Journalists are by training cynics, preferring to see every glass as half empty. But cynicism is no longer the exclusive preserve of mediapersons. A wave of negativism seems to be sweeping the country resting on a conviction that we are a corrupt, ill-governed country with badly compromised institutions that offer little hope to generation next. So, as we approach our 65th Independence day, the midnight dream of our founding fathers seems to be rapidly descending into a nightmare. But do we really have so little to celebrate this August 15?
Yes, we rank 87 out of 178 countries measured in the Transparency International’s corruption index. Yes, we have major scams running into thousands of crores where public money has been looted. Yes, you need to often pay a bribe to get work done and buying a house involves undisclosed cash transactions. But is the fight against corruption really that hopeless?
Take Anna Hazare and his jan lokpal movement. If you listen to Team Anna, you’d be convinced that all our politicians are ‘chors’ with no commitment to probity in public life. But maybe Team Anna too needs to get a reality check: in how many other countries could you abuse the political class, burn draft bills, create a confrontational situation and yet have the space and opportunity to be heard? Yes, it took a fast-unto-death threat by Anna to push an obdurate government to bring the Lokpal Bill to Parliament. Certain provisions in the bill are flawed and need amendment, but the fact that within four months of Anna’s original fast, Parliament has been forced to debate the shape of the proposed anti-corruption legislation is a sign that we are a functioning democracy that does listen to voices from below.
Let’s also look at our much-maligned political class. Yes, their assets have multiplied within a few years of entering public office, and many of them do see politics only as a vehicle for self-aggrandisement. But for every neta who is out to make a quick buck, there will be one who is working tirelessly for his constituency. Yes, we urgently need electoral reform to reduce the role of money in influencing election outcomes, but if riches alone were to be a barometer for electoral success then we should have had many more than the 315 of 544 MPs who are currently officially listed as crorepatis. The fact that an increasing number of candidates are finding it difficult to win a second term should also be a source of quiet satisfaction: the voter is ready to cast his franchise ruthlessly and effectively.
Take a look at our law-and-order machinery. Yes, the lower judiciary is in a mess, yes, we need many more judges to overcome the backlog of cases. And yes, we desperately need police reform. But should we not also be celebrating the fact that millions of Indians have still retained faith in the rule of law, that they still keep fighting their battles in court rather than on the street? Yes, there is judicial corruption, but equally we have been blessed with judges who have shown a remarkable capacity to pass orders that serve the less privileged sections of society.
The media too, has been attacked in recent times, accused of partisanship, sensationalism, paid news and worse. Yes, there are sections within the media who have lost their moral compass, but without sounding self-righteous, let’s also celebrate the media’s important role as a robust and genuine watchdog. If that were not the case, the many scams that have been unearthed in the last year would have simply gone unnoticed.
Sure, there are enough reasons to despair. Farmer suicides and the sight of rotting grain in a country where millions still go hungry are an assault on our national dignity. But equally the fact that an 8% plus growth rate has helped pull millions out of poverty is not to be scoffed at. The fact that Naxalism continues to spread reveals a failure to address the core concerns of our tribal population. That Kashmir remains a festering sore is evidence of an inability to deal with the wounds of history. At the same time, the fact that Naxalites haven’t been able to overthrow the State while Kashmiri separatists can be engaged in dialogue is a sign that the Indian State hasn’t lost the capacity to be assertive and accommodative at the same time.
But forget the State for a moment. The real triumph of independent India must lie in we, the people. It would have been so easy in the last 64 years for a sub-continental-sized country to have lost its way, to have been defeated by caste, region, community divides. Those divides haven’t disappeared and, in some instances, have erupted in terrible violence and suffering. But for every tale of hate and bigotry there are heartwarming stories of co-existence and harmony. Travel across the length and breadth of India, and you will meet numerous real heroes, men and women who have made extraordinary contributions while living ordinary lives. Like Laxman’s common man they may be anonymous individuals, but their anonymity cannot obscure their abiding commitment to the idea of a better India for their children.
Post-script: Ok, so we may also lose our number one cricket ranking soon and that will add to the prevailing air of doom and gloom. But nothing can take away our right to be called World Cup champions. We are, after all , as historian Ramachandra Guha says in his book, India after Gandhi, a 50-50 country. How about then celebrating all that is right rather than moaning about what has gone wrong this Independence day?
( Rajdeep Sardesai is editor-in-chief, IBN 18 Network )
The views expressed by the author are personal