Independence Day Introspections: How Equitable are the Benefits of Freedom in 70 years?

Ashoka observes that a promising sportsperson, Dipa Karmakar, missed a medal by a whisker. She won billions of hearts in India and elsewhere. Sports and sportspersons are prey to petty politics and lack of foresight by the government machinery. In another case, a martyr’s house in Bangalore faces the threat of being dismantled. Illegal residential complexes of the rich and the powerful remain untouched. The discrimination and arbitrariness is against the tenet of law and governance. Politicians make unkind and uncouth statements against the armed forces. The author calls for soul searching and introspections and is anguished that rules are bend for those in power. Their thoughts, words, actions and deeds belie the office they hold. Has the benefits of our Independence Day reached one and all. A review.

Let me commence by extending my very warm Independence Day Greetings to everyone. Let me also extend my felicitations to the citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liechtenstein, Korea and Bahrain, who are also celebrating their independence on the 15th of August!

The last week has been an extremely eventful one even by the Indian standards. We have witnessed an awful lot happening on the political front. We have witnessed an unprecedented dismal week at the Olympics where all our medal hopes have evaporated. The sole silver lining was a brave performance by the young Dipa Karmaker. While she missed a medal by whisker, she was able to win at least a billion hearts in India and perhaps more abroad. If the Indian government had any sense, it would invest in the development of her potential rather than ensuring junkets for its sports ministers who would probably struggle to spell gymnastics!

But for me there were two very sombering events that took place last week, which should give us a big reason to seriously introspect.

Martyr’s house in Bangalore

Martyr’s house in Bangalore

The first was the sight of a martyr’s house in Bangalore under threat of being dismantled. I know that I was not the only person who felt sick just witnessing the visuals and then having to listen to the rotten explanations from the different politicians. Arnab Goswami had gathered a few odious cartoons on his show who were going offensively berserk attempting to point out how committed their political formations were to the plight of the servicemen. Needless to say their assertions were completely hollow.

In fairness it must also be said that their political opponents, who appeared on the same show sounded equally insincere while expounding on their filiation for the Indian armed forces. The Nationalist Congress spokesperson Rahul Narvekar attempted an offensive humour by resorting to sarcasm of the most inappropriate type notwithstanding the seriousness of the issue. The armed forces personnel on the same show expressed their disgust at this technique.  Eventually, the civil servant in charge of this insensitive plan very wisely retracted and assured that the proposed dismantling would not go ahead.

The facts in this case were very clear. The Army officer, who was later martyred in Pathankot had constructed the house through his hard earned money and obtained legal permission from all legitimate quarters. It later emerged that the permission was granted in violation of the rules. There was no suggestion that the officer was at fault or that he had paid any bribe. The fault was entirely that of the municipal corporation.

Anyone who had anything to do with house construction would know the corruption that pervades the entire process. There is a very unhealthy nexus between the politicians, municipal corporators and the builders. It would not be unfair to state that almost all the houses belonging to politicians of all shades are technically illegal.

Given this fact, it was nothing short of hypocritical on part of politicians who were defending the move to

Mani Shankar Aiyar

Mani Shankar Aiyar

claim that they were just following the letter and spirit of the law. As was pointed out, there is one colony in Delhi with a lot of palatial buildings that everyone knows is totally illegal. The courts have repeatedly made scathing observations. Yet nothing has happened or is likely to happen as the occupants of these houses are politically powerful people! From all political formations. Mani Shankar Aiyar was a member of the Manmohan cabinet. There was a mini scandal when it was discovered that he had provided an address in this illegal colony to the Lok Sabha secretariat while being a minister. Needless to say no action was taken against him.

In my own mofussil town, we have the instance of Mohsin Khan, who occupied a government rest house a few houses away from my own .The Samajwadi Party to which he belongs declared that this was being temporarily looted to him because of the medical service he had provided to the community! I failed to find his name in the UP Medical Register. Very soon Akhilesh made him an Advisor with State Minister rank! An advisor on Small Scale Irrigation! This ensured that he continues to stay in the rest house. He has constructed an entire floor without any government approval and everyone knows it.

Despite the egregious nature of the political shenanigans, we do not see any executive action against them. The people who are going to be affected are to use the famous phrase ‘mango people’ and the army officers.

Why does this happen! Serving in the armed forces is the highest form of service to the country. In public every politician agrees with this sentiment. But as I have stated in my earlier columns, when was the last time we heard a politician sending his/her offspring to join the armed forces to demonstrate their commitment of service to their country! How can we realistically expect them to value our soldiers and martyrs? Not that long ago a senior JD (U) leader in Bihar made a very offensive comment stating that the armed forces men are there to die! Nitish Kumar publicly reprimanded him and his spokesperson Ajai Alok assured on the TV that this errant politician would apologise personally to the family of the army officer. My information is that this apology has not taken place and the matter appears to have fizzled down.

The truth is that the politicians in India have always devalued the armed forces and would continue to do so until such time as they had their own kins serve in them. That is simply not happening.

Most of the top politicians in the US or UK at least until 20 years ago had served in the armed forces and felt very proud of their military experience which reflected their love for the country. And some of them were known to have worked their way through the ranks of Non Noncommissioned Officers. I had known many top UK politicians who had served as Privates. The foremost musical icon of the last century viz., Elvis Presley also served as a Private after he had already become a major star – and he felt proud of it!

Military Service used to be regarded as extremely honourable within the families of freedom fighters in India. My own family has had freedom fighters. Post-independence their off offsprings felt privileged to join the Services. I myself had ambitions of joining the Air Force but could not because of my eyesight.

Even the princely class used to join the armed forces. How can we forget Colonel Bhawani Singh, ex-Raja of Jaipur, who was awarded the Mahavir Chakra for valour, in 1971! He regarded as his most precious possession.

Sadly the present lot do not subscribe to this philosophy. For them, their offsprings are born with entitlement and only those without these entitlements should serve in the Army.

I have myself opposed the idea of conscription until now. But having seen the devaluation of armed forces and the rapid decline in the standards of discipline across the board, I would request the Prime Minister to have a debate on introducing the concept of National Service in India. I have seen conscription work in Israel There is no reason why it cannot in India.

The second instance which calls for intense soul searching is the heart wrenching spectacle of a man, who was knocked over by an automobile in Delhi and lay dying with no passer by willing to help. Shamefully once he had died, a person stole his cell phone.

While the conduct of the thief debased ourselves as human beings, it is the callousness of the passers-by that calls for a serious introspection.

I believe the government is contemplating a legislation in this regard, we really have to wonder, whether the governmental analysis of why this is happening with regularity is accurate. My own understanding is that this happens because people do not trust the police in general and Delhi Police in particular.

Anyone who has ever been to a police station in India particularly the capital would attest that the police force is most unhelpful, coarse, profane, harassing and deeply corrupt and the best policy is to stay clear of them at all time. Unless this is altered, we can expect this apparent callousness to continue unabated. And while I personally do not approve of this practice I can understand where it is coming from.

Therefore, my second humble suggestion to the Prime Minister is please put into place the long overdue police reforms.

©Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad

Pix from Net.

Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad

Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad

Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad is a physician /psychiatrist holding doctorates in pharmacology, history and philosophy plus a higher doctorate. He is also a qualified barrister and geneticist. He is a regular columnist in several newspapers, has published over 100 books and has been described by the Cambridge News as the 'most educationally qualified in the world'.
Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad

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