Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Let us Get out of Inertia of Vision and Action

We have just embarked on a brand new year – a year which was not there in the past thousands of years. Time irrevocably marches on and is not constrained by the past. And that is why time is valuable and omnipotent. In this, there is a lesson for us in India, as for everybody else. India is an ancient civilization having experienced and witnessed epochal changes in its long march of history and that too with great equanimity, without any uprooting upheavals. Apart from the prehistoric sagas of Ramayana and Mahabharata, each replete with great and grand episodes, our recorded history is full of stirring events and marvelous episodes. The role of a teacher named Chanakya at Takshila University in the western part of the then India in bringing an end to the tyrannical rule of the Nand dynasty over Magadh empire centred in the east, leading to the establishment of the Maurya empire; change of heart of the cruel king Ashoka due to the killings in a bloody Kalinga battle and his consequent emergence as a great, benevolent, philanthropic , nonviolent king competently reigning over a large empire, earning the epithet by historians as Ashoka the Great; and flourishing of art, science, literature and other finer as well as material things of life and living in the ‘golden’ period of Gupta empire are all enthralling historical narratives. Attracted by the wealth and prosperity of India, invasions and incursions were made by several adventurous hordes and tribes from middle-east and central regions of Asia as well as from as far as Mongolia and Siberia. While some of them were driven back or left after plundering its riches, others set up their rules and dynasties and became a part of the Indian milieu. The most prominent among these was the Mughal dynasty and its most outstanding king was Akbar who not only proved to be a powerful, just and competent monarch but also a great social integrator leading to peace and prosperity in a pluralistic society that India had become at that time, rightfully entitling him to be called ‘Akbar the Great’ in Indian history. However, this Mughal Empire was prone to certain weaknesses and contradictions due to which it disintegrated, declined and finally succumbed to the onslaught of external circumstances. This onslaught was also due to the eternal attraction that India seems to possess on account of her apparent as well as potential wealth. Spurred by industrial development and industrialization in Europe and facilitated by consequent development in transoceanic travel and transport, enterprising traders from several European countries intruded into India primarily to pursue their own interests in trade and industry. Taking advantage of the political disintegration and the crumbling of established rules in India as well as the pliable local rulers who did not mind supporting these intruders as long as their own interests were protected and promoted, the intruding European countries, particularly the British, established and reinforced their hold in this country. Using their military superiority made possible by industrialization in Europe and political disintegration in India, the British, which was by far the most dominant among the European intruders, gradually established their rule over practically the whole of India. The rulers of a large number of principalities and states of various sizes scattered all over India were under suzerainty and subservience of the British Indian government, enjoying only nominal sovereignty and limited autonomy in managing their internal affairs. While these intruders and the earlier invaders both came to India attracted by its richness and prosperity, there was a very significant difference between the two. The earlier invaders partook of this richness and prosperity, settled in this land, became part of it and in the process influenced, and got influenced by its life, living and culture. The later intruders had no such objective and intention. They came to India initially to serve and promote their trade interests which consisted in procuring raw materials in this country and selling here goods manufactured in their countries. Later on, when they got a free hand in exploiting the natural resources, including its human resources and a large captive market for their finished products resulting in their enrichment and prosperity at the cost of India, her people were driven into a process of mass impoverishment. This gave rise to a new political order called colonial order among nations in the world. In such an order, a nation, called a colony, serves as the supplier of raw materials or natural resources including manpower to another country called colonizer nation, and as consumer of products manufactured in the colonizer nation. The colonizer nation which held political power over the colony was the major beneficiary in this order. Minor beneficiaries of varying degrees in this order were the indigenous people or sections of people whose services or collaboration were necessarily required by the overseas colonizers to operate this order. Such an order can sustain over a long period only if the people of the colony are made to feel subservient and inferior to their colonial masters. If the indigenous people happen to inherit and informed by rich culture and civilization, such a feeling can only be inculcated insidiously by planned moral degradation of the people of the colony. In the case of India, and probably in all other colonies, a system of governance including education was ingeniously designed and enforced to achieve the objectives of the colonial masters, i.e., a systematic exploitation of the natural including human resources of the colony and moral degradation of its people. This system worked remarkably well in achieving its twin objectives for more than a century in India. Every system, particularly a system based on immorality, howsoever carefully crafted, generates its own anti-bodies in course of time which act towards its destruction. In 1885, a group of persons led by a retired British Indian civil servant A. O. Hume and several Indians, all belonging to the section of beneficiaries of colonial governance in India, were concerned by poor representation and voice of Indians in the British Indian governance structure, gave birth to an organization named Indian National Congress (INC). The objective of INC was to secure better representation of Indians in the colonial governance through organizational engagement with the British Indian government. When Gandhi emerged on the Indian scene after his experience of having waged struggles in South Africa, he was appalled by the miserable conditions of the Indian masses and held the utter immorality of governance based on exploitation and degradation of the people of India imposed by the colonial masters wholly responsible for this. He was convinced that unless and until India was freed of this immoral governance, miseries of the people would not go. He associated himself with the INC with this conviction and influenced its movement in two significant ways. One, the objective of the movement was turned from 'securing more representation of Indians in their governance' to 'doing away with the system of governance' which he considered fundamentally immoral. Two, he inspired the Indian masses and called upon them to join the movement. These two significant changes brought under the influence of Gandhi turned the INC movement confined to the classes into a mass movement for India’s freedom. He also introduced a fundamental change in the technique employed to carry out this struggle. Earlier, petitioning to the government, or organizational engagement with the government, or perpetration of sporadic violent acts, or even an organized military action were adopted or advocated for the purpose. Gandhi introduced the technique of passive resistance or nonviolent civil disobedience - a unique technique which not only proved successful in winning India’s freedom but also gave a new light and hope for people suffering from injustice and oppression anywhere in the world. Although India won its political independence on 15 August 1947, the freedom for which the freedom struggle was waged under Gandhi’s inspiring leadership, the freedom for which millions of Indians participated in the struggle and made sacrifices, and the freedom for which the masses of India aspired did not come on that day. Gandhi always considered the political freedom a necessary but only the first step in bringing about the real freedom. Of course, the freedom that we got gave us the freedom to take suitable steps to bring in the desired freedom. This freedom constituted in being able to frame a suitable Constitution for India - an exercise which was crucial and vital for ensuring 'desired freedom’ to dawn on free India. This exercise was, however, vitiated right in the beginning – in the constitution of the Constituent Assembly itself. Due to the machinations of the sections of Indians who were beneficiaries of the British colonial rule in collusion with the departing colonial rulers, in the Constituent Assembly there was a preponderance of members supporting their vested interest in continuance of the existing system of governance. As the members of the Constituent Assembly were indirectly elected by flawed representatives of the people, the real representatives of the masses of India who were inspired by Gandhi’s ideas and ideals were in minority. Gandhi himself was made irrelevant in this exercise while he was alive and his views and teachings were given a short shrift afterwards. All this resulted in a Constitution of India having laudable aspirations of the people as expressed in its Preamble but rendering it unable to realize those aspirations by adopting essentially the same system of governance which was designed and used by the colonial masters to degrade the people and exploit the resources of India. Thus, the journey of Indian Republic got off-track from day one. An account of six decades of this journey in which the flawed constitution played out in giving rise to and exacerbating the various ills afflicting the nation today has been given in our blog post dated 15 August 2010 titled, 'The Off-Track Journey of the Indian Republic' ( Today is the 63rd Indian Republic Day. Let us once again reflect on the situation and body politic of India. Political degeneration, corruption, poverty, economic disparity and insurgency in the republic have been systematically rising from day one without any let. And we have also been valiantly making efforts to stem the rot - in the legislatures, in administration, in judiciary, on the roads and in the media. Elections have been fought and won on these issues. We have miserably failed. Why? Are we Indians, the inheritors of thousands of years of rich culture, are beyond redemption and are condemned to perpetually suffer from these ills? Or, have we fallen into a rut and inertia, and we are not able to get out of it in spite of our efforts. Take, for example, the issue of corruption, which has hogged the headlines in the media for the last several months. People of all hues and colours have vociferously condemned corruption - in the rallies, on the roads, inside the legislatures and through the media. Almost all of them are unanimously agreed on what is to be done about it – a strong and effective Lokpal . There is no unanimity, however, what constitutes a ‘strong and effective’ Lokpal Bill. Also, reservations have been expressed in many quarters, even respected ones, about the efficacy of any Act in eradicating corruption which is systemic, i.e., generated by the system. Apprehensions have also been voiced that a strong and autonomous Lokpal advocated by certain groups will boil down to be a parallel government, having its own huge bureaucracy and full of potential to be an instrument of oppression. It may also be seen that over the years and decades, the government has been bringing in newer acts and agencies to deal with corruption based upon its earlier experiences and every time it has found that those acts and agencies proved to be insufficient, ineffective or even downright counter-productive. In view of all this national experience, it is high time to realize that this system of governance is incapable of effectively treating an illness which is intrinsic to the system and is generated by it. This realization, however, is difficult to come on account of our inertia of vision and action. We have grown too addicted to the system to think beyond it. We must look back at our grand heritage and be inspired by it to get out of this addiction and inertia. Thousands of years ago, we learnt to live harmoniously with nature, to transcend it, to get over our base natural instincts, to deal with injustice and thus to give rise to a great culture and civilization which have survived to this day through all historical ups and downs, turns and twists, and rise and fall of empires. When hordes of adventurers invaded our land, we either repulsed them or accepted and assimilated them in our culture, influencing their ethos and being influenced by it. Our kings fought bloody battles and turned into preachers and promoters of peace, were great patrons of arts, science and culture, and took care of religious sensitivities of their subjects. When the prevailing religion followed by people became devoid of its core values and got riddled with superstitions and malpractices and hence was not able to provide any succour to its followers, a Buddha came to preach a different way of life to relieve people of their miseries, and people welcomed and embraced that preaching. When a Shankaracharya appeared on the scene to retrieve Hinduism from its cobweb of superstitions and malpractices and restored it to its pristine glory, the same was equally readily adopted by the people. When India came under colonial rule, people did not violently react against it. They rather took it in its stride and adjusted to it. They paid their obeisance to the king or the queen in London in the same way that they did to the king or queen in Delhi. When a Gandhi emerged on the scene and explained to them the utter immorality of the system of governance imposed on them, driving them to their degradation and misery, and called upon them to participate in the movement to do away with this exploitative and degrading system, they understood and appreciated the message, overwhelmingly responded to it, participated in the movement and made sacrifices for it. Such is the sturdy common sense, capacity of understanding, receptivity and responsiveness of the people of India Let us get out of the addiction to and inertia in the prevailing system of governance which is the source of India’s diverse ills, and make a call to the people to participate in the campaign for the change of the system of governance. This call is in fulfillment of the unfinished task that Gandhi had ordained and Jai Prakash had unsuccessfully tried to accomplish. The Republic Day is an apt occasion to make this call in the name of Gandhi and Jai Prakash, as 62 years ago it was on this day that a Constitution, in which Gandhi was betrayed and the people were short changed, was promulgated. It is on this day we must resolve to recompense for our lapse and lack in truly understanding Gandhi. Patna - T. Prasad 26 January 2012