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India: No Longer the Golden Bird
On paper, India is the largest democracy in the world, and its constitution is the longest written constitution with 465 articles, 12 schedules, 5 appendices and 100 amendments, spanning more than 80000 words……. In comparison, the constitution of The United States of America has just 4543 words. So the question is, why is our constitution so long? Well, mainly because it contains so many articles concerned with promoting and protecting minorities and backward classes in order to shorten the gap between the various sections of society and compensate them for the manner in which they were suppressed in ancient times. It also ensures fundamental rights for every citizen of India, including the right to life and education, and freedom of thought and expression besides things such as rules and provisions to ensure free and fair elections and a government of the people, by the people and for the people…...
But the question which many Indians are asking themselves now, is whether India is truly a democracy? My answer to this in an emphatic NO because in no way can a country where intolerance, racism, gender bias, widespread corruption and governance through terror and intimidation prevail can ever be called a democracy. Every day in the papers you read about incidents of people getting lynched for having beef (although it later turns out to be mutton) even though it not illegal in most parts of the country and girls being abused and slapped for wearing shorts and smoking even though men are allowed to do the same. During elections you hear about voter identity cards being snatched by members of the ruling party, people being beaten up for refusing to let party supporters cast false votes, opposition workers being made to bleed to death in front of their families, stones and bricks being hurled at polling agents for refusing to allow supporters to caste false votes, the police being beaten up and not being able to perform their duties efficiently because of the political protection that the hooligans have, ………..Every day the newspaper is full of these incidents and it makes me feel quite sad to think about what this country is coming to….Is this what our leaders visualized when they fought for independence with all their might and when they framed the constitution of India? I think not………
The first problem is with the government itself. A strong government is required to maintain democracy. I admit the governments before were bad but it is no excuse for the present governments to be worse. Right now, our country is being administered by Mr. Narendra Modi, who was a tea seller as a child, and I have never heard of a politician, except Abraham Lincoln and a few others, who has risen to the top political post in a country from such humble beginnings and although I know it is not right to judge people based on what they were because as they say……. a great man can come from anywhere… but I believe it is absolutely essential to be well educated in order to govern a country of more than 10 million people and what education does a former tea seller have? He was also primarily responsible for the Gujarat Riots in 2002 in which so many people died and although there is no firm evidence, everybody knows he did it. It’s like a secret everybody knows…. but he was still elected as the Prime Minister. He is quite egoistic and in India he is mocked because of his fondness for photographs….in fact, he has been known to pull diplomats and other celebrities away from conversations in order to get a good photograph! He made so many promises to the people during the May 2014 elections but he has hardly fulfilled any. His cabinet is full of people who were loyal to him, irrespective of their capabilities……Our HRD minister didn’t even complete high school!! And now she just has a degree through a distance correspondence course…. That’s how bad things are!
In my opinion, intolerance has also been on the rise ever since the NDA government came to power. I feel that in many parts India is no longer a secular state…. It has in essence become a theocratic state with Hinduism as the “official” religion. I understand that with the majority of the population being Hindus, it is given more importance, but it doesn’t mean that the minorities should be relegated to just that! It’s as if nothing matters except the Hindus, the other religions, especially the Muslims, are often treated as a burden to society……which I personally feel bad about as many of my best friends are Muslims or Christians. There is an atmosphere of terror and suspicion in many places and in remote villages, where all communities have lived in peace and harmony for so many decades, a rift has again been created between the Hindus and the Muslims. Many of these people express their shock and sadness at the fact that the very people who they have been neighbours and friends with for years, have suddenly turned against them. And the primary reason for this is the NDA’s policy of appealing to voters on communal and caste feelings. I know that many other parties do this but definitely not to this extent. I don’t understand that why does it matter if someone is a Hindu, or Christian or Muslim? What should matter is their character and capabilities, right? But that’s just not the case here…….
Corruption is the norm rather than the exception in India. It is pretty much an accepted fact that in order to get your job done quickly, you have to grease the palms of public officials, or hire outsiders who will get your job done for a little extra cash. And if you don’t wish to bribe people, that it’s almost a guarantee that you’ll celebrate quite a few birthdays before your job gets done. There have been so many scams that people have lost count. Corruption spreads even to the top levels in the army hierarchy and in every government. In early 2013, parliamentary investigations began into allegations of bribery and corruption against several top Indian army officers and politicians in a deal to acquire Augusta Westland helicopters for the transport of VVIP’s such as the President of India. It was cancelled after it was revealed Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and others in the UPA government and the army, had possibly received money from Augusta Westland in order to ensure that the deal was secured for them. And this is just one of the many examples I can provide to show the rampant corruption in India. There are many others like:
1. The 2G spectrum scam where communication bandwidth was auctioned for lower than market value leading to losses of nearly 26 billion USD.
2. Coalgate scam, which is a major political scandal concerning the Indian government's allocation of the nation's coal deposits to public sector entities (PSEs) and private companies.
3. Common Wealth Games scam in which it was estimated that out of Rs. 70000 crore spent on the Games, only half of the said amount was spent on Indian sportspersons. The Central Vigilance Commission, involved in probing the alleged corruption in various Commonwealth Games-related projects, has found discrepancies in tenders – like payment to non-existent parties, will-full delays in execution of contracts, over-inflated price and bungling in purchase of equipment through tendering – and misappropriation of funds.
4. The Saradha Group financial scandal which was a financial scam caused by the collapse of a Ponzi scheme run by Saradha Group, a consortium of over 200 private companies that was believed to be running collective investment schemes in which many poor people lost all their live savings.
These are just the notable ones and there are so many instances of corruption which are not even reported because for the people of India, it’s all completely normal. And I guess that the fault lies with us too, the common masses, for actually paying money to the officials. I think that if everybody just stopped paying bribes, and demanded that their work be done the proper way, even though it may mean a few months for before it gets done, sooner or later these corrupt officials will be forced to work without incentives.
Corruption at the grassroots level is what is really hindering India’s progress. It doesn’t matter if the Government provides funds for development, the end of the matter is that less than half of the funds received is actually used for development at the lowest level and the rest is utilized to bolster the bank balance of the heads of the local self-government bodies and MLA’s and MP’s from that region. There was the fodder scam, in which it was revealed, that food provided by the Central Government for the poor, was actually sold on the open market earning politicians a cool 1.5 million USD…... What we need is good, honest men at every level, especially towards the end, to ensure that the funds are actually being utilized for a good purpose because this is the only way, unless the perpetrators themselves can turn over a new leaf, to make sure that the poor are benefited and the wheel of progression turns……
The syndicate system has also been growing really big in India, especially in the state in which I live, that is, West Bengal. Builders and Industrialists are being forced to buy sub-standard materials at a premium price, from syndicates and employ unskilled workers just because they work as “foot soldiers” for the ruling party. If the builders refuse to comply, their work is either halted on imaginary technical grounds or by members of the syndicate who barge into the construction site and forcibly stop work. The Municipal Corporations is often forced to break up a contract into several smaller contracts and award them to shady contractors who have party links, on orders that come from high up in the Government. In fact, the collapse of a partly finished flyover about a month ago revealed that the original contract had been broken up into smaller ones and distributed to several small contractors who were relatives or aides of party leaders. It was being built by men, who had no idea how to build a house, let alone a flyover! This coupled with the syndicate racket ensures that people are buying houses made of inferior quality materials at a premium prices and also means that every house built recently in Kolkata may not even last 5 years…….
Extortion and protection rackets are also rampant in West Bengal. Big businessmen and industrialists often receive calls from certain well known MP’s asking them to pay a substantial sum if they want to work unhindered. This was also present during the earlier governments but it was not in this form and it had a structure. Businessmen were either asked to build a couple of rooms at a local school or party office or give a donation towards the party funds. But this was always a yearly affair and since the party had a hierarchy, it meant that if one person took from you, nobody else would dare to do so. Many of this state’s most prominent industrialists have been known to say that they would have moved out long ago if their businesses were not so closely intertwined with this state and city. These people always live in fear because they know that if it gets out that they said such a thing, the ruling party would make it impossible for them to live…. They fear for their families’ and employees’ safety …
In India, gender bias is still strong. In most places, men are still given much more freedom than women. As I mentioned earlier, there are instances where a girl has been slapped for wearing shorts and smoking even though men are allowed to do the same with impunity. In India, we have a Panchayat system, which is basically, local self-government at the village, block and district level. And although between 33% and 50% seats are reserved for women, in many villages, women elected as the head of the local self-government bodies, are discouraged from going to their offices and discharging their duties. And even if they do dare to go to work, they are simply required to sign some documents and go back home. What’s the use of reserving so many seats for women if we do not ensure that they are allowed to carry out their duties?
Inefficacy of the organizations meant to check corruption and crime, is also another reason why development has stalled in many places. The police and the Vigilance Commission, among others, are supposed to uphold law and order but they often turn a blind eye to illegal activities, either at a word from their superiors or because they receive a kickback for allowing such activities to continue. It is useless to register cases at police stations against hooligans because for one, the police are themselves very reluctant to register cases and second, a call from the local leader of the ruling party is enough to get them out of jail in a matter of a few hours. During elections, there are incidents of voter ID cards being snatched, and opposition workers being beaten up and the police just have to turn away because they are restrained by orders from high up in the Government. Honest officers who ignore these orders and do what is right, are soon transferred and given punishment postings in remote areas which are rebel strongholds, and where they run the risk of dying every single day. Imagine the emotional torment their families go through every day!
During the recent elections, however, due to intervention from the Central Government and the Election Commission, police and central forces were given a free hand which led to remarkably free and fair elections with much less violence. Many senior police officers have expressed satisfaction at being able to do their job again. One of them said “Earlier my son thought that I was Superman beating up goons every day, but lately, his father being a member of Kolkata police, he feels embarrassed whenever his friends talk about the inefficacy of the police. I heard him saying so to his mother and this made me feel so bad. I am happy that I have been able to redeem myself in the eyes of my son and hope I shall be allowed to do so hereon.” This shows how frustrated the police are at having to witness crimes and be able to do nothing. What we need to do is to allow them to do what they do best and give them a free hand…….
However, it’s not all bad news for India as the winds of change are blowing through the country. As education spreads, more and more people rise above prejudices and false ideologies, resist corruption and terror in every way possible and speak up for what they deserve and what is right….With younger, brighter, and better leaders taking the reins, I feel that maybe, it is now when we start to become what we once were…..a country where justice, kindness, security, happiness and contentment prevailed……and my request to many Indians of this generations is…..don’t leave your country and go abroad after passing out of high school and college…….put up with some discomforts and do your bit for your country, because we need youngsters to lend a hand too…………give India a little more time, because we are still quite young when compared to the global superpowers…….and maybe one day, we’ll become The Golden Bird once again. I just wish that everybody would realize it……. because I love my India and I don’t want its heritage and culture to just become the stuff of legends………