Sunday, 30 December 2012

Political class should follow the Mahatma, not Nehru (Sunday Guardian)

The Teen Murti Bhavan where Jawaharlal Nehru resided.
espite the reality that the Indian legal system — clone that it is of the British colonial model — has far too many laws already, several of which ought to find no place in a genuine democracy, there is a constant clamour for more law to deal with any situation. Anna Hazare, no doubt harking back to his days as in the military, believes that a single, omniscient "Jan Lokpal" would vacuum away corruption in India. What is more likely is that the friends and relatives of the Jan Lokpal would themselves enter the ranks of the country's billionaires. And now even children not yet out of high school are, when not being hosed down by water cannons and gassed by high-spirited policemen, are demanding ever more laws so as to fight the menace of rape in the National Capital Region, arguably one of the most unsafe locations in the country, except for its tiny contingent of resident VVIPs. If only it were that simple. The country already has a multitude of laws dealing with the problem of rape and assault on women, the problem being that these are seldom enforced in the way in which they ought to be.
And what more can be expected of a force whose operations are still based on legislation passed in 1862 by a British raj just recovering from the events of 1857? Thanks to the widespread defection of formerly loyal sepoys and other officials during that calamitous year, the British colonial authority made the Indian Police Act of 1862 reek with mistrust of the local population and of their own force. Extraordinary powers were given not only to the police vis-à-vis the inhabitants of the country, but to the colonial authority vis-à-vis the police. The colonial authority had the power to transfer, suspend and dismiss policepersons at will, a power that was often exercised over the years to weed out those less than zealous in defending the right of the British to rule India for the benefit of themselves for generations to come. After 1947, it was expected that there would be a re-look at the colonial-era system and its laws. Instead, those who stepped into the shoes (and houses and offices) of the British soon discovered that colonial law and procedure was ideally suited towards their morphing into what many of them secretly wished they were, British colonials. To call India a democracy when the country's laws, procedures and administrative processes are replicas of those which prevailed during the British Raj is a travesty of the truth.
What is needed is to dismantle the huge walls which exist between the way an ordinary citizen lives and the way those holding exalted positions in government do. A junior minister in the government has been preening on television about the immense sacrifice that he has made by actually going on a public bus in Delhi, no doubt accompanied by sundry busybodies from the police force. Apparently, the minister considers it a signal achievement for him to do what millions in Delhi are forced to do each day, which is risk their lives by getting on a public bus. Perhaps Manmohan Singh ought to make travel by bus compulsory for all ministers in his team. Trying to get around by a system steeped in infamy would perhaps concentrate their minds enough to try and improve matters in the field of public transport. Presently, because of a system in which ministers and high officials live and travel in luxury, there is zero incentive for them to set matters right. What is needed is to force them to undergo some of the travail which the billion-plus people do who are victims of their serial misgovernance. This is possible only of the perquisites of high office, such as vehicles and bungalows, are taken away from them. If living in a slum was good enough for Mahatma Gandhi, it ought to be good enough for those who claim to represent his ideals. They need to follow the Mahatma rather than Jawaharlal Nehru, who promptly moved into the commodious residence of the British commander-in-chief once he became the "tribune of the people" on 15 August 1947. Instead, Nehru ought to have moved into lodgings more typical of what is endured by the bulk of his countrypersons.
Until senior officials and ministers endure what the citizen does, they will lack the fire needed to set matters right. The colonial era of zero power cuts, abundant water supplies, huge official residences and fleets of cars and VIP squadron jets, ought to give way to a lifestyle which reflects the pathetically low average income of the people of India, 66 years after independence from the colonial yoke. A change in lifestyle from Nehru to the Mahatma for the country's Native Colonial class is what Anna Hazare and the Aam Aadmi Party need to battle for, not to get a legislation passed which would add one more layer of corruption to an already rotting superstructure of governance.

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