Waiting for Krishna
Posted on 1-February-2011
"Whenever righteousness is in decline and iniquity is on the rise, O scion of Bharata, I create myself. For the deliverance of good people and for the destruction of evildoers, I incarnate myself in every age."--Krishna to Arjuna in the Bhagvad Gita
In December last year, people of Tunisia started descending on the streets in ever larger numbers protesting against corruption in high places, rising prices and high unemployment. On January 15, Zine el Abidine ben Ali, who as President had ruled Tunisia with an authoritarian hand for twenty-three years, fled the country. The protests have continued with demands for the replacement, lock and stock, of all of ben Ali's people as the interim prime minister drops them one by one. Whatever the eventual outcome of the events in Tunisia, a corrupt and unpopular government has been swept away by the people rising up in anger. In Egypt, faced with exactly the same kinds of problems as had bedevilled Tunisia, people have similarly risen in anger and have for the last seven days been on the streets asking for an end to the Hosni Mubarak regime. Every passing day has delivered one big blow to the government. Even if Hosni Mubarak succeeds in suppressing the Egyptian uprising, it is difficult not to admire the courage of the people of Egypt and Tunisia. And if Mubarak goes, I, for one, shall intone to myself: "Bliss it was to be on that dawn alive".
Following the news from Tunisia and Egypt, I have been thinking of the present situation in India with dismay. There are many, many like me in the country. The components of the present situation in India are not unlike those in Tunisia or Egypt except that the present government has been in power for just over six years, opposition political parties function openly, multi-party elections are held regularly and no overt attempts are made to gag the press or the judiciary. But other important features of the present situation are worth looking at briefly. To the three major corruption scandals that have dominated news for the last five moths two more may be added. One of them is not new but has resurfaced. It relates to the amount of money stashed away by Indians in secret accounts in banks in Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Cayman Islands and other similar places. One figure currently being mentioned about such money in Swiss banks alone is 1.4 trillion US dollars--a little more than India's annual GDP. India's politicians, in the ruling party and in the opposition have for years talked about bringing this money back but done nothing, probably for the simple reason that some of this money belongs to some of the most powerful among them. In a recent statement India's Finance Minister has said that names of 26 such account holders, made available by foreign governments, cannot be made public because of treaty obligations. It will be interesting to see what answer the government gives to the question posed by India's Supreme Court about the action the government has taken against those whose names are known to it. But then India's prime minister says that the only thing wrong with this kind of money is that no taxes have been paid on it, as if that is not criminal enough. Someone should have reminded him that if money beyond US $ 25,000 is held by resident Indians outside India, it is in violation of Indian laws about foreign exchange and that those keeping such money have almost certainly committed other illegalities.
The second such scandal is about the appointment of the Central Vigilance Commissioner, India's principal anti-corruption watch-dog. That appointment happened in violation of a few principles. The person to be appointed is to be chosen by a committee comprising the prime minister, the home minister and the leader of the opposition in the lower house of parliament. It should be obvious to anyone that the composition of this committee implies that its decisions should be by consensus and not by majority because the government will always be in majority. Now in the case of the appointment of the present incumbent, from a list of three names before it, the committee chose him by majority decision over the objection of the leader of the opposition who pointed out that the gentleman was an accused in a ten-year old undecided criminal case in Kerala and therefore not above suspicion. She went public about her objections to this gentleman saying that she had told the other members of the committee that they could choose any of the other two on the list. The legality of the appointment has been challenged in India's Supreme Court where the government's lawyer has stated a plain untruth that at the time of the selection of the present Chief Vigilance Commissioner, the selection committee was not aware of the criminal case in Kerala.
It is not only on these two questions that the government has been brazen. In the matter of the allocation of radio frequencies to operators of cellular telephones--referred to in Indian media as the 2G spectrum scandal--India's new telecommunications minister, forgetting all norms of propriety, has sought to trash the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General in which the latter in performance of his statutory duties has pointed at financial improprieties in the allocation. Earlier there had been questions about the prime minister's inaction while these wrongdoings were happening. The several scandals that became news at the time of the Commonwealth Games are slowly being swept under the carpet--the two top officials of the Organising Committee of the Games have at last been removed after they have had enough time to remove as many traces of their misdeeds as possible and no one is talking any longer of the enormous wastage and corruption in the execution of the many infra-structure projects by other government bodies including the Delhi Government in the run up to the Games. The third corruption scandal relating to the construction of an apartment block in Mumbai that became news in the last quarter of the last year is on the way to being forgotten about except for occasional news about some action against some individuals.
It is not clear what each of these scandals will finally come to. What is perhaps certain is that the public perception that India at the moment has a completely rotten, lying government in power is very wide. Large numbers believe that the rot extends up to the apex of the political power structure. If to this is added the very high price inflation, and even higher inflation of food products, we have all the ingredients for an outburst of protests. Probably there is a very high degree of subterranean anger against the government. There have been public discussions and newspaper column inches aplenty about all this. There are sporadic, local outbursts of violence and there was an anti-corruption march in Delhi on the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi's assassination. Some octogenarian freedom fighters are proposing to go on an anti-corruption fast in Delhi. But an outburst of the kind that swept a corrupt government out of power in Tunisia and is threatening to sweep another away in Egypt is very rare in India. It is perhaps absence of such outbursts that has encouraged successive Indian governments in their indifference to public dissatisfaction. Any government, including the present one, that has controlled a majority in parliament has misgoverned with arrogant superciliousness.
The question is why the people of India as a whole--of local sporadic protests, there are many-- do not exercise greater pressure on their government to perform better in the larger public interest. The answer cannot be that the democratic system gives them an outlet for their feelings, because there is enough evidence to show that a vast majority of people knows that sixty years of democratic rule have not given them some of the most basic necessities of life. Besides, even in the older established democracies, people from time to time descend on the streets and force their elected governments to change their ways. The answer cannot be that the people by nature are peace loving and non-violent; human nature is no different in India than elsewhere and every once in a while when the same "peace loving" people of India turn violent, they turn very violent. Perhaps centuries of misrule have broken their backs or perhaps weak social cohesion makes any organisation, including organisation of large scale resistance difficult for them. Rather than take their destiny in their own hands and shape it, they prefer to wait for an incarnation of Krishna to come and deliver them. Will Krishna come and destroy the evil doers?