Welcome to India, that is Bharat, the land of eternal contradictions. Blessed are the souls of this country who have the good fortune of living with contradictions, with a majority of them even making a virtue out of it.
Life in India could very well be compared to the movies of Manmoham Desai of yore, who made so many successful movies, a lot many of them with the star of the millennium – Amitabh Bachchan. Although critics – God bless them – rubbished these movies as escapist, trash and without any head or tail, the audience lapped them all as they made them see pleasant dreams at least for three hours that they were in the theatres.
Day in and day out, we are told that we are the largest democracy – whatever that may mean for ordinary folks — that we are on the way to becoming an economic superpower even while people die of hunger and farmers commit suicide. That we have the best Constitution in the world, irrespective of the fact that the number of constitutional amendments carried out therein may soon overtake the original provisions of the Constitution and it may ultimately not only lose its letter but the spirit as well.
Prudence, however, demands that we don’t get carried away by all this rhetoric. We must learn to take all these as snippets from Manmohan Desai’s movies and enjoy them as we read about them or listen to such things. Taking these things seriously could be highly injurious to health and even life.
Our Parliament and State Assemblies are show cases where our elected representatives are provided a stage to display their histrionics and they do so to their full potential. They shout, create ruckus, throw chairs and microphones at each other, even politicise issues requiring humane considerations, deflect issues to avoid serious discussions, overawe others of their ilk with their lung power and to top it all, generally remain absent from the house itself. And then, in their spare time they pass some legislation. However, spare time and knowledge of some of these worthies needs augmentation, the same are generally not wasted in going into details of most of the bills passed by them.
Our much maligned MPs are law makers of this country. A look at their awe inspiring record in the field of law would convince even the diehards about their credentials in this field. Don’t believe it? Well then how about these statistics? Out of approximately 545 odd members of present Lok Sabha, allegedly, 29 have been accused of spouse abuse, seven have been arrested for fraud, 19 have more than three criminal cases pending against them, 117 have been charged and are being investigated for crimes like murder, rape, assault, extortion and robbery, 71 cannot get credit or loans due to bad credit histories, 21 are current defendants on various law suits and 84 have been involved in various other offenses and have paid fines.
Impressive, isn’t it? Well, our law-makers are blessed with many more virtues. It would, however, be rather impracticable to count all of them in this limited space. Quite appropriately, these law makers are fully qualified to make laws because none of these laws are applicable either to themselves, or to law-breakers or even to the agencies charged with enforcing the law. The laws are usually applied to harass ordinary law abiding citizens only.
To keep themselves updated with the laws framed by them as well as to maintain their reputation, our law-makers routinely get involved in various scams or keep rubbing the law on the wrong side. There have been scams like ‘Questions for money’, where these worthies were found to have been demanding money for asking questions in Parliament. Then there was an expose by the Star News during 2005, code named ‘Operation Chakarvyuh’, showcasing MPs demanding and taking a cut out of their own quota of MP Area Development Fund. In a country where generally one scam is unearthed per month, the public has become quite sensitised to such happenings.
Whenever a scam occurs – which is rather frequent – we invariably get to hear with great alacrity, the by now famous six words from the government, “The law shall take its course” and then the same government very promptly concentrates all its energies to ensure that the law does not take any course at all. The way an inquiry is ordered, terms of reference of the inquiry are framed and all sorts of hurdles are placed in front of the inquiry commissions, are all indicative of government’s mind set towards a particular scam. Past record of the scams is a definite proof that the law has hardly been allowed to take its course in democratic India especially if the alleged offenders were from political community.
The latest example in this regard is the alleged bribery attempt during the vote of confidence by Manmohan Singh’s government, where the Parliament was brought into ridicule by the members who displayed currency worth lakhs of rupees, alleged to have been offered as bribe. True to its form, the Parliamentary panel appointed to probe the scandal, could not pinpoint the offenders. Apparently ‘Scamocracy’ – pardon the slip – it should be democracy, albeit Indian ishtyle, has spread its roots or rather tentacles far and wide in our country.
The government is supposed to govern but politicians being at the helm, governance is given the back seat. Recourse is taken to populist measures which supposedly have the potential of translating into instant votes, governance be damned. We thus, have a situation where most of the laws are not enforced. At times the executive is forced by the judiciary to implement the existing laws. The government then tries tight rope walking or circumvention of the laws to somehow put a spanner in court’s directive and perpetuate the wrong by making the illegal, legal. The biggest example that comes to mind is the sealing/demolition drive in Delhi.
Favouritism, nepotism and corruption have ensured that the building bye laws are violated by those who have the money, muscle power or the right connections. The result — mushrooming of illegal structures/buildings and running of factories/commercial establishments in residential areas. With Executive abdicating its responsibilities, the courts had to move in. Directed by the court, the executive had no option but to get on with the demolitions.
Majority of population in Delhi were happy about these demolitions but people with money and muscle – two resources needed the most during elections – were thoroughly indignant with the ruling dispensation and they worked out an impressive opposition to daunt the government. The government, who in the first instance only, should have ensured that no laws were violated, became rather hesitant to enforce the directions of the court. Instead of ensuring enforcement of court’s directions , the government and politicians of all hues then got engaged in the exercise of circumventing the laws, either by amending the Master Plan of Delhi or if required, by bringing about amendments in the building bye laws.
Elsewhere, the government keeps creating feel good atmosphere by regularly presenting vote catching gimmicks, like trailers of Manmohan Desai’s movies. An occasional raid on the premises employing child labour and so called ‘release’ of a number of child workers is given out as an achievement of the state. All this is done without providing any alternate job to the needy children. Our great democracy never bothers to find out the compulsions which force the children to work and earn for their families as it would then be obligated to remove those compulsions. This certainly is not a vote catching exercise and hence, not worthy of government’s attention.
Most of the children are forced to earn at very young age because of family compulsions – there may not be any other male member, the father or both the parents may be dead, there may be acute poverty in the family etc etc. Right to education and banning child labour are good slogans but what is their importance for the families whose very sustenance is at stake? Without any social security system in place, the children ‘freed’ or ‘released’ from child labour either turn to begging or stealing.
Ideally, the social security system in the country should ensure that no child is forced to earn his living. Since in a country like India, it is nothing but a dream, the government, instead of banning child labour altogether, should regulate it by framing laws in this regard that would ensure proper remuneration and reasonable working hours.
Right to information bill has been passed with great fanfare. While it is a welcome step, it would, for a majority of the people, remain a feel good factor only. With a headstrong bureaucracy fiercely determined to maintain its stranglehold, it is indeed a job to get the desired information. How many people would take recourse to law, against denial of information to them, considering that the law itself follows a pretty labyrinthine trail which is tortuous and unending, is a question that alone would determine its efficacy.
Our democracy is full of endless anecdotes, snippets and mutually contradictory situations. A lot many feel good laws exit on the statute book. Nobody, however, has the will or the inclination to ensure that these laws are implemented. Politics and politicians have all become self serving. The general public has no option but to live on the dreams woven by the politicians, much like the celluloid dream merchants, and feel good that ‘Mera Bharat’ is indeed ‘Mahan’.