|A Soldier's Diary||
Sunday, November 15, 1998
feature was published on November 8, 1998
By K.S. Bajwa
OUR strength lay in the deep-rooted spiritual faith, moral values and a basic human benevolence of our people. The well springs of these inner strengths enabled our unarmed struggle to wrest our Independence from one of the leading colonial powers in the world. The leaders of our freedom struggle were like colosii on the national firmament. Unfortunately as these men and women of great stature passed on, those who followed them did not always quite measure up to their high calibre and national commitment.
Our disappointments and despair are a story of the decline of our political leadership. For a while there was hope. The Press called her Durga! The men in uniform admired her. She had thumbed her nose at the US Seventh Fleet sailing into the Indian Ocean to intimidate us. With remarkable political courage, she had withstood pressure from the USA and China. She had displayed decisive political leadership to employ our armed power to pursue vital national interests. In December, 1971, we won a decisive military victory over Pakistan. Alas, we won the war but lost the peace. In the search for peace which follows all decisive victories, Indira Gandhi failed to secure a lasting settlement of Kashmir and other disputes with Pakistan. We have only the Simla Agreement to parrot for our victory.
The decline of our political leadership started with the winding down of the Nehru era. Tolerating corruption and wrongdoing by people like Krishna Menon, Nehru overlooked the potential for growth of this evil that eventually weakened our moral fibre. The basic insecurity of Indira Gandhi combined with an "Indira is India" syndrome created by the self-serving and sychopathic Congressmen brought forth her authoritarian proclivities. She systematically decimated all leaders with grassroots strength, who could have held their flock together on the path of a national purpose, but could possibly challenge her pre-eminence. Chief ministers were set up and knocked down like the nine pins in a bowling alley. Such overbearing misuse of authority was meekly accepted, which created a feeling of autocratic infallibility. Even more damaging in the long run was the dilution, and in many cases complete destruction of institutions that could apply checks and balances to misuse of political and administrative authority, often exercised by extra-constitutional power centres.
Her indulging Sanjay Gandhi, who injected street brawls into our political practice, proved costly to the nation and even to her personally. The rather fragile ramparts of our polity started to crumble. Declaration of the Emergency in 1975, a symbol of her authoritarian avtaar, speeded up the process of decay. The self-serving and squabbling Janata Dal leaders raised high hopes but failed the national expectations. People turned to Indira Gandhi again only to find a fresh momentum added to our downward slide. By now most of the moral constraints in governance were blurred. Corruption had gained respectability. The mighty Congress party was gradually reduced to a vehicle for pursuit of narrow personal agendas of its leaders. Power at any cost became the core theme of political concept and practice.
There was no compunction in the fashioning of low manoeuvres to weaken or destroy any form of even constructive and legitimate opposition. When an entity so created grew its delusions of infallible grandeur, a Bluestar was so thoughtlessly conceived and launched by an insecure but autocratic Prime Minister. In one stroke a dynamic community, which had been in the forefront of the freedom struggle and the subsequent consolidation and defence of the nation, was alienated. The top military leadership in the know of the impending operation too failed the soldier. No preventive measures were taken to contain the certainty of a sharp emotional response from Sikh troops. Some of the famous Sikh battalions and their men, much sought after during operations for the defence of the nation, became defaulters. Much worse was the stigma of being suspect in the theme of our nationhood.
To those like me, who proudly wore the uniform of this beloved nation and spent better part of their adult lives in its service, this was an experience much worse than anything the colonial British had unleashed upon us. In the wake of this thoughtless lancing of deep-seated passions of faith, came a holocaust triggered by a highly regrettable assassination in vengeance. A government led by a Prime Minister, with a claim to this high office only by inheritance, abdicated its responsibility, obviously by design, while thousands of innocent people were butchered in the national Capital and elsewhere in the country. An explanation of this revenge and intimidation by violence in the style of medieval despots was sought to be given by the sentence: "When a big tree falls, the earth shakes!" This added insult to a deep injury. Our heads ought to have hung in shame.
Rajiv Gandhi, with his large ego and arrogance, fed on the legitimacy of a divine right of a ruling heritage created by the fawning culture of the Congress, developed an autocratic absolutism. A basketful of Bofors, HDWs, and a whole host of similar scams and corruption did the rest to take the shine off "Mr Clean". His inclinations to extend our military influence in the neighbouring countries proved rather costly. In 1987 the ill conceived exercise, Brasstacks, suspected to be a disguised plan to attack Pakistan, was fortunately abandoned on account of the cold feet that he developed at the last moment. The attempt did not do much good to confidence building with Pakistan. Again in 1987, the Indo-Sri Lankan accord and the induction of the Indian Peace Keeping Force into Sri Lanka was an unmitigated disaster. Our soldiers and the nation paid heavily for it without any tangible gains. The irony in the betrayal of our soldiers fighting the Tamil Tigers trained, armed, equipped and supported even when the Tigers were actually engaged in fighting and killing our men, is very hard to live down.
After Rajiv Gandhi too, our governing dispensation continued on its erratic course. An effort was indeed launched to pull out of the economic morass created by an excessive state control.
Even the rather limited liberalisation has been a shot in the arm for our stagnant economy but unfortunately much of the bureaucratic stranglehood still operates in practice. Corruption has seeped into every aspect of our governance and has become a way of life. It is vital to take a hard and searching look at some of our glaring infirmities.
The framers of our Constitution put a great store by our inherent moral values and good sense. They felt that self restraint and self regulation will create healthy precedents, traditions and conventions in the actual working of the Constitution. Far from these expectations, the provisions have been misused to serve partisan ends. A case in point is the blatant misuse of Article 356 to dismiss duly elected state governments. A Constitution is a living statement of the resolves of people to give themselves sustained good government. Any cracks and infirmities which are revealed must be very soberly reviewed and suitably addressed.
Our electoral system has been badly bent. Politicians have diligently chipped away at what was conceived as an exercise of sovereignty by all Indians, irrespective of caste, creed, religion and social status. The creation of vote banks has been the villain. Linguistic states, caste-based reservations and such other creation of narrow special interest groups has emphasised regionalism and other divisions in our already fragmented society. The growth of our composite and cohesive national concept has been retarded if not arrested. To soldiers like me, who lived, breathed, practised and defended and promoted a complete Indian identity, this divisiveness actively fomented by our politicians for their narrow ends is very painful. It is absolutely vital for the healthy growth and even survival of our nation that we reject all divisive measures and manipulations. Equally necessary is to eliminate money and muscle power and the criminalisation of our polity. Profoundly considered electoral reforms are inescapable.
In any country, where political executive is self-seeking and corrupt, bureaucracy runs everything, a black market economy flourishes and a criminal mafia operates a close nexus with both the politicians and the bureaucrat, that country in all walks of its life becomes a hostage to the criminal mafia. This is what is happening in Russia today. We too are on the brink of this abyss. Our collective moral philosophy that shapes and regulates our conduct has been corrupted. Even of graver concern is the acceptance of this situation in resignation by the older generation and the Chalta hai !" (anything is justified) outlook of the younger generation. Must we only shrub our shoulders in indifference, resignation and acceptance? Let us raise our voices and focus our endeavours and efforts onto the rescue of our beloved land.
We had embarked upon our Independence amongst wide disparities of economic and social justice. We, who had drunk deep from the fountains of liberty, equality and fraternity had come to nurture high hopes and almost certain expectations that the inequities would be addressed. Unfortunately, our political dynamics were highjacked by self-serving and immoral political leaders. The pride and faith in the nation still lives but some of the shine has rubbed off from the starry-eyed hopes. At the back there is a grim resolve that the struggle for freedom from despair is still with us.
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