Patriotism and hypocrisy
By Swami Agnivesh And Rev Valson Thampu
We hear a lot about patriotism these days. Many wear their patriotism on their sleeves. But as a people, we don't let our patriotism stand in the way of thriving at the expense of our country. Patriotism is supposed to be inspired by love for one's country. But we think we can love our country without loving our people. So it does not occur to us that eroding the welfare of the people through corruption, profligacy and bad governance is incompatible with the fervour we profess for our motherland.
Likewise, we make much of the soldiers who lay down their lives in defending the territorial integrity of India, especially in times of impending elections. The moving spectacles of how each body from Kargil was received and honoured, and their next of kin generously rewarded, are still fresh in our minds. But closely in the wake of these public displays of grateful reverence came the unseemly spectacle of the Tehelka exposť.
Two amateur journalists went around breaching the defence lines of the defence establishment with disgraceful ease. Of course, this provoked an outcry that such sting operations undermine the morale of the Army. What certainly will mire our military morale is the realisation that even as the jawans die fighting our external enemies, the ruling elite become internal enemies to the country. And the enemies within pose a greater threat to the viability of a nation that her enemies without.
In the wake of Tehelka came the disturbing allegations from MiG Corporation that, "India buys low quality spare parts from Ukraine and East European countries".
According to the spokesperson of the MiG corporation, we even buy spare parts that have outlived their utility, thus creating conditions for frequent crashes. And crashes have taken a heavy toll on the IAF. As many as 93 IAF aircrafts have crashed, killing 34 pilots over the past five years.
That reads like a wartime casualty list. What is even more distressing is that, if Vladimir Barkovsky, deputy general designer of MiG Corporation, is to be believed, the IAF does not provide full details of the crashes to facilitate corrective measures that would help minimise risk to pilots.
This, even more than the purchase of allegedly substandard spares, betrays a scandalous unconcern for the life of our pilots. The IAF has, since then, contradicted Barkovsky's allegations, but has little to offer by way of explaining our high crash rates.
We refuse to see through the blatant contradiction between the politicians' eagerness to eulogise our martyrs and their easy conscience in bleeding the country from within.
Those in this business persuade the rest of us believe that enemies are prowling beyond the borders, waiting for an opportune moment to strike. Yet, for all the mammoth investments we make in men and material, these subversive elements move and strike at will, sometimes within the Red Fort and sometimes even at the South Block.
In the aftermath of every war the military establishment and the ruling elite reap a rich harvest. Kargil was followed by an inflation of our defence budget. Larger budgets mean, longer shopping lists and the accompanying rituals and blessings of hardware shopping. All this, we are told, is undertaken "in the interest of the nation". The logic for this assumption could well be that of Louis XIV who said, "I am the nation."
None of the 20-odd major civilisations that rose and fell succumbed to external aggression alone. We reckon this fact not to downplay the need to defend our territorial integrity or to belittle the services of our jawans but to sweep aside the smoke screen that politicians create to cover up their covetousness and hypocrisy.
To realise how unconscionably the ruling class fills this land with corruption and, also, the supreme cost at which our soldiers defend India from her enemies, is to run the risk of being overwhelmed by indignation.
But we have become wiser over the years and overlook these rasping hypocrisies. We are a sentimental people. In sentimentality there is a surfeit of displaced emotions. A sentimental outlook can easily blend crass indifference to the needs of the living with luxuriant sorrow for the dead.
In such a situation, the veneration of the slain soldiers is no yardstick for measuring our commitment to the well-being of the living jawans.
George Fernandes was commended for the number of times he visited our jawans at Siachen. But the ex-minister's visits did not mean that they got the snow scooters that they so desperately needed.
The truth that speaks through all these is that we have no value for human life, especially the life of ordinary people. We seek to compensate for this indifference by venerating our VVIPs.
We have created a democracy in which governance in the "name of the people" has shrivelled to multiplying the privileges of the ruling elite. Ten-thousand policemen are deployed on VVIP security in Delhi alone. This costs hundreds of crores of rupees.
This spurious VVIP culture is a tributary to corruption in public life. We are a party to creating an ambience in which it is a class privilege for the ruling elite to be a law unto themselves. So they have no qualms, for instance, in bringing city-life to a standstill through "VVIP movement" and throwing mile-long motorcades at the public, as Jayalalithaa was most infamous for doing.
Not long ago, all the white cars in Chennai used to be commandeered to swell her motorcades, irrespective of the inconvenience it meant to their owners! It is a sign of our mental and cultural backwardness that our adoration for leaders is directly proportionate to their unconcern for our dignity and worth. This explains why we elect those who are sure to prove enemies to our own welfare.
The first thing we need to cast out, if we are to develop a democratic mindset, is the VVIP culture which is a feudal anachronism in an age of democracy. We cannot do this unless we insist on seeing through the false rhetoric of the ruling class and hold them accountable for the glaring hypocrisies they continue to thrive from.