Is India turning into a banana republic?

Last Updated: Fri, Aug 12, 2011 07:35 hrs
Anna Hazare

There is a feeling of despair and hopelessness pervading the Indian psyche. Governance, which some time ago appeared to be adrift, is now submerged in sleaze, conspiracy and internal power play of the worst kind.

There is every indication to suggest that India has surrendered much of its sovereignty in independent thought and policy. Corruption and scandals totally unprecedented in magnitude are tumbling out on a daily basis. It appears that the whole country is `on sale`.

There is no one to own responsibility.The concept of collective responsibility which is the bedrock of parliamentary democracy has been killed in India. The only feeble escapism for the political leaders at the helm is their remonstration about their personal incorruptibility. It defies logic how a person can be personally upright but countenance corruption by colleagues and superiors by inadvertent or forced omission, that too repeatedly.

The abyss in which the political executive and instruments of governance have sunk is engendering the unprecedented assertion of authority by institutions like the Supreme Court and the CAG. Probably, never before has the CAG held a press conference.

The seeming reinvention of roles by these institutions is a fortuitous and ephemeral phenomenon, because, on the whole, most institutions, i.e., the CVC, the CBI and the higher judiciary, have lost much of their prestige in the public.

It only indicates how the linkages between the constitutional institutions have been debilitated and subverted by internal and external vested interests over the years.

One former Chief Justice of India is under critical scrutiny for having compromised his integrity while he was in office.

In another far reaching development, with regard to the vital security concerns of India, a segment of the political class has questioned the Supreme Court verdict on Special Police Officers (SPOs) in Chhattisgarh and has obliquely described the judgement as carrying ideological bias.

Erosion of media's credibility

As it is, a widespread belief has been alive in India that the Maoists, in the last two-three decades, have infiltrated most constitutional bodies, educational institutions and the media.

Some observers are in fact of the opinion that a substantial chunk of the media has been taken over by leftists, having sympathy with the Maoists. The Maoists have on their payrolls, lawyers, doctors, media houses, and even elements in the judiciary. This is no longer a belief, but now seen as a reality and a threat in the making.

People`s faith in the media is rapidly eroding. To begin with, when private TV channels first appeared on the Indian scene, it enjoyed tremendous respect and goodwill. Somewhere down the line, as competition became fiercer, some channels, compelled by economic intimidation or greed, traded their fairness and independence.

Paid news, blackmail, personality promotion, personality degradation are some of the ills that pervaded the media. Some media personnel became power brokers. They were exposed, but they and the media house they represented, unlike Rupert Murdoch`s News of the World, continue to thrive. One such private channel is today dubbed as Doordarshan.

Some media personnel did not hesitate to become agents of external agencies. Sources having linkages with the Pakistani press had confided with this author few year ago that some Indian journalists were on the payroll of the Pakistani establishment, and the least the Indian authorities could do was to inquire as to who pays for their opulent and lavish lifestyle while they are visiting Pakistan, which in some cases is 15-20 visits a year.

Most of the names that the Pakistani journalists mentioned have enjoyed the hospitality of the Fai Foundation. In the international arena, such things are not uncommon, but such individuals in other countries are certainly not rewarded by appointing them as pointsmen of the government on sensitive matters involving territoriality and diplomacy.

If in a free country, with an ostensibly penetrative and unbiased media, simple details, including the health of the most influential politician of the country is `out of bounds`, then we are not living in a transparent and fearless democracy.

If the press balks at even inquiring about where abroad the much touted `Prime Minister in waiting` celebrates his birthday, then the credibility of our entire democracy is suspect.

Shielding of Maoist agents

Maoist terror has so far consumed 231 out of 605 districts in the country, i.e., one out of every three districts in nine states. This ideologically driven terror has physical, economic, social, religious and an overwhelming international dimension. In sophistication and brutality, it leaves Taliban terror way behind. One Indian life is lost every eight hours on account of Maoist violence.

Maoists are recruiting children and have destroyed 1700 schools. Maoist leaders have gone to the extent of killing and consuming the flesh of suspected informers in full public view to terrorize them. This happened in Malkangiri district of Orissa.

And yet, despite the Prime Minister describing Maoism as the biggest threat, it is rather intriguing that overt agents of the Maoists are not only shielded from law, but are also accorded respectability and official patronage. It suggests that there is some political and on financial design and gain to keep the Maoist terror simmering, specially in mineral rich and potentially `proselytizing rich`regions.

The international face of the Maoists and their facilitators within the country was quite evident when some persons belonging to the European Union countries travelled to Chhattisgarh to witness the trial of Binayak Sen in the High Court. What was the purpose? Was it to exert indirect international and psychological deterrence on the Indian judiciary in trying Maoist ideologues?

Otherwise the entire Western world acknowledges the fairly high credibility of the Indian judiciary. As soon as Sen was granted bail by the Supreme Court, an anxious government rushed to confer respectability on him by appointing him a member of the Planning Commission Committee on Health. The timing, the selection and the signal is sinister.

Some Maoist sympathizers are in the highest advisory bodies in the country. A couple of them have infiltrated Anna`s campaign against corruption. It appears that a segment of the dispensation is complicit in the spread of Maoist terror and has vested interest in keeping India unsettled.

Recently, the Chairman of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Shanta Sinha, was much dissuaded by the government authorities from undertaking a tour in Kamanguda village in largely Maoist-controlled Ghadrachiroli district of Maharashtra. She persisted and some 1000 policemen were deployed along the 90 km travel route to safeguard her. Yet the Maoists managed to attack her convoy.

The dread in which the common people live in Maoist-impacted areas can therefore be extrapolated. In many ways, the government has been goading people to accept Maoist means of terror as a fact of life just as contractors and corporate houses have begun to factor in the Maoist extortion industry while budgeting their projects and businesses.

Absolving Pakistan's sponsorship of terror

As in the case of Maoist terror and Maoist extortion industry, we are being seemingly asked by the government to live with terror emanating or orchestrated from Pakistan. In the aftermath of the recent bomb blasts in Mumbai, the government, right from the outset, was anxiously straining itself to absolve Pakistan.

The then Indian Foreign Secretary, in the few days preceding the blast had vouched for a drastic change in the attitude of the Pakistan establishment with regard to export of terror. It is another matter that three Pakistanis among five LeT terrorists were killed by Indian security forces in Kupwara in North Kashmir just a day after the Mumbai blasts. But we Indians over a period of time have been conditioned to believe that security of the border areas is different from security of the nation.

During the same period, the US Secretary of State, Ms Hillary Clinton, came on a visit to India. The timing of her visit may have had some bearing on the posture of the Indian establishment vis-a-vis Pakistan. Adjustments with strategic partners, however desirable, cannot be allowed to compromise the vital security interests of the country and more so on the corpses of terrorist victims.

As if that was not enough, some politicians began to portray the incident as handiwork of 'Hindu terror' groups. These elements must explain the very rationale and objective of Hindu terror to the people of India. Such liberties with matters concerning the security environment in the country, primarily motivated by vote-bank politics, compounds the complexities of internal security discourse. Banana republics abound in such politicians. Now, India has its fair share as well. They have umpteen platforms by virtue of a collaborative media.

Taking potshots at the Army

The governing class in India has made the people inured to casualties of security personnel. In fact, some students of a university in Delhi celebrated the killing of 76 personnel in Chhattisgarh. Now, with passage of time, we Indians are becoming insensitive to the loss of innocent lives in terrorist attacks.

Increasingly, the security forces are being treated by the government as a `paid force` to safeguard and further the personal and political interests of the elements in power.

Nationhood, patriotism, the sense of sacred duty and other such key motivating factors have been robbed from the culture of the security forces by the political class. Security forces can only deliver when there is unanimity in the country regarding threats and objectives.

Even the Indian Army, the ultimate bastion, has not been spared. There is a concerted move to make an honest Army Chief retire a year early to supplant him with a more pliable and compromising individual. A preposterous, legally most untenable `age controversy` has been fabricated in respect of Gen VK Singh to ensure succession by another Kalmadi-like figure in the Indian Army.

May I submit to our Defence Minister, who is very sensitive about his clean image, that by not upholding the contention of the Army Chief regarding his age, he has by imputation conveyed that the Army Chief has lied. If that be so, then the country must be spared of a Chief, who is a liar.

But, if the Army Chief`s contention is correct, which appears to be the case by all moral and legal standards, then the entire country and more so the Defence Minister should stand by him. If the Defence Minister has constraints, then it may be appropriate for the Supreme Court to intervene suo motu.

The road to a banana republic

Institutions are the pillars of democracy and the foundation of a nation-state. Comprehensive development is the harvest of conscious, positive and ethical investment in strengthening of institutions by the representatives of the people. Unfortunately, it is the political class that has been constantly buffeting them. This has taken its toll.

With little support and battered inter-institutional linkages, these institutions are trying to defend themselves. Should they fail, the road to anarchy passing through the Maoist territory, insurgent territory in the Northeast, and `proxy war ravaged` Kashmir is going to encompass the entire country.

The patriotic and nationalistic quotient of the top leadership percolates down the governing machinery at the lowest levels. More importantly, by sheer osmosis, it rubs on the countrymen including the security forces, who guard the nation. Other human and natural deficiencies notwithstanding, patriotism and nationalism had been the hallmark of most leaders like Nehru, Shastri, Indira and Vajpayee.

The people, therefore, overlooked their failings and indiscretions, if any. Patriotism and nationalism act as an antidote to corruption, violence, insecurity and disrespect to national symbols and institutions.

The present Indian leadership, as in the case of banana republics, is now abysmally low on the scale of nationalism and patriotism. This partially explains the ongoing vengeful and merciless loot of the country.

RSN Singh is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research and Analysis Wing, or R&AW. The author of two books: Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and Military Factor in Pakistan, he is also Associate Editor, Indian Defence Review.

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