In­dia of Gandhi's dreams?

The Pak Banker - - 4editorial - Ai­jaz Zaka Syed

In the long years of In­dia's in­de­pen­dence strug­gle, Ma­hatma Gandhi would of­ten hold out the utopia of Ram Ra­jya (gov­er­nance of Lord Ram) to cheer up a coun­try weighed down by the tyranny of the colo­nial rule. Of course, the Ma­hatma did not in­voke Ram in the strictest re­li­gious sense or sub­scribed to the saf­fron-tinted world­view of to­day's Hindu right.

What he re­ally meant was an In­dia where hon­esty, sim­plic­ity and piety ruled. In the same vein, writ­ing in Har­i­jan in 1937, the Ma­hatma turned to the Is­lamic Caliphate as a model state and so­ci­ety. "I can­not help but to present to you the names of Abu Bakar and Umar (the first and sec­ond Caliphs). They were lead­ers of a vast em­pire, yet they lived a life of aus­ter­ity."

Aus­ter­ity. Sim­plic­ity. And hon­esty. Gandhi lived by them and en­vi­sioned the In­dia of his dreams to be run by the same val­ues. I won­der what Gandhi would make of the cur­rent state of af­fairs in In­dia of his dreams? The great man must be turn­ing in his grave as the coun­try gets rocked by one stag­ger­ing cor­rup­tion scam af­ter an­other. Ev­ery new case of graft ap­pears to be pro­gres­sively bolder and wickeder, set­ting ever new records of ve­nal­ity and de­prav­ity.

What makes the re­cent scams re­mark­able is not just the stag­ger­ing ex­tent of the cor­rup­tion. While it is not un­usual to catch the politi­cians with their pants down, for the first time they have been caught in the act with the folks who are sup­posed to watch and monitor them.

For weeks now the In­di­ans - and oth­ers around the world - have end­lessly lis­tened in mor­bid fas­ci­na­tion to the tapes that have Bri­tish In­dian cor­po­rate lob­by­ist Ni­ira Ra­dia strate­gis­ing in her vary­ing ac­cent with the bold and beau­ti­ful of In­dian me­dia to help her clients that in­clude the might­i­est of cor­po­rate giants, like the Am­bani broth­ers, to the Tatas to the most cor­rupt politi­cians in the land. And up for grabs are not just the whop­ping tele­com deals worth Rs1.76 tril­lion but plump fed­eral cabi­net port­fo­lios that would dole out those very deals for a song.

It's amaz­ing, and in­cred­i­bly sober­ing, to see - or hear, rather - fel­low jour­nal­ists play the king­mak­ers or even God as they prom­ise the mys­te­ri­ous Lady Ra­dia to tell the Congress lead­er­ship to pick up a cer­tain A Raja for the tele­com min­is­ter's job, the ma­gi­cian from Madras who made the ex­che­quer con­sid­er­ably lighter with his sleight of hand. And all these years you thought se­lect­ing his min­is­ters was the pre­rog­a­tive of the prime min­is­ter! An­other em­i­nent jour­nal­ist, an edi­tor of In­dia's first news­magazine be­long­ing to a pow­er­ful me­dia group, is found of­fer­ing lessons to the nation's rich­est man in fix­ing a court ver­dict.

Yet our fel­low trav­ellers re­main charm­ingly blase. My feisty friend Barkha Dutt of NDTV, who has in­spired gen­er­a­tions of young In­di­ans to take to jour­nal­ism with her world-class re­port­ing and news pre­sen­ta­tion, is en­vi­ously in­dig­nant when quizzed by se­nior editors on her act­ing as a mes­sen­ger and go­b­e­tween to lobby for the al­ready dis­cred­ited Raja.

"It was an er­ror of judg­ment," she con­cedes mag­nan­i­mously, but in­sists: "I did noth­ing wrong and I will not apol­o­gise." As though it was a mi­nor mat­ter of in­ter­pre­ta­tion and se­man­tics.

Maybe I am a bit thick, but isn't it un­eth­i­cal for jour­nal­ists to lobby for min­is­te­rial berths or other favours, even if they haven't landed them­selves a slice of the pie? Who has given this right to Barkha Dutt, Vir Sanghvi, Prabhu Chawla and many oth­ers fig­ur­ing in the so-called Ra­dia tapes? Cer­tainly not the vot­ers? The me­dia is sup­posed to be the fourth es­tate in a democ­racy.

It is sup­posed to guard over and pro­tect peo­ple's in­ter­ests. Since when has it be­come a pimp to politi­cians? Since when has it started be­come more than a mes­sen­ger? And those who have been given the right to run this coun­try by the peo­ple, they ap­pear to be in­creas­ingly ab­di­cat­ing and sur­ren­der­ing this re­spon­si­bil­ity to all sorts of power bro­kers, lob­by­ists and cor­po­rate play­ers.

What was Dr Man­mo­han Singh, long li­onised and cel­e­brated by the me­dia and grow­ing mid­dle classes as the great­est hope of a new, lib­er­alised In­dia, do­ing - for God's sake! - when Raja had been run­ning the biggest fi­nan­cial scam since In­de­pen­dence?

Ev­ery­one in and out­side the gov­ern­ing Congress sings hosan­nas of the good doc­tor and his fa­bled hon­esty and sin­cer­ity. But is hon­esty and sin­cer­ity enough to run a clean and hon­est govern­ment? The road to hell is paved with good in­ten­tions. It's one of those ironies of fate that over the past seven years In­dia's clean­est premier has presided over the biggest scams in the nation's his­tory.

But all said and done, per­haps it's un­fair to sin­gle out the politi­cians and jour­nal­ists for cen­sure and our col­lec­tive ou­trage. In this Turk­ish ham­mam (bath), just about ev­ery­one is glo­ri­ously naked, if we only care to look around. Be­sides, we get the politi­cians and jour­nal­ists we de­serve. They rep­re­sent and are part of the so­ci­ety they live in. We have be­come a re­pub­lic of scams, as Brahma Chel­laney puts it. Cor­rup­tion is all per­va­sive and eat­ing into In­dia's vitals like a can­cer.

Even the once sa­cred ju­di­ciary and armed forces haven't re­mained un­af­fected. In the new, post-Lib­er­al­i­sa­tion, pro-mar­ket In­dia of the new mil­len­nium, money rules and Mam­mon is the new de­ity. The phe­nom­e­nal eco­nomic growth of the past few years, un­af­fected even by the global re­ces­sion, has only fu­elled this feed­ing frenzy.

There's money ev­ery­where, more than In­dia and In­di­ans have ever seen. Yet, we are far from con­tent. Those who are rich are in an end­less race to get even richer in the short­est pos­si­ble time.

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