A lesson for the ages
The current Coronavirus crisis gripping India brings forth messages of consolidating national unity and building bureaucratic integrity that must not be ignored
The best of every nation — and its youth — is revealed in the worst of times. One comes across highly inspiring narrations of dedication and devotion of young persons coming together to help and support the needy during this crisis. They represent the best of a cohesive India. As a young person, I had the privilege of being a part of such a group during the 1962 and 1965 wars. Students of the then prestigious University of Allahabad had noted considerable movement of military personnel and felt the need to let them know how much the nation was proud of them. It began with a make-shift tea stall at the railway station. Surprisingly, there was no dearth of resources, these came from all quarters. On such occasions, young people witness the 'Unity of India' personified! The glory of Mother India; the social cohesion and religious amity emerge in full bloom! After the 1962 war, India was a demoralised nation that had received a debilitating thrashing from China of 'Hindi-Cheeni Bhai-Bhai' fame! The reputations of the top-level civil and military leaders were shattered. India was found deficient on all counts except national unity in that war. The demoralisation, however, did not last long. The national pride took wings in 1965, the stature of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri rose to unprecedented heights. He had handled tough internal conditions as well and had to appeal to citizens to 'miss a meal' to tie over the food crisis! The response was miraculous. I must recall the visit of Lal Bahadur Shastri after the 1965 war to Allahabad. The entire city, including the University, turned up to listen to their beloved, adored and admired leader. The vigour and zeal with which the slogans of 'Bharat Mata Ki Jay' were raised all around — and none had any objection to it those days — was unbelievable! During the course of his speech, Shastri Ji uttered one sentence: "Kabhi kabhi chhota aadami bade kam kar jaata hai"! People clapped as they had done on several occasions during this speech. As it began to slow down, suddenly a volcano of joy and hilarity erupted which continued for several minutes. People savoured their own meaning of that sentence. Allahabad understood the difference as both the 'Bada Aadami' and 'Chhota Aadami' belonged to this city. Both of them had received great affection and admiration from this city. Those were the days of a leadership that had participated in the freedom struggle and had the saga of their sacrifices imprinted on the minds of the people. They commanded genuine respect amongst the people and particularly the younger lot. There were no pensions to elected representatives, there were no MPLAD Funds. There was no absence of trust between electors and the elected.
In more recent and troubling times, India responded as one cohesive nation to the appeals of the Prime Minister. People have expressed full faith in the competence and sincerity of the PM and his government. India's efforts are being lauded internationally. While combating COVID-19, all of us have to think of the future after it. One of such decisions that would have far-reaching consequences in future is the salary cut of 30 per cent right for every leader, from the President of India to the MPs. It is indeed an inspiring, encouraging and ethically desirable decision taken by the Government. For the people, the government in such instances means Narendra Modi. Simultaneously, it has been decided that the MPLAD funds should be suspended for two years and the money be put to good use in the fight against COVID-19. Not many may recall that the provision of MPLAD funds was made under unethical considerations, had no justification and has contributed considerably in widening the distance between the elected and their electors. It also eroded the confidence in the bureaucracy, bringing with it ill repute in a large number of cases. To me, it deprives others of a level-playing field in the next election. It deserves to be scrapped. After the current crisis is over, India must seriously consider how to restore the bond between the electors and the elected; scraping of MPLAD fund could be one of the many restorative initiatives.
Once the nation overcomes the present crisis, it must learn lessons from the few chinks in its armour that have emerged this time. No nation can afford any slackness in inculcating values and character formation through its education systems. In India, the tradition of social cohesion and religious amity and acceptance of diversity of all kinds just cannot be allowed to be diluted under any pretext. A congregation of a couple of thousand people in Delhi, their non-adherence to prescribed norms, departures to most of the states in India, followed by efforts to hide away from law creates panic throughout the nation. Worst, it escalates distrust amongst major communities, which just cannot be permitted under any conditions. It was fully avoidable if their education was on the right path, if they were made aware of their responsibility to others, and were taught true basics of their own religion in their sensitive years. If elected representatives, right from the panchayats to the Parliament, had maintained close links with their electors, this could have been controlled within days. If religious leaders had appealed to the attendees to get themselves examined instead of blaming others, things would have remained within control. The slackness of the system of governance has emerged in shocking magnitude. If they were alert as the authorities in Maharashtra, India could have been saved a national embarrassment and misery inflicted on the innocents.
The writer works in education and social cohesion. Views expressed are strictly personal