May 25, 2020
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In Defence Of The Much Maligned Class

This article was originally published in November 1996 when P.V. Narasimha Rao was down and out and Rao had lost office as Prime Minister and unceremoniously ousted from the leadership of the Congress (I).

In Defence Of The Much Maligned Class
In Defence Of The Much Maligned Class

When the hounds are hunting, it would be sheer folly to come in their way--even with good intention. One would be mauled.

At a time when a majority of the public, in its mind, seems to have already proclaimed the political class as the vilest of the vile, and to be relishing the spectacle of what appears to be the culmination in humiliation of a long and distinguished political career of one of the rare scholars to have adorned the high office of the Prime Minister, it would be an act of utter stupidity to write in defence of the much-maligned class of politicians.

But there are occasions when one has to commit such folly and stupidity in an attempt, even if it be in vain, to restore balance to a debate consumed by unthinking fury.

The Vohra Committee's report on the alleged nexus between politicians and criminals was not the basic cause of this fury, but it broke the dykes of pent-up public anger against this class.

Since then, any abuse of this class is fair criticism; any uncorroborated allegation is credible evidence and any innuendo is worthy of acceptance.

The elite, with its air of self-assumed importance, has already pronounced judgement on this class. To it, the credibility of the evidence is immaterial.

When the Vohra Committee report was published, I was not convinced of its objectivity and balance. More than a year later, I am still not--despite all the scams, cash recoveries, dispensers of divine wisdom to the powers that be and the sellers of pickles to ordinary mortals.

We live in an age of MacHeroes. You stand on a soap-box and denounce politicians and bureaucrats as unrepentant evil-doers. You become a star in the Indian firmament, adulated by a wide-eyed public and the press.

You plead for them and you are dismissed as an unabashed apologist for their evil machinations.

Many countries in Asia rose to nationhood in the late 1940s and the 1950s. Democracy worth the name has survived and flourished only in three of them--- India, Sri Lanka and Nepal.

Two of them are Hindu countries and one was strongly influenced by Hindu and Buddhist thought.

Hinduism teaches us the importance of detached judgement and balance---in our thinking, action, behaviour and attitude to others, whether friend or foe.

It is our ability to maintain this balance that has contributed to the success of our democracy and it is the failure to do so that has delivered severe blows to it in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Indonesia and so on.

The recent debate on the political class has shown disturbing signs that we are tending to lose this balance. I was invited to address a group of serving officers dealing with national security on threats to our national security.

I covered the activities of the various extremist groups.

During lunch break, some of the young officers told me : 'Sir, you did not cover the most important source of threat." I asked them what it was. "Politicians," they replied and referred to the Vohra Committee report in justification.

This is but one such indication of such signs and should make us think where we are heading.

I have lived in Western Europe for eight years--- three of them at the height of the Bofors investigation. I had the privilege of knowing Ms.Chitra Subramanian, who along with Mr. N.Ram, played a stellar role in exposing the undesirable aspects of this deal. I was not involved in the Bofors investigation, but was privy to the progress of it.

During my career, I have traveled widely from Canada to Uganda, from the US to Macau. In the last eight years of my service, I traveled on many occasions across the Asia-Pacific region and was witness to the opening by China and the emergence of the Asian tigers.

And I headed a division which played a role in coordinating the study which formed the basis of the Vohra Committee report.

And considering what venality really is in other countries, we can be proud of a large majority of our politicians, and we owe the success of our democracy in considerable measure to many of them.

When President Gerald Ford granted pardon from criminal prosecution to Richard Nixon at the moment of the latter's greatest humiliation, he said he kept in mind Nixon's phenomenal service to the nation in the field of foreign policy.

When Nixon died two decades later, a large majority of the nation saluted him and all the serving and retired Presidents attended the funeral as a tribute to what this man had done for the country.

Mr.Ronald Reagan left office a smaller man than what he was when he entered it because of his alleged involvement in the Contra controversy.

Today, as he is slowly dying of a dreadful disease, which has made him even forget that he was once the President, what many in the US are recalling is not the smaller side of him, but his contribution to setting in motion the events which ultimately led to the collapse of the USSR and the Communist regimes in East Europe.

Today, as large sections of the public are applauding with unconcealed glee, the former Prime Minister, Mr. P.V.Narasimha Rao being dragged from court to court, it must be remembered that here is a man who set in motion the process of reforms, brought peace to Punjab, brought in a change for the better in Jammu and Kashmir and in relations with China, had the courage to break the self-imposed ideological shackles of the past and thus set the economy moving forward, made the ASEAN countries welcome India as a valued partner, brought India and Iran closer to each other and gave our relations with the US a level of maturity which it was lacking previously.

Hinduism teaches us many good qualities, but, unfortunately, magnanimity is not one of them. It is not too late to learn this.

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