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Issue No.: 550 | April 2013

Are We Really Free?

Firoze Hirjikaka
The system is engineered such that even a former prince or the head of a powerful business empire is forced to grovel, cap in hand, to a minister or a bureaucrat, some of whom have criminal antecedents.

India gained freedom from British rule in 1947 - supposedly. In 1947, India became a functioning democracy - supposedly. After 65 years of governance, supposedly by the people of the people, the question all right thinking Indians should be asking is this: are we really free?

The most onerous and egregious aspect of British rule was their air of superiority. Our overlords never let even the most educated and refined Indian forget that he was inferior to even an uncouth British subaltern. They were the rulers and we were the ruled; and we had better damn well always remember that. After more than six decades of throwing off the imperialist yolk, are we citizens of a free country or subjects of a self-appointed VVIPS coterie? The reality of modern India is so far removed from the vision of our founding fathers that Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru and the other stalwarts must be turning in their graves.

The New Viceroys

The division of India is not just between the rich and the poor. It is between an all-powerful political class and the rest of us. The system is engineered such that even a former prince or the head of a powerful business empire is forced to grovel, cap in hand, to a minister or a bureaucrat, some of whom have criminal antecedents. The new viceroys have cleverly kept in their exclusive grasp the most powerful weapons of all - permissions and clearances. They have manipulated the system to ensure that nothing gets done without government permission. The clearances ostensibly meant to ensure good practices, or to protect the environment are, in reality, tilted towards the dishonest and unscrupulous who are prepared to grease the right palms.

Our new rulers take great pains to keep themselves at a safe distance from the very citizens who elected them. Under the pretence of protection against non-existent threats, they surround themselves with posse of gun toting policemen. They ensure that traffic is stopped and roads cleared when they move about in our towns and cities like modern day maharajas. The whole intent is to perpetuate the myth that they are a class apart, with perquisites and privileges that are their absolute right. One way is to maintain tight control over the police and investigation agencies, thereby ensuring their subservience. Who will bring wrongdoers among them to book when they have power over the very instruments capable of making it happen?

Our ‘democratically elected’ leaders have usurped the one prerogative that ironically keeps dictators in power - unaccountability. Yes, we have an independent judiciary, but for courts to function, the primary prerequisite is for the cops to file a case; and it would be utopian to expect the law enforcers to initiate action against politicians who hold their careers in their hands. Time and again, we have witnessed even petty politicians throw their weight around and take the law into their own hands - with impunity. It degrades our nation to hear policemen openly admit their inability to arrest someone indulging in criminal activity simply because he is a politician or has political connections.

Cancer of Corruption

Then there is the all pervasive cancer of corruption; incurable and rapidly spreading. Corruption is not just about those in positions of power getting rich by unscrupulous means. It is about demeaning the reputation of India; it is about labelling India as a country of crooked public officials who will forsake their conscience and go to any length to make a quick buck. It is a land where heartless and amoral bureaucrats will blithely deprive the poor and destitute of the pittance the government doles out as subsistence to them just to fill their already bulging coffers; where greedy traders have no compunction about adulterating food products with toxic substances, unmindful of the countless innocent deaths it may cause; a land where fruit sellers and criminals enter politics and amass hundreds of crores without being questioned or held accountable. A land where powerful and obscenely wealthy ministers, by siphoning off money allotted for vital water supply projects, literally cause thousands of farmers to die of thirst or allow them to kill themselves.

There is a more insidious form of corruption that goes largely unreported. I am talking about the profligate waste of the lakhs of crores collected from the common people in the form of direct and indirect taxes. It is almost a given that all infrastructure projects will be inordinately delayed and go grossly over budget. I am talking about a smug government that wastes hundreds of crores on full page advertisements in national newspapers to blow their own trumpet. I am talking about a police force whose members make judgements not in the interest of justice, but based on which party can offer them the greater financial benefit. I am talking about callous municipal corporators who are so uncaring about the perks granted to them - at taxpayers' expense - that their drivers earn more in overtime than the commissioner himself.

The Helpless Citizens

What can we, the people, do about the ignominies heaped upon us? Not very much, I'm afraid. Our intentionally flawed democracy allows votes to be bought cheaply and criminals to be elected by the mafia. Yes, we can vote one party out of power, but only to replace it with another that is equally arrogant, venal and corrupt. It is a shame that the reputation of our politicians and police is so dismal that the general public readily believes the most outrageous reports of their misdeeds, even when they are exaggerated. It is true that more and more Indians, helped along by an inquisitive and aggressive media, are demanding better governance and greater accountability from our leaders, but we still have a long way to go.

Yes we have a long way to go, but will the present system allow us to ever get there? The dice are heavily loaded against the citizens. We need better laws and regulations, but laws can only be made by parliament; and parliament is controlled by the very charlatans who have got us into this mess in the first place. And even if we force the lawmakers to get their act together, they will ensure that the law enforcers under their control implement them selectively to cause themselves minimum harm.

So that's about it. We Indians are too docile to stage a Tahrir Square style revolution. We are not totally helpless however. As the sustained public outrage after the Delhi gang rape showed, we do have the power to make the modern maharajas seriously worried. It may not result in any fundamental changes, but at least it will make them less complacent. It's a start.






Other Articles in this Issue


Water Thievery - Cause of Droughts in Maharashtra

Sharad Joshi

Main Feature

Budget 2013 – An Elaborate Exercise in Denial

M. R. Venkatesh

Twelfth Plan and the 2013-14 Budget - 3

Sunil S. Bhandare

Reflections: The Gang Rape and After

The New Delhi Protest

Nitin G. Raut

Justice Verma Committee Report

Suresh Sharma

Death of a Rapist

Ashok Karnik

Reflections: A Flawed Democracy

Are We Really Free?

Firoze Hirjikaka

A Travesty of Justice!

H. R. Bapu Satyanarayana

'Trousering’ a Brown Envelope in Myanmar and Communal Politics in Britain

Professor Christie Davies

Reflections: In the midst of Blasts, Turf wars continue

National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC)

Ashok Karnik

Foreign Relations

Terrorism Strikes Again, and Again, and Yet Again

B. Ramesh Babu


Preamble to a Farce

Firoze Hirjikaka

The Art of Giving

Firoze Hirjikaka

Point Counterpoint

Terror Strikes Again!

Ashok Karnik

Phone Tapping and CDRS

Ashok Karnik

The Helicopter Deal

Ashok Karnik


Disenchanting India: Organised Rationalism and Criticism of Religion in India By Johannes Quack

Reviewed by Prabhakar Nanawaty

Educating Adults

The Right to Education Act (10)

Suresh Sharma

Children First Party of India Debut

Dilip Thakore

My Mother Pramila

R. C. Saxena

Anandi Gopal Joshi

B. M. N. Murthy

Maha Kumbh: Time to Come Clean

Sunita Narain


Freedom First, this month in April 1956


In Memoriam

Professor P. V. Indiresan, R.I.P


Viren J. Shah, R.I.P


Remembering Hari Shankar Singhania


From Our Readers

Perpetuating the Status-Quo

Kaiser Ansary

Yet another Strike!

Kaiser Ansary

India’s Growing Leadership ‘deficit’

Saratchandra Panda, Bhubaneshwar

In case you have not heard this one

The Hijacking of Wharton

Rajiv Malhotra


an African child
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