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Addressing Students
by Rajinder Puri Bookmark and Share
 

Open Letter from Member of a Failed Generation

Dear Students,

It is presumptuous of me to proffer advice without your asking. Nevertheless, here it goes.

Why are you agitating? We know you are against caste-based quota reservation in higher learning institutes. But is that the cause of your anger? Or is that just the immediate provocation? Look deep and search your hearts for the answer. Do you not resent, more than the decision itself, the attitude which produced a perverse political decision? More than the quota decision, is it not the political class itself that has aroused your anger? It plays callously with your future while it deceives voters with fraudulent promises. That it dangles caste-based reservation as a sop to people denied even literacy is the cruelest mockery.

Refresh your memory. Nine years ago India celebrated fifty years of Independence. A special joint session of Parliament was held. Both Houses unanimously approved an Agenda for India. Among the four cardinal aims of that agenda was one that sought to end casteism in India. The same leaders of the same parties passed, recently and unanimously, a Bill to give 27% reservation in higher learning to Other Backward Castes. With what effrontery does their practice mock their precept! That special session of Parliament ended with an exhortation to the Indian people to launch India's Second Freedom Struggle. The Prime Minister of that day, Mr IK Gujral, urged upon people to even court arrest in order to reclaim independence.

Were our leaders really so stupid as to invite the people to revolt against themselves? Or were they slyly mocking us with that invitation?

Whatever it was, nine years have passed. Today, you are in the street to fight casteism. Unintentionally you are responding to the invitation to revolt given by our Honorable MPs. They should be happy. But they are not. They never mean what they say. So forget them. Focus on your own struggle. Decide what you are really fighting for. Recall Mahatma Gandhi. He was pushed from a train by a White who did not wish to share the compartment with him. That was a personal affront. But Gandhi rose above personal slight to consider the attitude behind that white man's action. He then considered the system which created that attitude. Thus did a personal incident become catalyst for a national movement.

I urge upon you to reflect. If your current demands are met, what then? Will you rest content? Will your troubles be over? You really think you can lead a decent life in an India where someone could give a written confession that he killed Jessica Lal and where the police could nevertheless try to close the case without convicting him? If the crimes and corruption in the state machinery were to be listed they would fill volumes. You have taken a step forward. Now can you step back to the status quo? Or will you follow the adventurous path which circumstance has opened for you?

I know many of you are inspired by Aamir Khan's film, Rang De Basanti. It may be a great film. But dispel all foolish, romantic notions it may encourage. Violence is counterproductive. Recently Arundhati Roy said in a speech delivered abroad that India has no democracy. The actual situation is more shameful. India does have democracy, despite which we have crime, corruption and lawless law-makers. That indicts us all. We have freedom of speech. We have freedom of association. We have fair elections. All that needs to be done is to create a national movement and organize the mass of suffering people to vote sensibly. And that's it. That would liberate India from the shackles of the rogue class that rules it. Is this too difficult?

Some of us tried earlier and failed. Perhaps we lacked ability. Perhaps it was the wrong time. But you ' you can succeed. You have today mass media. Never have so many known how so few rule over them through crime and corruption. In the circumstances, how, then, might you proceed?

First, deal with the issue of effective affirmative action. Policies which ignore caste divisions are not difficult to make. A distinguished economics editor, Mr.  Swaminathan Aiyar, has explained how by spending a fraction of the Rs 110,000 crore government expenditure on education each year, quality schooling could spread to every tehsil in the country. There are other ideas too. What you must do is to get together with students who support quota reservation. Sit with them and formulate a policy. Remember, the police mercilessly thrashed anti-quota students in Mumbai. The police mercilessly thrashed pro-quota students in Patna. The politicians will try to divide you. Frustrate them with unity. The political class is your common enemy.

After you have united, your next task must be to prepare a simple agenda that addresses the common concerns of the major segments of society. That is not difficult. It is its sincere implementation that is beyond reach of our present dishonest politicians.

Once you have an agenda there are two major groups to approach, workers and farmers. Both are being cheated. Both are betrayed by politicians. Both are ready to explode. They need sincere support. The vast bulk of workers belong to the unorganized sector. Labor laws related to them are brazenly ignored. Labor leaders and politicians appear helpless.

The top executives of multinational corporations get salaries at international rates. Wages of workers are at an Indian rate. Why?

Some time back bureaucrats demanded upgrading of salaries to match foreign counterparts. The Left never criticized them. When the Dunkel Draft heralding globalization was framed it had a social clause introduced under pressure of American labor. That clause sought co-relationship between first world and third world labor wages. All politicians in India, including our Marxist comrades, opposed it. The Left rants against foreign investment in India. If labor wages had increased, foreign investment would not have entered so eagerly to exploit cheap labor. By opposing the social clause of the Dunkel Draft the Left exposed its empty posturing. It pays lip service to the cause of labor. Farmers are even worse off. Suicide among them is regular because they can't repay debt!

So these are three groups that count: students, workers and peasants. If you get together, the rest will follow. Farmers and workers will listen to you because only you among the elite will be honest with them. All politicians have betrayed them.
The road ahead would be difficult. But it is unavoidable. If India is to survive and thrive, its political culture must change. The time for change has come. History beckons you.

Will you answer its call?       

7-Jun-2006
More by :  Rajinder Puri
 
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