In the early fifties of the last century the author, then a student, and a senior friend of his met Pandit Godavarish Mishra (1886–1956), one of the builders of modern Odisha, in order to invite him to a college function. In the course of our conversation he asked my senior what he wished to do after his studies.
“Do politics,” was my friend’s answer.
“Do politics? That is, you propose to choose politics as your profession?”
“That’s right, sir.”
The savant kept quiet for a moment and then said, politely but resonantly, “As long as the country was not free, some people dedicating all their time to politics, that is, to our struggle for freedom, was justified. But that was not doing politics; they and people like me— as you know I was attached to a national school—were serving the country and politics was an aspect of that mission. In free India, everyone should participate in politics, but not choose it as a profession. A profession involves earning a living, earning involves ever-greater desire, desire begets corruption. What’s more, a professional politician will be more corrupt than a business professional because he will have power!”
Incidentally, Pandit Godavarish Mishra was the grandfather of our outgoing Chief Justice, Dipak Misra.
Now that the apex court has so wisely advised Parliament to frame a law that would bar people with criminal records from contesting elections and the Parliament is expected to execute the advice, we can expect it to be a step towards the goal though there will be several arguments against the move, such as a person involved in a crime in a certain circumstance may not be unworthy for elected office, ‘every saint had a past and every sinner has a future”, etc. Yet the benefits will outweigh the loss.
However, while the action proposed by the court must be worked out at the pragmatic plane, a certain spirit of anguish underlying it expects the nation to undertake a genuine introspection. What was the import beneath the Court citing C Rajagopalachari’s thoughts in 1922, “Elections and their corruption, injustice and tyranny of wealth will make a hell of life” once freedom came? Or Dr Rajendra Prasad comparing a Constitution to a lifeless machine and that “India needs today nothing more than a set of honest men who will have the interest of the country before them”?
In this context we may remember what the ‘Prophet of Nationalism’ turned Mahayogi, Sri Aurobindo, the first one to demand unconditional freedom for the country, observed in 1935. After informing him that ‘the confounded Raj’ (British administration) had fomented a communal incident, a seeker asked, “In your scheme of things do you definitely see a free India?” Answered Sri Aurobindo: “That is all settled. It is a question of working out only. The question is what is India going to do with her independence? The above kind of affair? Bolshevism? Goondaraj? Things look ominous.”
So, their assessment of the character of the generation about to be blessed with independence was bleak. In other words something was wrong in our collective consciousness that, they feared, would pervert the great opportunities independence would bestow on us.
The succeeding generation or generations have justified their fear with a vengeance. We have of course grown bolder and cleverer. We can uphold and swear by our commitment to the letter of the Constitution while stabbing at its spirit. If the Constitution made a provision to transcend a certain cursed social inequality, we have exploited it actively or passively to perpetuate the curse—certainly not with any great ideal in view.
We had the Santhanam Committee, the Vohra Committee (1993) and the Committee of Reforms in the Criminal Justice System (2000) and their sound recommendations. Surely, before long we will have a new set of laws to check exploitation of our election process by criminal elements and criminality that should also ideally lead to cleansing the political air of dust and smoke to an extent. But it is not unlikely that the would be criminals of the era of unpredictable technological expansion may outsmart the legal precautions.
The primary cause of the wide propensity for crime and corruption in India is a massive and collective forgetfulness of the aim of life, a new-found enchantment for power and glamour that started with the affluent and caught up with the vast middle class and a vaster population approaching that status. Probably we have to be disenchanted through shocks of frustration, which will take time. Meanwhile steps must be taken at the practical plane to discipline ourselves to whatever extent possible. R L Stevenson lamented in the 19th century that politics was the only profession for which no preparation was thought necessary.
Two centuries later the consequence of that state of affairs is felt more painfully. Arrangement must be made for the candidates of all the political parties together with the office-bearers of their parties to undergo a course in ethics, laws, rights and duties. Those elected must undergo yet another crash course telling them how not to squander away the nation’s wealth, time, patience, etc., through their partisan conduct.
A strange phenomenon, yet true, is the fact that the criminal has a fascination for an average politician. Reasons are a different subject. Before me I have the papers describing a certain chief minister seeking the blessings of a dreaded goonda, a notorious murderer and absconder to boot, at a huge public meeting, “while the police and the officials who had been hunting for the criminal stood watching”, reported The Statesman (Kolkata) of 2 November 1991.
It also published a picture of the CM who looked overwhelmed, for him the show meant the support of a certain section of people. The paper further informed us that within hours of the gala bonhomie the goonda kidnapped 10 people including a child! The proposed course must contain lessons that would cure this macabre fascination.
Eminent author and recipient of several awards including the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship