There are as I write still 50 hours to go before the year 2009 draws to a close. Frankly, I can scarcely wait for this wretched twelve months to end. We began the year with an economy in the doldrums, continued with once in 10,000-year rains wreaking havoc across central India, and end as the pillars of the State seem bent on crumbling.
We can survive the gyrations of the stock markets. We can plan against natural disasters. But where are the leaders that can restore their lost sheen to the khadi and the khaki?
Khadi is, of course, a metaphor for the political class, whose uniform it has been since the days of Mahatma Gandhi. Khaki represents the uniformed wing of the Indian State, whether the armed forces or the police.
By now, I think the average educated Indian has ceased to expect anything but the worst of politicians or even of the police. But it was horribly depressing to read of the case against Lieutenant General Avadesh Prakash.
As military secretary, he holds a highly important post. According to the army court of inquiry conducted by Lieutenant General K T Parnaik, the military secretary and two other generals conspired to offer 70 acres of land in Darjeeling to a group of businessmen.
An entity called the Dilip Aggarwal Geetanjali Education Trust reportedly wanted the property to build an affiliate of Ajmer's famous Mayo College.
Since it adjoins a military station the army was required to give an NOC (no-objection certificate). This was given by Lieutenant General P K Rath, then commander of the 33 Corps, allegedly at Lieutenant General Prakash's behest. Apart from these two, the name of Lieutenant General Ramesh Halgali has appeared n the news for all the wrong reasons.
Everything about the deal was fishy. Mayo College has flatly denied reports of an 'affiliate' being established in Darjeeling. A brochure put out by the business group claimed that Lieutenant General Prakash would join its board of directors after he retired. The army apparently refused an NOC, then reversed that decision and gave the green signal. Questions were bound to be asked, and the court of inquiry has unearthed some particularly nasty answers. But nobody can deny that the Indian Army's reputation for probity has taken a hammering.
On a slightly less mournful note, I am happy to note that Defence Minister A K Antony has refused to draw a veil over this unhappy episode. It would have been only too easy to hush up the scandal -- perhaps with a quiet resignation or two -- rather than let military justice run its course. That, I guess, is one of the khadi brigade that Antony represents.
Sadly, let us also admit that the current defence minister and his like are probably a vanishing breed in Indian politics. The Indian public is far more likely to associate politics with the successive chief ministers of Haryana that presided while the Ruchika Girhotra case was mishandled. (Or even with the alleged misdeeds of the former governor of Andhra Pradesh -- a freedom fighter who participated in the Quit India Movement no less!)
The allegations against S P S Rathore, the court's judgment that he was indeed guilty of molesting Ruchika Girhotra, and the laughable penalty he was required to pay are too well known to require repetition. And many will say that nothing better is expected of policemen -- a group reviled almost as much as politicians by educated Indians. But it is important to realise that Rathore had help in evading the consequences of his actions for almost two decades.
Three groups of people both helped Rathore and tormented the Girhotra family until Ruchika was driven to suicide. The first group consisted of policemen like those who arrested Ruchika Girhotra's brother, Ashu, and reportedly tortured him -- the act that drove the poor girl to kill herself rather than let her family suffer any more. Everyone is now hot on the trail of Rathore; should the policemen who hounded the Girhotra family be spared?
The second group that aided Rathore, possibly indirectly, was a series of politicians from across the political spectrum. Om Parkash Chautala appeared on news channels earlier this week to question the Girhotra family's courage. Bhajan Lal said he could remember nothing of the case with a look on his face that was so smug that it was almost unbelievable. Will there be any political penalty to follow? I don't think so!
But what of the third group -- civil society at large? The Sacred Heart School in Chandigarh expelled Ruchika -- nobody seems to know quite why today -- rather than stand by her. Isn't the Church supposed to be the standard-bearer of morality in society? Has the Bishop in whose diocese this school belongs asked for an explanation?
Some brave souls stood by the Girhotra family, but what of the bulk of civil society in Chandigarh? Was Rathore ostracised by people at large?
There are allegations of corruption against generals and allegations of abuse of power against policemen. But these men did not arise out of a vacuum; let us admit that they are products of a society that we have all helped to create.
Today, it might be easy for the educated, middle class Indian to mock both khadi (the errant, arrogant politician) and khaki (aberrant soldiers and policemen). Here is a depressing thought: how many of us would not abuse power if it were granted to us rather than them?
I wish you all a very happy 2010. It cannot, surely, be any worse than 2009.