Sunday, May 08, 2011

Nani Palkhiwala: We, the Nation, The Lost Decades

I recently read Nani Palkhiwala's book, "We, the Nation, The Lost Decades". It is a collection of articles and transcripts of talks. These are all commentaries on Indian society, law, legislative process and similar concerns. I recommend the book strongly.

After reading the book, I was struck by two things:
  1. How much the problems today resemble the problems from the 1980s.  The core issues have stayed unchanged.  The problems of a corrupt Legislative branch, the danger of an unbiased Executive and an unbiased Judiciary, and the lack of education being the root cause of poor candidates being elected as representatives.  These have been problems for many years.
  2. Many outstanding individuals noticed these problems, and tried to spread awareness about these issues, even when problems began.  Nani Palkhiwala was completely accurate in his assessment of the Ayodhya tangle, and he wrote in prominent newspapers expressing his viewpoint.  The issues persisted despite these outstanding individuals: probably because the people in charge were willfully ignorant and put their petty concerns over the good of society. Nani Palkhiwala wasn't the only person spreading awareness either: many other people noticed these issues and spread the word.
The articles in the book make me pessimistic: if the problems were noticed by such outstanding individuals, and yet we haven't solved them in the last thirty years, what chance do we have of solving them now?  Forty years ago, outstanding individuals chose to serve the public as lawyers, as judges, as administrators.  Some of them were driven by idealism, and others by lack of other opportunities. Today, the same individual has other options: employment in private firms is more lucrative and inviting.  Idealism is on the wane: among people in my generation, the three branches of government are seen as dead-end professions. I can't think of a single person in my school, college or university who aimed to become a lawyer, or a policeman.  The armed forces are the only exception to this: many friends of mine wanted to serve the nation. Apart from the armed forces, a government job is seen as a stagnant profession, where merit is optional, and where you are unlikely to find any job satisfaction.

In case you'd like to learn more about Modern Indian history, the History of the  Indian Republic (Wikipedia) is a superb introduction.  If you are interested in more detail, Ramchandran Guha's, "India After Gandhi" is the best book on the topic.

(Image courtesy Wikipedia)