Sucheta Dalal :Wanted: Activists and supporters for abundant causes
Sucheta Dalal

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Wanted: Activists and supporters for abundant causes  

August 17, 2001

Another Independence Day has gone by generating the same frustrating debate about untapped potential and missed opportunities, along with rising public anger against rampant corruption and economic degeneration.

Prime Minister Vajpayee's Independence Day address dwelt on several of these fears and frustrations. He spoke about growing social imbalances and regional inequality; the repetitive episodes of stock market fraud; corruption; and the need to kick-start the economy. The prime minister said that the long arm of the law would not spare anybody, irrespective of the chair that they occupy. That he chose to touch on these issues indicates a dawning awareness about people's disgust with politicians and the state of governance; but his assurances are meaningless unless translated into action.

At one level, the recent spate of arrests and police actions tend to suggest a clean up. In the last few months, Bombay witnessed the unthinkable when three of the city's most powerful and celebrated persons landed up behind bars. The first was wealthy diamond merchant and film financier Bharat Shah, who was arrested in connection with his alleged links with the Mafia; the second was former Unit Trust of India chairman, P S Subramanyam who was arrested in connection with investments that deliberately caused a loss to investors. The most recent, is the sensational arrest of former Police Commissioner R D Tyagi and 14 police officials, in connection with the butchering of several persons of a minority community during the 1993 riots.

But let us not get carried away by these examples - all three, in their own way reflect action forced on the political system due to judicial activism, political rivalry or to appease an outraged public sentiment -- they do not necessarily signal a trend.

Tackling the social inequality and corruption will require much more effort than a few stray arrests. It will only happen when public opinion leads to affirmative action by the people and a quick fair trial leading to stringent and exemplary punishment.

The large number of reactions to my earlier column, Sure, I love my India, but is Mera Bharat Mahaan? indicates that there are plenty of Indians out there who acknowledge the seriousness of India's problems and would like to do their bit to stem the rot in the system. The question is how to do it?

Surinder Puri, for instance says: "People like me need a platform where every one can get together to do something." He thinks that the "Internet is a great place to get information from or to vent out your frustrations but we need a forum to start taking action and to mobilise public opinion."

Kiran Bedi, Kamal Rawat and Anil Kelkar have the same set of questions -- "What should we do? How do we take action? Where do we start? Anil Kumar says: "...reporting a problem will not solve it. The writer should also provide some feasible short term and long term solutions."

Occasionally, some like Ashwin Raj turn indignant. (Don't preach to the choir Ms Dalal). "I see so many articles being written and they only succeed in making me feel more powerless, because they prove, repeatedly, that I and a billion other Indians are unable to address the challenges facing our nation? Unless, we can bring together, all the angry and powerless people who want to make a change for the better, there is no point in printing your articles and making us feel more inadequate. And, unless that happens you are wasting my time by merely repeating headlines that I can read for myself."

A columnist is not a doctor, who diagnoses the disease and dispenses instant medicine. My job is to highlight problems, investigate issues, to provide factual information, and if necessary, goad the people into action - that too is not easy in the current political and business environment. (Everything else that I do is my contribution to society as an individual and not as a journalist.)

The fact is that there are no easy or instant solutions. Everybody has to find their own causes and solutions and hope that their small individual efforts bring about tiny incremental changes that add up and grow into a larger mass movement.

Many readers have correctly articulated these sentiments. B M Bharadwaja quotes N R Narayana Murthy (the Infosys Technologies chairman who has set a new benchmark in good corporate governance) telling students of Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay that, "Unless we, who have been hugely benefited by the knowledge society, do not pay back in substantial amounts to the society; then I fear very violent days ahead for India."

A small number of committed individuals are already doing their bit without fuss or expectation - they did not wait for someone to offer solutions or show them the way.

For example, Aarti Joshi writes to say: "We both are professional teachers, but instead of going abroad we decided, seven years ago that we will remain here and help the country to have at least 50 good, quality engineers or lawyers or architects through our teaching methods. We both are happy that our goal has been achieved and we will make more progress on the same lines, whatever be the barriers and inconveniences associated with our basic life problems."

Jayesh Shah - a successful stockbroker who chucked up his business over a decade ago to launch a magazine called Humanscape ( and to pursue active social upliftment at the grassroots level. Shah is a low-key worker, who does not believe in mindless charity but in education, positive empowerment and training of people at the grassroots level to make them independent and self-reliant. He does not believe in large fund raising, but says that there are always plenty of friends and well-wishers around, who cough up the money when it is required. He is currently working in several villages in Gujarat.

Supercop Kiran Bedi also found a solution, when she turned a punishment posting (a typical act of political vengeance in India which punishes efficiency and honesty) at Tihar jail into a Magsasay Award by willing effort at prison reforms. Another senior police official Y P Singh who is on a similar punishment posting in-charge of a police colony and co-operative society in Bombay converted it into a thriving profit-making enterprise complete with lush green lawns, a tennis court and even the luxury of a coveted swimming pool. Khairnar, a deputy municipal commissioner on a drive to clean up corruption and illegal encroachment, was undeterred even after he was shot at by miscreants.

Rajendra Singh, India's recent Magsasay Award winner converted his drought-affected village in Rajasthan into a verdant community through simple water harvesting techniques. Until recently, he was battling the mining Mafia and face threats and slander. The stories of other Magsasay winners are also about grit and determination against all odds. The solution lies in people supporting their efforts to create a mass movement.

The Chief Vigilance Commissioner N Vittal has been preaching his doctrine of "zero tolerance for corruption". How many are willing to put it into practice, to act as whistle-blowers and stop financial fraud, or to actively support those who do?

India has no shortage of deserving causes or good leaders; there is only short supply of activists and people who are willing to support their causes.

-- Sucheta Dalal