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Authority’s inability to communicate with anybody is proverbial and so there was no soothing balm of words and simple deeds that would have suggested a reaching out to comfort a wounded national psyche

Convert Anger To Energy

The anger against the Government was palpable as people are tired of pomp, protocol and routine delays at every level masquerading as governance.

By B G Verghese

Deccan Herald, 30 December, 2012

There was understandably widespread anger and sorrow over the death of the Delhi rape victim who was so brutally assaulted 10 days ago. She bravely struggled for life but was finally cremated over the weekend. As sadly, “the victim”, “the young woman” or anonymous “Braveheart” was robbed of her identity and died a largely unnamed heroine as the media avoided using her name in keeping with the practice of not shaming rape victims. Ultimately it was not she but the nation that was shamed by the loss of national values and social standards that permit such gross indignities to occur and often go lightly so punished, if at all.

The anger against the Government was palpable as people are tired of pomp, protocol and routine delays at every level masquerading as governance. Authority’s inability to communicate with anybody is proverbial and so there was no soothing balm of words and simple deeds that would have suggested a reaching out to comfort a wounded national psyche and a holding of hands at a time of anxiety and grief. Yet, to argue that the Government should not have taken precautionary measures to safeguard law and order would be to push the envelope too far. Delhi has had experience of many rallies through 2012 that have got out of hand and could not risk letting nefarious elements exploit the situation. This, especially after attempts were made to storm Rahstrapati Bhavan. In the event a police officer lost his life, whether he was manhandled or not, after taking ill.

Taking a lesson from this, news of the tragic death of the victim in Singapore led to the Central Vista, from Rashtrapati Bhavan to the India Gate hexagon being closed to the public to avoid any untoward incident. There was no prohibition against people marching, taking out candle light processions or keeping vigil elsewhere, in parks or other open areas. But insistence on taking over Central Vista, a very governmental space, seemed to suggest that some “protesters” wanted the mob symbolically to seize .No surprise that this was prevented as that could only have led to a worsening of the situation and a wholly avoidable confrontation over a totally different agenda. If indeed that had happened, the argument would then have been, “What was the Government doing and why was not the Police better prepared. Could none anticipate events”? Heads I win, tails you lose it is.

And what were the demands? Instant justice and an immediate change in laws. Apart from due process, the Government had already set up a high-powered committee under former Chief Justice J.S. Verma to sound public and expert opinion and make its recommendations within a month. This was like the Anna movement’s absurd demand that its Jan Lok Pal Bill and that alone must be immediately accepted. This time too, the Ramdevs and V.K Singhs came crawling out of the woodwork to stir the pot.

As before, mass mobilisation countrywide was fuelled by anger catalysed this time not by corruption but by a sense of non-governance, unemployment, high prices, discrimination and disparities in all walks of life. These surely are real problems and none will say that the government has done a brilliant job. But collective action over time, with improved policies and implementation, is what is required. There are no instant solutions and any lurch to anarchy would be ruinous.

Sections of the media, while portraying unfolding events, magnified them by endless repetition and focussing on trivia and sensation to conjure up “breaking news”. There were outpourings of undigested sentiment and puerile discussions with panellists who had little to say.

Political parties that dutifully voiced their disgust glossed over the fact that most or all of them have consistently nominated electoral candidates who are self-confessedly charged with rape, murder, forgery and other crimes. True, the trial process is under way and it would be premature and unfair to adjudge them guilty. Yet, purity in public life demands that such persons not be nominated and should shun public office until their names are cleared. There is no reason why the Election Commission should not now be empowered to disqualify such candidates as well as others who are unable to explain a mercurial rise in their assets.

It will be argued that court processes are tardy. This is because of case overload, a shortage of courtrooms and magistrates/judges and a tendency to tolerate filibustering arguments and grant long adjournments all too easily. Likewise, India is a highly under-policed nation. Yet here the immediate issue is not numbers but diversion of limited staff to needless personal security and VIP duties.

There was also an unfortunate spat between the Delhi chief minister and the city’s Police Commissioner over jurisdiction. Delhi’s administrative structure is balkanised and inefficient, with multiple authorities fighting for turf. The Police Commissioner comes under the Lt-Governor or the Centre and does not report to the Chief Minister as would be prudent. While this arrangement needs to be tidied up, the issue in the instant case was not jurisdiction but authority to act. Police autonomy has been set at naught by political pulls and pressures. This matter has been closely examined by successive police commissions but their findings have been set at naught by the unwillingness of our political masters, whether at the Centre or in the States, to give up power and patronage over the police so as to be able to use and abuse them at their will.

The current demonstration of public anger at governance failures must force overdue acceptance of police reforms. The Congress states should be the first to fall in line instead of making bogus pleadings like the others. Likewise, the CBI and Vigilance Commission must be made truly autonomous without such absurdities as needing governmental approval to prosecute senior officials found guilty of malfeasance or dereliction.

The big lesson that must be learnt from the current mobilisation of national anger is that India is changing. Numbers have grown and, with it, empowerment of the underdog in huge cohorts. These underprivileged groups are impatient and wish to see early fulfilment of their aspirations. They are rightly intolerant of nepotism, corruption, disparities and mis-governance. The anger of these young people must be harnessed to energise progress and change. Time is a financial as much as a social resource. None is prepared to wait until tomorrow, next week or next month or the next Plan if the job can be done or at least begun today.

It cannot be jam tomorrow any more.

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