In two days from now our Prime Minister will be addressing the nation from the Lal Qila.
Being a man of method, we can be sure he has been working hard on his Independence Day speech. Being hard-working, we can be sure he has revised what he has written, revised what he has revised, to strike the right balance, the right tone, the right nuance, so as not to cross the lines of responsible expression. Being a man of moderation as well, we can be sure he will use little or no rhetoric.
But the powerful magnetism of the Red Fort will pull him, without doubt.
That the Grand Moghul Shah Jehan built it in the mid-1600s, and reigned from there, he can’t but be deeply conscious of. That less grand Moghuls failed to reign from there, that having captured power Aurangzeb had his elder brother, the hugely-trusted Dara Shukoh forcibly mounted on a slime-covered elephant in front of the Fort and paraded in nearby gullies before being put to death, that the Fort was attacked and looted in 1739 by Nadir Shah who carried away its Peacock Throne, that it was again brutally violated in 1857 by British forces who then took the tragic Bahadur Shah Zafar from his dust-laden bed to a forlorn exile, our prime minister knows. Also, how the Red Fort became a palladium for our freedom struggle, with Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose making it a gleaming goal, though on August 15, 1947, Destiny gave not to Netaji but to the ‘Ritu-raj’, as Tagore hailed Jawaharlal Nehru, the privilege of unfurling the tiranga atop its pink-red fastnesses.
The Red Fort is a monument to great enterprises, great setbacks, its walls and vaults reflect power’s great glories as also great intrigues, machinations, skullduggery and saudebazi (deals) that hide behind its visible face. History is an education but the history of political bastions and battlements, a torment. They tell, in fact, the story, now inspirational and now sordid, of India’s political class.
A veteran journalist, gifted with humour and insight but also sadness, whom I have known and respected from when I was a child, told me the other day, “Gopal, the average Indian is now disgusted with the political class.” I knew what he meant, and how right he was. “This entire political class has to go,” he said. “But who or what is to replace it?” I asked. “Why, the new generation,” he said, movingly. “It wants a complete change.”
Reflecting on what he said so poignantly, I thought of the Hindustani word ‘iman’. The change the public wants to see is iman restored and active in our politicians, just as it wants to see ilm (learning) in a teacher, hunar (skill) in a doctor, kashish (empathy) in a poet.
Disowned by large segments of the political class, iman has become lavaris (vagrant), ready to be lifted off the street by his natural hamdard (fellow sufferer), namely, the hamsarak (fellow wayfarer).
To be sure, there are several worthy and admirable men and women in our Parliament and legislatures, across the political spectrum, who I consider it an honour to know, precisely for their iman.
But there is no denying that iman has taken a beating and a disowning at the hands of politics. So what do we do about it? Despite Jayaprakash Narayan’s brave belief to the contrary, I don’t think there can be a democracy without politics, politics without party politics and party politics without politicians. And yet we have to recognise the fact of the popular disgust with the political class. That, in a democratic order, is a grave illness that can’t lie unattended. It will lead to a prolapse, not just of politics but of democracy.
Restoring the image of its iman is, therefore, critical. Difficult though that it now is for any single individual to attempt, yet, if our democracy is to survive, certain steps need to be taken. They can include:
Reviewing the laws in respect of the corporate funding of elections. Once elected with the help of another’s money — be it an individual’s or a company’s — can the victorious candidate look the donor in the eye and say ‘No’ when that donor asks for an inappropriate concession? The late Indrajit Gupta had chaired a committee to study these issues. Another study needs now to be made of the working of Section 293A of the Companies Act.
Setting up, in addition to a nationally-accepted lokpal, a nationally-applauded mechanism that coordinates and consolidates existing ones for spotting and stopping be-imani and for protecting whistle-blowers. Aruna Roy and her associates in the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information have outlined the mechanism for this.
Protecting the primacy of legislative prerogatives completely but recognising, at the same time, the role of non-legislative and pre-legislation consultative procedures as a natural part of the political process, and giving those procedures clear definition and shape. The Constitution of India was made by the honest for the innocent. It needs now to be operated by the experienced for the wise.
Bringing the political class and non-political groups such as led by Anna Hazare together to draw up a resolute democratic and constitutional methodology for combating corruption, reminding society also of its own responsibilities in the matter.
Giving coalition dharma a brief introduction to history. The first Cabinet of independent India had some distinguished non-Congressmen, even non-politicians. It was a colleagueship, more than a coalition. More recently, we have seen coalitions without colleagueship. Gone is the cooperation that didn’t compromise, the frankness that didn’t fracture. That needs to change.
These are among several steps that are needed, and not necessarily the most important.
On Independence Day, when our prime minister mounts the ramparts of the Red Fort to share his thoughts with the Nation, he will be expected to discuss, with his characteristic restraint, the problems of poverty and under-employment in India, of our inadequate health, nutrition and education levels, the alarming mismatch in our male-female ratio, and all that is being done to mitigate those evils. He will be expected to tell us how he envisions the growth of our infrastructure to lather the path for development. After he has spoken of these and, as he must, of the three negative globalisms — global warming, global terror and, now, the looming prospect of another global meltdown — he will also be expected, by honest and hopeful people, to speak of iman in our public life.
Overlooking him, beyond the invited ‘afsaran’ and ‘safiran’, will be those simple people, the awaam-e-Hind. It is their direct ancestors who flocked around Dara Shukoh in Chandni Chowk, hearkened to Netaji and, as he raised the first tiranga over the Red Fort, called Jawaharlal Nehru blessed. They want to see iman welcomed back and honoured in its democratic home. They want to see iman seated on the Peacock Throne of our national life, not left to wander lavaris amid uncertain footpaths to find a stone on which to lay its tousled head.
( Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor )
The views expressed by the author are personal