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A true Indian's call for true democracy

ANJANA RAJAN meets C.B. Muthamma, author of "Slain by the System: India's Real Crisis", whose precepts for the resurgence of India are the challenge before today's patriots... .

"ONE PERSON doesn't matter, don't you see?" exclaims octogenarian C.B. Muthamma on the fuss that is made over her biography rather than the issues she has made a lifelong crusade of. She may be - since back in 1949 - the first woman to join the Indian Foreign Service; she may have toured the world on various ambassadorial assignments till her retirement in 1982 - all the while maintaining her zeal for pragmatic solutions, fighting injustice, tackling the rot in the system and inspiring generations to follow. But, unique as may be her individual contribution, C.B. Muthamma sees the bigger picture. It is India she cares about, and about which she speaks with the fervour and compassion of the philosopher J. Krishnamurti in his later years. She can neither retire nor rest on her laurels, simply because one doesn't retire from a lifelong commitment, from a passion.

A compilation of her essays under the title "Slain by the System: India's Real Crisis" published by The Viveka Foundation was recently released in New Delhi. Essays written over a span of more than two decades and published in various journals, the ideas put forward lucidly in this book ought to be prescribed reading for young people across the country. And though age is trying to catch up with the author, sending unsolicited emissaries like arthritis to slow her down, meeting her is a refreshing and inspirational experience, so that if she were to be invited to schools to address young people and make them understand the root causes of the problems that ail India and ways to solve them, she would doubtless set off a people's movement for the betterment of the country.

No doubt we are a country full of armchair analysts who revel in ticking off India's various problems and listing the vital mistakes made by leaders in the early years of Independence. That activity is easy enough and gets repeated by the million in buses, trains, offices and homes across the country every day. But at the end of it there is usually a certain acceptance - cynical at worst and wistful at best - that India has missed the boat to a prosperous, progressive, dignified society. Muthamma's analysis, while far more scathing than the ordinary citizen's, backed as it is with her incisive powers of reasoning, her administrative and world experience, is nevertheless uplifting and inspiring and far from negative, because instead of merely ranting, she presents the solutions to the major issues that hold India back.

Here is a patriot who declares that she would not live in any other country "even if you want to shoot me for it," who can see that "life is full of beautiful things in spite of all these miseries", and who points out that "this country has that human, intangible dimension" that makes a country truly beautiful and that it contains the tangible, material as well as spiritual resources to make into a prosperous and rich nation. But to realise that potential it is necessary to dump the entire present system of governance. "This is not a democracy," she repeatedly emphasises, and what we need is to adopt a system of true democracy. When politicians get into parliament by a system in which their constituency is actually the political parties rather than the people of India there can be no real democracy. "Every single government has had a minority of the votes cast. That means it is not representative." If the Prime Minister's electorate were the actual people, he would not have to be polite to the likes of Pravin Togadia and Narendra Modi.

Because of its inherent weaknesses, not least because it is inherited from Britain, a small country with one race and nowhere near the complexities of India, "this is a system which puts the wrong type of people in power," and even a right kind of person has to become the wrong kind to survive, whereas the need is one that would force even the wrong person to behave correctly.

Indian people and culture are by nature democratic, accepting the differences among human beings. "This united, sane tolerant country is being divided" by the politicians of the time - "I call them misleaders".

The solution is a genuinely decentralised system in which the central government "minds its own business" - for instance, foreign affairs, currency, communications. Civil society should be involved in monitoring institutions. She often cites the example of tribal societies that are being destroyed yet exemplify real democracy and have equality among men and women and no crime.

"This system is so full of evil, evil, that we have to scrap it," says Muthamma. She knows the misleaders will not allow it. So "we have to howl for change". It must be a people's movement.

It will be a howl in the ears of the evil. But it will be a flute song of deliverance, if only enough of us listen now.

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