THE POWER OF THE COMMON MAN
K G Suresh
Monday, 13 January 2014
In a monarchy, it is Yatha raja, tatha praja. But in a democracy, it is the other way round. Only an enlightened citizenship can pave the way for an enlightened leadership. Therefore, it’s no use forever blaming the political class
When the ice cream vendor outside the Portuguese fort in the holiday resort of Diu insisted on unwrapping the ice cream and throwing the wrapper in the dustbin there, it was a wonderful feeling. Used to being hit by garbage thrown by insensitive neighbours in Delhi’s high-rise apartments and DDA flats, the gesture came as a surprise and an eye-opener. The impact of such an attitude on the part of its citizens, including small-time street vendors, was visible across the small Union Territory. Its roads were clean and well-maintained. Residents obediently threw their garbage in the dustbins placed all over the city, lending the small island a beauty and cleanliness not widely seen in the country.
It was not about Government regulations, of which we in rest of the country have no dearth, nor was it about State-sponsored campaigns such as ‘Clean Delhi, Green Delhi’. Neither were there the ubiquitous NGOs, children holding anti-pollution placards (which often go up with the fireworks) or that fashionable breed called civil society persuading people not to throw garbage or spit on the walls,a la Munnabhaistyle. There was neither dadagiri not Gandhigiri involved here. It was a simple instance of how an enlightened and responsible citizenry can change the way we live.
And it is not just about cleanliness, which of course is next to godliness. It is about every walk, every aspect of our lives, whether in the cities or the villages. While Governments at large have to be accountable, responsible and answerable, it is the citizens who will have to take the lead. After all, democracy is not just for the people and by the people but also of the people.
The Constitution enjoins upon all citizens to follow the 11 fundamental duties enshrined in it following the recommendations of the Swaran Singh Committee in 1976. There are also references to such duties in international instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. However, since, they are non-justiciable and without any legal action in the event of their violation and non-compliance, hardly anyone including the country’s political leadership pays any heed to it.
Children are virtually taught from their cradle that they only have rights and they should only demand. They have no duties to their fellow citizens, their local communities, their Governments and their country, so much so that after six decades of independence, a centuries old civilisation has to enact laws binding its citizens not only to look after their aged parents but also pay salaries to their wives. The only duty widely publicised is to pay your tax, which was the case in our ancient monarchies as well.
While the patronage given by the political class has certainly bred corruption in the country, it is the total abdication of responsibility by the society at large, which has made us a corrupt and selfish nation. This ‘saannu ki’(in Punjabi, what have I got to do with it?) approach on the part of even the educated citizenry has immensely contributed to the mess the country today finds itself in.
Bollywood movies reflected the angst of the common man when it portrayed Amitabh Bachchan as the ‘angry young man’ in several films, but it did not lead to any solution as the one suggested was impractical. Here was this one man taking on the entire system. Though five decades have passed since then, not much has changed even in real life, not to talk of reel life. Rather than joining hands to collectively combat societal problems, we see everyone pinning their hopes on some individuals to clean up the Augean stables. We expect tough laws including death sentence to serve as a deterrent to violence against women while we continue to remain mute spectators to eve-teasing in our neighbourhood. There are others who look up to a saviour on a broom to wipe out the dirt piled up over the years, and if he doesn’t deliver, we have unlimited patience to wait for the next messiah rather than do something about it.
Mahatma Gandhi had long back stated, “In swaraj based on ahimsa, people need not know their rights, but it is necessary for them to know their duties. There is no duty but creates a corresponding right, and those are true rights which flow from a due performance of one’s duties”. “True swaraj comes only from performance by individuals of their duty as citizens. In it no one thinks of his rights.”
One really wishes if the champions of the neo-civil society movements take a cue from the Mahatma. Those who are offering free water to people as their ‘right’ are not even urging them not to waste it even as people in many parts of the country struggle hard for their daily quota of drinking water, forget providing water for animals, irrigation or other basic ‘luxuries’. Power at half the cost is welcome but shouldn’t it come with a rider against its misuse? But then, such riders, conditions and homilies won’t fetch votes.
When any political party talks about a vision for the nation, it should not just be about roads, infrastructure, industrial growth or agricultural productivity. It also has to be about the intellectual and spiritual growth of the nation. The manifold problems of the country cannot be solved single handedly by any Government. It has to be a power-people partnership model. The Government can at best stop smoking at public places and even impose fines, but it cannot prevent people from smoking.
In Gujarat, one can get the best brands of liquor under the table though prohibition is in place for the last several decades.
We are increasingly becoming a nation of worshippers though intrinsically we continue to admire simplicity. In this country even today, rich businessmen are worshiped when they become Jain saints and forsake even their clothes, people get elected even when they pretend to be simple and genuine and successful films still portray the rich and powerful as villains. Therein lies the hope.
It is time character-building organisations, educational institutions and Governments join hands to nurture enlightened citizenship among the new generation. It is time value education is inculcated not only in schools but also at homes. Citizenship training has to be an integral part of the educational curricula of any mature democracy, right from kindergarten.
It was to duty that Swami Vivekananda referred to when he said, “so long as millions live in hunger and ignorance, I hold every person a traitor who, having been educated at their expense, pays not the least heed to them”.
In his letter to the scientist Julian Huxley, written three months before his assassination, Mahatma Gandhi had said, “I learned from my illiterate, but wise, mother that all rights to be deserved and preserved come from a duty well done.” In a monarchy, it is Yatha raja, tatha praja, but in a democracy, it would be the other way round. Only an enlightened citizenship can pave the way for an enlightened leadership.
(The author is Senior Fellow and Editor with the Vivekananda International Foundation)