The seven sins of new India

The young generation, with no exposure to an earlier ethos of public life, begins to believe that what it sees today is normal.
Image used for illustrative purposes. (Express illustrations)
Image used for illustrative purposes. (Express illustrations)

The long-term damage caused by an acrimonious polity is seldom appreciated in the din of daily fireworks of accusations, innuendos and counter-accusations among parties. The unnerving instances of governments blithely misusing the once-reputed investigative agencies for settling scores have to be contextualised in a political landscape from where civility, sensitivity, decorum and humour have been exiled. The young generation, with no exposure to an earlier ethos of public life, begins to believe that what it sees today is normal. This almost irreversible damage manifests in our national life as the seven sins of new India.

Unequal before law: An elected government is for all, including those who voted against it. Fairness and inclusivity are two cardinal presumptions of the modern State. The government’s legitimacy is anchored to the principle that all citizens are equal before law. However, repeated instances in our recent history have shaken this faith and posited a question mark on the fate of the equality principle. The allegations against Mahua Moitra, an opposition party MP, were swiftly inquired into and the parliamentary ethics committee recommended her disqualification in record time. Responses to graver allegations against ruling party MPs and leaders are conveniently delayed and quietly buried. Unequal before law is indeed the new normal and the very idea of fairness stands discredited.

Vindictive vehemence: The power of the State as the investigator and prosecutor has to be used with circumspection. However, repeated instances where chief ministers, ministers and political leaders belonging to parties not favourably disposed to the ruling party are subjected to raids, arrests and prosecutions by the Enforcement Directorate, the Central Bureau of Investigation and the income tax department have become everyday news. Enforcement agencies make a beeline only for the premises of opposition party leaders and opposition-ruled states, while ruling party leaders are given blanket protection. Apart from the credibility bankruptcy these agencies have earned—which in itself is a matter of grave concern—these acts of vehement political vendetta have seriously eroded the communication between the Centre and several states even at the level of administration.

Intolerance to criticism: Criticising the government for its policies and actions is a democratic privilege. That India has entered a stage where the establishment is increasingly intolerant of criticism is evidenced by the fact that cartoons have become mellowed and muted. Online media and independent print media have been muzzled as the latest action against NewsClick and earlier instances of raids and investigations against free-minded media establishments would vouch. Even independent statistics are frowned upon, and academic institutes with a free mind have been gagged. Today it is dangerous to differ, much less criticise. The lessons that the ordinary citizen learns are the usefulness of compliance and the risk of questioning. That such an ecosystem is lethal to democratic polity is stressing the obvious.

Corruption is here to stay: Indian public life has lost the cleansing stream of moral probity. Soon after independence, the values of the nationalist movement were glowing. Slowly, it all faded. Idealism has been conveniently pickled, to be taken out during formal occasions to spice up rhetoric. Who could say with any conviction that India is becoming a less corrupt country? In the World Corruption Index published by Transparency International, we are in the company of unedifying friends and our rank is 85 among 180 countries. Low-value corruption at the bureaucratic level and high-value corruption at the top levels have been institutionalised despite multiple raids. The net message is definitely not one against corruption. It only provides safety filters for corruption to go on unimpeded.

Doublespeak is okay: Today, India has the temerity to continuously preach one thing and practise exactly the opposite. Even as brazen corruption topples elected governments and designs policies and programmes to suit corporate interests, we profess to bring swindlers and crooks to book but spend years doing nothing. We can pretend to be the world teacher on democracy even as the pillars of democracy are systemically enfeebled. This doublespeak has also gained considerable traction among youngsters, who have started to believe that it is important to speak what you must and do what you want.

The art of window dressing: When considerable national energy is wasted on doublespeak, window dressing becomes inevitable. What the windows display and disclose may not be the truth but a representation of the ideal, which we have ceased to believe. All the full-page or multi-page spreads in newspapers seldom give statistics, they only celebrate. The purpose is simple: to convey that everything is fine and to dress the windows so none looks inside.

The baggage of secularism: When religion constantly occupies centre stage in almost all activities of the government, the secular fabric snaps. A sample of familiar images: solemn state ceremonies guided by sadhus, sanskritised nomenclature compulsively used in the government programmes and legislation, and religion flaunted on public occasions without a thought about its impact on believers of other religions. The residual message is to discard secularism as an ideal of yester years, impractical and unnecessary. These images nudge people to practise a non-secular ethos and assert their religious identity.

These seven sins prevalent in new India have already conveyed a political and administrative idiom which has two major implications. One is that all these distorted ideas are incongruous with our constitutional values. The other is that the moral insensitivity our new generation inherits by becoming votaries of these new sins robs them of the inner strength needed in leadership roles.

K Jayakumar

Former Kerala chief secretary and ex-VC, Thunchath Ezhuthachan Malayalam University

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