Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Rediscover political morality and stem the rot


Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intentions, patriotism and financial probity cannot be doubted. However, he will have to take ruthless steps against the spreading malaise in the party – which might well spread into the government.

दुर्वलस्य वलं राजा वालानां रोदनं वलम्  
वलं मूर्खस्य मौनित्वं चौराणामनृतं वलम्  

durvalasya valam raajaa vaalaanaam rodanam valam 

valam moorkhasya maunitvam chauraanaamanrutam valam 

King is the power of powerless, crying is the power of children, silence is the power of the fool and deceit is the power of thieves.
(From Chanakya Neeti)

Governance of a country requires effective systems and structures in place. For that, primarily but not solely, we have to have a Constitution that systemizes the government functioning, and spells out the rules, rights and duties for the government and the governed. Our Sanskrit texts have underscored the significance of Rajdharma on various occasions and in different scriptures. In today’s context, we can roughly translate Rajdharma as political morality, which has not been defined anywhere and yet we instinctively know when a politically unethical/immoral act has taken place. We all know that political morality is essential for the credibility of not just a political party but the entire superstructure of governance. Public opinion, societal belief systems and norms help ensure personal, social and political morality.  It is not only about individuals but also organizations, institutions and agencies that make up a polity.
Although corruption was embedded in our political system ab initio, the towering presence of stalwarts like Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, Rajagopalachari, Rajendra Prasad, Ambedkar and many others kept the rot in check for a considerable period. Gradually, scruples in the political space evaporated under the heat of power and pelf. Although corruption’s benchmarks are difficult to identify, circa 1980 probably became the watershed year when Haryana CM Bhajan Lal, along with his entire cabinet, defected from Janata Party to Indira Gandhi’s Congress(I). One recalls how there was plenty of all-round amusement – occasionally bubbling into mirth – but hardly any outrage, except among partisans of the affected party. The indulgent media merely stopped at giving currency to the ‘aya ram, gaya ram’ jumla, tempering it with preachy and inconsequential op-eds. Since then, India’s politics and polity have come full circle with Nitish Kumar’s deft somersaults away-from-and-back into the BJP fold. He remains unfazed by Lalu Yadav’s colourful ‘palturam’ comment. But that should be the least of our problems because Lalu is no saint.

Nitish’s political promiscuity is only a symptom of the larger malaise which has gripped India’s body politic. No political party is free of this malaise. It is now a commonplace phenomenon to watch party bosses herd their flocks and sequester them into five-star resorts and hotels to thwart poaching by rivals on the eve of a crucial vote in a legislature, as it had happened in Tamil Nadu and, more recently, in Gujarat.
Politics in India has reached a stage where every political party applies ethical values to the actions of others but ignores its own. Politicians change ideological colours and political loyalties – not out of conviction but the compulsion to either stay in power or grab power from rivals. If you are already entrenched, you use means fair and foul, generally foul, to extend the entrenchment. If you are raring to get entrenched, obviously every deception, lie and crime become legitimate weapons for the purpose. This was a regular feature during the Congress Raj, and now it has become the hallmark of the Modi-Shah duo’s style of political functioning, be it in the Northeast, Uttarakhand, South India, Bengal or Delhi. The BJP has shed its traditional image of being the party with a difference.

We cannot dismiss the shenanigans as being of limited consequence. It is like the aftermath of a nuclear explosion – the ionising radiation causes pervasive decay and destruction. Since the BJP is now the ruling party, we must bring it under the scanner. One could accuse BJP, nay the entire Sangh Parivar, of being communal, regressive and fascist-neo-Nazi in outlook but one always admired its members of being scrupulously honest who practised principled politics. There were many who praised the RSS for its discipline and humanitarian work during natural calamities. Ever since the BJP has come to power, certain illusions have been shattered. We are now witnessing a radically different entity. The wheeling-dealing culture, which caused the INC’s fall, is now very much a part of the BJP’s practices. The way MLAs and MPs are purchased or browbeaten into joining/supporting the ruling party shows that the quest for absolute power has overwhelmed the conscientious adherence to scruples.

The consequences have been terrible. Many corrupt and criminal elements have infiltrated into the party. These will insidiously gnaw at the party’s vitals and ultimately push it into the quagmire of helplessness that would not differ from the one in which the Indian National Congress finds itself today. Another trend that has been gaining ground – to every right-thinking Indian’s horror – is the application of the ‘victimhood narrative’ to avenge real or imaginary injustices and persecutions in the distant past. The violence against defenceless – mostly poor – persons can spiral out of control, not because of any popular endorsement of such bestiality but because once the perpetrators realise that not only can they get away with murder but also lionised for such acts (this happened in too many places) by the party’s members, they will assert themselves more brazenly. And once the monster tastes power there is no knowing where it will end. Let us not forget that, no matter how you justify it, no terror can be virtuous; and you cannot enforce virtue through terror.

Witness the decay of Pakistani polity in the neighbourhood. It was supposed to be the land of and for the pure. The purity was supposed to come through virtuous living as prescribed in the Islamic scriptures. Gradually, coercion was used to tame the recalcitrant. When it failed to bear the desired results, terror became the ultimate instrument of enforcement. Now criminals are calling the shots there. Violence against the vulnerable minority groups, especially Shias and Ahamadiyas, is the new normal. And now that the worm there has begun to turn, a state of civil war prevails. To make matters worse, Hafiz Sayeed of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa notoriety has now set up a new party called Milli Muslim League, to be led by veteran JuD official Saifullah Khalid with the purpose of establishing in Pakistan 'a real Islamic and welfare state'.

Do we want a similar situation in India? It took the Indian State’s entire might to push back the separatist surge triggered by Bhindranwale – who represented a community that is not even 2% of the total population. But what would be the consequences if a Hindutva demagogue of similar charisma rises from among the rabble that is terrorising the contemporary India’s streets?

Something good is happening too. Thanks to the Modi regime, the nation is experiencing unprecedented positive transformation through long overdue reforms. We are witnessing streamlining of governance that will be more responsive to the citizens’ needs. Ways and means of introducing financial rectitude in the entire governance system are being introduced and regularly reviewed and fine-tuned. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intentions, patriotism and financial probity cannot be doubted. However, he will have to take ruthless steps against the spreading malaise in the party – which might well infect the government. Be it Chandigarh or Fatehabad or Maharashtra, not to mention Bihar, Gujarat, Jharkhand, UP and Rajasthan, the virus of entitlement is spreading. Some of the party’s powerful politicians and their progeny have behaved like neo-colonists. This virus must be stamped out before it becomes contagious.

Finally, some food for thought for the INC and its so-called liberal-secular allies: Have these parties lived up to the ideals of liberal secularism? If not, then what went wrong and where and why? What are the corrective steps needed to rejuvenate secularism in our polity? How and why has the ‘communal party’, BJP, become so popular today that it appears invincible? You cannot be dismissive about the successes of the Modi-Shah duo, they are gradually winning over those for whom the BJP was an ogre. You owe it to the country to purge all the decadence within the Congress Party, to rejuvenate the Gandhian-Nehruvian ideals and become a credible Liberal-Secular challenge to the Right Wing Conservative BJP. If you fail, history and coming generations will never forgive you.

We, the People of India, are watching the political shenanigans with a critical eye. Mend your ways, dear neta log, otherwise, you all will be cast into history’s trashcan via the ballot box.

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