I am listening to The Who – the deluxe edition of “Who’s Next” – and am rediscovering the joys and pangs of my youth, when the world was ours. I don’t mean that the world belonged to the youth; I mean that the world belonged to us idealists. And most of us had ideals, as far as I can recall.
I grew up in a family of idealists. My mother left home at the age of 16, in what became East Pakistan soon after she left. She came to Kolkata to study, the Partition happened, and she never saw her parents again. She became a cardholder of the CPI, and she shared their ideals of a fairer, more just, more equitable world. My father did no such adventurous thing – he couldn’t afford to. He lost his father at a young age, and started working at the age of 16 so that could support his mother, his sister and his two younger brothers. Then they met, fell in love, and got married, almost before they could support each other, let alone a baby who was soon on the way.
And they were both idealists. They had seen a colonial India change to an independent India over one tumultuous and euphoric night. They had seen and heard the great leaders of pre-Independence India – Gandhi, Nehru, Netaji, Acharya Kripalani, Maulana Azad, Ballabhbhai Patel, et al.
They had also lived through the traumatic days of riots in Bengal before, during and after Partition. While this did leave a scar, there was always the hope that things will improve, with time, and that they needed to be patient. They were patient, and yes, things did improve. There were food shortages, and food riots, and massive unemployment. But, there were new industries set up, new agricultural ventures like Amul, the Green Revolution, Operation Flood, etc. More and more people could get two square meals a day.
But they still felt betrayed. Corruption, which had been a part and parcel of Indian administration since time immemorial, became more pronounced. To get my birth certificate, they had to spend ten rupees in the early fifties, then a princely sum, and which they could ill afford. To get a ration card, they had to spend another ten. In the early sixties, a business tycoon called Dharma Teja was under criminal investigation, and he decamped to Costa Rica, and thereby placed himself beyond the reach of Indian justice. The story broke that he had the blessings of Nehru – the latter apparently told the senior bureaucrats to help Dharma Teja get what he wanted; Nehru’s words “usko thora kuchch de do” still rankles with my parents.
By the early mid sixties, I had evolved from sentience to consciousness and intelligence. To me, the biggest shock was the Emergency, and the ascension of Indira Gandhi to the political throne. To me, she was the worst thing that ever happened to India. She institutionalized corruption, favouritism, lack of equitability, and the rule of greed became the norm. Buying politicians, bureaucrats, members of the judiciary – all those whom in the past I trusted as being driven by the passion to improve the state of our nation and their fellow citizens – was possible, and indeed without buying them you could not get anything done.
Since then, we have become richer, more independent in the real economic sense, more self dependent in many areas, and we are now an ‘emerging market’ which will soon become a super power, if political and economic gurus are to be believed. But my parents and I still feel betrayed. Where, in this process of economic development, have our values and principles gone? Why did it become necessary for our judiciary to be activist? If the executive did its job as well as it was supposed to, the judiciary will naturally become a supportive pillar of our nation, working in synergy with the other two. Instead of this, our judiciary in many cases is in confrontation with our administration – thankfully; at the least the judiciary insists on a rule of law; the administration often acts contrary to the diktats of the courts.
Over the decades, we have given in to pressures of politics and created quotas of various kinds. Why didn’t we invest in infrastructure so that over time quotas would become unnecessary, and only merit would prevail? Why did we make it almost necessary for people in governments to take bribes? Why do we not protest when the largest political party in our country has been turned into the personal fiefdom of one family? Why do we not protest when the same political party has simplified the history of modern India into a linear sequence of personalities – Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Nehru, India Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, and pretty soon Rahul Gandhi?
I grew up at a time when the Naxal movement ran rampant through many parts of West Bengal and when most students of Presidency College in Kolkata were Naxalites or sympathizers, when America escalated the Vietnam War every few months and when the students took to the streets of France and removed Charles de Gaulle from power. Their were voices of political conscience in other countries – Dylan, Lennon, Angela Davis, Noam Chomsky, Regis Debray, the students who were shot down in Kent State University, and I am sure I am missing out on a whole list of others who stood up and fought against injustice, corruption, and lack of values and principals in polity.
Where are our Dylans and Chomskys? Where are our Kent State students? No point in asking me to be one – I don’t have the courage or the capability. They must be there somewhere – studying at one of the IIMs and soon to become investment bankers; or working in TCS or Infosys, and soon to be a software cat.
This is one long rant, sparked off by the live version of “We won’t get fooled again”. They began by marching in the streets, but ended by meeting the new boss, who was the same as the old boss. Plus ça change, mon amie, plus ce la meme chose!
Does that mean that I am pessimistic about India? No, I am not. I believe India will become a great place to live in, to work in, to enjoy life to the fullest. I believe that someday, all my countrymen will be able to get two square meals a day, they will not be subject to usury, and perhaps someday we will have honest politicians, honest bureaucrats, honest judges and lawyers, honest administrators, honest people in public life – who will put the welfare of their homeland and their brethren at par with their own well-being. But I don’t believe that this will not happen in my lifetime.
The above was written and posted on sulekha.com on Nov 25 2006. However in the last fortnight, something happened which makes me provisionally half-believe that it may indeed happen before I go onto my next avatar. Anna Hazare at Jantar Mantar happened, and a million or more Indians said that they will not stand to be fooled again.
We will need many more Annas, many more Jantar Mantars, and many hundreds of millions of Indians to change things. But I am glad that the first step has been taken, and that they are singing they won’t get fooled again.