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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Commemorating the Saint, Canonizing Corruption

(This piece was written for a newspaper immediately after the killing of Satyendra Dubey. I thought this would be relevant in the context of my latest post, Conscience is the cancer not corruption.)

The reactions to Satyendra Dubey's tragic death provide a substantial psychoanalysis of the postmodernist society. Even while the investigation is on to establish the motive and identity of his killers, he has already been apotheosized as the sacrificial victim to the Golden Quadrangle project, which, for its sheer size and sweep, is a significant civilizational milestone. The association of ritual sacrifice and the rise of civilization, and of the sacrifice leading to the establishment of order, are ideas that are ingrained in the collective psyche and, in so honouring Dubey, is the society catering to its own deeply felt existentialist craving?

Development projects generally engender some kind of a gold rush, given the opportunity it provides for making money. After the contractors, subcontractors etc. have maximized their profit, reportedly, in states infested with extremists, it is further vulnerable to the proletarian confiscation by extremist outfits, as well as to extortion by the mafia. Pitted against the fervour that is brought to bear on this activity are the apathy, listlessness and an extraordinary passivity of the people – because, as yet, there is no communitarian mode of fighting for common causes. Whether it is the private man for profit or public man for office, we ruthlessly push for the gratification of our objectives. The practice of blat and bribery is quite common and acceptable, not only in development projects, but elsewhere as well. Sometime back, a leading financial journal brought out an issue devoted exclusively to corruption. Interestingly enough, the main thrust was on the problem: how does a manager do business given the inevitability of this factor?

Perhaps as a reminder of the fact that we may be going overboard in our reactions to Dubey's killing comes the revelation of the deeds of Ranjit Don ,the master hacker of competitive examinations. His clientele consists of the elite of the society; those who could pay a million rupees and more to secure the admission of their loitering heirs to the prestigious medical, engineering and management schools of the country. His capacity for accumulating phenomenal wealth in a short time is part of his charisma.

He is a hero not in spite of the questionable means but because of it. His supporters took out a procession on two wheelers from Nalanda to Patna. Their grievance? A man who had done so much for the development of Bihar was being unjustly arraigned. The conjuror of stamps Telgi also has, reportedly, a fan following.The value of dishonest theft over honest labour could not have found more resounding endorsement than this. Given this culture, the effort of an honest man doesn't hew in the agenda of career advancement or success; in fact, there is something of a kamikaze self-destructiveness about his efforts. He only ends up annoying the powerful groups without necessarily enlisting the goodwill of the society at large. Such a man questions the basic premise of doing business. Hence, he is viewed as taking up a terrorist position. Had he been armed with an AK47 or RDX, it would have been easier to handle. But the danger stems from the fact that he is anachronistically frugal. He is armed only with a determination not to make compromises. The intractable problem that he poses is sometimes soluble only by getting rid of him. The various organizations show a remarkable convergence of approach in dealing with such malcontents and stragglers. Of course, he isn't murdered. He is often tolerated like a quaint little absurdity, an alien from a different moral world. Sometimes he is humoured as being slightly unhinged but should he become troublesome, the full arsenal of penalties is unleashed to neutralize hum. After all, one full vigilance week is reserved for emancipatory and enlightening speeches, and for affirming one's faith in the values of probity.

It is not that only those who have been to the IITs are bitten by this bug. Can morality be taught like mathematics or lessons in probity ingested like so many pills? Man or woman, honesty has no gender. It can be found anywhere - even in the police. However, the rule holds. Those afflicted with it are at a tremendous risk. Not long ago, a young superintendent of police did realize it - too late - in a remote district of the erstwhile south Bihar, now Jharkhand. He had stood up against the so-called extremists who enforce their curfew in the forests for the illegal loggers and kendu leaf contactors to carry on their profitable business, peacefully. He was ambushed and his dead body lay in the jungle for several hours, before a police party could reach there. There was a faint whiff of a scandal about some fifth column activity. A divisional Forest Officer refused to abdicate his responsibility of preserving the jungles in the hills of Kaimur district and, for this reason, he had endeared himself to the local masses. But that was no protection against his death and dismemberment at the hands of an extremist group in the name of these very people. A handful of enraged students of a veterinary college similarly torched their principal sometime back in the full view of shocked but passive fellow students - because he refused to be a party to mass cheating. News channels report that a senior civil servant is on the run because he had refused to sign a list of appointees that he believed was trumped up.

All these episodes jogged the social conscience for a while, but it hasn't made the life of the Dubeys and Sanjay Singhs any easier. Because martyrs and saints are no longer models for emulation. Their image serves a very utilitarian purpose. By the very act of conferring sainthood on them - their rejection as an "outsider" is part of the mystique - their deeds are placed beyond the realm of an ordinary man's effort. The society thus alleviates any vestigial anxiety or guilt on this score and keeps its constituents both peaceful and pacified.

Corruption is responsible for the sorry and sordid state we are in but alas! We cannot quite do without it. Just as the post modernist society, by entrusting power to politicians, disdains any aspiration to power itself, by periodically enacting this ceremony of innocence and self-flagellation, it rids itself of any responsibility to be honest.

These are the personal views of the author

1 comment:

Sudhir Kumar Jha IPS (Retd.) said...

Only you, Manoje, can speak out so honestly and put it on paper so forcefully.I have gone through both blogs and can only congratulate you on your sustained effort to stoke the conscience of society, however futile it may appear at the moment.It will makae a dent some day.