The black veil of secrecy

Trust between those voted in to form a government & the people is almost broken

The black veil of secrecy

Shocker: Have we been told what is happening and what is going to happen?

Gurbachan Jagat

Ex-chairman of UPSC & Former Manipur Governor

I Was born just a few years before Independence and was brought up as a citizen of a free India and a very proud Indian, I must say. Our forefathers fought for this freedom and gave it to us in inheritance, and along with freedom, democracy, a vote for every citizen, irrespective of caste, creed or gender.

It was the dawn of a new era in which ‘the wonder that was India’ was to come alive again. We were going to be the agents of this change. The power of vote was given to us, the power to elect a government which would give us the future we had hoped for. Thus began our journey towards a modern democratic India, an India where all would have equal rights and benefits. We elected our governments and we trusted them, and they reposed trust in us, the citizens. We struggled and stumbled, we picked ourselves up and carried on. Governments came and went but the will of the people prevailed. The trust between the government and the citizens held strong. There were institutions to supervise and there was a free media doing its duty as a watchdog (print media only to begin with).

Over a period of time, the generation of idealist freedom fighters withered away. A new breed of MLAs, MPs began to come to power—empowered by our votes. The choices between parties became narrower. We had to elect the lesser evil. Criminals, musclemen, mafias filled up the political space and began to influence elections. Idealism gave way to hard-nosed pragmatism. The voter began to be bribed or coerced into voting for certain groups, the distance between the government and the citizen began to widen into a big chasm. Institutions began eroding and the media became more partisan. These governments created bureaucracies and administrative systems suited to their objectives. Growing pangs of a young democracy trying to shape its future, building on the back of centuries of colonial exploitation and servitude, coming back was never going to be easy.

We come now to 2014, when a majority government was formed on the back of a populist wave hoping for reforms. This wave repeated itself in 2019 with greater strength. The country waited and waited for the promised economic and development change, but in vain. Things began to happen which were neither anticipated nor understood. We started being starved of information regarding major decisions. The country had voted for this government and its citizens had the right to be kept informed about the major policy initiatives.

When demonetisation happened, there was an argument for secrecy (debatable) but later we could have been informed about the good and ill effects of this action. The story was repeated in the implementation of the GST. To this day, GST means different things to different people, and there have been hundreds of amendments to the original notification—where is the ‘one nation, one tax solution’? Why couldn’t the finance departments at the Centre and in the states act cohesively and develop a solution which would translate into a simple one nation, one tax? What are the reasons for this incompetence?

Let’s now come to the two major events which are still ongoing: the thunderbolt which struck us regarding the lockdown and the Ladakh situation. Why was the country not taken into confidence about the lockdown? Overnight, millions were left unemployed, homeless, without public transport. Industries and businesses closed down. The entire country closed down, including the Central and state governments. The migrants, ‘our own countrymen’, wandered around with no takers for them. There is no data and there is complete silence from the government. For some time, a Joint Secretary read out to us figures regarding infections, recoveries, deaths, etc. When the numbers started creating a stink, the gentleman also disappeared. We have had lockdowns 1, 2 and 3 and ‘unlock downs’ unknown. It seems that the Centre has thrown in the towel and left it to the states. Have we been told what is happening and what is going to happen? We only hear gossip and jokes on social media.

Coming to Ladakh, rumours have been circulating since April-May about Chinese occupation of Indian territory across the LAC. But the government has not been able to inform the country whether there has been an occupation or intrusions or transgression, or are there differing perceptions of the LAC. If nothing has happened, why are the Generals meeting so frequently and why were our 20 soldiers clubbed to death? Why is no one holding a press conference or issuing a detailed statement explaining the events? We are not asking for the minutes of the last meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security or about future strategies—they have to remain secret. It is our territory and sovereignty that is being challenged—why can’t someone tell us about it?

As for the media, especially visual, that thinks they’re making a fool of us by their daily theatrics—they do not know that the joke is on them.

As our Republic enters its 74th year of Independence, I am confident that the values of democracy will outlast the vagaries of this period. Lastly, that great bastion of democracy, Parliament. I forget when it last convened but I'm sure that it has not debated any important issue. We must have regular sessions and meaningful debates on the economy, Covid, education, health emergencies, and, of course, Ladakh. I hope the next session is called in the present building or will it be called when the new building is completed? When will that be completed is also a secret. The trust between those who were voted in to form a government and the people is almost broken. Is it the veil of secrecy or the iron curtain?

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