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
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
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. Stephens, 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 ones 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
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
Gandhis 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
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.