By Dhurjati Mukherjee
The ongoing farmers’ agitation should make policy makers take a relook at Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘gram swaraj’ (village self-rule), wherein the farmer and his well being was the central point. The Prime Minister has tried to allay the fears of the farmers and the Opposition parties, but how far he will succeed is anybody’s guess.
This Friday when we celebrate Gandhi Jayanti there is no denying that political propriety and decency have reached low levels and the welfare of the common man sadly is not a top priority as was envisioned. The nation needs leaders, across the spectrum, which can command respect and admiration by the people for a functional democracy.
The likes of APJ Abdul Kalam, Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pranab Mukherjee are a few who would be remembered as those who sought to try to change lives and even at the grass-root level though their thoughts and actions. However, it was Mahatma Gandhi who demonstrated that politics was not for concentration of power and wealth but for welfare of the people. He certainly could not have visualised that politics in the country today would stoop so low on all fronts with political leaders more concerned about their and the party’s wellbeing rather that the voters who brought them to power.
Gandhi, if he had been alive today, would have been surprised at the high incidence of criminal cases against sitting and former MPs and MLAs. Reports sent by various high courts to the Supreme Court showed that they face trial in as many as 4442 criminal cases with sitting legislators figuring in the list of accused persons in 2556. Uttar Pradesh tops the list with sitting legislators accused in 355 heinous offences, which are punishable with life sentence. It is followed by Bihar with sitting legislators involved in 30 cases, Karnataka with 27 and Maharashtra 17. Majority of these cases have been pending for long and in many instances, non-bailable arrest warrants issued by trial courts were yet to be executed. In a large number of cases, even charges have not been framed, including those punishable with imprisonment for life.
The other grey area of politics that has recently been manifest is the threat to freedom of speech and the right to criticise the official line of thinking. This has now become more pronounced than since the dark days of Emergency. Activists, students and writers are being imprisoned on alleged false and fictitious charges, simply because they have been vocal critics of the present government and/or involved in protests or mass agitations against official policies.
Another critical area of concern is the promotion of Hindutva majoritarianism and reported irrational hatred against minority community by politicians of the ruling party. Such irrational hatred can finally unlock the majoritarian project and find hegemonic justification for the xenophobic exclusion of religious minorities. Violence has been carried through organized riots and perpetrated naturally or spontaneously. The discourse of growing Islamophobia has been fomented at the behest of those in power. This communalism manifest in the country is linked to selective reading of history and memory of violence between communities in the past and, of course, contemporary cultural differences.
All these go against Gandhi’s political philosophy. Leaders regrettably have failed to grapple with the problems of the suffering masses. Their advisors, the bureaucrats, who mostly come from the middle income sections of society and residents of urban areas, do not try to understand the situation of the villages. In this connection, one may mention here that recently there has been a demand in Parliament to stop the proposed development of the Central Vista (of Rs 20,000 crore) but restore MPLAD scheme, which is mostly spent for development of projects in rural and semi-urban areas, benefitting the masses.
Thus the management of the nation’s social fabric and economy hasn’t been on the right lines. For example, if we take the handling of the health sector, it becomes quite obvious that there has been utmost neglect, even compared to nations whose growth is much lower than ours. The virtual lack of health facilities in the villages have not only put serious burden on the vulnerable sections but also increased the incidence of diseases and the pandemic is testimony to this.
The entire approach of the polity is wrapped in false promises to the masses in such a way that they cannot cross check and find out the veracity of these announcements. As a result, small projects in rural areas like repair of small bridges, school buildings and health centres, maintenance of village roads, setting up embankments damaged due to floods etc have been neglected. Gandhiji’s strategy of rural regeneration does not find prominence in the country’s development strategy as is manifest from the neglect of villages on all fronts.
Moreover, it would not be out of context to point out that the pro-rich attitude of the government runs counter to Gandhiji’s concern for the masses and their welfare. The way the government turned a blind eye to the migrants and lately of widespread farmers’ protests against the three Acts would never have happened if the ruling establishment followed the political ideology of the father of the nation.
Gandhian philosophy and attitude towards politics was completely different from what is being followed by present-day politicians, who are not only self-centred, anti-people and communal. They forget the fact that for any development to be effective, the involvement of grassroot institutions are essential and that projects at the village level have to be prioritised by the panchayats. But unfortunately, the development of the country is being pursued on erroneous lines as a result of which people are suffering.
Though a drastic change in the attitude of politicians may not be forthcoming, it is necessary that their role has to be in consonance with the demands of the day, i.e. there needs to be proper and judicious redressal of the problems of the poor, the impoverished and the backward castes. Politics should rise above caste and class considerations and become pro people and development-oriented for the country and its masses in the real sense of the term. Will anything change this Gandhi Jayanti? —INFA