“Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for; it is a thing to be achieved.”― William Jennings Bryan
Freedom – The Dream:On 15th August 1947 India awoke to the glorious dawn of freedom. A nation held in servitude for centuries had finally thrown away that yoke of slavery. It was the culmination of years of struggle, strife and sacrifice that saw martyrs walking with pride to the gallows so that the chains of their motherland could be shattered. It was the ultimate realization of the dream of a nation, held long in bondage, to assert its will and aspirations. With freedom came hope that it would give birth to a resurgent India. A defining moment whose spirit was aptly caught in Pandit Nehru’s famous ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech:
“Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity.”
Nehru had left no doubt about the meaning of service. How categorically he had stated- “The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity. The ambition of the greatest man of our generation has been to wipe every tear from every eye.”
However, the Nehruvian dream was not a dream of any delusive grandeur. It pledged no splendour to the multitudes. It held no promise of wealth or riches or comforts or luxuries. Far from it, it was a minimalist dream, offering the bare necessities to the masses that were indeed prerequisites of survival. It modestly talked about food for a hungry stomach. Fulfillment of the need for basic education. It promised relief from the distress of disease and disasters and an opportunity for a job to make both ends meet. A dream that could hardly be improved on the lower side!
Yet, what happened to that modest dream? What happened to that pledge of service to India? What happened to that larger cause of humanity? After sixty six years of that tryst where do we stand today? Are all stomachs free from the pangs of hunger? Has poverty been eradicated? Has disease been eliminated? How many eyes are there without tears and if they are, is it not so because the tears have run dry?
What Went WrongIn fact Nehru had no illusions of the toil and travail in achieving that destiny and he had added- “We have hard work ahead. There is no resting for any one of us till we redeem our pledge in full, till we make all the people of India what destiny intended them to be.”
That destiny could only be shaped through decisions and the utmost decision required was one of good governance. After independence we had governments but did we have good governance? Good governance is about rule of law, participation, transparency, responsiveness, equity and inclusiveness and above all accountability which means an obligation to report, explain and be answerable for the consequences of decisions made on behalf of the people that a government represents.
That is where something went wrong. Over the years the governance standards started falling.
The golden legacy of politics bequeathed by the Mahatama and carried forward by stalwarts like Nehru, Patel and Shastri gradually started degenerating. The much vaunted ‘diversity’ of the country became vulnerable to the manipulations of politicians for narrow ends and short-term political gain. Caste, creed, religion and region started emerging as the new paradigms of political success dealing a deathly blow to the unity and integrity of the country. Democratic norms started yielding way to dynastic holds on power or authoritarian control of party functioning. The stranglehold of pressure groups in the form of power-brokers and corporate lobbyists started rising. Soon institutional safe guards and the system of checks and controls started losing sanctity. With the concentration of power came its misuse proving the words of Lord Acton that ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’. The natural consequence was that corruption started getting institutionalized and soon assumed frightening dimensions. However, the gravest threat to democracy came from the alarming nexus between criminals, bureaucrats, politicians and those who held the reins of power.
Vohra Committee Report: The Unexploded BombHow dangerous was this nexus? How extensive were its ramifications? How destructive would be its consequences? Way back in 1993 a committee headed by N.N.Vohra the then Home Secretary was set up to take stock of all available information about the activities of Crime Syndicates/Mafia organizations which had developed links with and were being protected by Government functionaries and political personalities. The findings of this committee were shockingly astounding. In fact the revelations in the annexures were so damning that the Supreme Court was constrained to rule that it would be “severely and detrimentally injurious” to public interest if annexures to the N N Vohra Committee report, containing details of the alleged nexus between politicians, bureaucrats and criminals, were disclosed.
The following excerpts from the report show the dangerous dimensions of this nexus:
“In the bigger cities, the main source of income relates to real estate – forcibly occupying lands/buildings, procuring such properties at cheap rates by forcing out the existing occupants/tenants etc. Over time, the money power thus acquired is used for building up contacts with bureaucrats and politicians and expansion of activities with impunity. The money power is used to develop a network of muscle-power which is also used by the politicians during elections.” (3.2)
“The nexus between the criminal gangs, police, bureaucracy and politicians has come out clearly in various parts of the country. The existing criminal justice system, which was essentially designed to deal with the individual offences/crimes, is unable to deal with the activities of the Mafia; the provisions of law in regard economic offences are weak” (3.3)
“Director CBI has observed that there are many such cases, where the initial failure has led to the emergence of Mafia giants who have become too big to be tackled.” (3.4)
“Like the Director CBI, the Director IB has also stated that there has been a rapid spread and growth of criminal gangs, armed senas, drug Mafias, smuggling gangs, drug peddlers and economic lobbies in the country which have, over the years, developed an extensive network of contacts with the bureaucrats/Government functionaries at the local levels, politicians, media persons and strategically located individuals in the non-State sector. Some of these Syndicates also have international linkages, including the foreign intelligence agencies.” (6.2)
- In this context, the DIB has given the following examples¬In certain States, like Bihar, Haryana and UP, these gangs enjoy the patronage of local level politicians, cutting across party lines and the protection of governmental functionaries. Some political leaders become the leaders of these gangs/armed senas and, over the years, get themselves elected to local bodies, State Assemblies and the national Parliament. Resultantly, such elements have acquired considerable political clout seriously jeopardizing the smooth functioning of the administration and the safety of life and property of the common man, causing a sense of despair and alienation among the people (6.2.1).
The linkages developed by crime Syndicates get generally confirmed when pressure is mounted on the concerned agencies not to take action against the offenders or to go slow in the cases against them. Such pressures are mounted either immediately after a raid is conducted or at the time when prosecution is about to be initiated. Pressures are also exerted whenever corrupt and undesirable officers are shifted from sensitive assignments. ( 9.1.ii).
“The various crime Syndicates /Mafia organizations have developed significant muscle and money power and established linkages with governmental functionaries, political leaders and others to be able to operate with impunity” (10.1.ii)
Can you imagine, these are the observations of a committee headed by the Home Secretary! This report should have rocked the foundations of the country and if there was even a trace of concern in our political leadership, destroying this nexus and uprooting corruption ought to have become their foremost agenda. Unfortunately, this deadly nexus and collaborative corruption were to become the source of sustenance of a decaying political system. A report which had the potential to eradicate corruption became a bomb that failed to explode! Few would have even heard of the Vohra Committee Report it today.
Thus, corruption started festering in the body politic and became so cancerous that it was now threatening to devour its vital organs.
Once a pious democratic exercise, the political process had now started degrading into a disgusting capture of power through money, muscle and machinations. Politics now came to be perceived as only for the bad and the ugly, having no place for the good. Politics had indeed become a hate-word whose mere mention aroused contempt and revulsion. Entering politics meant getting tainted by its distasteful notoriety and bearing the stigma of disgrace.
The Extent of CorruptionIn a UN Study in 2002 over five thousand citizens of India were interviewed in the house to house survey carried out to assess the citizens perceptions on corruption prevalent in ten sectors, Education, Health, Police (Law & Order), Power, Telephone (Communication), Railways (Transport), Land & Building Administration, Judiciary, Taxation and Ration (Public distribution system).
The study found that an estimated sum of Rupees 26,768 crores is extracted from citizens who interact with these ten sectors. Lower strata with lower earnings are hit harder due to corruption.
A 2005 study done by Transparency International (TI) in India found that more than 50% of the people had firsthand experience of paying bribe or peddling influence to get a job done in a public office. Taxes and bribes are common between state borders;
Transparency International estimates that truckers pay annually 22,200 crores in bribes.
A 13th August 2010 report in Business Line, a Hindu Group publication stated “While there is no official estimate available for the magnitude of India’s black money, unofficial estimates put the figure at around $1.4 trillion (over Rs 70 lakh crore). This amount is more than one year’s GDP. Most of this money has been stashed away in banks in ‘tax havens’ abroad over the last 60 years by politicians, industrialists, bureaucrats and middle-men.”
In 2012 India was ranked 94th out of 176 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.
Mega ScamsCorruption however was not limited to the lower levels of officialdom but had infected the bastions of power at the very highest level. The incredible mega scams that rocked India 2010 onward shocked the conscience of the masses arousing the anger and contempt of a dismayed nation. It showed the glaring extent to which loot was taking place. What left the people exasperated was the sheer scale of these scams and the brazen impunity with which they were committed.
The 2G spectrum scam involved politicians and government officials in India illegally undercharging mobile telephony companies for frequency allocation licenses is estimated to be INR176,645 crore .
(US$33.39 billion), as valued by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India based on 3G and BWA spectrum auction prices in 2010.
The CWG scam was worth Rs 35000 crores. The CoalGate scam caused a loss of Rs186000 crores. The Irrigation scam of Maharashtra was estimated at Rs.70000 crores. Then came news about the incredible Thorium scam that dwarfed all the earlier scams put together. A scam estimated to be to the tune of 60 lakh crores.
In fact, innumerable other scams couldn’t make it to the headlines because the scale of these mega scams overwhelmed them.
The NightmareThat glorious dream of Freedom now lies crushed as a liberated nation stands shackled in the greed of corrupt power-mongers ruling through a facade of democracy. Sixty six years after freedom more than 380 million of our people still languish in poverty while more than 8oo million are condemned to the frugality of 2 dollars a day. 40% children remain under weight while 200 million survive abysmally like skeletons in the pangs of malnutrition. More than 15 million tons of grain rot or are wasted on rodents while every 30 minutes a starving farmer is compelled to take his life away. A nation bears the shame of having nearly 400 million illiterates, the highest on earth and more than 50 million children dropping out of school. More than 3 lakh people die of TB every year while 2.39 million live in the deathly shadow of HIV. A rape is committed every 22 minutes and a shocking MWCD report entitled ‘Study on Child Abuse India 2007’ reveals that more than 53% of children in India have probably been sexually abused and many have never shared the fact of this abuse with anyone. Regrettably, 12.6 million children have been robbed of their childhood and are condemned to slog as child-labour.
That apart, society today is being robbed of the coherence and harmony that was the source of our ‘unity in diversity’. This ‘unity without uniformity and diversity without fragmentation’ was based on a traditional understanding that differences enrich human interactions leading to a healthy, meaningful and a productive interdependence between various communities. It was this ‘unity in diversity’ that sustained India over the millennia while so many nations rose on the horizon and sank into oblivion. Unfortunately, the political class has exploited narrow communal interests to promote difference, disunity, and disaffection rather than the virtues of harmony and cohesiveness that bring forth constructive energy that sustains Indian society. These negative political forces are aiming to perpetuate our alienation from the basic roots of our togetherness. Consequently, our identity as an Indian is being subverted by regional allegiances. Distrust and hostility are becoming the new norms of relationship between communities often leading to bloody clashes and threatening the integrity of our nation.
Was this the cherished dream of freedom? Was it for this goal that our Martyrs went to gallows? Was it for this end that millions plunged into the freedom struggle?
Is not true that the ‘tryst with destiny’ that had aroused hopes of ‘ending poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity’ and of wiping every tear from every eye has indeed become a ghastly nightmare which haunts a nation in distress that cries for salvation.
The question is, is it not time to think of another freedom struggle and a second tryst with destiny, a tryst so intense and powerful that it rekindles a sense of hope and enables the realization of our lost dreams?