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Reflections in the Mirror

Reflections in the Mirror
Sir Edmund Burke's last stanza from "Mirror" is very telling of our times.

So never be concerned
if wrinkles/extra flab appear
For one thing I've learned
Which is very clear,
Should your reflection
be less than perfection,
It is really the mirror,
That needs correction.

Indeed, it is the mirror's fault. There have been massive job losses. Farmer's suicides continue unabated, severe drought in the Southern parts of the country, education systems and standards indifferent as ever, be it in higher or secondary school levels, index of industrial manufacturing down, Q4 financial results finally showing the bite inflicted by demonetisation, borders on the west alive and afire. All of them, but are passing clouds which by a few Vedic mantras will disappear, and the sun will shine on our divinely blessed republic, beautiful and bright. After all, we have seen and done all this before. Plastic surgery, wind-powered planes, moving mountains is a part of our heritage and our civilisational history. Soon there will be a resurrection, and our ancient knowledge will be revealed unto us again. The world, particularly, China and Pakistan, better watch out!

Meanwhile, the mundane continues to shock and awe. Class Twelve results in Bihar are a dismal 33 per cent or so because strict vigilance allegedly had ensured that there would be no cheating. Contrast this with the good times of yore when the space between 98 per cent and 99.5 per cent was jammed with Bihari students as the entire world's IQs seeded in Nalanda times had yielded a never ending crop of geniuses. Cow protection has taken higher precedence over the right to life of humans. We have people's courts dispensing instant justice without a trial and lynch mobs carry out the execution. Be it love jihad or caste violations, the Khap Panchayat like tribunals or self-proclaimed vigilante groups are pronouncing summary verdicts of guilt on hapless segments of our society. All this happens, yet the law enforcers of the state are ignorant. It is not that rogue elements do not exist in any regime but their ability to obtain political support, vocal or muted, is the cause for alarm and indeed a threat to the fabric of a fair and just environment in which the rule of law is always supreme. Sadly, it is this rule of law that is frequently becoming a casualty all around us.

It is so tempting to blame it all on the kind of people we are. All pervasive lack of civic consciousness, casual regard for discipline, total irreverence for fair play and increasing admiration for might is right. How can such natives be deserving of justice and fair governance? Most times, we are handed out lofty slogans by our leaders and for governance; we get deaf ears or inept management pleading scarce resources for non-delivery of public services. Even Artificial Intelligence is no match for natural stupidity, which is abundantly in evidence in the kind of political engagement getting widespread acceptance as the way we run our affairs. It is so relevant to recall the extract from Henry Miller, the great writer's essay 'On Turning Eighty':

"One can fight evil, but against stupidity one is helpless… I have accepted the fact, hard as it may be, that human beings are inclined to behave in ways that would make animals blush. The ironic, the tragic thing is that we often behave in ignoble fashion from what we consider the highest motives. The animal makes no excuse for killing his prey; the human animal, on the other hand, can invoke God's blessing when massacring his fellow men. He forgets that God is not on his side but at his side."

We have appropriated our preferred Gods to support our respective set of misdeeds, and little battles are being fought for and against by invoking their divinity. Gods are safe, but humans are surely imperilled.

It is time we faced a few home truths. For one, we are not a great power and are not likely to be one, either by 2030 or 2050, or ever, unless we entrench the rule of law, save no exception. Governments must learn, to tell the truth, and not excite the lies. If the police have fired on the farmers in Mandsaur, then the Minister in the state must accept so and not indulge in bare denials. If the farmers have a problem, then it will not disappear by a Chief Minister going on a fast. Everybody promises loan waivers, so who will tend the national treasury. The finances of the nation are not looking good. If the progress of our GDP is facing resistance, then let's not dress it up with masks to belie the real number.

The country is grown up enough to realise that we are facing cumulative consequences, some of the good decisions and some of bad or no decisions. We need real steps, beginning with an understanding of the issues involved and securing a resolution over a given time frame. Our problems are hard and intractable through years of glossy attempts at facile answers. They need some serious understanding and solutions rooted in the reality and acceptance of the people. Public health, decrepit cities with severely impaired civic infrastructure, crippling licensing regimes for doing business, agriculture-related facilitation both in inputs and access to markets, surplus power and deficit power, virtually no land management system and converting to usable supply for various needs, transport solutions, so many issues need urgent attention. Truth be told, it is the appearance that needs improvement. The mirror can only but reflect the image of an appearance as it receives.

(The writer is former Director, India Habitat Centre. Views are strictly personal.)

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