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January 28, 1998


'We have learnt to justify corruption, which is the worst thing that can happen to a country'

Sivasankari, writer, Madras

Sivasankari All the Indians in my family were staunch followers of Gandhi. It may surprise you, but we used to hoist the national flag on Independence day; we used to celebrate it like a festival. I have been taught to be very proud of my country.

But, as I grew up, I was disturbed by what was happening in our society. Somehow, the whole system has gone wrong. We have a population problem, we have poverty and we are not giving enough stress on education. Yet, we still have a strong positive side. How many countries in the world can boast of a similar cultural and spiritual heritage?

I was thrilled when I voted for the first time. I felt I was participating in a very important event. Throughout my life, I have never avoided voting. Strangely, I was not a supporter of the Congress then. In 1967, I voted for the DMK because they talked very powerfully. Youngsters really got carried away. But the elders continued their support to the Congress. Even today, my mother will vote only for the Congress.

The impression that the South was being sidelined by the North was very much on our minds then. Domination by the North irritated me and, even though I tried to be analytical, the feeling persisted. That was the reason why we youngsters supported the DMK.

Today, we feel G K Moopanar is the real Congress. We will vote for him. If he puts up a candidate against the BJP, I will not vote for the BJP. Otherwise, I may.

In the last 10 years, I have become more aware of Indian politics. That was one of the reasons why we started AGNI (Awakened Group for National Integration). We feel the betterment of the country and society can be achieved only if the individual is awakened properly, in the right perspective.

We feel children should have good role models. In the last 20 years, role models in all walks of life -- be it in politics, homes, religious institutions or schools -- are losing their quality.

In 1989, we at AGNI toured many places, sent letters to people asking them to join us in eliminating corruption. At that time, the middle class had become weary of elections and politics. So they avoided the polls.

We told them to give up their indifference. They should cast their vote for the right person because those people, in turn, form the government and decide the policies which will have an impact on the future of our children. We told them not to avoid voting. This is how we participated in the 1989 election.

Till the last moment of my life, I would like to remain an optimist. I have not lost hope in politicians. But I am angry with many of them. Most politicians are after power. Even if they are wrong, their ego will not let them admit it. That is why we need statesmen, and not politicians, to rule this country.

Today, politics has become another money-making profession. But what is alarming is our attitude. We have learnt to justify corruption, which is the worst thing that can happen to a country. We have reached a stage where we justify all negative aspects.

I am very sad to note that, in the last two elections or so, there is a definite pattern in the voting; it is anti-establishment. Within a year, people expect a government to perform miracles. Nobody can do that. If you want spinach, you have to wait for 45 days. And we are asking for coconuts and mangoes, for which we have to wait for a few years. But people have become very impatient.

Rajiv Gandhi had a vision about India and we had hope in him too. Just look at the projects he thought about. For example, telecommunications. Today, there is an STD-ISD booth in every village.

I think one of the major achievements of the Congress is the Green Revolution. In the sixties, we were importing rotten wheat. Today we are self-sufficient. Look at the White Revolution. But they concentrated only one side. They neglected important issues like education. Our education system, unfortunately, has become degree-oriented, not knowledge or job-oriented. There has to be a major change in this area.

Sure, I consider Sonia Gandhi an Indian. Why not? I agree she has not proved anything till now. But she has not done anything wrong either! She has got a lot of respect, since she belongs to that family.

I have met her quite a few times. She speaks better Hindi than I do. She wears the sari better than many Indians and carries herself very well. She thinks like an Indian. I can't say whether she will be a good politician, since she has not yet proved herself in that field.

Sivasankari Just because she belongs to the Nehru family, just because she was the wife of Rajiv Gandhi, I don't believe she can become a political leader. For the same reasons, I don't condemn her, I don't discriminate her. Why can't you accept her if she has a platform? Sonia Gandhi had been a very loyal and loving daughter-in-law and wife and mother. She is not stealing somebody else's platform.

Let other Indians too come. Who is preventing them from coming? Yet, I don't like this personality cult at all. A party should rise above all leaders. A party cannot wither with one individual.

I am not against the BJP. I am not against anybody, I am not for anybody. I am for many ideas that the BJP puts forward -- the uniform civil code, for example. Why do we call India one country and give certain privileges to certain people? Under the law, everybody should be equal. I respected the BJP leaders Vajpayee and Advani, but what did they do in Ayodhya?

History is history. It is like the fight of the brahmins and the non-brahmins. It hurts me a lot. I agree that what my forefathers did was wrong, but I cannot be punished for that.

I expected the BJP to give a different type of a government. But what has happened in Gujarat? What happened in UP? Still, I am willing to give them a chance with an open mind.

As told to Shobha Warrier

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