Shattered and Splintered India of Today

Tomorrow (26th January 2010) is the 61st year of the establishment of our Republic. The Ship of Indian State seems to be sinking slowly, gradually and irretrievably. In this terrible context, I cannot help recalling a book titled “India in 1983”, written by an English Civil Servant belonging to the Indian Civil Service in 1888. The imaginary and fictitious predictions he made in 1888 about the future of the Independent Indian State seem to have come true in letter and spirit today!

When George Orwell published his book 1984 in June 1949, it instantly became a best seller. Likewise in 1888, a book entitled India in 1983 was published. The book became very popular in India and England at that time. During my visit to the British Museum Library in London in 1987, I had the good fortune of reading this book. I also managed to get a photocopy of this very rare and unknown book from the museum authorities. The author of that book intended to remain anonymous. Written in the nature of a gripping political satire, the author fore-told the granting of independence for India by England in 1983.

The author of that book prophesied with remarkable accuracy the various so-called ‘progressive’ political reform schemes which were going to come subsequently in the next 30 years and which were to become the stepping stones on the road to India's freedom in 1983. The only weak point in the book was the Englishman's optimistic attitude towards the duration of their stay in India. He had expected the British rule to last in India till 1983! The book depicted in a humorous way the imaginary chaotic functioning of the Parliament (our Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha of today!) that was to be created in India after independence in 1983, if the dreams of the Indian nationalistic leaders of 1888 were to become a reality in 1983 in the fullness of time.

Lord Ripon was the Viceroy of India in 1883. He was known for his liberal attitude towards Indians and their aspirations. Sir Courtenay Ilbert, the then Law Member of Viceroy Ripon's Council, introduced a bill in the Imperial Legislative Council in 1883. In those days no English or European or white citizen in India could be tried by any Indian judge for his offences in India. The bill sought to do away with that privilege of the whites. There was a great public outcry from the British trading and commercial community in all parts of India - and more particularly in Calcutta and Bengal - against the introduction of the Ilbert Bill. All the local vernacular newspapers were vehemently in favor of the Ilbert Bill. Lot of dirty linen was washed by many Englishmen against the so called native Indians and vice versa. In such an atmosphere of vituperative public controversy and high public tension, a new book entitled India in 1983 was published. What is interesting historically is that this book forecasting the attainment of Indian independence in 1983, was published in 1888, three years after the founding of the Indian National Congress in December 1885.

The new book created a great public sensation and unprecedented consternation in official circles at Calcutta. In view of the author's official position, the book was published anonymously, but the gentry of that time guessed correctly who had written it. It was T. Harte-Davies (1849- 1920), of the Indian Civil Service, a man of versatile talents, the District Judge of Karachi at that time. He was an accomplished pianist and a talented linguist. He knew French, German, Italian and Russian, in addition to three Indian languages. He was a frequent contributor to The Pioneer of Allahabad, a leading English newspaper of that time. Upon his retirement in 1894, he returned to England only to plunge into active politics there. He was elected as MP for Hackney in 1895. He was also an active member of the British Committee of the Indian National Congress. He was an enthusiastic champion of the political aspirations of the Indians. He was a close associate of Mr. A.O. Hume and Mr. Wedderburn, of the Indian National Congress.

In his book India in 1983, T. Harte-Davies described the departure of the British from India in 1983 in the following words:

“It was a still and broiling day in April 1983 when the last vessel sailed out of Bombay harbour with the English troops on board. The vast bay, which for a month before had been crowded with huge transports and resounded with the rattle of shipping cargo and stores, was now deserted, except for the picturesque native boats and the Mail Steamer which was to convey the Viceroy, the Commander-in-Chief, and the Governors of Madras and Bombay from the shores of India.”

T. Harte-Davies caricatured the lawless and unruly Parliament that was going to be established in India after independence in 1983. The President of this new Parliament was Babu Joy Kissen Chunder Sen. According to Harte-Davies, this is how he came to the Parliament and started his proceedings in 1983:

“He took his seat, and having just finished his breakfast, proceeded to eructate violently three or four times; he then blew his nose on the floor, holding that organ between his fore-finger and thumb for the purpose, cleared his throat, expectorated, and finally rose and burst into a flood of typical oriental eloquence: ‘Gentlemen, fellow-countrymen, shall I not say fellow-members of Parliament and Romans, lend me your ears. This is the proudest moment of my life, my vita, ars longa, vita brevis, as the poet says, when I see before me your physiognomies and visages all full of constitutional transformation; indeed, I am as it were in a hurly-burly, and say to myself, I am now in a more noble position than Washington was in USA in 1782; in a stronger position than Cicero, when he stirred up his fellow-citizens to make war on the Carthagians; all this I say in this princely house and more, sitting on its own bottom, and controlling the Financial, Judicial, Revenue, Secret, General, Political, Educational and Public Works Departments of the Government of India’ (Thunderous applause greeted the President).

Babu Joy Kissen Chunder Sen continued in this manner:

‘For we are the advanced thinkers, and we show things to others, and nobody shows nothing to us. We are the heirs of the ancient wisdom of ARYAVARTA, we are the sons of the Bengal, which has conquered India, we are the B.A's of the Calcutta University, superior to all the gentlemen educated at Oxford and Cambridge. Let us then go on blazes in the course of civilization and progress, and guided by the teaching of theology, psychology, geology, physiology, doxology and sociology and all the other sciences that Pax Brittanica can boast of. We can now confront the unmitigated myrmidons of despotism, and say to the adversaries of freedom and jurisprudence, you be blowed (cries of 'Shabash', 'bohuth acha' and rapturous applause.)

I am indeed wonder struck by the prescient and detailed understanding shown by T . Harte-Davies about the unruly and chaotic functioning of Parliament that was going to come to India after independence in 1983. He anticipated the unruly incidents, rude, crude, foolish, indecent, barbarous and criminal behavior of the Members of Parliament in India 1983 in these words:

‘The next instant every man in the assembly of Parliament was on his feet and soon an unseemly wrangling began, and such exclamations as, you shut up, you have got no locus yatandi, chup raho, thum beff coofe ho and the like, were heard through the din. At last they began to make uncomplimentary remarks concerning the moral character of the female members of each other's families and finally matters went so far that all the members stood up shouting raucously with clenched fists with an attitude of self-defence, which they accomplished by presenting their stomachs to the front before the House. The President of the House tried in vain without success to interfere and rang his bell to command silence.’

I have no doubt that Somnath Chaterjee, the Former Speaker of Lok Sabha would be thrilled by the above words of T. Harte-Davies which are totally relevant and applicable to more than 70% of the disgusting members of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha today!

All round corruption in public administration, gay and irrepressible swindling of public funds, jobbery and nepotism which are the hall-mark of governance in all parts of India today and which are directly promoted as a matter of high state policy by the Sonia-directed UPA Government were graphically foreseen by T Harte-Davies in 1888:

“Matters at all levels of government were arranged orientally, and at the bottom of the native character there is a profound sympathy with oriental methods of administration. It was now perfectly certain that the larger part of the funds would stick to the palms of the members of the Parliamentary Committee, that their relatives and friends would compose the entire administrative staff, that no contract would be given unless a handsome commission was paid to the President and Secretary of Parliament, and that any works that were constructed would be exclusively adapted to the improvement of the private property of the President and Members of Parliament. All this was thoroughly understood, and the feeling it aroused was not one of indignation, but a simple and unquenchable desire to participate in the spoils. After all, was it not better that the public money should go in this way than that it should be spent by An English Sahib on his eccentric notions of protected drinking water-supply, vaccination and the like? In a native Government, with a Native Board fully loaded with Native Members and having unlimited control over the funds, whose proceedings every Native could understand, there would be a better administrative set-up in the total absence of the unsympathetic and incorruptible Englishman whose actions had long been acknowledged to be unbearably incalculable.”

T. Harte-Davies gave a hilarious description of the official and public reaction in England to the goings-on in the India of 1983 soon after her independence:

“Such were the pleasing features which distinguished the closing days of the year 1983. The English newspapers congratulated the British Government on its fore-sight in declining to interfere in the affairs of alien races, and on having finally decided, after two hundred years of iniquitous possession, to allow India to stew in her own native juice.”

The tragedy and comedy of post independent India is that over 90 per cent of our legislators (MPs and MLAs) have succeeded magnificently in giving cubic content to the above words of T Harte-Davies. It ill-behoves us as a nation after 63 years of our independence that we should prove the caricatured portraiture of Parliament in Independent India which T Harte-Davies done in 1888 bang right in letter and spirit in the India of 2010.

Perhaps Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) had our Members of Parliament in his mind when he wrote ‘The more featureless and complete a crime is, the more difficult it is to bring it home…. Nothing is worse than a naked robber’. In my view, in so far as our laughable Parliament is concerned, crime is a logical extension of the sort of shameful behavior that is often considered perfectly respectable in legitimate, high and mighty Parliamentary business!!

During the last twenty five years there has been a gradual increase in the number of MPs in the Lok Sabha with a criminal record behind them, blurring the line between great crime and high politics. Our former Prime Minister I K Gujral released a report in 2006 called ‘Citizens Report on Governance and Development’. This report was prepared by the NGO, National Social Watch Coalition, which is an alliance of social groups, parliamentarians, academician, policy makers and media practitioners with the objective of promotion of accountability and democratization of representative institutions. According to this report, 518 out of 3182 candidates across parties had criminal backgrounds while more than 120, which is about one-fourth of the total, elected to the 14th Lok Sabha, had been charge sheeted in criminal cases. We can see from this report that over 50 per cent of serious criminal cases registered against MPs were mostly from the States of UP, Bihar, Jharkhand and MP. The report also pointed out that lengthy legal procedures make conviction of these MPs in a Court of Law even more difficult. The whole world is aware of the fact that the Indian parliament has an overwhelmingly greater percentage of criminals than the general population.

In the Lok Sabha which existed before May 2009, the number of MP’s charged with cases of serious crimes was 333, with several MPs having multiple cases. If we look at violent crimes like murder, attempt to murder, robbery, dacoity, kidnapping, theft and extortion, rape, other violent crimes like assault using dangerous weapons or causing grievous hurt, the Samajwadi Party (SP) lead the criminal show with 80 cases, followed by BSP 43, BJP 17, INC 16, RJD 9, CPM 5, CPI 1, NCP 2. Regarding other crimes like cheating, fraud, forgery, giving false oaths to public officials and so on, this was the Party-wise position: BSP 23, RJD 22, INC 21, BJP 11, SP 11 and CPM 6.

I am presenting two tables showing the party-wise number of MPs with criminal charges pending against them and party-wise candidates with a criminal record behind them. These tables have been prepared by Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR).

Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) was founded in 1999 by a group of Professors from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad and some alumni to work towards strengthening democracy and governance in India by focusing on fair and transparent electoral processes. Since it’s founding, it has worked with over 1000 NGO partners around India, disseminating information on candidates and political parties to voters. ADR has also worked closely with the media, the Election Commission of India and eminent citizens around the country. Its founder was elected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2008.

The best way in which I can sum up the overall character of MPs in our Parliament is in the words of Walt Whitman (1819-1891), hailed as the great poet of American Democracy:

“...the members who composed it were, seven-eighths of them, the meanest kind of bawling and blowing officeholders, office-seekers, pimps, malignant conspirators, murderers, fancy-men, custom-house clerks, contractors, kept-editors, spaniels well-trained to carry and fetch, jobbers, infidels, disunionists, terrorists, mail catchers, pushers of slavery, creatures of the President , creatures of would-be Presidents, spies, bribers, compromisers, lobbyers, sponges, ruined sports, expelled gamblers, policy-backers, duelists, carriers of concealed weapons, deaf men, pimpled men, scarred with vile disease, gaudy outside with gold chains made from the people's money and harlots' money twisted together; crawling, serpentine men, the lousy combinings and born freedom-sellers of the earth”.

The shameful cry of many Indians today seems to be this:

“Breathes there the man
With soul so dead
Who never to himself hath said
This is my own - my very own Italian
Sonia Land!! 


More by :  V. Sundaram

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