Itihaas
March, 22nd, 1998
Akhilesh Mithal

Yes Sir, No Sir and
Three Bags Full




It may amuse readers to know that the British designed such resplendent uniforms for their Indian peons so that the Indian people thought that the Maharajas of India were, forever waiting hand and foot on the white man.

 

 

 

Our fledgling democracy is in danger from the chapraasi at any cost mentality.

 

 

Chapraas. The word has come to mean "habiliments" or "uniform" of office. Those authorised to wear it are called chapraasees and their wont is to preen themselves and strut about like peacocks. They like to give the impression that the powers of the officer they are attached to are theirs to use and have, in reality, nothing to do with anyone else. That they, the Chapraasees or peons are de facto the executives in chief and quite capable of obliging the petitioner or seeker for justice or remedy. Usually for a consideration.

The reality or the origin of the word is that it means the guards who are assigned the left and the right sides of the person served Chap Raas (Left/Right!). (Left/Right) (Left/Right) (Left/Right). It may amuse readers to know that the British designed such resplendent uniforms for their Indian peons as can still be seen in the entourage of the President or Governors, Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Chief Justice of the High and Supreme Courts, Collectors and Deputy Commissioners, so that the Indian people thought that the Maharajas of India were, forever waiting hand and foot on the white man. That this was "natural," "normal," and "par for the course." The effect has been to perpetuate a slave mentality in which everyone thinks his own job and status as lowly in comparison to that of a government officer howsoever junior. Thus we have droll and curious spectacles.

The most sought after institution for membership is the India International Centre. Its directorship is a prestigious position. The last director thought that being the Principal Private Secretary of a temporary Prime Minister was more important and had no hesitation in moving. Similarly in academia. The college where students from all over India and even some neighbouring countries think it a boon and a blessing to gain admission is St. Stephen’s, Delhi. The principal thought nothing of becoming some kind of official in an obscure hill university for a temporary period and gave up being principal for that length of time. Thus we see that the right kind of example is not set by those who have "arrived." Except people like R. Vasudevan who retired from the I.A.S. without ever having owned a car. He would not take employment with government at even the highest level of officials. Or Raj Krishna. Raj was the economist who gave the world of economics an idea which was like a smile. His "Hindu" rate of growth was an idea which lit up the grim darkness of this dismal discipline like a shaft of light.

When Raj was offered a vice-Chancellorship he was most indignant. He responded: "I am a teacher, a professor. You want me to give up this most prestigious of occupations for becoming a minion in administration, a babu or a clerk!" The late Giri Lal Jain would not take an honour like Padma Vibhushana because it could compromise his independence as a journalist. Romila Thapar has likewise refused to accept such "titles" unlike the family of Satyajit Ray who "protested but took."

As our fledgling democracy with its brave attempt at egalitarianism is in danger from totalitarian forces and the chapraasi at any cost mentality we should look carefully at the election results to the 12th Lok Sabha.

The largest support of the people has been to the totalitarian/fascist forces whether they are communalists like the Akalis, the RSS / VHP / BJP or "communists" such as the CPI (Marxist) or the CPI. In what Raj Krishna might well have described as a "Hindu" result neither the fascist communalists nor yet the totalitarian communists have been accorded the mandate to "go it alone." They have to seek support from outside the confines of their own party and "ideology." The result is not bright, shiny, detergent advertisements white or midnight lightless black but an infinitude of shades of grey.

It is in this half light half dark kind of situation and unclear scenario that the "I want to be a Chapraasi!" urge finds its most favourable time. We have seen how the Uttar Pradesh Assembly has behaved and functioned in recent times. No one can say that what was seen on television when the Kalyan Singh government proved its "majority" the first time round strengthened democracy in the country and the world. The second time was even more of a farce.

The U.P. experiences have shown the abyss of degradation into which the whole process can descend when totalitarians seek power, and hold on to it at any cost.

As the RSS/VHP/BJP have no faith in egalitarian values (Communalism means that one’s own community is better by the mere fact of birth!) they will point out that it was the Congress that first indulged in the game of buying successful-in-the-election members of the legislature from outside the party by such inducements as money or ministerships.

It will be recalled that Yashpal Kapur used to sit in the coffee shop of Janpath hotel working out the logistics and prices of converting a minority of Congress legislators into a majority. It will be said, "The Congress institutionalised corruption." That "Sanjay Gandhi globalised corruption" etc, etc. And all this may well be true.

The fact that needs to be remembered is that it was the Indian National Congress which introduced universal suffrage into the Indian polity. That the Hindu Mahasabha, the RSS, the VHP and whatever the BJP was wont to call itself then had no part in the making of the Indian Constitution. This universal suffrage is the greatest leveller and equaliser of all before the ballot box out of which the rulers emerge.

It allowed the Communists to come to power in a state. This was the first time any Marxist government came to power in free elections anywhere in time and space. The self-proclaimed "Hindus" of the RSS/VHP/BJP hate the Congress and the Constitution because the privileges of men over women and of upper castes over the lower ones and the outcastes which had been enshrined in the ethos of the religion and its caste system are now lost.

To have a President stand in a queue to cast his vote is to accord to the egalitarian ideal.

Did the Sarsanghchaalak vote? Perhaps the conditioned reflexes of the Indian National Congress culture are best demonstrated in the actions of the most dictatorial and authoritarian Shrimati Indira Gandhi. She had declared "Emergency" because of various factors which are well known.

In the Indian Constitution as it then stood she could and did extend the life of the Parliament by six months at a time making that Lok Sabha the longest lasting House.

This process could have continued ad infinitum.

Quite unnecessarily (if she followed the letter of the law as it stood!) Indira called the 1978 General Election. Her party was wiped out in the north and she herself and her scion, Sanjay lost their seats. By paying the price of defeat through adhering to principles Indira Gandhi won the sympathies of the people back and was voted to power in 1980. The Congress commitment to democracy cannot be denied. The inner party usages should also be considered. Just before the Emergency all Mrs Gandhi’s candidates for office in the parliamentary party were defeated. Is this even thinkable in either Shiv Sena, Akali Party or BJP/VHP/RSS/?

The propaganda of the totalitarian has alienated the electorate from those who gave them the vote in the first instance.

The Congress has also shot itself in the foot with candidates like Satish Sharma and a Kaul lady who have earned notoriety personally and dynastically for misuse of office.

Where do we go from here?

How long will the Indian people suffer from the ravages inflicted by self-seeking greedy grabby politicians with no ideals, principles or value systems?

Only God Almighty has the answers!

The fear is that "I want to be a Chapraasi whatever the cost" mentality make things worse before they are any better. We shall be dragged deeper into the mire.

But phoenix-like India will resurrect and resume its many splendoured glory of which the chief asset is its diversity. Amen! Meanwhile prepare to tighten belts and exercise vigilance, the eternal price of liberty. This applies to women and "Dalits" more than others.

Akhilesh Mithal, 1991-1998. All rights reserved.
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