This appeared in Asian Age today...
What do we do with our neighbours and netas???
Now that the Punjab Government has declared Sarabjit Singh a martyr and given him a state funeral, tension levels on both sides of the border are bound to escalate, till one or the other blinks. India has been blinking a lot of late. The official Pakistani version is that Sarabjit Singh, who was brutally attacked by co-prisoners inside the Jinnah jail in Lahore , died during a ‘scuffle’. He was referred to as a ‘terrorist’ on several panel discussions and we were casually told that such things ‘happen’. This, at a time when he was in a coma with no hope of recovery ( murderous head injuries had made sure of that). Despite this blatant display of inhumanity , Pakistani spokespersons tried to make light of the matter . Fact remains Sarabjit was killed in cold blood . Pakistani authorities compounded the tragedy by failing to extend plain decency to Sarabjit’s mother, wife and young daughters, when they went across the border to plead with them to allow a seriously injured man to return to his own country, his own people. Today,while we are aghast at the heartlessness of it all, are we,on our part ready to ask ourselves a few tough questions? Could Sarabjit Singh’s life have been saved had our government handled the case better? The answer is obvious: as usual we screwed up on every level and on all fronts.Yes, we should have stepped in much earlier. Yes, we should have taken more interest in the case, especially after Azmal Kasab and Afzal Guru were hanged. Yes, we could have saved him. But we were indifferent and did nothing. In a way, the Indian Government is also responsible for Sarabjit Singh’s murder. Sarabjit Singh was killed twice over – by Pakistan and India.
While we are dealing with details of this tragedy, another one has been playing out simultaneously on the streets of Delhi.The brazen and shocking acquittal of Sajjan Kumar ( accused of having been one of the key perpetrators of violence during the 1984 riots that killed over 3000 Sikhs) rocked the Capital the day the judgment was announced. Considering this acquittal came at the end of 29 long years of bungling, lies and waffling, there was not just outrage and anger displayed by Sikh protestors, but something deeper and graver. If we choose to keep our blinkers on and exonerate this bekaar sarkar, then we are inviting trouble. Big trouble. Today, we are soft peddling an aggressive Chinese intrusion into Indian territory in Ladakh. We are ignoring the seething rage expressed by a deeply distressed and disillusioned Sikh community which can lead to further alienation in Punjab . Add to that the growing problem of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, simmering resentment in Sri Lanka ( will the prickly Tamil issue ever be solved?), and we have an India that is effectively gheraoed on all sides by neighbours who loathe us and distrust our every move. This is an awful situation to be in. And to think we have brought it upon ourselves.
The thing is, even if Manmohan ( Fevicol) Singh finally listens to the raucous chorus of critics who want him to resign forthwith, and quits, will that solve a thing? Day after day, we demand resignations from our leaders. By doing that, we are in fact, letting them off the hook a bit too easily. There is nothing heroic about resigning. If anything, it’s a cop out. A resignation that culminates in a fair trial has some matlab. But just a token throwing in of papers is meaningless. When leaders are accused of misdemeanours and crimes, they are obliged to explain. Same as everyone else. The problem in India is nobody dares to nail netas . Who has the guts to nab even one of the Big Boys? An Arvind Kejriwal can name names and get members of his team to bring up issues and personalities on television. But Arvind has zero clout. And no resources to fight the powerful. He may have public support. But that’s never enough. Going after even a chhota mota player, forget the prime minister , requires enormous will and more importantly, pots of serious money. Today, there is really no difference between our various political parties or leaders. They are all terrible.There is no ideology. No commitment. No vision. And worst of all, there is no ‘sharam’. When levels of shamelessness are this high, every crook and scoundrel in and out of government is protected. That being a given, nobody is scared. The culprits know that after a few weeks of protests and demands for resignations, it will be back to dirty business as usual. Every neta has dope on every other neta. They also have dope on journalists and media owners. Whether it is the self righteous BJP persons or the complacent Congresswallas, both operate on the same principle – you open your mouth and I’ll open mine. The interests of the country be damned.
But despite widespread cynicism, mercifully there are still a few untainted, independent voices left in the country. Occasionally, one gets lucky and hears them. Those voices are pretty confident there will be a genuine and major parivartan (not the Mamata variety!) soon. The abominable and high handed handling of both the Sajjan Kumar and Sarabjit Singh cases may prove to be the tipping point. With the Sikhs on the boil and Punjab once again on the brink of revolt, some instant and convincing damage control is desperately needed. If that requires Manmohan Singh to show the way and step down with what’s left of his tattered dignity , it would be worth doing. Before it’s too late for him. And too late for India.