It’s time, as they say, to pick a side.
I’ve been writing at some length in recent days on Indian politics, probably to the boredom of a fair section of my international readership – but I’m afraid that you’ll probably be reading a lot more from me on this topic, the way things are going.
Briefly, this is what’s happening:
Corruption, as I believe I’ve written in the past, is probably the single greatest evil facing this nation. It’s in fact such a problem that even the Great Indian Muddle Class has decided it’s a problem, and let me tell you, it requires a thermonuclear explosion to blast the Great Indian Muddle Class out of its self-absorption. Corruption in India is everywhere – from the very, utmost top (the husband of the President of the nation has been found guilty of it in court) to the local cop on the beat. Almost everyone in a position to be corrupt is corrupt, with a few rare exceptions – exceptions so rare that they merit special mention when someone comes across them.
The corruption is both direct (in terms of the citizen having to pay bribes to get something done, or politicians taking kickbacks from industrialists and the like to change rules to favour them) and indirect (as when politicians and bureaucrats usurp funds for their personal purposes, or go on foreign junkets at the taxpayer’s expense; or as when capitalist robber barons cheat on taxes, refuse to repay loans, and stash the funds abroad in Swiss bank accounts). Either way, the loss to the nation is so colossal as to defy comprehensible computation. You never saw so many zeroes.
This corruption, of course, is so pervasive that it has attracted its own constituency – people who benefit from it. This includes virtually everyone in a position to earn from corruption, in government or out of it, from the usual suspects (politicians, bureaucrats, judges and capitalists) to media houses and journalists who take money to slant, suppress, or play up stories according to who’s paying, and how much. Media corruption is so pervasive in India that there have been studies on how to curb it – whose recommendations have promptly been buried, never to be seen again. Corruption is simply too useful to be let go of. (As a matter of fact, for lower-level government servants, corruption isn’t just a convenience but necessary, since it’s virtually impossible to obtain a police job, for instance, without paying a substantial bribe; so the first years of the policeman’s career are spent striving to recoup the money spent for that bribe, for which he may have mortgaged his family property.)
Recently, though, there has been an upsurge of popular resentment against corruption, led – among others – by a septuagenarian ex-soldier called Anna Hazare, of whom I have written previously. Earlier this year, Hazare went on hunger strike to demand that the government pass a law establishing a “Lok Pal” (an anti-corruption ombudsman, whose authority would include taking action on corruption at all levels, including the Prime Minister – or, in this case, the unelected “prime minister”). The government agreed to discuss the matter, and promptly sabotaged it by diluting the proposed law as much as it could, keeping the Prime Minister out of its ambit, among other things.
By the way, believe it or not, as the law in India stands, you can steal billions, go to jail, and all you’ll suffer is the jail term. You won’t have to refund even a single penny of the amount you stole, and when you come out it will be waiting for you.
The standard government argument went this way – that it would not listen to an “extra-constitutional body” (the anti-corruption activists, who apart from Hazare include senior lawyers, India’s most famous female ex-cop, and others) and that Parliament was the only body that could pass laws. This was absurd on two points:
First, because this same government has no problem listening to, and cravenly obeying, a blatantly extra-constitutional authority (the dynasty which owns the ruling party), and,
Secondly, because believing that the government will make fair and loophole-free laws to prevent corruption is like appointing the fox sentry to the henhouse. It ain’t gonna happen.
The clearest proof of the government’s mala fides is its insistence on take-it-or-leave-it amendments, including keeping the prime minister out of the ambit of the Lok Pal’s jurisdiction. We’re told, on a daily basis, by the bought-off media that the so-called, unelected, “prime minister” is an honest man. If so, why should he have a problem being under the supervision of an anti-corruption ombudsman? Why should any honest person be averse to being supervised?
All right, that was a rhetorical question.
While the talks over the Lok Pal law were degenerating into impasse, the government made a desperate attempt to discredit the anti-corruption activists by producing a series of fake CDs denouncing a father-son lawyer duo (part of the activist group) as corrupt. The fakes were speedily exposed, as it happens, not that anyone was penalised for creating them.
Meanwhile, a completely different “anti-corruption agitation” was launched by the Hindunazi Right, based around a yoga guru named Ramdev. After first falling over itself to accommodate him, the government raided his protest in the middle of the night with police, mercilessly thrashed people, arrested everyone including Ramdev, accused him of corruption, and knocked him out of the anti-corruption agitation. This was probably a boon in disguise, because Ramdev was probably meant initially as a shill to divide the anti-corruption agitation, but was crushed when he began to think of himself as a genuine agitator. All that crushing him did was to leave the group around Anna Hazare as the sole legitimate anti-corruption voice in the public eye.
Goaded beyond the limits of tolerance, Anna Hazare announced a fast-unto-death from today to protest against the government version of the law. The government reacted in a fairly typical thuggish manner. It first claimed Hazare was “steeped in corruption”, accused him of “disrespecting the prime minister”, claimed he was trying to hold parliament to ransom, and then announced (through the politically-controlled Delhi police) that he would only be allowed to demonstrate for a maximum of three days, and that so long as his protests didn’t include more than 5000 people. Obviously, a three-day protest by a mere 5000 people would be nothing but a farce, and the anti-corruption agitators quite correctly refused to accept it.
Meanwhile, the owner of the ruling Congress party, the Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, is in America for surgery to treat some undisclosed illness (far be it from me to speculate that she is suffering from a cancer and is desperate to keep the fact hidden so as to maintain her family’s grip on the party, and has opted to be treated abroad in order to ensure the secret is kept). Her son, the Crown Prince of the nation, returned after meeting her, “spoke to” the (unelected) “prime minister”, and the final decisions were probably taken, and orders passed, at that meeting.
And so, today, Anna Hazare was arrested before he could leave for the venue of the protest. Along with him were arrested activist Arvind Kejriwal and India’s most well-known ex-policewoman, Kiran Bedi. They were all taken to the capital’s Tihar jail (ironically an institution which had been administered by Bedi earlier, and where she had made many much-appreciated reforms). They went quite peacefully, without offering any violence, and were scheduled to be released tonight - but Hazare is fasting in prison, and has refused release.
|Hazare - not Kournikova|
Obviously, the government doesn’t actually believe any of its own lies about how Hazare and his group are any kind of threat to democracy or parliament. It's quite openly crushing democracy.
(And, yes, I know the irony of the party of the original Mohandas Gandhi's crushing peaceful democratic protest, but the original Gandhi is only a convenient excuse these days.)
What the arrests are meant to achieve is this:
First, to deprive the people of India of a focus to the protests against corruption. Without a leader, the protests will rapidly wither away, as everyone is perfectly aware.
Second, to drive home to the people that the government will ruthlessly crush any and all protests, and safeguard its (and its capitalist cronies’) right to steal and plunder by any and all means possible.
How much success it will have in this endeavour is still to be seen. The public is predictably outraged, but hasn’t actually done anything to give any shape to that outrage. Hot air rises, and all that has appeared so far from the Great Indian Muddle Class has been hot air. Political parties from the right and the left have both done their share of screaming, but everyone knows perfectly well that this is only window-dressing; those parties are as mired in corruption as anyone else.
Let me, therefore, make a prediction: in the short term, the government will stonewall, wait for the protests to wither away, and pass laws meant to stifle any and all meaningful public protest. It will file patently false charges against the anti-corruption activists; charges deliberately meant to be transparently false, which are designed to
1. Keep Hazare and friends so busy defending themselves legally that they have no energy or time left over for anti-corruption drives and
2. Make an example of them so as to deter anyone else who wants to speak out against corruption.
In this context, I’d like to point out that India has no law to protect whistle-blowers, no pretence of a witness-protection programme, and that several people who have exposed corrupt deals have been murdered in recent years, one today, and that most of those cases remain resolutely unsolved.
If the people’s protests show no sign of dying down within a reasonable period, I predict that there will be some means found to divert their attention. Perhaps a spectacular “terrorist” attack will be launched on a major Indian city. Possibly an artificial war scare will be created with Pakistan, as was done back in 1986 when Sonia Gandhi’s late husband, Rajiv, then the (quite legally-elected) Prime Minister, was embroiled in corruption cases and had an activist Finance Minister, VP Singh. Gandhi had the army start an extremely provocative series of exercises on the Pakistan border, known as Operation Brasstacks, and when Islamabad put its forces on high alert, VP Singh was shifted over to the defence ministry to get him out of Gandhi’s rapidly-thinning hair. So there are precedents, and risks are minimal, since Pakistan is no longer an independent nation and will not be able to go to war without American permission, even to defend itself.
Personally, I have absolutely no hope any longer that there can be any peaceful or democratic resolution to this nation’s problems. The rot goes far too deep, and the people are either too poor and illiterate, or too apathetic and self-obsessed, to follow the Tahrir Square route to change. The ballot box is as pointless, because if we’ve learnt anything at all these past few years, it’s that whoever wins, we lose.
|Pictured: what will not happen here.|
Nor do I have any hopes of a successful armed rebellion from the only forces resisting the government-capitalist cabal that’s looting the country – the Maoist rebellion in the forests of Central India. The Maoists are too few and too poorly armed even to capture and hold a small town for longer than a few hours. To expect them in the current situation to stage a March on Delhi is absurd.
So, what is the solution? Is there a solution?
Not really. All I can offer is the certainty of looming disaster. Climate change and dwindling resources are already ravaging Indian agriculture, and more and more people are scrambling for pieces of a diminishing pie. As I said just over a year ago:
Today, all over India, pesticide effectiveness has decreased dramatically. The land’s becoming worked out, and there’s no fresh land to farm. While a very large part of the crops are still entirely dependent on the rains for water, irrigation projects are suffering because water tables are dropping sharply, and with global warming the extent of rainfall and prevalent rain patterns are changing very quickly indeed. What all this means is that agricultural production has stagnated and begun to fall (and farmers, unable to pay off their debts, are committing suicide in massive numbers).
Also, since the government’s policy is to follow “economic growth” (whatever that chimera may be) at all costs, including the cost of common sense, farmland is actually being expropriated to make way for factories and “special economic zones” where Indian laws intended to protect labourers don’t apply.
Increasingly, a complete and utter collapse, an implosion, is coming, when
(f)ood riots... are only a matter of time. Crime levels will certainly escalate. Water and power supply will continue to be worse than poor. People will increasingly look for someone to blame.
At first, the blame will go to the migrant, whether from the villages or from other cities. They, it’s already being said, steal the food out of the hardworking mouths of the “son of the soil”; they are dirty, noisy, breed like rats, and take all the education and employment opportunities the natives ought to have as a birthright. Therefore, these migrants must be blocked from entering, and those who are already there have to be thrown out. We’ve already seen this in many parts of the country, especially in Bombay.
When this happens, the villages might well retaliate by blockading the cities, and cutting off food supplies, railways and roads. If the government tries to clear these blockades by force, all it will do is further alienate the rural people, something it can’t afford to do too much with the armed forces because the average Indian soldier is still a barely educated village hick. So, caught in a cleft stick, it will do nothing except make promises, which people have already learned not to believe.
The next stage in the cities will come with the creation of virtual city states, each zealously protecting itself against theft of its food, water and electricity by others. Once this happens, de facto balkanisation is only a matter of time, with each of these ministates forming its own economic policies and its own understandings with the hinterland. And once that stage is reached, the fiction of India will fully be exposed.
With the government becoming utterly irrelevant at that stage, there will be change. What kind of change, I can’t say – certainly not all for the good. But very radical change, there will be. Things can’t remain this way.
By its actions, the government is only making sure that it is going to happen.