Prime Minister Narendra Modi should go beyond asking the State Governors and other UPA appointees to voluntarily resign from their offices. As has been said by various political pundits, the office of the Governor has become totally compromised by the partisan politics played by the Centre and the brazenly shameless behaviour of some of the incumbents.
Perhaps, at the time the Indian Constitution was written, the hope that India, having awakened after centuries of foreign domination, would give rise to a class of people, who would, to paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi’s definition, of their own free will put themselves last among their fellow creatures.
It may be said that the Mahatma was a hopeless optimist, and that he did not notice the naked desire for power and pelf in some of his adherents and political heirs. Whatever may be the reason, the Constitution provided for the office of a President of the Republic of India, and Governors, Lt. Governors, and Administrators, of the various states that constituted the Indian Union. These offices were relics of the British Raj – something the Anglophile Jawaharlal Nehru could never shrug himself off. Though the Congress opposed the British, yet it was in too much of an awe of the pomp and show of the Empire, and transferred it wholesale into the conduct of the Government of independent India.
The President and the state Governors live in palatial residences, occupying acres of the choicest real estate in the country. Their offices still have the trappings of the Colonial masters; the Presidential Guard, in my opinion, being the most visible symbol of this colonial hangover. I do not have the figures on how much the country spends on these worthies and the maintenance of their estates, but I am sure the amount will be a staggeringly large one. For a poor country in which more than 2/3 rds of the people are having a below-subsistence level of existence, the President and the Governors are a mocking anachronism.
Perhaps the people may have gladly accepted this state of affairs if the Governments at the Centre had insisted on appointing apolitical persons of highest erudition, experience, ethics, and personal probity. The first three Presidents of the Republic duly met these criteria and the common people loved and respected them. But from the time Indira Gandhi engineered a split in the Congress on the issue of Sanjeeva Reddy, and hoisted her nominee V. V. Giri into the Rashtrapati Bhawan, there has been a precipitous slide in the quality of the people who have brought nothing but disrepute to the offices they occupied. The only notable exception in these 45 years has been the single term of President Abdul Kalam who was nominated by the NDA.
Perhaps nothing else can illustrate this steep decline than the fact that the UPA promptly replaced President Kalam by Pratibha Patil, about whom the less said the better. If the geography of the Earth can be used to contrast the two, one would say that President Kalam would represent Mount Everest while the lady who followed him would be the Death Valley of California. The decline in the quality of the highest office was faithfully reproduced in those who occupied gubernatorial bungalows in state capitals.
Not only should there be a healthy debate on the desirability or otherwise of continuing with these ceremonial offices, but we would do better to even consider the idea of shifting the national capital from New Delhi. No doubt the city has a hoary past, a large part of which has also been gory, but the miasma of centuries of corruption and greed has completely enveloped it and its very air breathes of pollution: pollution, not only of the atmosphere and the environment, but of the very soul of man. There is a saying that physical contact with the “mitti” of Gwalior destroys whatever good there may be in man.
Legend has it that Shravan Kumar of the Ramayana, who travelled all over the land, carrying his blind, old parents on his shoulders, immediately cast them off the moment his feet touched the “mitti” of Gwalior. He would have left them there and then to die, but they were aware of the reason why he wanted to abandon them. They entreated him to just carry them to the next town and then he need not carry them any further and go his own way. But the moment he left the “mitti” of Gwalior, the thought of abandoning them vanished from his mind and he carried on like that till his fateful, fatal encounter with King Dashratha.
Similarly, there is something in the “mitti” of Delhi that puts iron in the souls of men and makes them abandon all ethics and values. Ancient and modern history of Delhi and its seven cities bears witness to the continuous interplay of intrigue, treachery, war, and death. Delhi is the greatest corrupter of the subcontinent and it has not left even a single regime untouched by its foul miasma.
The present NDA government would do well to reflect upon this past of Delhi and seriously consider the idea of moving the national capital away from there. It will resolve a number of issues, besides the poisonous air of the city. Prime real estate in New Delhi has been occupied by political squatters who have made it into hereditary endowments. A case in point is Babu Jagjivan Ram’s daughter Meira Kumar.
The sprawling bungalows of Lutyen’s Delhi have become private jagirs of politicians who continue to cling to them like leeches even when they have been rejected in the elections. Apart from these, quite a few have been converted into museums, ostensibly to preserve the memory of their occupants, but in reality to let the families retain control on them. The bureaucrats and politicians connive together in perpetrating these frauds and even the orders of the various courts asking the squatters to vacate has been flouted with impunity. Delhi is also a vast necropolis occupying large acres of prime land around the samadhis of departed (and mostly unlamented) politicians. Where there is not enough space for a poor family to build a makeshift hut with discarded cardboard and plastic sheeting, it is a tragedy to see so much land being garnered by dead and forgotten politicians.
Many new nation-states have built new capital cities after independence and broken away from their dreadful past. Even a new state like Pakistan chose to build a fresh capital in Islamabad, giving both Karachi and Lahore a vote of no confidence. We too could emulate them and make a clean break from the past if we shift our capital to a new area. It may be a good idea to locate it closer to the geographical centre of the country. A new metropolis could be built, providing adequate and not opulent accommodation for the legislators and the bureaucrats who form the bulk of the government. There is no need to put them in sprawling bungalows that require a retinue of servants and staff to maintain. A small, smart city with small and smart houses and apartments can be built from scratch. Modern technology can be incorporated in the design to maximize security and functionality. It is a whole new idea that needs to be explored and seriously considered.
A question an interlocutor might ask would be about the source of funds for such a project. The answer lies in the sale of the real estate that the government owns in Delhi. Going by the market prices of land in the city, I would think that the government would be able to raise enough and more funds for a new project in Central India. However, one would have to make sure that the intended place is not leaked to the public, as otherwise Modi could find himself negotiating for this land with the biggest land shark of the country. No prizes for guessing WHO!
Read More By Vijaya Dar
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