What chances for freedoms today?
Human rights ensured or violated in today’s world?
Sunny summer? Or, a winter of discontent or despair?
Thoughts on our freedoms and security!
The day and the time when the leaves glow yellow and golden when the sun shines!
Where are our freedoms today?
What are the freedoms we can afford today?
Who are the freedom-givers and the takers of freedoms?
I write this on the day when the First World War ended. It is called in the West as Armistice Day and “celebrated” or remembered is the right word perhaps, by the winners of the war and also in a manner by the losers as well.
Each country remembers its war dead. In India too, there used to be a war veterans day. I used to witness this day in Bangalore every year when the Indian army units used to put the flower decoration to the war memorial at the very heart of the city, right at the busy junction of Residency and Brigade roads. This is the war memorial for the Indian soldiers who died (or sent in masses for massacre?) at the Mesopotamia campaign. I have got a book somewhere in my library on this “infamous” campaign which was the folly of the British raj then and the infamy is being perpetrated, in my opinion, on an ignorant nation!
What is the point of decrying an old folly, you might ask.
No, our present day politicians are equally guilty, I would say!
Yes, even today, our politicians, I mean the more learned and supposed to be well-informed enough, lead us in a much more ignorant manner and hold us, the public in the country and also the public opinion, in the country to a sort of ransom, a blackmail, when it comes to the fate of our lives as a nation and as a people, collectively, I mean.
Why such pessimism?
Yes, there are some valid reasons for me.
For what ends we are asked to sing the praise of the Indo-US nuclear deal?
Has anyone enlightened us so far the wisdom of signing the nuclear deal?
Is it for peace or war? Will the deal make India more secure militarily to face any threats? Or, will the deal ensure just energy alone?
No one has made things clear at all.
Can the nation believe just Dr.Manmohan Singh or Pranab Mukerjee alone?
Yes, it likes that. There is no public debate, no debate worth the name in the Indian Parliament?
Or, was there any such debates?
Yes the TV debates had created more noise and headlines than any wisdom or serious in-depth understanding of the pros and cons of the great nuclear deal.
Now, we are reminded that Narasimha Rao wanted to conduct the nuclear test way back in 1995 and as he buckled under pressure from the US, he wrote to Vajpayee, the incoming Pm to conduct the test and it was done.
Even after that India hasn’t become any stronger vs. a vs. Pakistan and other countries we feared. In fact, now, says the former Navy Chief Admiral Arun Prakash that there was even then no need for a second test in 1998, the 1994 test was enough. He asks “What is the point of having the nuclear weapons except to get the respect of other countries?”
I hesitated to ask such a question all these days simple because I was unsure whether I might sound an ignoramus! Now, a navy chief had asked such a question I have become bold enough to ask the same question even now. That is after the Pm got busy going around the world, after the USA to China and Japan and again busied himself in the Gulf countries and he is giving the impression within India that he is doing a great job.
I am sorry today I don’t share such a view of what the PM is doing on the nuclear issue and if any other aspect like ensuring our security environment.
Why I say this?
Historical understanding is more critical. I am of the firm belief that it is our history our historical understanding of the international environment is much more critical to ensure our national security. That is why Nehru gave India that unique great inner strength. Today, I as a citizen feel insecure about our national self-confidence. Why? Because, even after the PM (and also after Sonia Gandhi’s two more visits) visits to China, that country is making wild claims on India’s Arunachal Pradesh territory.
Enlightened rulers had enlightened advisers!
Frederick 11 of Prussia had Voltaire to advise him
Catherine 11,the Great had also Voltaire as her adviser
Joseph 11 of Austria had also wise counsellors
The autocrats were at least reformers in their times.
The also sought the philosophes, Montesquieu and Rousseau.
19th century saw only autocracy and despotism. At least there was wisdom, and these rulers sought wise counsel.
Can we say the same thing about today’s politicians, about Sonia Gandhi?
See the sort of advisers and her own ministers!
So, I am asking myself: What these leaders might have talked with the Chinese leaders? Won’t they have raised such sensitive matters and explained the real nature of the issues, our border issues with China?
I am in no position to know the exact situation.
The PM hasn’t also enlightened us as to why such anxiety is created in the minds of the Indian people.
This thought disturbs me as I write.
Now the world wars thoughts are uppermost in my mind.
The First World War for Indians means anything? For today’s generation? I don’t think so. Even for the Indians of this generation or the previous one, even for the Indians who have all migrated and live in the UK and the USA, the world wars might not mean much.
I only think so. This is for various reasons.
First, most of the Indians of this day, both old and the young, might not be fully aware of world affairs, both of today and in the days gone by. Most of us just live our lives just for the day. Much for our own selves and for our families and the immediate surroundings. For those who are fortunate, that is those who think they are fortunate, because they had got education or they got a secure job, as in government(I think so this way for In see the Indians of this generation and also those who are of the older generation of yesterdays, like those in government jobs, as civil servants or even as politicians like our own government-servant turned Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh or for that matter any one of the current crop of politicians and ministers)life seems to be just one more day lived, that is we seem to live all for our own selves and for the immediate families only.
I am not sure of how many of our leaders, those who are there as ministers and MPs and MLAs, politics is all about selfless service.
Anyway, with the sort of mind I am with today, the day that is today coincided with the Armistice Day. The day also brought back my memories of the times past.
I still distinctively remember the day and the place.
It was the year 1959 and I was a fresh graduate at Oxford and I was on my first European holiday. I was traveling in Europe and I was returning from Switzerland and I was hitch-hiking. I found myself in a remote country side of France, then almost I found myself very lonely I was finding it hard to get a speeding car to stop and give me a lift. Till then, I was always lucky to get someone giving me a helping hand. In fact, I remember one day a lady driving alone stopped by my side and asked me, are you from India, and I said yes! She was surprised to see an young Indian student asking for a lift and she asked me to get in. The drive was long in the French country and she was going towards the Swiss border to visit her mother. What I remember to this day was her sunny personality, she was alert and active and interested in the world.
All the time the subject of her conversation was about the eloped Indian lady, one Sonalini Dasgupta, she eloped with the Italian film director one Roberto Rossilini, he was a friend of Nehru and he came to do some documentary on Indian development and that is how he became a friend of the Indian government documentary film department. Ms.Sonalini Dasgupta was the wife of one Mr.Dasgupta of the government department. When she eloped with the director to Italy, she became an overnight celebrity. This, my hostess for that day, was keenly interested in the story and that was one reason, as I found out later, why she gave me a car life, just to chat with me all about this Italian director and the Indian lady.
I was also familiar with this scandal then in the news as Sonalinit Dasgupta was also a student of Santiniketan, years before my time! So, this long drive, she was a good driver and she drove me through the beautiful French countryside and she even stopped for lunch with her mother and I was also called into their home for sharing the lunch.
So, the French countryside and France became my part of the world and shaped my consciousness of the world and the people outside my known world.
On my way back I was not so lucky. I was stuck at one place.
This palace today I remembered on the Armistice Day. This place where I found myself lonely on that far off day was none other than what was to be the worst bloody battle ground of Verdun.
Verdun? Yes, that was the place where this year, this day, went the French President Nicolas Sarkozy, accompanied by so many dignitaries whose names I don’t care to remember at all!
The report of the visit as put in the British newspapers read so well and the words so moved me and sent in a cold wave inside me, made me feel sad for hours together. Here I am at such a far distant land, India and the day I was there at Verdun, is again a far -ff memory and yet Verdun connected me to a stream of consciousness that created so many ripples of tears inside me. I cried alone and for a longer time than I wanted.
Why I cried?
“The day and the time. When the leaves glow yellow and golden as the sun shines!”
In the battlefield of Verdun, there perished more than 300,000 French and German soldiers, many died after being shot by their own commands for refusing to fight on! Others died fighting. Many others were simply butchered for no valid reasons!
Verdun, even then, to my innocent eyes seemed to be a ghost town and there were not many around. That might be one reason why the town looked ghostly to my unsuspected eyes. The news report today notes that at 11 o’clock, a two minute silence was observed by himself and entourage and the visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, visiting Australian governor general, Quentin Bryce and the Grand Duke of Luxembourg and many others.
The war monument and the surroundings are dotted with crosses for the dead and the concrete ossuary housed the bones of the 130,000 unidentified dead. What a great human and shall not say, a great blunder of man for triggering this great tragedy.
So too the Second World War. Then, the subsequent human follies, the coming of Lenin, Hitler and their follies, then Stalin, then later Mao and now? The Iraqi war which was launched for what?
George Bush and much more the guilty fellow, Tony Blair, the two lied to the world, there was no invasion by Iraq and there was no weapons of mass destruction, as Tony Blair lied and they, the two men of war of our times, lied blatantly and went on to cause one more modern tragedies, some 300,000 massacred for no visible ends!
Why such a long monologue, readers might wonder.
Yes, I have been haunted by the indifference of people not only in India but also in the wider world about the consequences of the way we live in the world, the way the governments of the major countries are run.
As the visiting writer, the Nobel Laureate, Nadine Gordinar, 85, said in Kolkatta in a speech, the tragic violence is being caused by man in an unceasing manner to this day. In her beautiful phrase, it was a “sunny day in New York in September 2001, when suddenly terror pounded the sky. So too Hiroshima happened on an unsuspected day.
So, what guarantee is there today when we won’t be overtaken by some other mad act?
The world is no more safe today for the humanity as it never seemed to be!
So, what is the point of taking our leaders’s words seriously day in and day out?
As for India, there seems to be much to feel despaired about.
China is again creating some tension, why, lots of tensions on the border issue. At a time and stage in world’s development, here is a big neighbour who entertains so much animosity towards another big neighbour, India doesn’t entertain any ill-will, though we have reasons enough to feel so. China humiliated India, India after conceding our traditional claims over Tibet and after acting in such good faith, China didn’t recognise the feelings of the peace-loving Tibetan people and behaved like a ruthless dictator and now as for India’s borders, after talking for so many months to lay claim to an integral part of Arunachal Pradesh in such a blatant manner!
So too our internal issues.
Margaret Alva, a senior Congress leader, coming from a distinguished Congress family, her in laws, both Violet Alva and Joachim Alva were both MPs simultaneously and she is now unceremoniously disowned by the party!
There are no freedoms within the Indian National Congress. I don’t cease to remind everyone who cares for, that this party is not just a political party like any other. It is an organisation that evolved over 123 years. It had seen many ups and downs. It had seen great men and women who had given their best to sustain it. There had been many splits and many dissensions and disagreements.
Yet, under the unique leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, it brought about an amalgam of nationalism and patriotism that made many to give their lives for selfless service, public service for no monetary rewards was the great gift of the Congress style politics.
But today, I am not sure whether Sonia Gandhi is fully aware or not. Or, fully alive to this great national tradition of India.
Sonia Gandhi has the great moral responsibility to undertake to throw away the real guilty men or others who are accused to taking money for distribution of tickets in the elections.
Some names have also been mentioned and some other Congress insiders have also expressed support for Margaret Alva.
Instead what we see today?
All sorts of opportunists have surrounded Sonia Gandhi and they talk of disciplinary action against the one who spilled the beans in the open!
Freedoms of expression are sacred for clean politics. It doesn’t matter who is affected. There must be honest soul searching for a leader like the one who head the Congress party.
Alva might have breached the party discipline in the routine sense of the term.
But the party is getting corrupted by persons because the party doesn’t adopt basically ethical conduct on the part of its core leaders, the core team is not constituted by people who have some claims to integrity and also long-time service to the cause of the party’s objectives.
What is the basic objective of the Congress?
It is democracy, parliamentary democracy, secularism and individual liberty.
The party must work for a liberal society, an open society and much else stems from these basic belief systems.
Now, freedom and liberty are much used terms and they have lost much of the original glow in the context of much debasement of values today.
But that doesn’t in any way diminish the need for upholding our adherence to basic individual liberty.
Now, there is no such thought whatever.
Individual voices are suppressed, through several devices. There are sycophants all around a party leader. There are party spokespersons. They are all supposed to defend the leader and by using so many subterfuges!
In the particular controversy what was left out of the debate was: was it true tickets were sold for bribes? Yes, they were. Names are also given and the party knows this also very well.
But then, no one is willing to take up that bribery in the party. This is much more serious than the other allegation that he party distributed tickets to party leader’s progeny. Some 23 names of sons, daughters, and others are also in the public domain.
So, no one in the Congress party or outside is worried?
It looks as if every country has its symbols of honour and illusion, and also a sense of what constitutes honour and illusion. Prof.Niall Ferguson, the otherwise clever but highly rhetorical and highly biased Angloglobalist(one term he made popular, that is Anglogobalisation) notes in writing about the twentieth century conflicts(The War of the World: the twentieth century conflict and the descent of the West) and also the other historian, the venerable Eric Hobsbawm(Globalisation, Democracy and Terrorism), has much to say how each nation tries to rally the minds of the people around a hero or an icon. Commenting upon how also such words like democracy and freedom also get focused on certain events or some leader.
Seen in this context we in India get carried away easily if someone invokes the names of national leaders. It was Gandhi and Nehru for long, even now their names evokes some remote resonances. But more recently after Sonia Gandhi had taken over the Congress party, we are drawn to focus more on recent leaders, Indira Gandhi, then, Rajiv Gandhi and more of now, more and more around one leader, that is Sonia Gandhi herself.
So, if any finger is pointed out at her deficiency of judgement of peoples and issues, then an organised fury is let out and the opponents are removed from the proximity of power.
That is what has also happened to Margaret Alva.
Now, men like Veerappa Moily are nobodies, even when compared with a person like Alva, both hail from the same district and yet both come from a different political background.
In the Congress it is the loyalty factor that is now used. Not the past of a person.
If only one uses the yardstick of past service and any past act then, men like Moily wont be nowhere.
So too everyone around Mrs.Gandhi today. Most of them near her or enjoying her favour were defectors, betrayers of the party at critical times, some had changed parties more than once! Many were expelled even earlier when Indira Gandhi was in power. Say like A.K.Antony who now heads the disciplinary committee of the party!
So, there is really now some need and realisation on the part of the party men and also on the part of the larger public ,the elite, the press and` even the contributors of funds to the parties, we have to go for a thorough examination of the entirely changed context that exist today.
The liberalisation ,the opening of the economy had brought with it the new generation of capitalists who are also close to Delhi, the capital and therefore they invariably congregate towards the power centre and thereby entrench themselves in the party and the government machinery.
Today you needn’t be a minister really in Delhi to be powerful or influential. By being the latest success story in the industry or business, be a Mittal or an Ambani or a Jindal and then you invariably become a power centre in yourself. You can get your man elected to the Rajya Sabha, one Reliance executive was so elected from Jarkhand!
Doesn’t Sonia Gandhi know this development? She knows?! What the party president thought about it or what she thought of doing something to prevent such thing happening?
No one knows or no one cares to know or even if one knows then, it is brushed under the carpet.
Yes, the current evil practices in the Indian polity are too many to mention and even if one cares to narrate ,where does one get it published.
The establishment press and the TV channels are too wiling to oblige.
That is one more reason why the Prime Minister also gets his job done with very little criticism about the very weakening and also arbitrary exercise of powers at the PMO levels.
Take the Indo-US nuclear deal. Was there any discussion in the public or in Parliament? Was there any education of the public?
So too many of the major policy decisions and policy shifts. There are no discussions.
The party and the government in a democracy is the most secretive instruments of the exercise of power and rules over the fates of the people. No questions asked. No questions needs to be raised either.
As Eric Hobsbawm notes in the introduction to his book on wars, democracy and terrorism:” The application of reason and common sense is removed from our public arena of discussion. While we may be committed to the government of the people, who are all the people? Rich and the poor? Stupid and the clever? Informed and the ignorant?” We might add the various lobbyists who are congregating in New Delhi, their paymasters?
The way the funds are raised and no questions asked? The way some ministers are maintained in the government as members of the household got over quarter of a century even!
So, freedoms of the citizens might be ensured. Such freedoms are only formal. As secularism is.
The democracy we practice is only for the clever among them, the rich and powerful among them. And the freedoms too are only for those who serve the prevailing layers of hierarchies, in politics, economics and the more wider society of many areas of work and living.
You have to conform to the existing inequities, existing evils of this iniquitous society and polity.
Seen in this broader perspective and broader picture of an unethical and highly immoral and highly unjustified politics of nomination and existing power structure, then what else you can expect?
Margaret Alva’s present and immediate predicaments may not be hers alone. They symbolise the wider predicaments of the wider sections of people and citizens.
In such an air of unreality and immoral and evils-pervading political environment, there is much room and the room is expanding for those who pull the polity in the opposite directions.
There is an emerging anarchy. Regional leaders and forces, from the DMK and ShivaSena to others in the North East to the rise of fundamentalist forces, from the various communal forces to the rise in violence and terrorism to the absence of a vibrant Parliament ,the corruptive environments in other branches, in judiciary to bureaucracy, there doesn’t seem to be a wider perspective towards some over-arching goal.
Yes, there is a rise in terrorism and violence and they seem to be growing everyday. The terrorist attacks are on the rise, so too the losses of life. What the government’s thinking on these current phenomenon?
No one has clue and no one seems to be asking questions of theory or practices! The Home Minister sits pretty and Sonia Gandhi has no inclination to push for action or change of guard. The Prime Minister can only be congratulated for his stoic quietism. That is his practised mantra, it seems.
There is a need for action.
First, the need to wipe out corruption in the party and the polity. Alva had highlighted the party’s proneness to more corruption and disarray in the times ahead. As for corruption in the polity, only the electorate must feel fed up and vote out of the regimes periodically.
Anyway, the electoral system seems to have come into a stable system and the periodical elections are the only guarantee to oust the corrupt and the more venal elements. But this is no argument for any action on the leadership.
What freedoms mean to Indians?
I am no more wiser than any other average Indian citizen when I ask myself: what freedoms we are enjoying? What freedoms are guaranteed as we see our polity is hurtling from one election to another, one soon to come and that gets all the attention of the leaders. And on election-eve, we are witnessing some unseemly quarrels within the Congress and no less in other parties.
The quarrels are about who gets what number of seats, then, who would form the government. Much more sensitive and hence more insecure for the polity, whether Dr.Manmohan Singh get one more nomination!
Here is a country which is a democracy and supposed to be a republic, we see the uncertain prospect of one person, a person representing a dynasty nominating her own favourite as the Prime Minister who neither contests nor faces an election to be elected as the leader of a Parliamentary majority leader to claim the title of a democratically elected leader.
What is the polity like? Is it a democracy? A liberal democracy? A Republic? Or is the family-run or monarchy-like arrangement that allows all these plays of favouritism and sycophancy?
One senior leader raises a question, a legitimate at that, about the party becoming a home for all sorts of foul play and unethical practices. And what the party does?
It simple suffocates such dissident voices and democracy is throttled and it becomes a modern day democratic dictatorship!
So, where are our freedoms? Whose freedoms? Yes, our own freedoms?
Who gives our freedoms? Or to make the point more sensitive, who gives our freedoms or who are the people who enjoy or claim their freedoms?
Surely, our polity is twisted and turned into a family-saga facade of democracy only in name. In reality there is no genuine democracy, no liberal beliefs held by the dominant classes. It is money and muscle power and the corporate power that defines our freedoms, right?
This is no freedoms we are all accustomed to. We are all told to believe in.
Our freedoms are genuine only when there is genuine democracy within the parties, within the polity, within the government formation.
When Parliament functions in a true and genuine manner.
The party or parties must be seen to function within the rules and regulations as monitored by the various Constitutional bodies like the CEC, judiciary and the Parliament.
There must be new regulations ,new Constitutional amendments to clean the political processes in accordance with the highest principles of ethics, truth and transparency etc.
That is where the ideology comes. Whatever new jargon is acceptable that is okey.
Yes, old jargon doesn’t convey the new realities. So some jargon becomes cliche and we have to discard. So goes out the cliches-ridden jargon, ideology first and all isms.
But we need a new language of truth, integrity and ethics.
The point is that today money power and muscle power and great selfishness and family power had replaced the original commitments.
In this environment, neither India can become morally and economically strong. It would become a country that is prey to many shortcomings.
One needn’t cite historic parallels.
But we are human and we are prey to recent historical parallels too.
The First World War was a folly. Some empires perished and so too our innocent Indian souls. The Second World War was also a disaster for Indians. Though we got the freedom for the nation, India lost out the original territory. The country was partitioned and left weak.
Now, too in the new century, there are wars going on. Historians like Eric Hobsbawm and Niall Ferguson have documented the losses and as I write there are unfinished wars going on, in many parts of the world.
A new American President, Barack Obama, as he is positioned now, is an unknown quantity as far as India’s interest is concerned.
Just to expect that once again Manmohan Singh conduct his foreign diplomacy with a new American President is another folly.
Nor, just to carry on as we have done for the last term, an India where there are no moral scruples for our leaders to pursue a narrow agenda is another folly.
We need a broader vision, a border view of the world, a historical perspective. Historical perspective means many things. We have to look back and also look around! Liberty, freedoms mean anything today? Here, in India? Or, Parliament means much?
We may not care for or talk about such ideas much either! But they are the ideas that mean much when we deeply think about and touch our conscience or call for some help to lean against! A wall is no good at times. Sometimes an idea, a basic idea is a more sure wall to lean against! Liberty, freedoms and names like Voltaire and Rousseau do count for anyone who cares for such freedoms and liberty. France, European Enlightenment ,like the Eiffel Tower, they stand out in men’s minds.
Parliament is the critical institution in a democracy, in any democracy. So, the House of Commons, the Lok Sabha and even the Russian Parliament or the American Congress do lend some unique national character and also impact the international character of modern democracies.
A new articulation of our hopes and fears where our freedoms are ensured, if not secured, is the minimum programme one can expect from a new government in India.
Image Source : perpetualmemoryloss.com