Sunday, January 02, 2011

Don’t be silent, prime minister!

“The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.” In these famous lines, John Steinbeck, goes to the root of our present crisis in public morality.

He has also expressed the dilemma of every Indian mother who has to give a name to her son. Unlike the West, where everyone is called Tom, Dick or Harry, parents in India spend months trying to decide their child’s name--they are, after all, forecasting its future. Torn between names that suggest goodness and success, they prudently choose success, which explains why every fifth Indian boy is called Arjun, and no one Yudhishthir.

Mahabharata’s heroes come to mind because there are parallels between the epic’s lament and the things we might say about our leaders today. Our republic has been in a state of continuing crises for months; the epic is a continuing repository of crises in public morality. Just as we have a problem with our governance institutions, so did the epic. What is at stake, both then and now, is our conception of success. Andimuthu Raja, former Minister of Communications, causes us discomfort because he has undermined this conception. Until recently, Raja was a huge success in the world’s eyes—he had power, money and status. Then he fell. We turn to Yudhishthira, the epic’s un-hero, to find out if there another way of engaging with the world. He (and Steinbeck) raise thorny questions: What price are we are willing to pay for worldly success? Is it possible to be both successful and good? Why high status cannot be conferred on a person who is honest and kind?

The problem of silence is at the heart of today’s political crisis. The rage of the Indian public is over an honest Prime Minister who seems to be presiding over one of the most corrupt governments in recent Indian history. In these dark days, people have desperately wanted to clutch on to an honest man. They found one in selfless, ethical Manmohan Singh. So was Bhishma, yet he remained silent when Draupadi was being disrobed. When Draupadi insistently questioned the ‘dharma of the ruler’, everyone remained silent. Then Vidura scornfully spat out at the immorality of silence: when a crime occurs, he said, half the punishment goes to the guilty; a quarter to his ally; and another quarter falls on the silent.

Our prime minister’s silence in the 2G scandal has been deeply disturbing. Soon after Raja announced his fraudulent policy in September 2007, the PM sensed that a crime of huge proportions was afoot. He wrote to Raja objecting to his policy, asking him to be transparent. Raja replied immediately, defending himself. On 3 January 2008, the PM acknowledged this letter—yes, ‘acknowledged’, as though he had acquiesced. This gave Raja the go-ahead to issue the licenses. In May 2010, the PM admitted that Raja had indeed written to him. Why did the Prime Minister fall silent after having objected to the policy?

Raja has shamed us before the world. We, however, have always known the ugly truth: India’s corruption begins when one is born--you have to bribe someone to get a birth certificate. It ends when one dies, when you are forced to ‘buy’ a death certificate. In between lies a dreary life of civic unvirtue, of continuous rishwat and sifarish. Founded on such high ideals, why is India so corrupt? There is nothing wrong with our genes. And the issue that Yudhishthira and Steinbeck have raised is a universal problem. You cannot blame parents for wanting children to grow up to be winners in life’s rat race. But you can teach children to do the right thing--not to be silent when they see a crime. You can also reduce corruption by reform of the institutions of governance.

What makes Draupadi’s question admirable is her insistence on dharma. Huge energies are spent on debates between the political Left and the Right when the real divide is between right and wrong conduct. Manmohan Singh understands this. This is why he promised to attack corruption through governance reforms in 2004 when he came to power. Reforming is never easy—it is like waging a war at Kurukshetra—but it must be done. The purpose of the Mahabharata’s war, we discover at the epic’s end, was to cleanse the earth which was groaning under the accumulated iniquity of its rulers. Our own rulers should prepare for the same fate as befell the sons of Bharata, unless they act now. The rulers of France also lost the faith of their people and suffered that fate in 1789.

16 comments:

No Mist said...

O phuleeze cut the crap of honest ethical PM ... what nonsense ... do you really believe he did not know of charges against thomas ?? the mask is off now ... how long do we sing the song of honest goddy goody santa claus prime minister ... enough is enough ...

he is as much chor as others ... do not make him out to be a bhishma ... he is gandhari rather, who chose to be blind for the sake of dhritrashtra (s. gandhi).

please get your mahabharata correct.

Anonymous said...

In a short story (fiction) by Jeffrey Archer, an honest political leader of an African country places a gun on a Swiss banker's forehead and seeks the names of the people who had placed huge sums of money in that bank. When, despite the threat to his life, the banker refuses to divulge the names, this 'honest leader' of the poor African country requests him to open an account for him also. Could our dear PM be one like the African leader? Silence of people who can and should be eloquent at the most crucial time, forces one one to suspect collusion. I still trust you Mr PM. Please speak up. Please act.

Anonymous said...

In a short story (fiction) by Jeffrey Archer, an honest political leader of an African country places a gun on a Swiss banker's forehead and seeks the names of the people who had placed huge sums of money in that bank. When, despite the threat to his life, the banker refuses to divulge the names, this 'honest leader' of the poor African country requests him to open an account for him also. Could our dear PM be one like the African leader? Silence of people who can and should be eloquent at the most crucial time, forces one one to suspect collusion. I still trust you Mr PM. Please speak up. Please act.

Anonymous said...

In a short story (fiction) by Jeffrey Archer, an honest political leader of an African country places a gun on a Swiss banker's forehead and seeks the names of the people who had placed huge sums of money in that bank. When, despite the threat to his life, the banker refuses to divulge the names, this 'honest leader' of the poor African country requests him to open an account for him also. Could our dear PM be one like the African leader? Silence of people who can and should be eloquent at the most crucial time, forces one one to suspect collusion. I still trust you Mr PM. Please speak up. Please act.

Objectivist Mantra said...

I wish Gurcharan Das would write more often on his blog, because he has a subtle way of making a precise point.

Manmohan Singh has proved to be a great disappointment to the Indian middle class. We had hoped that he would reform the corrupt system and create an environment where the real fruits of independence will finally reach the common man.

But the nation's tallest leader continues to be a silent spectator to the loot and bad governance that is going on. I am thoroughly disappointed and disillusioned by our country. I think India is going to remain a land of "lost opportunities" forever.

There is no future for this country, because we as a people are simply incapable of electing and promoting great leaders. In name of leaders we either have the so-called honest, who behave like the eternally blind Dhritrastra, or we have outright scoundrels like Duryodhan.

This country is simply incapable of producing an honest, efficient, broadminded, and strong leader. We will always be ruled by people who are intellectual and moral pygmies. This is the great tragedy of this land that is home to the world's highest peak, the Mount Everest, and lowest political leaders.

Prats said...

Very well written post, thought provoking. The point that I have not met a single person names Yudhishtar in past 30 years, makes a very valid point. Indians indeed have maintained the focus on the destination ignoring the path.. putting forth the question end before means yet again, will the country chose the right path which only future might answer for us.

Anonymous said...

why this angst over chori & corruption - come on man, it IS a part of our genes and cultural make-up. Its is who we we are.

Honesty & morality are nothing bu western concepts.

Anonymous said...

At risk of sounding repitative I must compliment you on this superb article. I have forwarded the same to the people I know and the response has been like Jaswant Sing said today vis a vis happenings in Eqypt: Silence in not a policy.
Perhaps it would be appropriate for the rulers in Delhi to read and remember the last para of your article....that the rulers should remember and prepare for the fate as that which befell the sons of Bharata, unless they act now but then the sheer arrogance of those in Delhi renders them blind and myopic and they seem pleased with sharp verbal gymnastics being carried out by their spokesmen on english TV media by lawyers turned politicians turned spokesmen.

sai said...

Unfortunately we don't have authoritative parliamentarians who can put moral pressure on PM in Parliament. Manmohan Singh is effectively practising his Swadharma, which is loyalty to Sonia Gandhi rather than being accountable to the country.
There was another 'Raja of Corruption' in AP and PM was silent on all his scandals. Finally the nature responded in it's own way to restore Dharma.

rgundapa said...

Many people praise King Singh as honest, but how many of them try to be like him? One honest leader in a corrupt society is not enough. It is like spilling a bit of perfume in a drain. King Sing is good at reforming the economy, not the society. He is not realising his deeds are resulting crony capitalism.

IPAB said...

You are absolutely right in saying that India’s corruption begins at the time of birth. While it takes a 2G, CWG and Adarsh to jolt the nation, there are petty corruption issues which the common man is faced with every day. IPAB (I Paid A Bribe) is an initiative of a Bangalore based NGO, Janaagraha to tackle the menace of corruption using a crowd-sourced model. The platform allows the user to report bribes which are further analysed by our team into reports. These reports are then used as a base to argue with the government to bring about systemic reforms. As of today, we have 3180 'paid a bribe', 350 'didn't pay a bribe' and 145 'didn't have to pay a bribe' reports. We do not believe in targeting individuals, but in bringing about a systemic reform. For more details on IPAB's anti-corruption efforts log on to http://www.ipaidabribe.com/

Regards,
IPAB Team
www.ipaidabribe.com
Uncover the market price of corruption

IPAB said...

You are absolutely right in saying that India’s corruption begins at the time of birth. While it takes a 2G, CWG and Adarsh to jolt the nation, there are petty corruption issues which the common man is faced with every day. IPAB (I Paid A Bribe) is an initiative of a Bangalore based NGO, Janaagraha to tackle the menace of corruption using a crowd-sourced model. The platform allows the user to report bribes which are further analysed by our team into reports. These reports are then used as a base to argue with the government to bring about systemic reforms. As of today, we have 3180 'paid a bribe', 350 'didn't pay a bribe' and 145 'didn't have to pay a bribe' reports. We do not believe in targeting individuals, but in bringing about a systemic reform. For more details on IPAB's anti-corruption efforts log on to http://www.ipaidabribe.com/

Regards,
IPAB Team
www.ipaidabribe.com
Uncover the market price of corruption

Anonymous said...

Three things stick out like a sore thumb in this "honest PM" theory:

1. Appointing Thomas as CVC despite Sushma Swaraj's objection.

2. Antrix-Devas spectrum deal directly handled by PM.

3. An RBI ex-governor has said that the best way to bring back the black money to India is to enact a law that makes it compulsory for all Indian citizens to declare their foreign bank accounts. (He also said that USA has done this). According to him, the bilateral agreements with 22+ countries is just an eyewash. How can the PM miss this fact, despite being an economist?

No convenient argument can be made about "coalition dharma" in these cases.

So how do we believe this is an honest PM?

Ayurvedic Hepatitis Treatment said...

I hope PM will step up and bring the crooks to books.

jamesreegan said...

why this angst over chori & corruption - come on man, it IS a part of our genes and cultural make-up. Its is who we we are.
http://www.priyaconstruction.net

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