There are two prophecies on how India would shape up in the hands of Indians when it became free. They are quotes very popular with observers of the Indian scene, sprinkled all over the Internet Web sites.

The first is a statement attributed to Winston Churchill, as having been made by him in British Parliament during the debate on the Indian Independence Bill. “If Independence is granted to India, power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues, freebooters; all Indian leaders will be of low calibre and men of straw. They will have sweet tongues and silly hearts. They will fight amongst themselves for power and India will be lost in political squabbles. A day would come when even air and water would be taxed in India.”

The second is from the Vellore jail diary of Rajaji, the tallest intellectual among India’s political leaders in the last century who fought for India’s freedom, dating back to 1921:

“We all ought to know that Swaraj will not at once or, I think, even for a long time to come, be better government or greater happiness for the people. Elections and their corruptions, injustice, and the power and tyranny of wealth, and inefficiency of administration, will make a hell of life as soon as freedom is given to us. Men will look regretfully back to the old regime of comparative justice, and efficient, peaceful, more or less honest administration.

“The only thing gained will be that as a race we will be saved from dishonour and subordination. Hope lies only in universal education by which right conduct, fear of god, and love, will be developed among the citizens from childhood. It is only if we succeed in this that Swaraj will mean happiness. Otherwise it will mean the grinding injustices and tyranny of wealth.”

OPPRESSIVE AVATARS

If the British regime is indeed brought back, it will miss nothing. It can, in fact, pick up the thread exactly from where it had left it. It will see all around them the political and ruling classes not only revelling in the same old colonial trappings, life styles and utter contempt for public opinion, but even outdoing the colonial Blimps in brazenly flaunting them.

The recalled imperialist British regime will find that all the laws they passed for lording it over its subjects have taken on new and more oppressive avatars. In particular, the erstwhile Blimps would be overjoyed to know that Section 124A on sedition, their greatest favourite which they used at the drop of a hat against all and sundry, has become the cherished weapon brandished by the current rulers. No matter Jawaharlal Nehru, wanted to get rid of this “objectionable and obnoxious” provision and Mahatma Gandhi called it “the prince among the political sections of the IPC designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen.”

The old Blimps will notice with not a little amusement that the new Blimps have made mincemeat of their best practices and buttressed their worst systems. For instance, under British regime, if you wrote to any public functionary, including the Viceroy, you received a reply within a week, signed under the superscription, “I am, Sir, Your Most Obedient and Humble Servant”.

WORTHY DISCIPLE

The first thing the new rulers of free India did was to notify the deletion of this formula, no doubt for fear that it might put “wrong” ideas in the minds of the people as if they were the sovereign masters and those running the governments were their servants. As for receiving replies even from the bottom rung, forget it. Even retired IAS officers are considered worms by incumbents junior to them by 30 years or more!

(If our rulers were watching the US Republican National Convention, they would have been chastened to hear the roof-blowing roar of approval when Clint Eastwood declared, “Politicians are our servants. Anyone who fails to perform must go!”)

Under the British regime, Commissioners of Divisions, who were exalted functionaries, were required to call on political prisoners to make sure that they were treated well. Our rulers most likely do not even know that such a practice existed.

Under the British regime, standards and norms were enforced. They are anathema now.

On the whole, the Indian Raj has proved to be a worthy disciple of the British Raj!

(This article was published on September 13, 2012)
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