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A stormy year ahead?

December 30, 2010

NOBEL Laureate Amartya Sen has said at the International Tagore Conference in Kolkata that “a deep political analysis” was required to understand the reason behind violence.

This is a pertinent question posed to a country which won independence through non- violence. Besides, it also claims that it has rejected violence as an instrument in the formulation of its policy, internal or external.

Yet there is hardly any city not marred by violence. Women and children live with a sense of insecurity. And most of the countryside and tribal areas are pushed by the security forces on one side and the Maoists and religious leaders on the other.

There are various reasons that have brought India to this stage. Most discernible is the loss of people's faith in the functioning of institutions, whether parliament, executive or even the judiciary. The common man doubts the bona fides of the government and its instruments. Nor does he trust the legal system. Over the years he has come to believe that pressure works. This manifests itself in the shape of peaceful agitation or in the form of violent defiance.

Since disconnects between the rulers and the people are lessening rapidly, outbursts take the government by surprise. These are pent-up feelings, finding abrupt outlets. They can be anticipated and probably stalled if only the government were responsive and humane. But the system has come to be so manipulated through corruption or other considerations that thecommon man cannot get even routine things through, like paying bills without greasing palms. sifarish

If people responsible for this were made accountable for their misdeeds, the punishment would serve as an example for others and gratify the sufferers. In the long process of pinning responsibility, if ever that stage is reached, there are many loopholes, not only legal and procedural but also related to .

Society has inferred that everything can be managed through money, if possible, or political interference, if necessary. And when top persons involved in a scam or scandal get away with it, the general impression that the powerful are never touched deepens further.

This increases insensitivity. Already inured to religious, class and caste prejudices, people have lost hope in the rule of law. They are so used to the violation of human and other rights that they do not complain, even when they are themselves victims. They are afraid to be categorised as Maoist or anti-national.

The life imprisonment term given to Binayak Sen, a doctor working in Madhya Pradesh among tribals, who reportedly supported the Maoists and questioned repressive measures, has shocked society. A few NGOs have pointed out that the whole case was fabricated to instil fear.

There is also the example of Nirmala in Tripura in the northeast. She has been on a fast for the last 10 years to have the Armed Forces Special Powers Act removed. Protests by activists do not worry the government; their example is cited to show how free the system is.

Then there are numerous laws to “maintain law and order”. On top of lessening democratic space comes the escalating cost of food prices. With basic commodities getting dearer every day, how does the lower half live?

No one person, party or bureaucrat is responsible for the situation in which we have landed ourselves. All have contributed to the mess. The entire nation has to ponder over the scenario while there is still time to take remedial steps. We have to get out of the rut that a government lapse is an opportunity for the opposition.

In fact, we have been going downhill from the day we won independence. Hundreds and thousands of people who suffered and made sacrifices during the national struggle were left with no focus, no ideal to pursue. The target was independence. Once that was achieved, there was no road map. Freedom fighters were not soldiers who would disperse after the war had been won.

Many of them did not even have a place to go to. Words that only political independence had been achieved and that economic independence was yet to be won were commendable, but they were mere words. They did not satisfy those who wanted jobs or assistance to build an industry or a business on their own. Some even sought to cash in on their sacrifice.

Leaders, no doubt in the forefront of the struggle, were expected to occupy chairs on the high table and most of them did. But what about others who had given everything they had? They were left to fend for themselves.

True, the experience of partition was traumatic. Seeking new places in harsh surroundings was bound to be upsetting. But that was long ago. Deducting even a decade of the troublesome period, the rulers had a clear 50 years to give people the minimum standard of living and security. Food, clothing and shelter were a pipedream, meant to bamboozle the people for election purposes. If nothing else, at least starvation should have been averted.

When Amartya Sen was asked if the violent situation could derail the state's economic growth, he said: “Violence produces a terrible state of agony, insecurity, loss of life and loss of sense of peace.” That is obvious. What has happened to society is that it has erased the thin line dividing right from wrong and moral from immoral. There is no desire, much less effort, to act according to what is right. Nor is there any realisation of what is wrong. Parliament is the best place where the deficiencies of the system can be discussed and steps taken to check the rot. But that forum has become a playground for the ego of politicians and their dirty tricks. To stall parliament for some days is a show of protest, but stalling it indefinitely is a slur on democracy.

If political parties behave as they did in 2010, they are in for big trouble. Indeed, the new year looks stormy.

The writer is a senior journalist based in New Delhi.