Wanted: Alladdin’s magic lamp!

The fancy for fables continues. With realities being so harsh one has no choice but to fall back on fantasies. So after Alibaba and 40n thieves, it is now wise to see if Anna-Baba and the rest of us, flatteringly described as civil society, can invoke Alladdin, or to be precise, his Magic Lamp to solve our problems.

Let me brush up Alladdin’s tale. By some association of thought, probably because of the Sultan character, most would place this story in the deserts of West Asia. But the setting is China, according to most versions. Alladdin was not a ‘nosey’ guy, if you get the drift, not given to painstakingly seeking out mystical stuff, but lazy and an idler. By some providence he landed this magical lamp and the rest is mythical history, to know which you can either check with your child, or brush up your own memory or simply google or wiki, as I did. The point is, while Alladdin misused the lamp to get himself a missus, besides slaves, castles, gold and food, we can put it to better use. Statutory warning: Not just marauding ministers, but I wouldn’t trust myself with such a lamp! We ain’t lambs!

The provocation for such flights of fancy is simple: The failure of all normal, legitimate and fair means to get good things done. Or to fight the corrupt power elite which consists of visible evils and invisible enemies. Take for instance the current crusade against corruption. With all their civilities having bumped into official stonewalls, what can Anna Hazare, Ramdev or for that matter, any of us do now? The newspapers make for some depressing reading on Lokpal legislation, undoubtedly the need of the hour though not the final solution. With no consensus on key issues and talks having broken down, there are going to be two draft proposals, one by the Government and another by those fighting it. The talks themselves have been going on for more than two months now and the Lokpal idea is forty years old. A dedicated group of activists, whatever their credentials, have slogged for days and burnt midnight oil, not to light up magic lamps but to disperse the dark clouds of corrutpion that has enveloped this land by preparing some kind of an acceptable legal document. Parallelly there have also been fasts, protests, banners, street processions, media campaigns, editorials, internet blitzkreig etc. In fact, never has the issue of corruption reached such a crescendo. And look at what we have after all the hullabaloo!

The deadline of June 30 for the draft Bill was set by MSingh himself, no doubt under public pressure. But if that honourable man had one pint of honourable intent left in him, he would have at the least taken some personal efforts to ensure that his own deadline was met. It may still happen, with or without a magic lamp. But look at the way he and his government have gone about it till date. First, the Government reps do everything possible to kill the draft bill by nitpicking even on obviously necessary issues like bringing the PM under purview. Next it unleashes a smear campaign against the agitators and tries its best to divide that camp.

Later, in a gory reminder of colonial imperialism or the more recent Emergency, MSingh’s government lets loose its jackboots, lathis and teargas on the fasting public at the dead of night. And then as his henchmen like Digvijay Singh utter dishonourable words against Ramdev, Anna and others, the honourable PM just looks the other way after of course acquiesing, just as he did when his colleagues were selling spectrum at throwaway prices. If the Baba was indeed such a bad character as the PM’s men claim, why in hell should he despatch four of his senior colleagues to perform all kinds of acrobatics and asanas at the airport in front of the ascetic for over four hours? Define honour, sir!

We will need a magic lamp to also handle power of a different kind, something more basic to modern existence. Reports say this summer is the worst all over India as far as power cuts go. And there seems to be no light at the end of this long dark tunnel with the situation only expected to get worse. There simply isn’t enough power to sustain the rising industrial and domestic demand. After all, all that 9% growth and the cosy middle-class lifestyles are heavily energy dependent. While there are projects in the pipeline in the public, private and joint sectors, these arent coming anytime soon. Also, coal, that still fuels the power sector, is in huge shortage domestically and India is far behind China which has tied up coal supply all over the world in anticipation of growth. Many who have visited China say it is stupid, even childish, to compare us with that country at least vis a vis infrastructure. Perhaps they borrowed or rather, bullied their man Alladdin to part with his lamp. But those in power here are shedding little light on the power plight, being busy as they are with looting money meant for such core projects or teargassing peaceful protestors, who are most certainly not jihadis. Indeed, Indians would be scurrying, not for magic lamps, but even petty oil lamps and candles soon. In fact, the UPA’s power minister himself has predicted that the real crisis is just two years away! And the common man is powerless on this issue. Just as he is in scores of others.

Forget pots of gold, castles and beautiful princesses, even basic education, healthcare, clean water and sanitation are beyond the reach of bulk of India. I remember a parable in which God appears before a beggar and agrees to grant a wish. The beggar promptly asks for a golden begging bowl (thiruvodu, in Tamil) so that he can beg with some pride. Indians are now somewhat in that league, desperate to boot and clueless to the core. All the tools and weapons, granted to them by a Constitution, supposedly for the people, have been blunted and all modern concepts like democracy, judiciary and human rights have failed to deliver them from the many miseries they are supposed to address and redress. The Emergency like June is clear proof that the Government thinks no right is sacrosanct. Probably, the weapon of vote is still there and we saw a taste of its potency in TN recently. But 2014 is still a long way off and God knows to what depths this regime will plunge us by then.

Indeed seeking out a magic lamp to rub away our woes would be quite in order, assuming China has not already patented it! In which case we will continue to rub our eyes, as we are currently engaged.

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Jawahar T R