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THE LOSS OF PRIDE

The charade continues. The gossipy speculation has shifted to the possible cabinet reshuffle with the prospect of Pranab Mukherjee’s departure to presidency. Will the finance portfolio remain with the prime minister? The external affairs ministry needs a radical change at the helm since we have managed to destroy our relationships in South Asia, where we are neither trusted nor respected.

When Myanmar took its first steps towards democracy and a rebel leader was freed after years of house arrest, India could have made sure that the president of the Congress party was the first leader to fly into Yangon and drive to the residence of Aung San Suu Kyi. Sonia Gandhi could have invited Suu Kyi to India, to the Congress party office on 24 Akbar Road. It was once the home of Suu Kyi’s mother, who had served as the Burmese ambassador to India. Any other country would have celebrated this fact at a critical moment in the history of this region. The iconic leader has visited other countries on her first foray out of Myanmar. India, sadly, was not on her itinerary.

Today, the India of Gandhiji and Nehru is seen as being supportive of dictatorial regimes in South Asia at the cost of losing the trust of younger, contemporary, democratic leaders such as Suu Kyi and Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives. The world is changing and freedom from the ‘repression’ of authoritarian rulers is the call of the day. Why is India so out of sync? Why is India seen to be bungling at all levels? And, if India has a grand plan for its role in this region, it is time we too, as citizens of this country, are made privy to it, even if only to preserve our self-respect and dignity of purpose.

Horrific reality

Dignity seems to have been flung to the winds. Governance, from top to bottom, is undignified — ranging from selfish, insular leaders isolated in their ivory towers surrounded by their cronies, deaf to criticism and dissension, introducing endless ‘roll-backs’ and retroactive demands, to inept municipalities, filthy habitats, and corruption. India has been hugely damaged by this carelessness and is ripe for another type of takeover.

One gaping and infected scar on the capital of India that is symbolic of the complete failure of ‘governance’ and the administration’s disregard towards citizens and their businesses is the horrific reality of Connaught Place. It is dug up and looks far worse than bombed out parts of Kabul, war-torn without a war by the ineptitude of the New Delhi Municipal Council. Two years after the ‘Games’ — with a false and superficial ‘restoration’ of the building facades just before the opening of that event — nothing has been restored, but vast amounts of money have been squandered. Excavated spaces are waiting for something to happen. Sidewalks, recently laid, are cracked, with broken stone slabs that compel accidents. Illegal shops remain in lift shafts and under stairways. Everything is a fire hazard. The administrators see it, know it, but do nothing at all. Have they been paid off to remain silent? The rains will break and flood the circus. Short circuits will kill people. Landlords will be held to ransom and the real culprit, the NDMC, will get away again. The harassment meted out by officers of the municipalities to those honest people who do not pay the bribes they demand to deliver what they are mandated to do by law could make a riveting read.

This ruin is shameful and there is not a single officer who has been held accountable. Instead, the citizen, who is the victim, is insulted and illegally blamed. Pride has been replaced by greed and dirty money-making. The muck has risen to the surface and no one at the top is willing or able to skim it off and begin the process of distilling the best to restore dignity to India.