I am disgusted enough not to celebrate the Independence Day. Call this a rant, but that is all a citizen is left with. My promised tryst with my destiny has been elusive. It does not even seem to be round the far corner, says Mahesh Vijapurkar.
When India celebrates -- no other word would be politically mot juste expression here than 'celebrates'-- Independence Day, I am a grieving Indian whose dreams are evaporating even before they have had a chance to materialise. To millions, it is now just a ritual, even bereft of meaning. They may not speak out because they don't have a column; I have so shall be their self-appointed spokesperson.
Any words that are spoken from the ramparts of the Red Fort would carry little conviction this time as has been the case these past few decades. They are full of assurances but devoid of promise that what the prime minister sets out there would be done in full measure. It is pomp; it is pageantry but has no substance to me anymore, just another date on the calendar to be flipped after the show.
Their independence has been denied them. They have become prisoners of a political class which have subverted the institutions and formed unbreakable fortresses of greed and power, taking into their ambit a subservient -- mostly, with a few exceptions -- bureaucracy. A citizen has to suffer a system which holds back his rights which are his only because knows someone or can offer a bribe for even legitimate work.
Both the ruling elite and their head in the government as well as the entire lot of opposition are so effete now that it is as good as their not being there. A prime minister, one thought, can and should call upon a person capable of contributing to the government's better functioning, to join his team. Instead we have him bleating that if a young man of no visible attainments if joins the cabinet, he 'would welcome' him.
A non-governing government is ready to fall in shambles, stuck together by the band aid of majority, and an opposition which can replace it is nowhere in sight. It too has become effete, has no leadership, or a clearly laid out alternative programme other than government's follies. It is so weakened that to gain mileage, it had to get onto a yoga guru's bandwagon.
A civil society campaign which tried to fight the hegemony of the political class had to abandon its campaign against corruption; the politicians played games to deny the country a truly workable and credible anti-corruption mechanism. The method was to defame the campaigners forgetting that as politicians, they are stigmatised by corruption. They want the system to continue, the self before the country, wealth ignoring their responsibilities.
I feel marginalised and threatened. I fear that our republic shall not remain democratic for long. Institutions in form have and perhaps shall even endure but only in form, not content. They are already becoming shells. The gram panchayats, the legislatures or the parliament, the media, the bureaucracy are ill-serving the people but not those manning or owning those institutions. Bribery in judiciary, long whispered, is not uncommon. Hope withers easily in these circumstances.
Even as Baba Ramdev's peaceful but thwarted march against corruption unfolded in real time on news television, a phone call from a friend stranded in a district registrar's office narrated how a document, which was perfectly legal, would not be registered because the clerk decided it was not. The intent: carve out a higher pound of flesh. He wanted a hefty bribe.
What price the campaign against corruption? These worthies at the cutting edge of the government know that an anti-corruption law was impossible to enforce given the size of the malaise so they were not even running a risk of being caught. They, like this person in the registry, have started evolving newer ways of earning extra than their wages, which given the level of efficiencies they operate, is anyhow being overpaid. Anna Hazare, Ramdev and the thundering speeches in Parliament has not scared them.
These are no more the days of which Rajiv Gandhi talked about. Decades ago, he said only 16 paise of a rupee meant for the poor reached them because of the rent-seekers. These days, the people are told that they would be entitled not to that one rupee but several and yet reach perhaps only 16 paise. Over-bidding, under-execution of projects is rampant, and citizens who cannot afford to pool enough money to buy a fortnight's rations are asked to but for six months at a time to avoid leakages countenanced by government.
It is no more the greasing of palms -- the old terminology was baksheesh which paid as a courtesy, a token sum for satisfaction -- but bribes which are almost a share in an illegal deal or even in a legal deal. Ask a builder -- no saints at all -- and they would tell you how for getting normal clearances, the politico-bureaucratic mafia asks for a share in profits. These jack the end prices for consumers but how does it matter when the idea is to fatten one's own purses?
The annoying corruption is not the only issue for the long-suffering citizens. These days, simply because a chief minister labels a person who asked her a question as being a Maoist, he is arrested and the court denies him a bail. An honest but poor citizen who dared speak up is now paying a price. If Bodos who are overwhelmed by surges of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh ask for justice, the illegals are not seen as aliens from across the border but Muslims. Religion matters more than sovereignty.
You name an area and it is in shambles. Government and civic schools are emptying out because they teach nothing, are abysmal which the poor have realised is a hurdle in their own growth; they don't want to remain at the pitiable survival with a purchasing power half of the price of cup of coffee in a chain of cafes. Hospitals are being avoided because the private ones give the impression that they have better cures but at a price -- overbilling, prices of even pathology tests bloating because of kickbacks in the profession.
You peep into any corner and there is a demon ready to swallow you, not, what politicians tell us as mere ghosts in the shadows. And this country, over the years, has not produced a citizenry which, bar a few instances -- uprooting of Indira Gandhi because of her Emergency, unseating of Rajiv Gandhi on the corruption platform -- seems so insular, so fatalist. It is so inured that only whimpers emerge when outrage should manifest into a dramatic political change. It has become aloof to extent the feeling that he does not belong has begun to strengthen.
I have a vote, but do I have a credible alternative to assure me that the country shall not tread the same path as it has in the past three-four decades? I don't think I do. Therefore, I am disgusted enough not to celebrate the Independence Day. Call this a rant, but that is all a citizen is left with. My promised tryst with my destiny has been elusive. It does not even seem to be round the far corner.
Mahesh Vijapurkar is a Thane-based commentator who plugs the common man's line.