Moral compass is critical for democracy

March 24th, 2023 / 0 comments


The 75+ generation of Indians has seen and observed the decline of moral and humanistic values in the political sphere, and the consequent deterioration of the credibility of leaders, elected representatives, and those in office. It adversely impacts the very vitals of democracy, its institutions and, above all, the people and their concerns.

– J. S. Rajput

The manner the Indian Parliament conducted itself in the second half of the Budget session in March 2023 inflicts considerable disquiet amongst all those who revere it as a pious institution that could transform the lives of every Indian and give dignity and better life to those who deserve support and handholding because of exclusion and sufferings inflicted for generations due to historical, social and cultural constraints.

Could such an assembly of responsible people afford to waste their time for weeks together? They all are—officially—honourable individuals who are guardians of the Constitution; they are policymakers and lawmakers of the nation. The global image of India is changing fast; it is being viewed with considerable interest; there are high hopes in the international community. The last decade has convinced the powers that be that India is emerging as a self-confident nation; it is no more cowed down by its belligerent neighbours. India is no more willing to suffer ‘thousand cuts’ and terrorist attacks. The new-found sense of national pride could be seen in practically every home and hearth in India, in its farms and fields, across the high-end research labs bringing out innovations in areas, extending from artificial intelligence to space research.

India has enhanced its pace of change with full confidence and self-assurance. It has to make course corrections as well and must recall the Mahatma. ‘The Lonely Pilgrim (Gandhiji’s Noakhali pilgrimage)’, a compilation by Manubahan, contains the essence of how Gandhi realised that the national service has nowadays come to mean striving for a big name, according to many now, through which one can get a notice in the papers or is photographed—which is better—or secure ministership as a reward for going to jail.

So everyone wants to grab power in order to rise to a ministership in the end. But how can even good ministers do any notable work without the people’s support? The country does require ministers, but a minister can adorn his post only if he deserves it, Gandhi said. He observed, in this very context, the presence of ‘selfish stinginess’ and reiterated that “we must, therefore, train ourselves to keep national interest always before us.” And this was not the first time he was referred to ministers.

On September 18, 1938, when provincial governments had spent just ten months in ‘power’, things were not much different! The Mahatma received a letter from a citizen, indicating that the main purpose of the “Congress ministry appears to us to be to worship your idol in public and break it in secret; to worship the symbols of Imperialism in secret and denounce them in public, to play the malefactor towards their opponents when they cannot conquer by truthful and legitimate methods,..”

Gandhi had condensed this after “toning down the bitterest part.” The letter writer had also included a sentence which after 85 years appears prophetic: “The government of a people cannot be run by the common argument of promised boons and by corrupting the electorate with hope.”

The lesson to be drawn is clear: the mere scent of power coming to ministers made them leave no stone unturned to shake the moral foundation of good government. In this particular instance, the letter-writer found it strange why Gandhi’s “soul should not revolt against such a predatory Ministry for creation of which the moral responsibility is entirely yours”.

After over seven decades of Independence, India has more ex-ministers than serving ministers. The taste of having savoured power—exceptions apart—has been highly intoxicating. We have ‘Lok-Sewaks’ who swear by the name of Mahatma Gandhi but have amassed wealth by means that could be beyond the comprehension of the finest of economists. People have seen the growth and display of affluence that follows politicians becoming elected representatives, ministers and chief ministers. In fact, most panchas and sarpanchas of village panchayats have proved to be good learners from politicians.

The issue before the nation is: why are the elected representatives losing credibility among those who elect them and put them in the saddle of power?

The manner democracy is being conducted was most crudely exposed in the recent election of the mayor of Delhi, which presented a shocking spectacle for everyone who feels a sense of pride in Indian democracy. The entire country witnessed it, as did the world. I found it shameful. Sadly enough, one could cite numerous such instances that have led to the disaffection between the representative and those represented. 

On May 12, 1920, Gandhi said: “If I seem to take part in politics, it is only because politics today encircle us like the coils of a snake from which one cannot get out no matter how one tries. I wish to wrestle with the snake…” He did, and created a model of giving people a voice, a non-violent approach that helped not only India but so many other nations to throw away the yoke of imperialism, the caste system and apartheid.

In one word, he made people trust the moral force. On September 7, 1920, it was so articulated by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore: “We need all the moral force which Mahatma Gandhi represents, and which he alone in the world can represent.” It was this moral force that every Indian was supposed to comprehend, internalise and put to practice.

Obviously, the representatives of people at every stage were—and are—supposed to be the prime torchbearers of the legacy of Gandhi. Each one of them needs self-introspection; they must analyze the extent to which their conduct is contributing to the national cause, strengthening democracy, and helping the amelioration of the miseries from the life of the ‘last man in the line.’

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