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A Byronic Prayer for my country

A Byronic Prayer for my country

Author: P.N. Benjamin
Publication: Vijay Times
Date: August 4, 2005

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi has recently demanded an inquiry into the report of the Shiv Sena leader and former Lok Sabha Speaker, Manohar Joshi's winning bid for a NTC mill property in Mumbai. According to reports, the former Speaker, in partnership with another Shiv Sena leader, Raj Thackeray, had secured the bid worth Rs.421 crore.

The Congress has, perhaps inadvertently, touched a raw nerve in the Indian political class. There has been a massive conspiracy of silence among all political parties not to raise matters of the personal wealth of leaders, though for decades now every party and every leader of any consequence has promised a "war against corruption." Meanwhile, leaders of humble origin and representing even humbler "constituencies" have become rich and resourceful. As the political parties have lost their institutional character, political leaders have strived to build up personal war chests, which they use to finance elections, factions, and party apparatus.

Now by raising the matter of Mr. Manohar Joshi's assets, the Congress has broken the silence on a subject that has troubled civil society. Because of the Mahatma's legacy, anyone opting for political life was deemed to be performing a "sacrifice" and engaging in a "service" to society. If that was ever an honest characterisation of politicians as a breed, it certainly does not hold true now. Today a political career is the easiest route to easy street. No political leaders can be said to be the exception to the rule.

The question of the acquisition of power leading to corruption was uppermost in the mind of Sardar Patel who was second only to Jawaharlal Nehru in the government of free India. He fully realised the temptations of office and power and he wrote to a friend as follows: "I do not subscribe to the view that it is impossible for men in office to render service to the organisation outside. There are undoubtedly bad tendencies. The scramble for power and office is there, but it is not any defeatist attitude that is required but firmness and determination to combat these evils from within."

Sardar then went on to say: "My own candid opinion is that the best service to the Congress organisation can be rendered by ministers setting tone and standard from the top and studiously and scrupulously avoiding to succumb to pressure from below. It is comparatively easy to have one's career unsullied when he is out of power. It is much more difficult to maintain that reputation in power. If you can succeed in achieving the latter, you can be much more of an inspiration and guide to the Congress organisation".

Sadly this has not happened. Politicians in power, irrespective of the party they belong to, have become richer and richer day by day during the past fifty years. In this they have been aided and abetted by unscrupulous businessmen, multinational companies, underworld dons and land-grabbers. In the last five and a half decades, the links between politicians, businessmen, criminals, anti-national elements and government officials have become closer and stronger, resulting shady deals and scams involving thousands of crores of rupees.

When Sardar Patel died, his daughter Maniben Patel noted that he had left behind a sum of Rs. 18 lakh he had collected for party purposes. In those days it was a big amount. She lost no time in informing Prime Minister Nehru and Dr. Rajedra Prasad about it. She handed over every paisa to the party treasurer. Is such integrity conceivable in these days?

Today, hypocrisy has become the chief characteristic of our politicians. There has been talk of public accountability, value-based politics and owning up moral responsibility for one's lapses. But the chief occupation of politicians inside their parties is ceaseless quest for power. No one is ready to quit office unless he is compelled to do so by circumstances.

Soon after Independence, serious differences developed between Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel. These pertained to administrative and political issues. The two were not pulling on together. Each wanted to resign. But there was no name-calling, no character assassination or planting of stories in the press. Though differences were acute, their personal relations remained cordial and civilised.

Nehru informed Patel of his decision to quit and asked the latter to take over the prime ministership. In a note to Mahatma Gandhi Nehru said: Practical difficulties continuously arise.this means that either I should go out or Sardar Patel should go out. For my part, I would greatly prefer my going out. Of course, this going out of either of us need not and should not mean any kind of subsequent opposition. Whether we are in or out of the government we remain, I hope, not only loyal Congressmen but also loyal colleagues, and we will still try to pull together in our respective spheres of activity.

When Gandhi sent Nehru's letter to Patel, the latter wrote to Mahatma as follows: "The Prime Minister has also referred to his preference for leaving office if mutual accommodation cannot be secured. I maintain, however, that if anyone has to go, it should be myself. I have long passed the age of active service. The Prime Minister is the acknowledged leader of the country and is comparatively young. He has established an international position of pre-eminence for himself. I have no doubt that the choice between him and myself should be resolved in his favour. There is therefore no question of his quitting office".

Meanwhile, Gandhi was assassinated. The Nehru-Patel differences persisted. In a long letter, Patel wrote to Nehru: "I have no desire to continue if I cannot fulfill the mission entrusted to me by Bapu in his last moments and strengthen your hands". Nehru replied: "I know how much pains you have taken in the past to accommodate me and I am grateful to you for it".

A major crisis was averted, though the two continued to differ on many issues. If either of them had resigned the newly independent nation would have been plunge into an unprecedented crisis. But their main concern was the welfare of the country and the unity of the party for which they considered no sacrifice too great.

What a great legacy Nehru and Patel left behind and how wantonly and callously it has been squandered away by their unworthy successors! The salt has lost its savour, as far as Indian patriotism and nationalism are concerned. What happened to all that idealism? The new crop of leaders is different. No values, ideals, principles but it is power that counts with them. And no price is big enough if they can make it to the chair,

Politicians like Singhvi cannot be expected to recall the little known facts of Nehru-Patel legacy with the same nostalgia and sentiment that overpowers the older generation. Moreover, it is futile to go on talking about the good old Nehru-Patel days or freedom struggle. These memories are too precious to be squandered on unheeding ears.

What is really disturbing today is not the loss of idealism. This could have been made up by the dynamism of the new leaders. But the young and the old rogues, who have inherited the legacy of Gandhi, Nehru, Patel and others have created such a climate of cynicism in the country that the continued misgovernment is though to be safer than the uncertainties of democratic change. The field now belongs to the men and women who have perfected the art of purchasing purchasable politicians. The list is an ever-lengthening one.

But away, away, with this black mood of doom and despair and decay, let me summon to my aid, in the end, the Byronic prayer: "Fare thee well, and if for ever/Still for ever, fare thee well/ My beloved country, fallen on/ Evil times."

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