Sunday, May 20, 2012

Changing India : Violence and Fissures

The real serious violence I heard and felt about was 1971 war which led to the liberation of Bangladesh. Coming out of school I could see posters all over the place decrying Pakistani leaders and there was the speech by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi asking us to be prepared. Soldiers were inspiration. Lance Naik Albert Ekka of 10 Guards who earned a Param Vir Chakra hailed from a nearby place. They were heady days and we felt to be on the side of the peto bople oppressed and had earned them their freedom. Proud days to be Indians. A but only armed forces were not just the best but the only career choices at the time. Indira Gandhi was hailed as Durga by Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

War brought inflation and by 73 there was disenchantment. JP's student movement started and it had a feel of the moral stature of freedom movement. We were seeking Total Revolution. Worthy goals still.

Emergency followed. And, then, Janata Party came to power.

In 1978 the state government of Bihar annouced 26% reservation for backward castes. What followed was shocking. The world around me was vertically divided in one moment. Friends, teachers, neighbors, people were all to be seen as either backward or forward. For the first time in life I saw such strong emotions that made everyone look to be 'for' or 'against' - no middle grounds at all. This was not the India that the founding fathers envisaged. This was not the Constitution. And all attempts to build an egalitarian India was being thwarted as subsequent events proved.

Naxal movement in 1972 was another one that got crushed temporarily but took deep roots in large areas.

Public discourse was too politically correct. Communal riots were reported to be 'attack by one community over another'. It would be difficult to understand who attacked whom. And then everyone began suspecting the other.

In some ways fissures of one kind got over-reported and under-emphasized others.

Open discussions have always helped in binding the country and its people together.Suppressed discussions have actually made it difficult for Indians themselves to understand India. Extreme biases based on imagined fears keep people apart and suspicious of each others.

And the cure for suspicion is not available with even Haqim Luqman as the saying goes.

When India celebrated turning 50 it was said that India has lost its innocence. The idealism of 1947 has given way to violence, corruption, and divisions.

Loss of innocence is not an altogether bad thing but a complete loss of idealism is - even if replaced by pragmatism.

I believe this loss began in 1975 and it's been a struggle for me to piece it together.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Democracy : India's Achilles' Heel?

Here is an interesting debate Is democracy India's Achilles' heel?.

I liked the format which had enough debate in between and plenty of time to make points. Yet, as debates usually go, a lot of interesting speeches but not enough 'actionable' items.

The gist of arguments for the motion included closed, corrupt, and criminalized democracy causing havoc. The arguments against the motion point to elections at local levels, women's empowerment, India remaining steadfastly democratic in a chaotic region. People talked about China being 3/4 times bigger economy and investors losing faith in India.

Clearly, plenty to think about.

A few months back I sat in protest supporting Anna Hazare. I felt compelled because modern-day corruption has become gigantic in scale (compares with the Central Government's budget), \has become deeply entrenched (babu's ask for percentage, not bahksheesh/gratuity), and is more pervasive. Where could I voice my concern? My MP (Suresh Kalmadi) was in jail himself on charges of corruption! In any case, we barely see our representatives if ever. So, as a citizen of India I barely feel my vote counts or my voice is heard.

Then, I see the India economic momentum faltering. And I ask the question, as many would be asking, how can/should I make a positive contribution? When political discourse is largely rhetorical, and devoid of integrity and media is largely hijacked by corporate houses, when our representatives aren't accountable through their full term I do not feel democracy in my life. 

But I have no birthright to democracy. As I have no birthright to freedom. Freedom has to be earned by being aware and asserting it. So with democratic rights. Then again there is the din of 1.2 billion voices cannot be heard unless the message is worthy and it is presented in palatable ways.

That then is the task ahead of us. As folks lucky to have received education and exposure it is important to articulate and create forums to discuss key issues. Countries go to dogs when countrymen think it has and do nothing about it. 

No short term fixes here. 

Ideas have impact. Ideas change the world. They have. In front of our own eyes. Ideas need momentum to be heard, appreciated, and translated into action.

Ideas on redesigning Indian democracy are needed. Need thoughts. Need action.