A time to clean up minds as well

D. N. Bezboruah

The Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan came at a good time when no one was thinking of keeping their country clean, as though someone from elsewhere would come and do it for them. I have observed a number of Indians who travel abroad quite often. Many of them are more concerned about keeping other countries clean than about worrying about the cleanliness of their own country. They will not throw any waste paper on the streets of any foreign country, but the streets of their own country can be veritable garbage cans. They have no qualms about littering their streets at home. Of course, one reason is that in most other countries they would have to be paying hefty fines for littering streets. For those who earn in rupees, the fear of having to pay fines in dollars is a powerful deterrent. This lot also has an unkind word for every country in the world that is trying against all odds to remain clean. To them, Singapore is a ‘fine’ city because it has a fine for all offences that litter the city—from spitting to throwing litter on the streets. And what most Indians do not like about many foreign cities is that some of them make you clean up even after your dog has littered their streets. There is no denying that we in India have a long way to go in keeping our villages, towns and cities clean. So the Prime Minister has made a good start there both with his words and his broom. And the tion has identified Mawlynnong, the cleanest village in Asia—a hamlet in Meghalaya—and the cleanest city—Mysuru of Kartaka—in the country. This is bound to inspire many other villages and cities to take the top spots in the country, and the goal of having a much cleaner India need not remain a distant dream.  

This realization confronts us with a more pertinent question. Is it enough to have clean surroundings if our minds cannot be cleaned up as well? This question acquires special significance in the context of the filth that is getting spewed by our politicians almost every day, causing distress and leading to frequent adjournments in both Houses of Parliament. What often gets overlooked is that cleaning minds is more easily said than done. A broom and a spade are often enough to clear the garbage or debris on a street. Unfortutely, there are no tools designed to dispose of the garbage—malice, greed, vindictiveness and jealousy that litter human minds. The greatest impediment to cleaning up minds is the inflated ego of the individual concerned. One of the norms of the Indian political system is that most politicians are not educated and they have oversized egos compared to their qualifications and abilities. Perhaps this is what makes the majority of our politicians arrogant, self- centred and pathologically incapable of respecting the rights, needs, aspirations and commitments of others. One major drawback in their persolity is their total lack of humility—the greatest of all virtues according to T. S. Eliot. The humility that is manifest among politicians just before election time is something that is put on for the occasion. It takes very little time for it to evaporate and for the real persolity—sans humility, thoughtfulness and respect for the rights of others—to emerge in its most repugnt form. One of the most effective masks to conceal one’s ignorance and lack of qualifications is arrogance. Such arrogance keeps inquisitive people at a distance and protects one from being questioned. This is an artifice that will not work in advanced democracies, but it works very well in a country where there is inordite and inexplicable reverence shown to every elected representative of the people who becomes a lawmaker.

Most of our politicians are so uneducated that they are uble even to equip themselves with the kind of basic knowledge that is absolutely essential for their functioning. This is particularly noticeable in the case of ministers who fail largely because they have not taken the trouble to learn even the basics of the portfolios they hold and the duties that they are expected to discharge as ministers. Just imagine a minister for civil aviation, who has not acquainted himself with the intricacies of airport magement and matters like autopilot landings executed by the staff in the control tower. Would he really be competent to take important decisions relating to the infrastructure needed for present-day civil aviation? How long would it take to acquaint himself with the very basics of his important responsibility? These are questions that the stakeholders of democracy should be asking themselves before they choose their representatives in the Legislature.

Cleaning up minds is a Herculean task in a country where corruption is so rampant. Quite often, we tend to forget that the omnibus term ‘corruption’ has its roots in a number of frailties or human aberrations like greed, jealousy, arrogance, vindictiveness, a total disrespect for the laws of the land that our lawmakers themselves ect and so on. One recalls the greed of the BJP politicians of Kartaka who were given mining rights by their cronies in the government. They became so rich overnight that they were able to make dotions of crores of rupees to the Thirumala Temple trust at Tirupati and to eat off golden plates at their homes. Such behaviour is a compound of people’s greed, their arrogance, their desire to flaunt their ill-gotten wealth and their total disrespect for the laws of the land. They were so drunk with the power that their cronies and their ill-gotten wealth had given them, that they were in no mood to bother about the restraints of civilized conduct or sobriety. They acquired fleets of expensive cars, executive aircraft and helicopters even though they really had no need for such shows of affluence.  

The foregoing is just one facet of the filth that needs cleaning up when we think of cleaning up minds. The real task at hand, of course, is to deal with the intellectual dishonesty that is at the root of the mental filth that is beginning to worry a lot of Indians. Even 65 years after the Republic and our Constitution we still have to waste time debating on intolerance and secularism in Parliament. This is mainly because of the kind of intellectual dishonesty that passes for intelligent topical discourse. One has to only think of the long years during which the word secularism has been misused to denote a kind of distorted pseudo-secularism that would not find acceptance anywhere else in the world. We have reduced an exalted concept to a fetish of sorts that has no relevance to the real meaning of secularism. As for tolerance, the very high priests of intolerance, who showed their real colours during the three days after the assassition of Indira Gandhi in 1984, presume to talk about tolerance in Parliament today.

Apart from greed and intellectual dishonesty, we have a whole gamut of other mental states that eventually lead to corrupt practices. Look at the way political leaders seek to deceive the electorate before elections. Apart from the dirty tricks of buying votes with the gift of blankets, yarn for looms and cash, there are clear hints from Badruddin Ajmal that he is not for a pre-election alliance with the Congress because such an alliance is bound to lose votes for both the AIUDF and the Congress, but he is not opposed to a post-poll alliance. So there is the pretence of his going to court on Monday against Assam State Congress president Anjan Dutta for his allegation that the BJP had paid Rs 150 crore to Badruddin Ajmal for an alliance. Ajmal obviously feels that there is nothing unethical about not going into a pre-poll alliance and telling the electorate that he is doing so in order to prevent a split of votes that would be to the advantage of the BJP, and to be thinking of a post-poll alliance, because by then tallies of the AIUDF and Congress would already be known for a much more powerful post-poll alliance. What clearer indication does one need to arrive at the conclusion that despite all their tall talk about democracy our leaders do not really care about what happens to the people as long as they can rake in the votes? And it is this kind of cleaning up of minds that we have on our hands.

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