent glimpse of hope. 

Like, for instance, the India Rejuvenation Initiative. Many like-minded Indians who were once part of the state systemic -- and perhaps its victims -- have joined hands to stem the rot. The IRI headed by former chief justice RC Lahoti which also has former chief election commissioner JM Lyngdoh and former comptroller and auditor-general VK Shunglu among other eminent members is a public crusade to cleanse the system of corruption. How successful it will be remains moot and one hopes that it will not be thwarted.

Gandhi Jayanti calls for multiple levels of introspection -- however unsavory the findings -- about the mismatch between the rhetoric that accompanies October 2 and the reality that is India.

The writer is a former head of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.

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