The nation is losing confidence in itself

Sixty four years ago this week, India stepped into freedom and began looking straight into the eyes of the world.

Free India was not born without pain. Millions of refugees crossed both ways what came to be the border between India and what became Pakistan. Settling the refugees was a massive task. Stopping communal rioting was another.

A sudden challenge thrust on India was an immediate war on  Kashmir. The issue would absorb the energies of  the two nations for decades and still defies a solution.

The new rulers of India had decades of record fighting  freedom struggle of its own kind, but little experience of running the nation of India’s size and diversities of various nature –- of religion, languages, regions, and of castes and of abysmal poverty. All these could spawn  a million mutinies that  that V.S. Naipal came to fear even years later.  Sceptics like him were to write about “dangerous decades.”

The problems staring these rulers that represented various streams of thought that permeated the freedom movement were indeed enormous, and hugely daunting.

Yet, these leaders were not overawed, nor were the people. Hope was in the air; the rulers and the led looked into the future with confidence in their capability to build a new India that could find a respectable place for itself in the world and be counted.

It could be done in many ways and  in times of a big transition like the one from slavery to freedom, the rulers could easily choose short cuts. But led by Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel,  Maulana Azad, B.R Ambedkar, and a galaxy of other leaders,  they opted for parliamentary democracy and much to the surprise of the developed countries thought of giving the right to vote to every Indian, rich or  poor, educated or otherwise, living in cities or in villages, man or a woman.

When they were facing formidable challenges, they thought of giving the country a constitution, a parliament elected on the basis of universal adult franchise, an executive responsive to the needs of the people, and an independent judiciary to give justice to them;  fundamental rights to all Indians, freedom of expression, a plural and a secular society, and much else that could make India a modern nation state where the people  could live a life of dignity denied to them under the colonial raj.

That was an India full of hope and confidence, soon after Independence,  dreaming big, despite the inheritance of lost centuries and burden of poverty, illiteracy and past prejudices and all they entail.

Over six decades later, India has come to be regarded as a major emerging power of the 21st century—political, economic and nuclear, with one of the largest armies of the world and a large stock of skilled manpower.

Despite these accomplishments which the rest of the world admires, the nation’s confidence is low however. Self-confidence has given place to doubt, hope to despair. As a nation we have stopped looking into the future, mired as we are with the pettiness of the times. So caught the people are with the present, that they have practically forgotten the task of building a 21st century India.

Actually, the state of a nation’s morale depends on the functioning of its institutions. The current agonizing times the country is passing through are mainly because the health of these institutions is fast declining.

Parliament is semi-paralysed functioning spasmodically. Chunk of the bureaucracy across the land, is mixed up with politicians on one side and businessmen and property developers on the other; the judiciary has lately begun stirring at the apex level, but the people at large no longer regard the kachehri in the states and the districts with the hope that they will get justice from them and certainly in time.

The big business which claims credit for over eight per cent of growth has been found wanting as brought out by Radia tapes. A section of the media – supposed to be a watchdog of the institutions –-  has also been found going astray from the values that should have guided it in its pursuit. And look at the Army generals: two of them who after retirement chose to book flats in Coloba, built ostensibly for widows of those who gave their lives for the nation in Kargil.

Corruption and misuse of power has certainly corroded most institutions in varying degrees and no political party across the land is innocent of it.

What is needed is serious attempts to strengthen these institutions and not wreck them  from within. The nation cannot afford extra-constitutional authorities  or approaches. Reforms, backed by a consensus and political will can serve the purpose.

The setting up of a Lok Pal as approved by Parliament is fairly certain after the bill has gone through a select committee, but a Lok Pal cannot eliminate all corruption which has spread far and deep into the body politic with all its ruinous consequences.

What is absolutely needed is to tackle corruption at its roots is bold electoral reforms aimed at reducing the role of big money and criminals in politics. Political parties are reluctant to go in for these. They are just wasting the nation’s time in acrimony and blame game.

Preoccupation with the immediate issues of concern is natural in a vibrant democracy, but the nation should have the ability to tackle these fast and not  allow itself to get bogged down in the mire that can drain all its energy, making  difficult for it to get up and avail itself of new opportunities. Time and future don’t wait for a nation to rise on its feet and catch up with the rest of the world.

– Daily Post, August 15th, 2011