– Dr C.K. Mathew, IAS (Retd)
There are some titanic struggles afoot in the country. And we barely perceive what they are, nor do we see them clearly– except in stray incidents now and then- the signs of these clash of ideas raging around us.
Broadly they centre around some of the most important and explosive situations that we shall ever face as a nation. Undoubtedly, they have been going on for many years now and indeed, in some matters, for centuries. But before long, they shall come to a head and force us, as individuals and as a people, to take a stand, this way or that. The way we survive the battle and come out unscathed will determine the future of our country.
I am not saying that there are no redeeming features at all in this vast and wonderful country of ours. We have a robust democracy which has survived many a crisis and is the envy of the world. Our freedom of the press, another sterling characteristic of our country, is something we can all be proud of. The diversity of our peoples, and the manner in which we have sought to reconcile our differences should rightly make us lift our heads and say ‘I am proud to be an Indian’. The quality and depth of our technical work force, makes us a respected force internationally. There are too, undeniably, some deep and abiding virtues in the spiritual heritage of our country which is appealing and gratifying.
Nevertheless, we have a set of issues that have been bothering us for almost the entire span of our freedom these past sixty odd years. And if we are to move ahead and take the ascending trajectory of our all-round growth, then we had better tackle them immediately. I will try to list out these issues and see if they make some sense for us as a nation:
- The endless tensions on our western border: it is more than sixty eight years since we cut the umbilical cord between our two nations; but it seems we are still tied by our mutual animosity: at another level, it would also seem we are tied to each other by our mutual love and the many shared experiences we have, our common languages, cultures, food, family values. In short, we have to accept the reality of each other’s presence and learn to live with one another and give to the other the space to take forward our separate destinies on their rightful paths. Give peace a chance. And until we do so, we will never be able to live in peace or sleep without bad dreams.
- The great struggle for affirmative action: Constitutional safeguards in place give protection for certain categories of people in this country. The scheduled castes and the schedules tribes are clear examples. The contentious issue is of reservation in jobs and political appointments. With time, other categories of people have also jumped on the trundling wagon, trying to grab the available space. There is a real grouse that those who do not fall into the definition of these special categories are being denied what is rightfully theirs. Sooner or later, the country has to take a stand that will put at rest the contentious issue and allow us to go forward, granting protection to those who need it and enabling the others to gain what is rightfully theirs. The solution may be in keeping such reservations for the economically backward; and difficult as that decision may be for us to take, we have to ask ourselves the question, “but is that enough?” It requires some careful tightrope walking, but, with wisdom and sagacity, it can be done.
- The rule of law: We know this for a fact, but we do not implement it. We know that the law is the one and the same for all of us, whether it is the high and mighty or the low and miserable. But yet, we see the law broken or bent in favour of the strong and the influential. We recently saw a different dispensation for Salman Khan and for Jayalalithaa, when we know that there are lakhs of people, the under-trials, without even a conviction against them, spending their lives behind bars. When we are able to enforce equity in the dispensation of justice, with the same yardstick for one and for all, then we shall be on our way towards a bright land of justice.
- The questions of governance and the delivery of public service: As the largest democracy in the world, we have as yet, sadly, not yet got our act going. The gigantic issues facing our country are compounded by the sheer magnitude of the problems involved in delivery of services. Officials are never at their place of duty; ordinary functions requiring maintenance and repair do not have the necessary finances and hence systems in place start to crumble; accountability is becoming a forgotten virtue; government minions find postings of their choice by influencing political representatives to canvas on their behalf; the poor people run from pillar to post and ‘can’t get no satisfaction’ anywhere, and so on and so forth. Our public health and public education systems are crying for reform: there is no shortage of money; nor do we lack in manpower. Then why are we drifting rudderless, delivering half educated and malnourished children who cannot contribute to the wellbeing of our nation? The litany of woes is endless. When will we rise and start cracking the whip?
I would add here the tragedy of our non-functional school systems which churn out millions of young children ill-equipped to face the competition of the world. I have no hesitation in saying that our public instruction system, as far as the bulk of our young children are concerned, has collapsed under its own weight. And on the other hand, we also produce the best brains in the field of medicine and engineering and information technology that can hold its head high anywhere in the world. What contradictions we cope with in our daily lives?
- Corruption is the biggest bane of our public life. From high places to low, money exchanges hands for even the smallest work to be done. This is not to say that good people do not exist in the government machinery, in the political and administrative circles of governance. There are many of them, quietly and silently working according to highest values and principles. But they are few and far between. The malaise is reaching high proportions and we are doing precious little to correct the situation. India stands low down somewhere towards the bottom of the Transparency Index. When will be raise our heads and say, enough is enough?
- The war between environment and development: we have been reckless in the way we have depleted our natural resources with no care for the future of our children. Undoubtedly, we need to put in place a regimen that will protect the fragile nature of our environment so that the mistakes we committed in future are not repeated. But in the process of doing so, we cannot blind ourselves to the requirements of development that will empower our people, will bring economic benefit to those who require it, and raise the standard of living of the millions who reside in this country. The balanced and judicious path of development between our economic requirements and the imperative of environmental security will have to be achieved if we are to find our rightful place in the world.
These are just six persistent problems I feel we have to tackle as a nation of responsible citizens. Can we be justifiably proud until we have these under some measure of control? Can we hold our heads high until we have sorted them out? Can we as a country together address these issues now? Say yes, and let’s move ahead.