In terms of moral decay, India’s present phase is similar to the collapsing years of the Roman Empire. We are no empire, yet we have the vices that felled one of history’s mightiest. As one chronicler of the Roman saga put it, “the spirit of the times was to corrupt and to be corrupted”. Another noted that “the emperors were monsters of crime”.
Sounds familiar? Come up with any system, any project, and the Indian genius finds a way to abuse it. Be it elections, defence procurement, loan waiving, even garbage collection, the guiding spirit is to corrupt and to be corrupted. In our legislatures and police stations, monsters of crime prevail. One in a hundred crimes catch national attention, then the monsters lie low for a while. The hullaballoo dies down and the monsters return to their ways.
If all parties and all citizens agree on one thing, it is that Raja Bhaiya is a dangerous man. When he stands for election from his Kunda constituency, people get so scared that it becomes a virtual one-horse race. BJP’s Kalyan Singh once called him Kunda ka goonda. Yet Raja was in two BJP cabinets, Kalyan’s and Rajnath Singh’s, and then went on to join the cabinets of Mulayam Singh and Akhilesh Yadav. Several cases against him were withdrawn. Eight still remain, five of them involving brutalities.
The latest case is the torture and then murder of a police officer in the Kunda region. Raja Bhaiya denied any involvement, but resigned anyway. He remained at large, free to tamper with evidence and potential witnesses, while the state government announced a CBI inquiry. Rather like the Central Government announcing a 30-member Joint Parliamentary Committee to investigate the Italian helicopter scam. The emperors are not just monsters of crime, they are also monsters of sabotaging justice.
The irony is striking. Uttar Pradesh was suffocating under Mayawati’s autocracy. Her ministers and MLAs included criminally implicated people. When she was thrown out and a young and educated Akhilesh became chief minister, it looked like a good augury. But all that happened was: A new set of criminals came in. Can only monsters win?
Flip the eye to Punjab and see what happened there. A young woman, harassed by taxi drivers, went to nearby police officers to complain. The police officers kicked her, slapped her, caned her until she fell on the road. Her old father was also roughed up. The entire scene was broadcast by television channels, providing evidence no one could deny. Yet the Punjab police chief denied it. There was “ample provocation” by the young woman, he said. The video could not be seen in isolation, he said. The emperors are monsters who see themselves as angels—and see passing angels as monsters.
In neighbouring Haryana, the ghastly record of minister Gopal Kanda is not forgotten. An airhostess he had employed was driven to suicide and she left a note accusing him of harassment. He remained free for long; the police said he could not be traced when he was very much around. This was another case of a man with several criminal cases against him becoming a minister and defying the law he had pledged to uphold.
We are repeatedly told of the percentage of MPs and MLAs with criminal antecedents. When Manmohan Singh wanted to win a life-and-death vote in Parliament over the Indo-US nuclear deal, some honourable members came from their jail cells to vote. One of them was a convicted murderer. Why has the system become so rotten that it needs murderers and rapists to sustain itself?
Indian voters have the sense to throw out bad rulers, even of Indira Gandhi’s eminence. We also have an election machinery that is reasonably tamper-proof. But we don’t have the laws that will keep criminals out of the electoral system because the criminals themselves sit in the legislatures. Nasty characters who are not representative of the people become representatives of the people. If we do not stop them in time, the monsters will take our country to where they took the Roman Empire.