Daya Varma and Vinod Mubayi



India impresses visitors and its residents differently. Despite evidence of modern development, what is still unique about India is the pervasiveness of corruption, poverty, police atrocities, a reliance on judges for exercising executive functions, as well as a steady march of majority religious symbols into what were hitherto secular spaces.


While corruption is a part of the system like sales tax at variable rates, it is also discussed widely by the media and in social gatherings. Interestingly, while corruption is the lifeblood of political parties, it is also where they clash, often so violently that the real issues facing India are pushed in the background. A good example of this infighting came up after the 2G telecom scandal. There is something very revealing about this episode. The scale of monetary transactions in the form of losses to the exchequer is estimated to be equivalent to several billion U.S. dollars, comparable to what we sometimes hear happening in the G6 advanced industrial countries; this means that India is in the big league. On the other hand it does not matter who got the contracts because practically all of the applicants who bid were sharks as shown by their utter lack of qualifications or merit. Why then is Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM) so charged up and insistent upon a Joint Parliamentary Committee to investigate into the matter? One may ask why the CPM did not raise the issue during the BJP-led NDA rule, when the provision of “first come first served” was introduced in 2001, which clearly is against any selection based on merit or ability. These moves by the opposition parties, especially communist parties, are diversionary and signify their indifference to the real issues facing India, namely mass poverty and the steady growth of majority communal thinking.   


If one scans the Indian print media, what is conspicuous is the absence of any mention of mass poverty along with a completely dismissive and dismal attitude towards rural development.  One should not confuse this assertion with a statement that people are poorer than they were before, because that is not the case. But, as population has increased and the poor are still an overwhelming majority, poverty is the main spectacle everywhere. India -a sea of humanity, a mountain of poverty!


Why should there be so many poor people in the midst of the enormous wealth that has been created by development and growth over the last two decades?  Why should the infrastructure in rural India be so far behind that in urban India and why should the life of rural migrants in the urban metropolises be as desolate as it is?   Above all, why is the demand for the elimination of poverty and rural development not an important, if not the main, program of left   parties?



Aside from poverty, there is the sustained lawlessness of the Indian police, a phenomenon that has not changed in India since British days. However, its function has changed. Police atrocities during the British rule were primarily meant to assert British authority over India by instilling a fear of the might of the Raj in the Indian population. The independent Indian state does not depend for its survival on the police. Nor do the Indian police serve the same purpose as its counterparts in well-developed capitalist countries. In the case of the latter, police assists in maintaining the law and order, whatever be their nature. In India, the police play the role of an extortionist gang with little useful in the way of public trust or function. What Justice Anand Narain Mulla of the Allahabad High Court said in 1967 in a landmark judgment about the Indian police being the most lawless body of men in the country still holds true. Perhaps the Maoists are not as much of a threat to India’s democracy as the Indian police. Because the functionaries of the Indian government and major political parties are not subjected to police atrocities, they almost never raise their voice against the lawlessness of the police. It is also well known that politicians in power use the police to settle political scores or instigate communal pogroms like the one in Gujarat in 2002.


The reliance –or rather faith – of the Indian middleclass in the Indian judiciary has allowed judges to become the executive arm of the state. While this has happened partly due to the manifest failures of the political class and the executive, it is nonetheless a dangerous trend.  Judges are just individuals like other members of the society with their own prejudices and limitations. They can be corrupt or honest, with or without civil or societal vision. Either way they gloat over their power and exercise it when given a chance.  Naturally they pass judgments, which are sometimes to the liking of the public and sometimes to the public disliking. So when a judge pronounces that Indira Gandhi won the parliamentary election by violating some trivial rules, otherwise a common practice, the same Indian middle class went into ecstasy as it went into outrage when Binayak Sen was found guilty of waging war against the state.


There is a hierarchy in the Indian judicial system with the Supreme Court on the top, then the provincial High Courts followed by district magistrate at the bottom. The bottom element, that is the district magistrates, are more likely to appease the local governments than are Supreme Court justices the central government. The prejudice of the judges was clearly manifest in the recent blatantly irrational reasoning offered by the judgment in the Babri Masjid case where Justice Sharma was more concerned at redeeming his Hindu gods than in addressing the wrong done by the demolition of the historic mosque. It was obvious that an almost 500 –year old structure protected by Indian law was destroyed in front of TV cameras. But this fact did not seem to bother the judge whose legal mind was wrestling with mythology not with facts. It does not and should not matter whether or not Dr. Binayak Sen’s sympathies lie with the Maoists or not or whether he gave medical advice to a jailed Maoist in full view of the jail authorities or not, and it does not matter whether or not he served as a conduit between jailed and non-jailed Maoists, he should never have been arrested or charged, much less convicted.  But the district judges functioning in a BJP-ruled state want to be on the right side of those in political power and that is what they did. It is therefore required of the human rights activists to assert that no democratic country can rely on judges to take care of state affairs. If they wish to proceed by accepting what they like and agitating against what they do not, they are making a fatal compromise.


Another area of concern is the communalizing of hitherto secular spaces by majoritarian, i.e. Hindu, religious symbols and practices. Recently, at an international conference devoted to safety in the nuclear and other advanced industries held in Mumbai and attended by several hundred scientists and engineers from India and many foreign countries, the opening act was a tribute to Lord Ganesh.  In the opening session, the top scientists and technocrats of India, including the Chair of the Atomic Energy Commission, Director of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, etc., lit diyas placed around a Ganesh statue while prayers were recited.  The emcee of the proceedings, a local scientist, explained for the benefit of the foreign participants that this was to demonstrate the deep spirituality of India.


For India to emerge as a modern democratic country, the government must assume overall responsibility for its executive functions. Inequality and poverty is an integral part of the capitalist system but poverty of the magnitude that still prevails in India is neither compatible with democracy nor full-fledged capitalism.  

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