Dr Jay Dubashi
I spent a few days in Mumbai last week. The city is not what it used to be, but then nothing in India is what it used to be. But Mumbai has changed beyond recognition; it looks more and more like an American city, down to the New York accent that some Bombaywallahs have acquired, down to that peculiar twang that New Yorkers affect when speaking to foreigners.
Some things are still there, the sea, for instance. Where can it go? But the island is not an island any more and there is so much traffic you hardly notice anything else. In fact, Mumbai now has only two things, people and buildings, and, of course, vehicles. You see nothing but people, and when you don’t see people, you see buildings, one taller than the next one, just like in New York. In fact, some parts of the city look like Manhattan, which also used to be an island at one time, and the city, including the people, looks increasingly American, not British, who created it.
One thing you rarely see in Bombay is a policeman, as if they were all rounded up and expelled from the town. What has happened to them, I wondered. I was told that they are so busy guarding politicians, around a hundred per politician, large and small, that they have no time for anything else, or, for that matter, anyone else, and you are left to fend for yourself.
The net result is the rising graph of homicides, burglaries, thefts, stabbings, and, of course, rapes. You never heard of rapes before; now, there are, I am told, half-a-dozen rapes, or quasi-rapes, every day, especially in the trains, where you can literally get away with rape as policemen are busy otherwise. A day before the infamous rape in Delhi, in which a girl was raped by a trio of hoodlums and left to die in a bus, setting off demonstrations that shook our politicians out of their slumber, Mumbai too was shaken by a rape case, though, as usual, very few people took notice of it.
We always say, and so do politicians, that the first duty of the government is to protect its citizens. But in India, there are no citizens, only subjects. You and I are mere subjects, always on our knees, begging for this or that, as we have been doing for hundreds of years, Independence ought to have turned us into citizens – that is the whole point of independence – but instead of his or her majesty the Britannic king or queen in England, we have acquired potentates who consider themselves monarchs of all they survey and treat us, ordinary mortals, as their subjects or slaves. They don’t protect us, we are supposed to protect them. We pay taxes to enable them to acquire burly bodyguards in fancy uniforms to guard their residences and, of course, their loot which they acquire in the course of their “service”. And what do they do for us? Nothing. They do nothing that we cannot do for ourselves, if left alone. They leave us to our own devices, which means for our women to be raped by their gangsters and rascals, many of whom get themselves elected by hook or crook and pose as our guardians and protectors.
Take our Home Minister. The man is so old you think he would do better in the part of Methuselah in a B-grade Bollywood movie. The man can hardly utter two words without gasping for breath. He doesn’t seem to have the faintest idea of what his job is and is said to be more concerned about the flowers in his winter garden than in providing ordinary citizens, sorry, subjects like us with security. The word doesn’t simply exist in the old man’s lexicon. For him, and for people like him, national security means his own security, and perhaps the security of his boss, whoever he or she maybe, and doesn’t care two hoots for what happens to us, the hoi polloi, who pay for his salary and vast expenses.
This man took a whole week to react to the poor girls’s rape in the Delhi bus. Even the Prime Minister who, it must be granted, is not a spring chicken and seems to be dozing most of the time, even in Parliament, which he attends faithfully, took a whole week to react and when he went on the air, one was left wondering whether he was defending the police who were unduly aggressive and bent on teaching the boys and the girls a lesson, or apologising for their behaviour. Not a single Cabinet Minister came to the rescue of the girls and boys who were agitating not for from their houses, though they could have.
What was Chidambaram doing? He used to be a Home Minister himself once. What was the Foreign Minister doing, though, otherwise, he is quite vocal, or used to be, especially on the TV, and once vowed, to his eternal shame, that he would give his life for his boss, whoever he or she might be? Incidentally, where was the great lady herself, who is otherwise quite prompt in denouncing trouble-makers up and down the country? Not a soul in the government seemed to realise that the city was burning. The ministers attended or pretended to attend their offices regularly, went to their clubs, or wherever ministers go when they get fed up sitting in their air-conditioned offices, and had their chicken curry and rice, while the girls and boys at India Gate shouted hoarse in vain and cursed the cowardly politicians as they lay exhausted on the wet grass.
Things are different in other democracies, where democracy is not just a word in the constitution, but a genuine matter of fact. When twenty school children were shot at and killed in broad daylight in Newtown, Connecticut, USA recently, President Barack Obama dropped everything in sight and rushed to the place, not once but thrice, to console their families, though he had been elected President only a few days earlier, and was deep in negotiation with the Opposition on the so-called fiscal cliff. He didn’t say, where is Newtown, as our grandees do when they are told something terrible has happened. Obama rushed because that is his job, and, unlike our politicians, he takes his job seriously.
When I was in London immediately after the end of World War II, Labour government had come into office and one could watch the ministers come and go to the Parliament on foot, just like you and me. I used to watch them from my library, hoping that our own ministers back home, Nehru included, would perhaps do the same. Even ministers didn’t use cars, because there were few cars about, and petrol was rationed. They just walked to the Parliament from their offices and nobody took any notice. Sometimes they hopped on a passing bus and joked with passengers and got down at Westminster, none the worse for it. Aneurin Bevan, who was the architect of the famous National Health Service, once asked me, as we were going by bus, whether I could cook for him a hot curry. I told him I had never cooked a curry in my life, but I would try. He asked, in mock surprise, “Is that really so?”
Crowds gathered outside No. 10 Downing Street every afternoon when the Prime Minister himself would often come out and address the usually small crowd. It was on one such occasion that Clement Attlee, who was Prime Minister at the time, announced that he had asked Lord Mountbatten to go to India to hold talks with Indian leaders in connection with the transfer of power. He had made a similar announcement in the Parliament and was now repeating it outside his home.
I was standing a few feet from him on the street, and as far as I could see, there was no security. There was only a policeman standing way behind near the entrance to No.10. I could have jumped at his throat and strangled him.
And so could anybody else. After all, he was preparing the ground for Partition of India, a historic tragedy. But it was all so casual, as if the Prime Minister was announcing the opening of a new railway station far away in Scotland. Incidentally, I was the only Indian in the crowd on that historic day, and when Attlee finished, he looked at me and smiled, as if to acknowledge the historic moment, which would ultimately lead to India’s Independence.
We should revise the definition of democracy.It used to mean rule of the people, by the people, for the people. In India, it is the rule of politicians, by gangsters and rapists, and for crooks and looters. Who says we are a democracy, if nobody is safe, even in the capital!