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Home > India > News > Columnists > Dr Shashi K Pande

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Everyone is a suspected Judas

July 21, 2008

When we were a captive nation, a brilliant but bigoted British Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, in a convocation address at the Calcutta University in 1905, all but declared Indians to be untruthful, truth being, he declaimed, a prerogative of the West and honesty a gift of the Western civilisation!

Of course, he got into a lot of trouble for his brazenness in announcing this verdict on a people whose majority happened to believe that 'Truth is God' -- even as his tactless remarks did contain a crumb of truth. Perhaps, even a loaf.

The Indian press was all agog to attack, and attack it did. But with the irony and the pathos of a cobra that raises its defanged head and sways menacingly at the annoying 'been' of his exploiting captor. The falsehoods uttered by the Imperial Viceroy were soon unearthed and laid at his feet. As to honesty being a gift of the Western civilisation, this stupefying claim needed almost no comment: The very land the Imperial Viceroy was standing on as he spoke -- or misspoke -- was a squatted land.

This was then.

Notwithstanding Curzon's astringent comments, we were once as a people, in sum, rather naive, nontoxic sort, with homespun values. In politics, we played relatively a clean game.

India, a subject nation then, was anxious perhaps to prove its good behaviour and credentials to its masters and to the world, eager to acquire Independence -- to be set free. It nobly advanced in politics the principles of Truth and Nonviolence.

It brought forth, in the independence struggle, geniuses and moral stalwarts the likes of who the cynical and pragmatic world of the West had not been accustomed to see: Gandhi, Nehru, Tagore, Aurobindo, Vivekanand, Azad. They ignited collective ego-idealism in the country. Even the Opposition, unreasonable and recalcitrant though it was, played it generally straight: Could a Jinnah or Liaquat Ali be bribed? Not even Bengal's foxy Suhrawardy!

And now!

We are a sovereign nation. But of what kind and quality?

Curzon, for all his faults, loved India, was obsessed by it even after having been unfairly recalled by his home government over an imbroglio with India's commander-in-chief. His ghost, metaphorically at least, still hovers over India and cannot but be unhappy about the hash we have made of his country's system of parliamentary democracy which we, calamitously and foolhardily, adopted -- not taking into account our national character. "I told you so," the ghost bewails.

Nothing has demonstrated more baldly our ultimate skill in perverting the aims of parliamentary democracy than the ongoing political drama around the Trust Vote. The scene is ugly. 'Stung by appetite, goaded by desire,' in the immortal words of Arthur Schopenhauer -- and contrary to his Upanishad-derived injunctions -- our parliamentarians seem to be leading the country into 'pain unceasing.'

Chasing after power -- some demanding a chief ministership, some a ministerial berth, some a place in the sun for a son, the more modest ones satisfied with just the job of a CBI director or of the secretary in the petroleum ministry, one cry baby being offered the naming of an airport as a pacifier -- we show our inexhaustible appetite for the ultimate aphrodisiac that power is said to be.

Or we lust imperatively for plain cash -- the going price for a 'Trust Vote' (some trust!) is said to be Rs 25 crores, although some are said to have been offered 100 crores to, of all things, abstain from voting.

With MPs bargaining like Shylock for their pet projects -- creation of a Union territory here or an autonomous area there -- and with defections and desertions, the prime minister is besieged. His Sunday dinner had more the look of The Last Supper with this difference: Everyone is a suspected Judas.

The irony is that the desire to profit from the political turmoil has reached such a fevered pitch of intensity that the debate on the merits of the India-US nuclear treaty has taken the backmost seat in the debate.

So frequently has the phrase 'criminalisation of politics' in India been used that it is beginning to lose its national pathos. Current events have, however, deepened this wound. At some point, it becomes unreal to witness the crookedness that India's kinky capital currently provides. It places an unforgivable kalank on the body politic of post-Independence India and its way of governance. In fact, on all of us: For is it not rightly said that a people deserve the government they get?

Dr Shashi K Pande was a full-time associate professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University in USA.


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