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'India can be changed by the new generation'
George Iype
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August 14, 2006
Fali Nariman, widely recognised as India's finest Constitutional lawyer, once said: 'When V R Krishna Iyer speaks, the nation listens.'

Justice V R Krishna Iyer is now 91 years old. Even though he cannot walk without assistance, his brilliant mind, which made him one of the greatest judges to sit on the Supreme Court, continues to search for answers to India's many problems.

For hours every day, he reads and writes in his humble study at his home in Kochi. "I want to go out and make speeches against corruption and scandals that are afflicting us on this Independence Day. But I cannot stand for long," says one of India's most admired judges.

Young lawyers, judges and politicians come to his home frequently to consult with the judge on the Constitution. "Nobody cares for the Indian Constitution these days, but for me this is like the Bible," he says.

Is the India of today what V R Krishna Iyer had hoped for when he witnessed the country gaining Independence in 1947?

In an exclusive interview to Managing Editor George Iype, the great legal mind assesses the meaning of freedom.

The first of a year-long series of interviews with eyewitnesses to India's recent history.

What are your most enduring memories of Independence Day in 1947?

The great Jawaharlal Nehru making a memorable speech was the most touching memory. It was a magnificent speech, for its ideas, promises and its literary value. I was inspired by his speech. Whenever I met him, I told him that.

Even today, whenever I have doubts about the objectives for which this country stands for, I quote Nehru's great speech and ask the common people to fight for the very causes which Nehru had put forward before the people.

Who made a lasting impression on you during the freedom struggle?

Almost everyone. But certainly it was Mahatma Gandhi [Images] and Nehru whom I admired those days.

As someone who was born before Independence, are you satisfied with the India of today?

Unfortunately, no. If I may say so, India is today absurdly contrary to my expectations. I say so because Nehru's speech which I keep in my mind every day, said: 'We will wipe out the tears from every eye.'

Mahatma Gandhi said during the freedom struggle: 'We will give jobs and employment to every person in the villages.' Gandhiji had this deep desire for the rehabilitation of the common people. But sadly, we have today more unemployment, more violence, more starvation and more denial of human rights.

Therefore, I feel sad that after 59 years of Independence, this country is going down. Is it a case of decline and downfall? Or are we going to have a better deal from a new generation that will wake up and say: 'India belongs to us and India is great.'

Why has this happened to India?

India belongs to the people; that is what the Constitution says in the beginning: 'We the People of India.' Alas, alas... today we have rogues, rascals and freebooters. These expressions that I am now using were once used by Winston Churchill [Images] opposing the Indian Independence Act.

Churchill was wrong in using these words at that time against the leaders of India. Today, we find the country is full of corruption; the country is full of the craze for power; the country is full of violent members of Animal Farm.

Bharat Mahaan has suddenly become an Animal Farm. And that is why I feel sad that today our expectations have darkened into anxiety, anxiety into threat and threat into despair.

What do you think have been India's greatest achievements since Independence?

What the world has achieved, India has also achieved. We could not invent, for instance, the radio and television. These are not things, which we have achieved, but the world has achieved.

Technology has taken the world including India into a higher level of achievement. But what has happened is that the achievements in India are meant for the rich and not for the poor. Remember the technology that we all talk about is mostly enjoyed only by the rich, not the poor.

The fast food-wallahs, the five star hotels create all kinds of gluttony and want more and more profit. Money is more important than man. There are hidden agendas behind all the developmental activities that we are boasting about in India. These hidden agendas are all to do with the higher class, the rich and the wealthier class. The poor are becoming poorer.

But India has also progressed tremendously over the years.

I read the other day in some magazine that India has some 23 businessmen who are billionaires. I want to point out that India has also one billion people, many of whom are poor. This is where we are.

What right have we to feel that something great has happened to India after Independence? Many things have happened. But for whom? For admission in LKG (Lower Kindergarten) for your child, schools are charging Rs 20,000 to Rs 30,000 as fees even in small towns across India. How can a poor family educate their children? Is it not a matter of shame?

You mean moneypower has touched even education in India.

Education in India today is priced, not given. For an admission to a medical college, the followers of Jesus, the Catholic Church in India, charges Rs 30 lakh to Rs 40 lakh. What shocked me the other day is when someone told me: "Krishna Iyer, why are you not talking about Hindu colleges that are also charging the same amount?"

I said you are right. Mata Amritanandamayi is getting lots of money from America. All out of her messages of love. She speaks of love everywhere. And Americans pay large sums of money for her to fulfill her programmes and plans of love for the poor. Love for the poor means dignity for them; dignity means development for them. Everyone is impressed with Amma's trust and love.

But she also runs a medical college in Kochi called the Amrita Medical College, and the minimum admission fee charged by the Amrita College is Rs 30 lakh per student. I do not know whether Mataji knows about it. But in her name, the followers of Amritanadmayi are collecting large amounts of money. I do not think it is pardonable.

Sadly, this is what is happening in India. Every Hindu, Christian or Muslim educational institution has become a money-making institution. Education is now priced in India, not given.

This is a malignancy that has got into our country. This is cancer. This has got to be eliminated. I do not know how this can be done, except by Mahatma Gandhi's expressions: 'Do or die.'

Has the Constitution failed India?

The Constitution has failed, in the sense that the people, politicians, even the judiciary have ignored it.

Nobody cares a damn about the Constitution in India.

The Constitution says: 'We the People of India constitute a Socialist, Secular, Democratic Republic. Is there a minister or judge, excepting poor me, who takes the expression 'Socialist' seriously?

Everyone is against socialism in India. A Supreme Court judgment with seven judges led by the then chief justice some years back said: 'Education is a commercial operation and profit-making is reasonably permissible.' But the Constitution says ours is a Socialist Republic.

The other day we read what the Bengal chief minister said: 'I am running a capitalist government.' This is what a Marxist chief minister says these days while he has taken an oath, swearing by a Socialist Republic.

Why do you think the legal system has declined in India?

We are appointing judges by various circumstances which do not take note of their past. When you select a judge, you must examine him with Constitutional provisions. Do they believe in socialism and secularism?

It is not fair to say that the judges have let down the judicial system. We have let down the judiciary. Ambedkar said: 'If things fail, we cannot blame the Constitution, it is because our men are bad.'

Can the legal system be reformed in the country?

It has to be reformed. Unfortunately, the government had appointed a Commission for reforming the Constitution and it did preciously nothing. It was headed by former Chief Justice Venkatachaliah. All they did was recommend some changes here and there in the Constitution.

But the fundamental value changes which should have called for a new vision and mission are missing in the recommendations. I was the chairman of the Fundamental Rights Committee of that Commission. But I had no voice in the Commission. The Commission report was prepared by Venkatachaliah and given to the government.

Unfortunately, no failures have been erased from the Constitution.

What do you think are India's greatest challenges?

Our greatest challenge is to move ahead in unity. We have to find out whether we are truly independent these days. Whether our poor are free these days. We are the leading members of the Non-Aligned Movement. But we have achieved nothing with NAM.

Rajiv Gandhi told me once: "Krishna Iyer, 108 NAM countries are there. When the Americans bombed the Libyan capital, not one dog barked. I alone critically shouted against this outrageous violation of international law."

What do you think of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's [Images] leadership?

We do not have a great leadership in India now. Manmohan Singh is an honest man. He is simple. He does not take bribes. But his honesty is not sufficient. If the team he leads is not honest, what is the point? If he is told to follow America, then where is the leadership?

I think one of the biggest tragedies of India is that the country now buys the largest number of weapons in the world. We will have much to answer for in history.

Do you have hope in the new generation of India?

That is my only hope. Let us hope the generation will do something about bringing radical changes in Independent India. Ambedkar once said: 'Every generation is a new nation.' So this new generation of India may be a new nation with new ideas.

India cannot be changed by old men like me. But certainly India can be changed by the new generation. I have hope in them. We need a transformation, which has to be through the young. The young are going to be in a majority shortly in India. Let us take the young into our fold and make them feel India is ours.

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