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Celebrating incarceration

 | October 18, 2013

India’s middle classes have been demanding a corrupt-free administration and honest politicians.

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Many months ago, when India was rocked by the telephone spectrum scam, one of the politicians accused and arrested was Kanimozhi. A member of parliament from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, she is the daughter of former Tamil Nadu chief Minister MK Karunanidhi.

When she returned home in Chennai’s Mylapore after spending several months in Delhi’s Tihar Jail, she got a hero’s welcome. Right from the crack of dawn that morning when she was to fly into Chennai, her bungalow was decorated with sweet smelling flowers while a band played outside.

The city, it seemed, or at least some there, were rejoicing Kanimozhi’s homecoming.

Time was when political leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru (India’s first prime minister) and Gandhi (who fought the colonial forces with his brand of non-violence or satyagraha) were greeted with joyful reception on their release from prison after they had served their sentence as a punishment for demanding India’s independence and opposing the occupying British.

Today, it appears quirky that those who go to jail for criminal offences are feted by their followers. Prison has become a badge of honour.

What is more, many politicians brag about their misdemeanours, and make little effort to even sugarcoat them. Take the case of Kameshwar Baitha, who listed all his crimes when he decided to contest a parliament seat from a north-east Indian constituency.

As a leader of a Maoist insurgency group, Baitha had been charged with 17 homicides, 22 attempted murders and many cases of extortion. To top it all, he was also incarcerated.

But Baitha is not bothered. He is supposed to have quipped that unless one fought against something or someone, it was difficult to enter politics and win over people!

The brazenness of it all is shocking. What is even more appalling is the attitude of convicted politicians who probably fancy themselves as Robin Hoods.

However, there is a class in India which has begun to understand that if the country were to grow and progress, politics must be cleansed of crime. India’s middle classes in particular have been demanding a corrupt-free administration and honest politicians.

Looted nation

After decades of being looted by Britain, India is now being robbed of its resources by its own politicians and bureaucrats.

There is illegal mining of iron ore, pilfering of sand from seashore, plundering of forest wealth and receipt of unimaginably huge kickbacks. All these leave the nation poor and underdeveloped.

It is here that Congress Party vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s recent outburst in a New Delhi media conference against a government ordinance seeking to protect members of parliament with criminal record assumes significance. The ordinance was later thrown out, although Gandhi was criticised for his brusque behaviour.

It is quite possible that Gandhi has sensed the mood of the people. The internet is abuzz with anti-scam campaigns, and a recent rally in New Delhi had men and women waving brooms to demonstrate their anguish at the state of affairs. They called for a thorough cleansing of the system.

But men like Baitha remain unrepentant. He averred during an interview that if all those with a criminal past were to be barred from holding office or contesting elections, India’s parliament would be empty.

Whatever be Baitha’s opinion, Indians are now disgusted with the kind of plundering that has been going on and on, and want fair play and honesty in public life.

Even courts, perhaps sensing people’s anger and frustration, have begun to send leading politicians to jail. A very important political leader in Bihar, Lalu Prasad Yadav, has been sentenced to five years behind bars for his role in the cattle fodder scam.

All this is very well, but unless India’s educated sections get actively involved in the main political process, the country will find it hard to rise above sleaze.

Gautaman Bhaskaran is India Editor of FMT, and Chennai-based author, columnist and movie critic. He may be emailed at[email protected]


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