However, in their assumption they have been proved somewhat off the mark. Over the years we cannot say that the skills of our politicians have not grown, but they have developed in ways not quite anticipated by the early leaders of India. The Preamble of our Constitution talks of liberty, equality, fraternity, and justice to all, indeed the quintessential elements of a democratic polity.
It is understood that in a country as vast and varied as India, steeped in the feudal tradition as well as sapped of inner vitality through alien British rule for long, the essence and practice of such democratic values would take time to strike roots and grow stronger. However, what we see today is the rampant spread of all these values in a restricted and narrow form. Liberty is enjoyed to its fullest extent by the strong and influential sections of society; indeed these people—politicians, bureaucrats and rich—enjoy freedom without restriction, and that means even going against law. And law, after all, is a restraining force.
To this small section of the society, rule of law and equality before the law—two bulwarks of democracy—do not have much meaning, particularly in the context of their own selves. And, for themselves, they are able to reinvent the laws and create a set more equal than others. Very recently a newspaper reported the ‘surrender’ of an MLA from Uttar Pradesh to the court; he had been wanted for flouting the law. The episode was made out as if he were a martyr—he came surrounded by his ‘bodyguards’—and there was something of a ceremonies aura given to the coverage. The viewers/readers may be forgiven if they were confused as to whether this man was a common law-breaker or something of a martyr to a great cause. Meanwhile another newspaper published a list of candidates contesting the recent Bihar Assembly elections who had criminal antecedents.
So we have the piquant situation of such people—and there are many such who have entered various houses of the legislature at state or national level—making laws for the rest of us. Not only that. Many of our new politicians are laws unto themselves. They are entrenched in the view that legality draws from what they do or say, and not the other way round—they must do or say what is legal. Take the lowly traffic lights. The police patrol vans and the politician’s white ambassadors are two such vehicles that scream across and against the stop signal (red light). The private buses and trucks are a close second, but then who is to stop them? In such a situation, the rickshaw wallah and the auto driver cannot be taken to task for not following the signals.
But some of these people are pulled up by the point duty man—perhaps to show the rest of us that there is a law somewhere about all this. However, you can pay your way out of the situation. Indeed, it is what the policemen also want. In the circumstances, the driver who meticulously follows road rule and ‘manners’ is laughed at. How many of our legislators are aware of the basic tenets of constitutional law? Are they even aware of the laws of the land? Is it ignorance that leads them to promise wildly improbable things to their potential voters, or is it through cold calculation? If one promises to give his state a Muslim chief minister there is a ‘national’ party that draws up its candidate list according to caste. Yet we are supposed to have shunned communal politics, and abolished the listing of castes in our census count.
At least the data obtained in the census, would be of use to social scientists and socio-economic development planners. But then, who wants real or all-round development? Education has become the monopoly of select groups. It is better for some politicians that way, for ignorance is not only bliss, but a potentially useful condition for winning and staying in power. If the common people don’t know about their rights, why bother to enlighten them? If they knew about their rights, they might call the politician to account. The politician, the law enforcement agencies and the bureaucrats have formed a close nexus and work to subvert the system and save one another’s skin in times of trouble. Many politicians have developed the skill of using the state’s law and policies to benefit a few of their close associates or those who are of use to the politicians in some way.
This is especially true of our regional ‘leaders’. Voting is often done along caste and communal lines—and this is the reason for the caste-based candidate list, which justifies our oldest political party with a legendary lineage! But these conditions have been created by the unconstitutional politics of the leaders in power. Over time, people have come to accept ‘criminals’ as their leaders, for these leaders ensure a semblance of law and order in their constituencies at least, though they also ensure that they themselves are protected from the law of the land.
More and more people are willing to vote for these leaders as they feel their day-to-day problems are better solved by them than would be likely if they go to the ‘appropriate’ authorities established and appointed by law. That is a sad situation. But that is the ground reality. To the common person, as a Tamil proverb has it, “It matters little if Rama ruled or Ravana, so long as their lives are secure and they get their daily bread.” But what if even that is no longer ensured, and only so many Ravanas survive in joy?