Friday, September 1, 2000,
Chandigarh, India



Where do ordinary citizens stand?

MR Hari Jaisingh in his article, “World of new class lords — where do ordinary citizens stand?” (The Tribune, August 25), has rightly observed that what needs to be treated as a matter of national concern is the attitude of those in positions of authority towards the children of a lesser god and that the ruling elite need to come out of their cosy drawing rooms and see for themselves how the country’s ordinary citizens have to sweat it out in subhuman conditions to get even small jobs done.

It is a matter of fact that the leadership has allowed an unhindered growth of culture of corruption, which has divided the country into two zones — one for the haves and the other for the havenots. The equality of status and opportunity has remained limited to the preamble of the Constitution, and the benefits from this sacred provision have not percolated down to the grassroots.

If one examines the evolution of the socio-economic set-up of our society since Independence, one cannot but come to the conclusion that inequalities have been accentuated and ordinary citizens’ share in the national cake has been dangerously reduced.


Look at the system of health care and medical facilities. Even the government hospitals and other prestigious institutions, with due regard to the notable exceptions of the PGI, Chandigarh, and AIIMS, New Delhi, provide proper care to only “private patients” — those who pay for private visits at the residences of government doctors.

The payment of non-practising allowance and the private practice by those who claim non-practising allowance go together. The government is a mute spectator to all this! The assets worth thousands of crores of rupees in the shape of hospitals and trained doctors and the paramedical staff are of no substantial use to the poor. He is destined to rot and stink as he cannot even think of visiting hospitals which have now mushroomed and are basically meant for the elite population.

Another serious look at the working of the education system makes one to reach the same conclusion as above: it is that the wards of those who are even slightly above the poverty line cannot hope to become professionals and reap the benefits of information technology boom. Can the sons or daughters of a marginal farmer, a petty shopkeeper or an honest public servant hope to climb up the ladders of the bureaucratic set-up as was the case immediately after Independence?

The ordinary citizen cannot pay the fees for the so-called “free seats” in engineering colleges in our own prosperous state — Punjab. What about the seats under the “payment category” or the “NRI quota”? An ordinary citizen has to beg or steal to meet the expenses of educating a child under these categories. Have our leaders ever given a thought to these distortions which have crept in the system under the Constitution.


NOT CARING FOR HEALTH: We have a health care system sans care. One estimate has it that at least 104.06 million people in this country are suffering from major diseases like malaria, leprosy and TB. Fifty million deaths are caused by water-borne diseases followed by filariosis (18 million), TB (12.7 million), goitre (8.8 million), leprosy (2.8 million), malaria (2.1 million) and AIDS (one million), according to Voluntary Health Association of India sources.

Poverty is bleeding the nation white. Nearly 40 per cent people live below the poverty line. Even in prosperous Punjab and Haryana, 32 and 27 per cent ruralities are locked in the poverty trap. Illiteracy and population explosion stare one in the face. Against 89.01, 92, 83.9 and 81.5 per cent in smaller countries like Sri Lanka, Maldavies, Laos and Myanmar, the literacy rate in India was reported at 52.11 per cent in 1991 (census figures).

Much is talked about the Green Revolution and the White Revolution in the country, but whatever grains and milk are produced are swallowed by an unchecked baby boom. India today is the greatest contributor to the world population, and, if unchecked, we would surpass China in the decades to come.


DEPRIVED LOT: The average Indian today is too busy in struggling with economic hardships to have time to rejoice over the nuclear success or the Kargil conquest. And like the creatures in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” some Indians insist on being more equal than others. First class citizenship is not worthwhile unless there are second-class citizens denied its privileges!

The common man is a deprived lot. He wants to know if and when he will have relief, at least some, from miseries and privations he has been under-going for years together. He does not dream for better days any more nor does he wait for a miracle. But he expects a bit of understanding, if not concern, about his real problems. He finds even that feeling missing.

It is no surprise that the credibility of the system is at a low ebb and the democratic process is facing a serious challenge. There is a growing demand for purposive and principled politics. But the high priests of politics, these “new class lords”, have a set formula: the results are important, not the means to achieve them.

The prevailing political system has got into a rut and has ceased to perform and elicit public support. The people go over the exercise of elections and even experiment with different parties but they are disappointed and exasperated when they see no change coming.

They had a dream — the dream that Independence meant not only political freedom but also freedom from hunger and want. They had a naive belief that the problem of under development and poverty would find an easy solution. It was a strange mixture of exuberance, self-confidence and over-expectation. And over the years that dream has got shattered.

The Congress is to blame the most for the state of affairs because it has ruled for more than four decades. But the others who came to the helm of affairs at the Centre or in the states were no better. When it comes to the common man, he was pushed, pulled and punished in the same manner.

Now that India has completed 53 years as a free country, its leaders should realise that the common man needs neither homilies to hard work nor calorific calculations to prove that he is better off than before, assuming, of course, that the latter can be done. They need to inspire confidence in him. On their part, the people should realise that the economic struggle in which all Indians — Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and others — are engaged now, one in which they share the same precariousness of survival, makes party politics, both personal and partisan, obsolete, if not vicious. They are united by the threat to their lives, and will be judged by history by the quality of their common sense and their humanity, their attitudes towards injustice, prejudice of every kind and, finally, socio-economic exploitation.


Kashmir and the Army

In his scholarly analysis “Delink Jammu and Ladakh from Valley” (Aug 27), Prof Hari Om has succinctly presented the dismal picture of J&K today. The root cause of this vexed problem emanates from the unjustified aspirations of a few wily politicians supported by some anti-national elements in the valley, as well as some foreign mercenaries. No amount of placating them has borne fruit. Our policy of appeasement has been a disaster and a total failure. So has the civil administration in the state been.

Militants with overt assistance from Pakistan have wrecked havoc — strangely, in the name of jehad. They are mercilessly butchering innocent men, women, children and even foreign tourists. Casualties concerning our security forces are mounting. How long can this uncivilised behaviour be tolerated? Our approach that Pakistan should first stop all terrorist activity before negotiations become possible, has proved to be meaningless. In any case, what is left to negotiate either with militants or with Pakistan?

In this milieu, the only honourable course lies in a swift military action. The Army should be handed over complete responsibility for security in the valley. It must be provided a free hand with a well-defined action plan. We are losing precious time. “Jammu may go Kashmir way, fear residents” reads the headline of a report from Jammu in The Tribune of August 28. What are we waiting for?



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