Reflections on the Plight of our People

The record of our performance is dismal. The gap between expectations and achievements is staggering. We have enacted a tragedy of WASTE.  Whilst waste is evident in most spheres it is most criminal when it takes a toll in the sphere of our ultimate resources, our human resources. Nature has endowed us with great resources. Common people have the qualities of head and heart which enabled them to develop a social  system under which government, in most phases of our history, was optional. But now it is not so.  We speak of a common space in the global world when we have not made even our own country a common space for all of us. Never was the craze for wealth greater than what it is now. Creation of wealth is time consuming, and puts demand on our worth. The easiest way the derelicts can roll in wealth is through corruption. And which phase of history can be better than the present in which even values have been turned into wares for trade in this market economy? Vast breeds of professionals have mushroomed equipped with info-tech to help the unscrupulous in their craft of slush which has polluted our polity to the point which makes common people cynical.  Much of what we have witnessed in our country is a Brownian motion. We have become “a low arousal people”. The conditions, which have over-gripped us, resemble substantially the conditions, which characterized the decadent Hellenistic World about which Bertrand Russell has said so graphically, so perceptively, and so suggestively:

“The general confusion was bound to bring moral decay, even  more than intellectual enfeeblement. Ages of prolonged uncertainty, while they are compatible with the highest degree of saintliness in a few, are inimical to the prosaic every-day virtues of respectable citizens. There seems no use in thrift, when tomorrow all your savings may be dissipated; no advantage in honesty, when the man towards whom you practise it is pretty sure to swindle you; no point in steadfast adherence to a cause, when no cause is important or has a chance of stable victory; no argument in favour of truthfulness, when only supple tergiversation makes the preservation of life and fortune possible.  The man whose virtue has no source except a purely terrestrial prudence will, in such a world, become an adventurer if he has the courage, and, if not, will seek obscurity as a timid time-server.” [Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy p. 237].

A society, which keeps on accepting aberrations and tolerating injustice over a long span of time, is surely most unfortunate. That society develops tongue-tied but culpable patience, which undermines self-confidence, destroys initiative, and generates the negative mood of frustration and cynicism. Sudden crisis in a responsive society leads to proper crisis management. When a society turns moribund on account of corruption begetting insidious manoeuvring it tends to accept its plight as its lot beyond remedy.  We cannot enjoy   our sojourn on a plateau for long. If we cannot go up, we decline. This is what history shows. This brings to my mind a story with metaphorical import.   It is about two frogs that a naughty boy caught from a nearby pond. He hurled one into a pan of boiling water.  The moment the frog sank into the boiling water, in a powerful reaction it leapfrogged into air and saved themselves from certain death. The second frog was initially lucky because it enjoyed moments in cool water.   But the boy played a cruel prank on this frog that goggled at him. He sat firewood ablaze under the pan. The water, which was cool and comfortable, became warmer and warmer. For sometime the frog liked the warmth of the water as it was biting cold outside. But soon it became hot. The unlucky creature writhed, struggled, and croaked in terminal distress. It went on adjusting with the circumstances under which it was placed. After sometime it was too much for it: it had lost its capacity to react to save itself. The unlucky frog had frittered away its energy in the process of adjusting itself with the increasingly inclement circumstances. By now it had reached a point where it could do only one thing; it could die. From the story of these two frogs some lessons can be drawn. It underscores the hazards of too much of adjustments. It illustrates the wisdom of what Lord Krishna said, “We are our own foes; we are our own friends”.

Assessment of what we have made ourselves over these years must be done periodically and remembered always. Persons in power remain  completely trapped under the illusion that they are grossly preoccupied in making history. They  seldom find time to undertake, in good faith, this sort of self-scrutiny and introspection. For common people our recent history is an account of missed opportunities. Over the years after our independence we have achieved some good results in certain areas but on the whole our government has enacted a melodrama of waste.  Someone rightly said that the ‘hope’ of India “lies not in its politicians but in its citizens”, and, at the end, only in ourselves: to quote Cassius in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

Common people must get involved in the process of nation building. And for this constant and common pursuit two spiritual qualities needed most are courage and imagination to hold the government of the day accountable through an informed and critical opinion.

There is a well-known Roman proverb: Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? (Who will watch over the watchers themselves?)  The question is pregnant with an answer. The question of great practical importance in the working of public institutions and the functioning of public authorities is precisely this: Who will watch the watchers?  The answer is clear and loud:  the citizens themselves, the citizens who have not sold their souls for glitters and gains. It is great that the courts have revised the conventional view of locus standi by widening it in public interest. It is conventional to speak of judicial restraint in revenue matters. But it was a great case [Inland Revenue Comrs v National Federation of Self- Employed and Small Businesses Ltd.(1981) 2 ALL ER 93 at 107  (H L)] pertaining to revenue in which Lord Diplock accurately stated the seminal principle in words of gold, which our Supreme Court quoted with approval in a celebrated case [S.P. Gupta and Ors v. President of India and Ors  AIR 1982 SC 1]:

“It would, in my view, be a grave lacuna in our system of public law if a pressure group, like the federation, or even a single public-spirited taxpayer, were prevented by out-dated technical rules of locus standi from bringing matter to the attention of the Court to vindicate the rule of law and get the unlawful conduct stopped”

Our great country cannot become Beckett’s play Godot in which nothing happens. Its last lines and stage direction are very suggestive:

VLADIMIR: Well? Shall we go?
ESTRAGON: Yes, let’s go.

They do not move.

Our country must move; it is now or never.

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