Same Old, Same Old...
Posted on 1-Octber-2012
For the last ten days India's politicians have been engaged in a noisy row occasioned by the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India about allocation of a certain number of coal mines to private entrepreneurs by executive fiat on bases not clearly defined during a period of five years after Government of India had taken a policy decision to auction such mines. The auditor has estimated that these allocations have resulted in large losses to the exchequer and undue gains to the private entrepreneurs. The main opposition party has demanded the resignation of the Prime Minister as he was the minister in charge of coal and mines during the period in question while spokesmen of the government and the Indian National Congress have not only questioned the opposition party's record of rectitude in public life but also the bases of the auditor's calculations, his competence for scrutinising what are claimed to be matters of policy and gone on to raise doubts about the motives of the present incumbent. This is a film reel that has been played and replayed many times in the past: obstructionist behaviour by the opposition, denigration of its critics by the government and the ruling party and attempts to raise questions about the honesty of purpose of official agents or of non-official agencies that point at instances of financial wrong doing or of malgovernance. The frequency of major financial scandals and the scale of thievery has increased since the Bofors guns scandal of 1987 which gutted the political career of Rajiv Gandhi. The present Government of India has notched up a higher score both in the number of such scandals and in the quantum of money misappropriated than any of its predecessors in independent India. But there is also an unmistakable sameness about all such controversies.
In Assam there have been many movements against non-Assamese settlers since the 1960's. Often there have been agitations against real or presumed illegal migration from erstwhile East Pakistan which since 1971 is Bangladesh. Since most of those who have come in from East Pakistan or Bangladesh are Muslims, the anti immigrant movements have also looked like anti-Muslim movements. Subterranean tensions between non Muslims and Muslims--recent immigrants or old settlers--never died down in many parts of Assam. Last month there was killing of Muslims and violence against them in the Bodo Autonomous Region of Assam--a few hundred were killed and tens of thousands displaced. The violence had gone on for a few days before the governments of Assam and of India woke up to their responsibilities about keeping peace. The embers in Assam were still smouldering when people from the north east (Assamese, Mizos, Nagas, Manipuris, Khasis, Garos and others) working or studying in Pune, Bangaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai started receiving threats against their lives on their cell phones or on the internet. Government of India showed greater alacrity in organising special trains to carry those among these frightened people who wanted to go home than in taking effective steps to stop the panic and came to life only when the homeward movement of northeasterners threatened to become a deluge. Maharashtra has its own brand of local chauvinism against what are called outsiders. In the decade of the 1950's, a group calling itself Shiv Sena, established itself as a political force mainly in the city of Mumbai but also, in the course of ensuing decades, elsewhere in Maharashtra by beginning to ask for the departure of South Indians who constituted a large workforce manning many positions in offices. Since then Shiv Sena has rarely missed an opportunity to arouse anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim sentiments. About five years ago a splinter group led by the nephew of Shiv Sena's founder asked for the ouster from Mumbai of large numbers of people from eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar who are petty traders, menial workers or labourers in Mumbai. The rival faction could not but echo similar sentiments. Some from the target groups left Mumbai. It was left to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar politicians to speak in defence of these people. The Prime Minister and the President of India said nothing, not even to assert the principle that Indian citizens have the right to work and live anywhere in the country (see India Agonistes?). The same Shiv Sena politician has once again revived his campaign against people from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar living in Maharashtra. Once again, so far only politicians of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have spoken against this campaign.
At the end of July, power transmission lines in a large swathe of North India failed and eight states with a population of about 300 million people were left without electricity for about seven hours, with all the attendant problems. Some states were blamed for drawing power in excess of their rations. Remedial measures were promised. Two days later an even more severe breakdown happened when two thirds of India's population living in some twenty-six states had to do without electricity for between four and eight hours. The states were blamed once again and India's power minister said such breakdowns happened in the USA also. A similar breakdown had happened in north India in the cold months some three years ago. India's power shortage and its rickety power transmission equipment have been talked about and discussed threadbare. Careers have been made by clever people devising solutions. Yet the power problem will simply not go away and breakdowns, minor and major, happen again and again and will happen in future too. Another peculiar kind of incident seems to be becoming common in Harayana and Punjab. People have bored deep holes of about two feet of diameter for installing motorised tube wells and left the holes uncovered for days. Toddlers of between two and four years have fallen into them, some dying and some being rescued. Over the last five years at least half a dozen such incidents have been reported. No one seems to have been punished nor is there any evidence that either government agencies or private citizens have seriously thought of preventing such accidents in future. When in the early 1970's Project Tiger, a measure to save the tiger in the wild from extinction, was launched, the tiger population in India was estimated to be around 1400. Four decades and large expenditure of public money later the tiger population is now said to be around 1200. The tiger was in crisis in 1970. It was in crisis obviously nine years ago when the present Prime Minister of India almost began his prime ministerial career with a visit to a tiger reserve. And the tiger is in crisis now with people still talking of effective steps to save the tiger. Crises of these kinds and many others arise not only because law enforcement is weak and gimmickry strong--rather than the traffic police fining people for breaking traffic rules Delhi police has been mobilising film actors and cricketers to stand at important crossings for a few hours on some day to supposedly educate people on the importance of traffic rules--but also because governmental agencies, people in positions of power and influence or ordinary citizens scarcely seem to value the rule of law.
There is a certain, broad repetitiveness in reports in the media about corruption, bad governance, violence, breakdown of order, breakdowns in the physical infrastructure and widespread disregard for the sanctity of human life. Only the dates and locations change. India's present crop of politicians--a large majority of them unprincipled, uneducated, amoral or immoral or all of them combined together--offer little hope for the future. They are in business because the long suffering people of India--an old tired race--accept and swallow so many injustices. Would that they stirred themselves, took their destiny in their own hands and gave themselves better rulers (see An Ode to India). All the vilification of the critics and all the packaging by admen notwithstanding, the Indian voter threw out the governments of Indira Gandhi, Charan Singh, Rajiv Gandhi, V.P.Singh, Chandra Shekhar, P.V.Narasimha Rao and Atal Bihari Vajpayee either because they were perceived to be corrupt or because they proved to be incompetent or both. Manmohan Singh's government is seen widely in India at present as both very corrupt and equally incompetent. Unfortunately there is no law of politics that can determine that it will also be thrown out by the Indian voter in 2014 the way many of its predecessors were. And the irony is that Manmohan Singh like many of his predecessors seems to value appearance on an international stage more than the need to provide good governance to his own people. In the midst of a major political crisis at home he preferred to pontificate on high principles of international conduct at the non-aligned summit--a movement without a soul if there was any--in Teheran. Other domestic crises will come in future and so will occasions for strutting under the stage lights of international conferences where India's voice will be heard from the mouth of Manmohan Singh.
Not much really changes in eternal India or in incredible India, or in shining or rising India, if you will. You must get used to seeing the same movie scenes year after year.