Freedom for whom?

Freedom for whom?
By H.K. Dua

As India moves into the sixtieth year of its Independence, it is finding itself adrift, aimless and almost rudderless.

So caught up the nation is with the immediate, it is fast losing its ability to look ahead. A peculiar kind of anxiety is blocking its view of a future that should rightly belong to over a billion people.

The 21st century belongs to India. This is what many people abroad have been saying of the emerging India lately. Yet, it is not hard to see why this promising view of the nation’s destiny being increasingly accepted outside India is not shared by most of our own people. They have their reasons.

Rarely a day begins on a cheerful note. The headlines in the morning’s newspaper or on the television only add to the general despair. The politicians’ pep talk continues to sound banal, lacking in sincerity.

Violence in Kashmir is a running story of killings. If there are no reports from the Valley, there will surely be reports from the North-East. When there is some respite from violence, come the serial blasts in Mumbai, sending tremors. Naxalites have gained considerable strength to upset the daily life in several parts of central India. And if that is not enough, Maoists in Nepal are causing worry unrecognised across the open border. The security situation – internal and external – is causing extra strains requiring much more than deployment of more battalions.

Sensex has gained new heights to cause excitement in Mumbai and in corporate India; speeches of Mr N.R. Narayana Murthy or Mr Azim Premji do cheer up Indians living far away from Dalal Street or the glitter of Bangalore. Yet, all the success stories don’t dispel the general gloom prevailing across the country – in the big cities, small towns and lakhs of villages which are crying for jobs, education, healthcare, drinking water and shelter.

A nation of over a billion people is bound to have formidable problems and there is hardly any choice for the country to tackle these problems urgently and move on. The people are ready to lend their hand in the effort but are finding that most leaders across the political spectrum are busy with their petty pursuit of power and all that goes with it. What the politicians do not realise is that neglecting concerns of the people is bound to cost them their standing among the people, who have at times shown an inclination to reject those who feed themselves at the cost of those whom they are supposed to serve.

Some leaders are hopeful that India, despite its handicaps, can make it to its new destiny but they are vague about what has to go into it or the route to success. The tragedy is that those who are clear about their vision – they are only a few in numbers – are finding themselves unable to take others along; and those who can do not have the vision but only personal interest to guide them.

Over the centuries the people of India have shown a tendency to live with misery and suffering with immense patience. Their tolerance threshold has been fairly high all along. But their worry about all that is happening around them is ominous. It can burst out in anger in the face of the politicians one day.

Surely the people cannot go on applauding the politicians who have the tendency to forget their promises soon after elections, the company they have to keep and their abominable conduct in and outside Parliament.

The success of Indian democracy so far is that the people have learnt to respect their right to vote and reject those who use power for their own ends. The unfortunate part is that while people have learnt to respect Parliament, Honourable MPs are busy wrecking it from within.

The conduct of the Members of Parliament is often irresponsible and is increasingly becoming obnoxious, irrespective of who sits on Treasury Benches and who in the Opposition. When the NDA was in power the Congress party thought it fit to boycott a chunk of proceedings; now the NDA is crossing all limits of propriety in not letting Parliament function. The recent happenings in Parliament, including serious attempts to denigrate the office of the Speaker, show how MPs themselves are out to destroy what the people want them to nurture.

So busy are the politicians in petty pursuits and so trivial their concerns that they do not know that the people have begun to wonder – whether democracy in the country is really in safe hands. It is not the price of their presence in Parliament that the people grudge but the danger of degeneration of parliamentary democracy that worries most citizens.

Nearly six decades after Independence, the question most people are asking across the country is: Independence and democracy are meant for whom, the elector or the elected?