Swami Agnivesh & Rev. Valson Thampu

We hear a lot about patriotism these days. Many wear their patriotism on their sleeves. But as people of the country we don't let our patriotism stand in the way of thriving at the expense of our country. Patriotism is supposed to be inspired love for one's country. But we think we can love our country without loving our people. So it does not occur to us that eroding the welfare of the people through corruption, profligacy and bad governance is incompatible with the fervor we profess for our Motherland.

Likewise, we make much of the soldiers who lay down their lives in defending the territorial integrity of India, especially in times of impending elections. The moving spectacles of how each dead body from Kargil was received and honoured, and their next of kin generously rewarded, are still fresh in our minds. But closely in the wake of these public displays of grateful reverence came the unseemly spectacle of the Tehelka expose. Two amateur journalists went around breaching the defense lines of the defense establishment with disgraceful ease. Of course, this provoked an outcry that such sting operations undermine the morale of the army. What certainly will mire our military morale is the realization that, even as the jawans die fighting our external enemies, the ruling elite becomes internal enemies of the country. And the enemies within pose a greater threat to the viability of a nation that the enemies outside.

In the wake of the Tehelka sleaze story came the disturbing allegations from the MiG Corporation that, "India buys low quality spare parts from Ukraine and East European countries." According to the spokesperson of the MiG Corporation, we even buy spare parts that have outlived their utility, thus creating conditions for frequent crashes". And crashes have taken a heavy toll on the IAF. As many as 93 IAF aircrafts have crashed, killing 34 pilots over the past 5 years.

That reads like a wartime casualty list. What is even more distressing is that, if Vladimir Barkovsky, Deputy General Designer of MiG Corporation is to be believed, the IAF does not provide full details of the crashes to facilitate corrective measures that would help minimize
risk to pilots. This, even more than the purchase of allegedly substandard spares, betrays a scandalous unconcern for the life of our pilots. The IAF has, since then, contradicted Barkovsky's allegations, but has little to offer by way of explaining our high crash rates.

We refuse to see through the blatant contradiction between the politicians' eagerness to eulogize our martyrs, and their easy conscience in bleeding the country from within. Those in this business lose no opportunity in persuading the rest of us that the enemies of the nation are prowling beyond the borders and now occasionally within the country, waiting for an opportune moment to strike. Yet, for all the mammoth investments we make in men and material, these subversive elements move and strike at will, sometimes within the Red Fort and some
times even at the South Block.

In the aftermath of every war the military establishment and the ruling elite reap a rich harvest. Kargil was followed by an inflation of our defense budget. Larger budgets mean, among other things, longer shopping lists and the accompanying rituals and blessings of hardware shopping.
All these, we are told, is undertaken strictly "in the interest of the nation". The logic for this assumption could well be that of Louis XIV who said, "I am the nation".

None of the twenty-odd major civilizations that rose and fell succumbed to external aggression alone. We reckon this fact of history not to downplay the need to defend our territorial integrity or to belittle the services of our jawans. We do this, on the contrary, to sweep aside the
smoke screen that politicians create to cover up the nakedness of their covetousness and hypocrisy. To realize how unconscionably the ruling class fills this land with corruption and also the supreme cost at which our brave soldiers defend India from her external enemies which
runs the risk of being overwhelmed by indignation. But we become wiser over the years and overlook these rasping hypocrisies.

We are sentimental people in which there is a surfeit of displaced emotions. A sentimental outlook can easily blend crass indifference to the needs of the living with luxuriant sorrow for the dead. In such a situation, the veneration of the slain soldiers is no yardstick for measuring our commitment to the well-being of the living jawans. George Fernades was commended for the number of times he visited our jawans at Siachen. But the ex-Minister's visits did not mean that they got the snow scooters that they so desperately needed.

The truth that speaks through all these is that we have no value for human life, especially the life of ordinary people. We seek to compensate for this indifference by venerating our VVIPs. We have created a democracy in which governance in the "name of the people" has shriveled to multiplying the privileges of the ruling elite. 10000 policemen are deployed on VVIP security in Delhi alone. This costs hundreds of crores of rupees. This spurious VVIP culture is a
significant tributary to corruption in public life. We are a party to creating an ambience in which it is a class privilege for the ruling elite to be a law unto themselves. So they have no qualms, for instance, in bringing the life of a city to a standstill through "VVIP movement" and throwing mile-long motorcades at the public for which Jayalalita has been the most infamous. Not long ago, all the white cars in Chennai used to be commandeered to swell her motorcades, irrespective of the inconvenience it meant to their owners.

It is a sign of our mental and cultural backwardness that our adoration for leaders is directly proportionate to their unconcern for our dignity and worth. This explains why we elect those who are sure to prove enemies to our own welfare. The first thing we need to cast out, if we are to develop a democratic mindset, is that the VVIP culture is a feudal anachronism in an age of democracy. We cannot do this unless we insist on seeing through the false rhetoric of the ruling class and hold them accountable for the glaring hypocrisies they continue to thrive on.