FEUDAL DEMOCRACY

The PM or other high officials in the UK do not have car flags or red
beacons. In India politicians and bureaucrats officially enjoy this
privilege.

Before Independence there were two Indias — modern and feudal India.
British India comprised 11 provinces and Native India, as the British
called it, 500-odd princely states. The same individual wearing two
hats was the supreme authority for both — governor general for the
provinces and viceroy for the states.The British exploited our country
and committed atrocities as at Jallianwala Bagh, but the Anglo-Saxon
jurisprudence they introduced provided equality under the law. They
relentlessly pursued their imperial goal but individuals did not
indulge in personal aggrandisement. The states were steeped in feudal
ethos. They were considered the personal property of the ruler and his
subjects dare not question his whims and extravaganza.

Provincial autonomy was introduced in 1937 with provinces having
elected Prime Minister (now designated chief minister). The son of the
Prime Minister of Bihar and I were in the same class at school. He
failed in his examination and lost a year. No special consideration
was shown or demanded for him. Over two decades after Independence,
the wife of a Bihar chief minister expressed her desire to have a
Ph.D. Overnight a thesis was written on her behalf and the vice
chancellor of the university within days came to her house to present
the degree. An incident that occurred in my days at school, in a
princely state, is worth recalling. Sir Ali Imam was a national figure
who had been the law member of the viceroy’s executive council,
equivalent of today’s Union minister for law. He was held in high
regard by all, including the British. His Exalted Highness the Nizam
of Hyderabad (other rulers were only His Highness) was the leading
potentate in the country. He ruled over a state as large as France. He
was also the richest man in the world. He invited Sir Ali Imam to be
his Prime Minister on a salary much higher than that of an executive
councilor. Sir Ali accepted the offer and went to Hyderabad. But he
found the feudal culture prevailing there very unpalatable. The Nizam
would not even offer him a chair during audience. He would address him
in a very derogatory manner saying"Abe Ali, idhar aa"(You Ali, come
here). Sir Ali Imam resigned and came back to Patna. The saying doing
the rounds in Patna was "Khafa hue hazrate Nizam, laut ae Sir Ali
Imam"(The exalted Nizam got annoyed and Sir Ali Imam came back). Half
a century later, as ambassador in Nepal, I saw feudal culture in vogue
there as well. I had won King Birendra Shah’s confidence and had put
in my bit to persuade him to restore democracy. Krishna Prasad
Bhattarai, a senior member of Nepali Congress, was released from
prison and appointed Prime Minister. He told me that the King would
not offer him a chair during audience and would address him as "tum"
instead of the polite"aap". This had been the tradition in Nepal for
centuries. Mr Bhattarai urged me to convey to the King that he should
change with the times. I politely mentioned this to the King. The next
time Mr Bhattarai had an audience with the King, the latter offered
him a chair but spoke to him in English. The word "you" in English,
stands for both"tum" and "aap". The Nepalese press wrote that the
King spoke to the Indian ambassador in Nepali and to the Prime
Minister in English.

Our freedom fighters who came to power after Independence were
stalwarts who upheld high values. Jawaharlal Nehru was devoted to
laying the foundation of a modern democracy in the country. He would
get very angry if anyone tried to touch his feet. He considered that a
show of servility. He maintained that he was the first "public
servant" of the nation. He respected the majesty of Parliament and
unfailingly attended all its sessions. Politics was a profession of
sacrifice and service. There used to be no hoardings or advertisements
to eulogise the leader. Ostentation was shunned. Dynastic rule did not
exist. Sycophancy had not surfaced in public life. Nehru may have
nursed political ambition for his daughter, whom he made president of
the party in his later years, but she was not given any role in
governance. More than any Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri
epitomised political morality.

With Indira Gandhi coming to power, the grammar of polity changed.
Relentless pursuit of power for dubious goals with no consideration
for moral values became the order of the day. Dynasticism was
practised blatantly and sycophancy became rampant. The reverse march
to feudalism had begun. Although this process started in the Indira
era, it had not reached the humongous proportions as it has now
reached. The weddings of Indira Gandhi’s two sons were simple family
and friends affairs, out of media glare. We now see weddings of
progenies of political leaders, whether in power or in Opposition,
organised on a most lavish scale, emulating the style of the princely
rulers of yore.

Dynasticism has spread from the first family at the Centre to
different political parties. In some states father and son work
together as chief minister and deputy chief minister respectively. In
one case, a virtually illiterate wife succeeded her husband as chief
minister. Pedigree has become the passport to high political
positions. Chief Ministers hold janata darbars in feudal style to
listen to individual grievances.

Security is an excuse to display trappings of power. Ruling political
families are treated like royalty. The ruler’s son-in-law holding no
official position is extended security privileges at airports,
initially not available to Service Chiefs. From being a profession of
sacrifice and service, politics has become the most lucrative
profession with hereditary benefits. Our legislators become
millionaires overnight. The Prime Minister or other high officials in
the UK do not have car flags or red beacons. In India we have
political leaders, bureaucrats and many others officially enjoying
this privilege. Now there is a demand for all MPs to have red beacon
on their cars. The arrogance of power displayed by political rulers
and bureaucrats surpasses what obtained in the colonial era. A common
man going to a government office is made to feel small and finds it
difficult to get his work done unless he greases palms or has
political connection. Regional political parties have begun to call
the shots and hold the Centre to ransom, like subedars during late
Mughal rule.

We must get out of the feudal quagmire in which we are stuck to fulfil
the vision of the founding fathers of our Constitution and emerge as a
modern vibrant democracy practising high moral values, in keeping with
our past traditions.