At the Mad Widow’s Wedding

First published in The Pioneer, (August 25, 2012),

One would not be wrong, surveying the litter of scandalous loot that has cost the Indian taxpayer hundreds of thousands of crores of rupees, that it might be the final, disastrous end of Kali Yuga, and the best anyone could do in these end times would be to grab a piece of the action -- forget any moral compunctions of adding weight to the fast sinking ship of state. As I wrote one year ago about the corrupt and scandalous government managing the affairs of the second largest country in the world – the one who sups at the mad widow’s wedding is the pragmatic one…. A year of struggle by Anna Hazare and his well-meaning but naïve team of middle class moralists, and the supporting cast of Baba Ramdev and his passionate but disorganized band of small-town acolytes, has come to naught. This, even as the latest CAG report has dumped coal dust all over the starched turban of the mute Dr. Manmohan Singh, who will go down in history as the man who kept mum while the marauders – from big time ministers to small town middlemen – loaded the loot and shipped it to a safe haven in the Mauritius, now that Swiss banks have become too hot a place to stash away “ill-gotten wealth”. The CAG report blaming the government of having given away Rs. 1.85 lakh crores to private firms is just the latest in the litany of such reports accusing the government of incompetence, if not fraud and malfeasance. This report too, like the previous ones, will soon be pecked to death by Mr. Singh and his minions who have mastered the art of obfuscation, stonewalling, misleading arguments, and making excuses. And, if the going gets a little tough for them, Ms. Sonia Gandhi and her minders will unleash the attack dogs – the Mani Shankar Aiyars, the Digvijaya Singhs, the Kapil Sibals – to lob smoke bombs on a variety of Delhi television shows whose gas-bag anchors and invited guests see no evil but Hindu fundamentalists lurking in every corner.

Add to this mix the latent Indian middle-class habit of minding one’s own business, philosophizing endlessly, and/or talking over each other without purpose or direction, plus a political opposition that is clueless, incompetent, provincial, and whose members are bought and traded on the floor of the Parliament: what we therefore have are the perfect conditions for the country to sink down the underworld and into “naraka,” while the Congress Party royalty take the last bag of cash out of the country. Yes, there are still many Indians who are mad as hell and who want to bring the crooks to book, and the corrupt sent to hard labor in a new prison in the Andamans, but they are too few and now a little too dispirited that Team Anna has been lured into the trap of forming a political party. They know that it is a fool’s pursuit to start a new political party in India with the intent of bringing change. At best, any such new political party, with the agenda of cleansing the system might at best put a couple of fresh faces in Parliament, and that would be it. That counts for nothing, more or less, and the hopes of millions who last year gathered at Jantar Mantar and various venues around the country and shook their fists at the government of the corrupt, for the corrupt, and by the corrupt are now postponed if not dashed forever. Yes, there are individuals who are spurred by a moral sense, like Dr. Anjali Damania, who have taken on the civil contractor mafia and bureaucrats in Maharashtra who have made “obscene amounts of money” proposing projects and awarding contracts for dams across the state that neither get built nor get built to specifications. Dr. Damania has filed a public interest litigation case in the Bombay High Court, but by the time the court decides the matter the harassment against the doctor and the disappearance of records will make other activists think twice about waging such courageous battles. Meanwhile, the almost apathetic public will not do anything more than sit at home and fulminate. The tragedy of Team Anna was that they could not keep up the pressure against the government and could not rally the initial surge of support to quickly and effectively corner the government and bring about the changes for tackling corruption. The momentum was lost, and there were too many vested interests – in the political class and in the media – which used their wiles to turn the screws on members of Team Anna and Baba Ramdev. A government that moves at the speed of a tortoise walking backwards somehow found the energy and the wherewithal to bring cases against Baba Ramdev’s lieutenants, and Anna Hazare’s advisers, using the police and investigative agencies to carry out witch-hunts. We know that if indeed there is a will this government does have its way, but it has no intention of either stopping the loot of the nation or bringing any of the corrupt to justice. History repeats itself, especially in India, with its myriad faultlines, and there seem to be few options to stop today’s tide. The country had seen great prosperity and wealth in the past, was the cynosure of the world, and yet the country got ravaged and ravished, its wealth looted, and its people broken. Recently, an exhibition titled, “Maharaja” began touring American museums, and what one saw in that exhibition was the loot that was hauled away from India by the marauders and the colonizers between the early 18th century and mid twentieth century. Hundreds of millions of dollars worth of gold, jewels, and art were carted away and now are in museums in Britain or in the Middle East or have become part of family heirlooms in those countries. The looting of modern India is happening at the hands of Indians themselves, but what it means is that the country is once again left weakened for outside forces to easily defeat the country. We can forget about India becoming a super power by 2020; it is doubtful that it will even remain a viable nation by 2020 given the fissiparous tendencies of regionalism, political factionalism, religious rivalry, and caste conflict that the UPA II government has either abetted or ignored. Unless, of course, by some strange twist of fate Team Anna and Baba Ramdev will re-energize the likes of Dr. Damania and other fair-minded citizens to defeat this corrupt government and elect women and men of moral courage and strength of character who can usher in a new era of good governance and a healthy democracy. Ramesh Rao is Professor of Communication Studies at Longwood University and an Executive Council Member of the Hindu American Foundation. The views expressed here are his own.

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