Author : Vikram Sood

Originally Published 2005-12-21 07:23:00 Published on Dec 21, 2005
Parliamentarians were supposed to meet in the afternoon of December 13 to honour those who died saving them five years ago. Instead, they woke up to the horror stories of their Eleven accepting bribes for agreeing to do something they were in any case elected to do - raise issues in Parliament. It is ironic that the exposé took place on December 13.
Us, them and a disaster in the making
Parliamentarians were supposed to meet in the afternoon of December 13 to honour those who died saving them five years ago. Instead, they woke up to the horror stories of their Eleven accepting bribes for agreeing to do something they were in any case elected to do - raise issues in Parliament. It is ironic that the exposé took place on December 13.

As for raising issues in Parliament, most of its time in recent days seems to have been spent on the Volcker-Natwar saga. The country has seen endless debate, on TV, in newspapers and magazines, or in the well of the Lok Sabha where lung power took precedence over intelligent discourse. The antics of the Parliamentary XI left the Speaker of Lok Sabha and many other good men close to tears and one hopes in the days ahead this debacle, and what it signifies, would be debated publicly.

As it is, we have not done too well on the integrity scale. According to recent figures quoted in this newspaper, 99 per cent of the people perceive the police to be corrupt, 98 per cent think similarly about political parties and 97 per cent feel likewise about the judiciary. All three need a massive image makeover. This is an unfortunate commentary about the two main arms of governance that give security and justice to the average man and woman.

So those of us who can afford it, hire private security guards if the State does not provide security, dig our own (illegal) tube wells if the State cannot provide water and install our own generators if there is no electricity. And if Parliament does not debate crucial issues and instead spends most of its time obstructing meaningful discussions, then the people will debate issues on the streets.

It is not quite correct to blame Parliament alone. All of us, the civil society, the media or even our mushrooming think-tanks have failed to discuss the one important issue that should really be causing sleepless nights. The Jehanabad assault got lost in the din of the Delhi bomb blasts and in the fallout of the Volcker Report. Besides, Volcker was about 'us' and Jehanabad was about 'them'. So not much time need be wasted on 'them'.

After a couple of days of mock concern, most of us retreated to the comfort of book launches and musical soirees, while the government, as usual, rushed in Delhi-based forces with no knowledge of local conditions and therefore ill-suited to help find the culprits. Regional incompetence matched by central incongruity.

As a country develops, its elite identifies itself more easily with the elite of the rich West, more particularly the business interests of the mega-corporations with whom they have to work closely. It is easier to associate with causes closer to the West than within one's own country. For instance, it is easier to campaign against Aids (undoubtedly a killer) rather than against hepatitis and malaria (both massive killers in India) because these diseases are not on any Western radar screen and, therefore, not 'fashionable enough'.

It is easier to debate about nuclear non-proliferation rather than Jehanabad, maybe because this did not arouse our collective conscience. But more Jehanabads will occur unless we learn to care because what happened there was a symptom not a disease.

The lack of public debate means that the significance of the event has largely escaped all of us barring a recent report in this newspaper. Is it that we are out of touch with the rest of the country? Or that we have chosen to ignore the problem hoping that it will somehow disappear? Here were a thousand armed and unarmed persons who carried out a meticulously planned assault on the district jail and sprung 350 of their Naxalite compatriots from custody, took a few hostage and killed others.

Jehanabad is not a remote part of India. It is in one of the most populous states of the country. There must have been months of planning, of teams sent out on reconnaissance by the Naxals and more than just the attackers must have been involved. Either it was an intelligence failure, or the authorities were too frightened, which means this was a failure of the administration, or the local authorities knew about it and were apathetic (or even sympathetic) to the cause,which means that the State had totally collapsed. The second obviously has the more worrying implication.

Maps, showing the extent of activities of the Left-wing extremists divide India north-south right through the heartland starting from Bihar all the way down to Karnataka, with 116 districts under their control, have been around for some time now.

The decade-old conflict, with its trans-national connections, has accounted for more than 10,000 lives and has lately shown increasing sophistication in its operations and access to equipment and weaponry. Today, Naxals threaten major private investments in Orissa, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh. There could be more trouble ahead. The security of India and its success as a major power will lie in our collective ability to address such basic issues and not in our membership of the UN Security Council.

The pattern in India today is to let a local thug evolve into a national don or let a problem fester and when ultimately forced to take notice, then grant some concessions - allocate funds or carve out a new district, a new state, or more reservations but skirt the main issue. This only encourages regional and sectional truculence of various hues. Populist promises and actions 'ghettoise' us into Brahmins, Rajputs, Jats, Kurmis, Yadavs, OBCs, Dalits, Hindus, Muslims, Bengalis, Assamese, Tamilians, Punjabis or whatever. But where is the Indian in all this?

By granting reservations in perpetuity, we also run the danger of permanently secluding sections of our people and fracturing society and preventing them from joining the mainstream. The gravity of a crime or the generosity of a reward is determined by caste and region. Merit or punishment by quota accentuates divisions but does not remove them.

There are many things that are wonderful about India, especially the talent and élan of the youth, but there are many that are not. A beginning has to be made somewhere to repair the system. Assuming that there is a political will to emancipate or to improve the situation, an instrumentality is required. But the steel framework - the civil service - has been bent and broken beyond recognition through years of political expediency where loyalty to the country is defined as loyalty to the individual, party, caste or region.

The strong and upright have given way largely to the cynical and opportunist alternating between a demi-god and a hanger on. This must be repaired first before anything can be achieved. Mere Pay Commissions will not do; the bureaucratic machine has to be leaner and more muscular.

The authority and the self-respect of the local administrator, quite often derisively referred to as the babu, has to be restored first. He must know that while he will be accountable, he will also not be victimised for doing his work without fear or favour and not dependent on an increasingly whimsical political system.

More powerful than a powerful idea is its implementation. But if the instruments have all weakened, how will India Shine?

The author is Advisor to Chairman, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

Source: Hindustan Times, New Delhi, December 19, 2005.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
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Vikram Sood

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Vikram Sood is Advisor at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Sood is the former head of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) — India’s foreign intelligence agency. ...

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