- Sep 18 2017
In the Bollywood cult film of 2004, “Swades”, Mohan Bhargav, the protagonist, at one point so aptly puts it “I’m only speaking of things I’ve experienced while living here. And that is that we keep fighting among ourselves when we must fight against illiteracy, over-population & corruption…. In what way are we great then? If we have problems in the village, we point our finger at the State and the State at someone else. We all are finding fault with each other! But the true fact is that we’re all to be blamed. Because the problem is us. Me, you, all of us…”
We are angry people and we tend to get livid about virtually everything and anything, except of course, when it comes to our own acts of either omission or commission as well as of those of our near and dear ones.
In those circumstances we spare no efforts to justify even the most heinous of crimes. Add to this our total immersion in politics with an almost equal belief that conspiracies abound in every aspect of our existence.
When we combine all of this together we have a potent mix that discourages reasoned debate or discussion, even within our own drawing rooms among friends, or what passes for it in our connected communities online.
While talk is cheap, divided opinions and a fractured polity do not make a healthy democracy. However, we can still live with such a state of affairs, though progress and development, which we yearn for, may just be that much slower.
The problem arises when violence to further our beliefs and stifle the opposition is condoned or allowed to flourish with the complicit support of the State or even only some elements of the establishment. Its debilitating effects do not need social or political scientists to expound on because their impact is clearly visible on civil society in the form of intolerance, bigotry, palpable fear and insecurity due to the increasing prevalence of unexpected and brutal violence that can result in rape, mayhem and even murder.
While we see it almost on a daily basis across the country, we still appear to be holding on to a semblance of what is most expected in civilized society, an adherence to the rule of law and a certain degree of inevitable retribution against those who do not stick within the law. The impact of this “Lakshman Rekha” being crossed is there for all to see, be it in our neighbourhood (Pakistan, Myanmar and Afghanistan), or further afield in the Middle East and Africa.
Thanks to ethnic conflicts such as the one in Yemen, Syria and elsewhere, the World faces the greatest humanitarian crisis since 1945 as per one United Nations report published recently.
Somalia, for instance, continues to be considered the most vulnerable failed state as per the Fragile State Index, the annual report published by the think tank, The Fund for Peace, and the well- known magazine, Foreign Policy, since 2005.
These are hardly countries we would wish to emulate and yet it is not an unconceivable situation that we may be forced to confront in the not too distant future. This is more so since private armies and militias are being allowed to proliferate as a host of those in the political space vie with each other for ideological control in their quest for untrammeled power.
As a matter of fact all States in the country, leaving aside Sikkim and Mizoram, are all afflicted to varying degrees by this call to arms in defence of ideology, power and influence. It is time we face the reality that we no longer have an odd politician in politics but criminal syndicates dictating what or how are politicians must act.
The ongoing violent tussle between political groups in God’s own country, Kerala, is just one example of where we are headed and the challenges we will be forced to confront.
If we are to avoid being hit by this on coming freight train, we have to act now. The first and most needed step, which will indeed have to be a giant one, is that of insulating the Police establishment from all political influence. This one single action will completely transform our criminal justice system, allow for more professional policing and will add much needed heft to that much maligned phrase that our politicians drop at every opportunity they get “the law will take its own course.”
While our police establishment has been deeply compromised over the years and is completely under the influence of political patronage, there is still reason for hope. There are still a large number of young idealistic officers who have shown spine by refusing to be cowed down by political expediency and insist on upholding the law despite the adverse consequences they invariably face.
However, to expect the political class to act on this suggestion and axe its own feet is to believe in Santa Claus. Moreover, the common man is unlikely to be shaken out of his stupor any time soon. As the Ram Rahim episode clearly showed, despite the mayhem that occurred, inept and compromised politicians and bureaucrats continue to rule the roost and the average citizen refuses to care.
Once again our fallback option is the judiciary. There is little doubt that only affirmative action by the Supreme Court can provide the necessary impetus to police reforms, something it had suggested way back but was never followed up by either the State or Central governments. Such an initiative will also enhance the reputation of our Courts to mete justice in the true sense of the word.
Finally, though the teeming masses may be ignorant and lacking foresight, they have every right to a better quality of life that a society based on the rule of law undeniably provides. It will probably help in cooling our anger down as well.
This commentary originally appeared in The Times of India.