By Dr Jay Dubashi
It was the best of years, it was the worst of years: this is how Charles Dickens, the famous Victorian novelist began one of his novels. We might say the same thing about 2011, though it is doubtful anybody will say that it was the best of years. For the Arab dictators who hit the dust during the year, it was probably the worst of years. And the rulers of India who, throughout the year, had their backs to the wall, and are lucky to have survived, must be heaving a sigh of relief at being left off the hook.
Take the Arabs first. Who would have guessed that this year’s spring would be their last? Thousands of people perished in the holocaust, most of them massacred by their own rulers. Violence, inexplicable violence, is part of the Arab DNA, no matter what the Islamists and their apologists say. They are apparently unable to function without violence, whether it is the change of regime, or change of dictators. Muammar Gaddafi let his army loose on his own people, the same man who had sayings from the Quran plastered all over the place. He must have slaughtered thousands of his own countrymen, before the countrymen turned on him, dragged him out of a filthy drainpipe where he was hiding and shot him in the eye.
He was not the only one. Tunisia’s President, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali (quite a name) fled the country at the first sign of trouble and has not been seen since. Hosni Mobarak is “holidaying” in his own country, miles away from Cario. Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, a dentist by training, is not holidaying anywhere; he is busy shooting down his own people, just as Gaddafi did, and is supposed to have killed thousands. He is still in Damascus but his days are numbered.
When Arabs are busy slaughtering each other, can Russians, who are cut from the same cloth, be far behind? Vladimir Putin, who apparently takes after another famous Russian of the same first name, may have won the latest parliamentary election, but the voters have doubts.
Thousands of Muscovites are parading outside the Kremlin asking for Putin’s head on a platter. He might one day go the way of his old friend, Gaddafi who, incidentally, never bothered about such silly things as elections!
There is trouble in China too, but of a different kind. Chinese dictators have suddenly discovered that every time they put their foot down and say no, someone or the other says yes. They have put hundreds, may be thousands of their own people in jail, including a writer who recently won a Nobel prize, possibly the only Nobel laureate in the world in prison.
In Europe and the United States, the protests have taken another form, but not without violence either. Hundreds of Americans are camping outside Wall Street in New York – and hundreds of Englishmen outside St. Paul’s Cathedral in London – demonstrating not against their governments but the fat cats in banking and other services, who continue to draw huge bonuses while their underlings starve. They are actually agitating against Capitalism, which is tantamount to bishops agitating against the Pope for not paying their salaries.
In India, things are relatively quiet, but not that quiet. We have just got a Lokpal Bill passed in the Lok Sabha after a daylong debate, but its ultimate fate is still in doubt. Indians are very good at debates; we learnt debating in schools and the habit dies hard. There is no dearth of arguments, not just in Parliament, which is a certified talking shop, but all over the place. While Anna Hazare sits on a fast, which he does three or four times a year, his disciples are busy having arguments with government officials, airline staff, municipal commissioners, income tax men, and, of course the ubiquitous NGOs. In this vast country of ours, something somewhere is always going wrong – telephones don’t work, banks misplace cheques, municipal clerks don’t do your work if you don’t slip something under the table, and ministers are busy stealing land under your nose. And whom do you blame? Nobody, because everyone looks the other way, when you start pointing fingers. But, in India, unlike in Libya or China or Russia, you are not killed.
Will things improve in the coming year or years? Somehow, I have by doubts. Just as violence in firmly embedded in the DNA of Islamic countries, indifference is in ours. We Indians believe that somehow or other we shall get over our troubles, sorted out, until we discover that troubles are unlimited, and just when you think you have one problem licked, dozens of others pile up on your plate. Just when you think you have got it made – you have a nice job, a nice wife and wonderful kids, and a two bedroom flat with kitchen on 43rd floor with panoramic views, your daughter comes home minus her husband who has run away with the maid, or your bank manager won’t give you a loan for that holiday abroad, and your company has lost a big contract. There is little you can do but curse your stars – and go to sleep.
Will the Lokpal Bill, if becomes law of the land, halt all corruption, nobody will ask for bribes, and we shall all become so virtuous that we shall be showered with divine blessings, as they show in films? Somehow, I don’t think so. There will always be Kalmadis and D Rajas and Chavans who will find ways to get round the Lokpal, just as they have managed to get round hundreds of laws passed since Independence, and make their piles. For every law on the statute book, some of us break ten other laws, Lokpal or no Lokpal, and manage to get away with the loot. Some will go to prison, but prisons are just like homes to many of us, and it doesn’t really matter whether you are in or out!
We all want more of every thing, and the more we want, the more often we are told you cannot have them. This is where corruption comes in. The best antidote to corruption is not the Lokpal, but a lid on your greed. But have you ever met a politician without greed?
Happy New Year!