On India’s darkling plain

The conflicts and controversies over the institution of Lokpal remind me of the lines of poet Mathew Arnold: “And we are here as on a darkling plain/Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight/Where ignorant armies clash by night.” I wonder whether all the fretting and fuming reflect anything other than the clash of ignorant groups who remain in the dark about the underlying reality of the degraded mindscape of India and its polluted environment.
Besides the much-adumbrated economic reforms of 1991, there have been reportedly over 600 reform commissions and committees since Independence, set up by the Central and state governments to bring about positive changes in the machinery of governance. A number of measures were also taken, including the creation of the Central Vigilance Commission in 1964 and amendments in anti-corruption laws. The definition of public servants was enlarged and possession of disproportionate assets by public servants was brought within the ambit of criminal misconduct. Substantial modifications were also made in the income tax, excise and customs laws to curb black money and hawala transactions.
But what has been the outcome of all these changes?
Beginning from the jeep scandal of 1949, there has been a virtual flood of cases of scams and scandals. The 2G spectrum scam broke all records of malfeasance; the Commonwealth Games, meant to enhance the global standing of the country, left a huge dent in its reputation after consuming about `18,000 crore of the national exchequer; the Bellary mines case has resulted in the swindling of public revenues on a massive scale. Even the statutory institutions, supposed citadels of fairness, such as Public Service Commissions, have fallen prey to corrupt practices. Two chairmen of the commission, one of Punjab and other of Maharashtra, were prosecuted. The Army, too, has not remained untainted. Even the media, the so-called custodian of clean public life, has started the unethical practice of “paid news”.
The latest report of the Global Financial Integrity puts the estimates of the Indian wealth stashed abroad at $1.4 trillion. The volume of the black money, which was believed by noted economist Nicholas Kaldor to be four to five per cent of the country’s GDP in 1955 has now, according to a study by Arun Kumar, a professor of economics in Jawaharlal Nehru University, risen to about 50 per cent of the GDP. The 2010 findings of Transparency International have underscored that India has more black money than the rest of the world put together.
How is it that practically every aspect of public life, every component of governance, is afflicted with the same malady? And why is it aggravating, despite various medicines administered from time to time?
My own long experience of dealing with political as well as bureaucratic functionaries has reinforced my belief that as long as the Indian mind is not reformed, no administrative, economic or constitutional reforms would save the country from the ever-deepening quagmire of inefficiency, corruption and malpractices.
The experience of 65 years of Independence has shown that it is not possible to build a clean and honest system of governance on a diseased mindscape in the degraded milieu which such a mindscape gives rise to. Strong laws are necessary. Well-structured and effective institutions are a must. The personnel to implement the laws and run the institutions have to be knowledgeable and trained. The overall mechanism of deterrence has to be potent. But all these are of no avail if the fundamental issues pertaining to the mind and soul of India remain neglected and if the negative and nasty values are allowed to hover around.
History tells us that every turning point in the march of civilisation has been preceded by a fundamental change in the mindscape of the people as in the case of the European renaissance in the mid-15th century. It was such inner change that was most needed in the post-1947 India, and it was this very pivotal need that was neglected by the builders of our nation.
Along with the modern Constitution and five-year plans for economic development, the leadership should have been instrumental in the formulation and implementation of a national regeneration programme, by which the country should have been rid of all the detritus that had collected during the long period of decay and degeneration. At the same time the buried treasures of her life-elevating ideals should have been dug out — the ideals which the great reformers of Indian renaissance, such as Raja Ram Mohun Roy and Sri Aurobindo talked about. The leadership should have realised that without providing inner energy, institutions created by the Constitution could not develop the animation needed to keep them clean, creative and constructive.

The writer is a former governor of J&K and a former Union minister

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