Letter from New Delhi
When 814 million Indians vote in the general elections next month, they are voting for change.
Most are angry, very angry. Killing prices, massive corruption, inefficient public services, no jobs, no respite from violence against women are some of the issues that have angered them. And now it’s their turn to tell them what they think by electing their 543 members of parliament.
The estimated 875.5 million Indian mobile users can send text, photos, videos or voice messages to share their views with others and make an impact. With social media, they can protest before they explode on the streets. Finally, the hyper-active media provides 24-hour news and comment to even the illiterate to make up their minds. Then there is the web for all the information they need.
In this scenario, the aspirant leaders must be educated, honest and able to communicate effectively. To meet the high expectations of the people, educated persons of merit should rule. Says the enlightened master Osho, “The days of democracy are over. A new kind of system is needed, based on merit. We have thousands of universities all over the world. Why have ordinary, unknowledgeable, ignorant masses chose people who will be holding tremendous power for five years in their hands?”
Before they are nominated, the contenders need to be educated and must have merit, meaning honesty in their lives and work. Before they are elected, the contenders need excellent communication skills to reach out and convince voters in clear and simple language. After getting elected, they need to deliver on their promises and keep in constant touch with their voters and people. Unless this happens after these elections, the new leaders will be thrown out.
After elections, India is ready to take a sharp turn on the right path. Who will guide the world’s biggest democracy on this path? Will the people elect young leaders without criminal records? Will educated and meritorious leaders emerge from this battle of the ballots? And will these leaders be able to clean up the system and make it responsive to the people in providing education, health, water, power and jobs?
In this battle, a new political party, the Aam Admi Party or common man party, has entered the battle promising to end corruption and change the system in favour of the common man. Some changes have already happened in the two major parties – The Indian National Congress and the Bharatiys Janata Party (BJP) with the selection of candidates. Their poll strategies have also been realigned.
The BJP prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, is steam rolling for a victory. The Congress is putting up a brave fight led by Rahul Gandhi. Now it remains to be seen how many members of Aam Admi party get elected to parliament? None of the big two parties is expected to form the government by winning 272 seats without the support from one or more of India’s large regional parties. Even if the new, fringe party do not form the government, it can make a big difference as opposition if it garners 50 or more seats.
Never has been there so much interest and expectation as in this general election. The voter turnout is expected to be high. They want to vent their fury at the ballot box. People are very frustrated and want results to help them. If the next government cannot deliver results fast, the people will not tolerate it. So the elected leaders will have to perform or perish
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The Deadly Donkey Route for Entering Britain Illegally
Hell bent on entering Britain, a group of young Punjabis board a container truck in Amritsar for their tough journey to jobs and riches. Freezing and bouncing, they arrive in Kabul, Afghanistan. After a brief rest, they trundle to Krasnoyarsk in Russia’s Siberia. From here, the container truck rolls to the Russian capital, Moscow. Next stop is the capital of Belarus, Minsk, before entering Poland for Warsaw and then on to Germany and finally to Belgium or France to take the ferry to Britain.
Shamlal Puri, a veteran London-based international journalist and a
novelist, has tracked, interviewed and recorded the travails of these
Indians at every stopover from Amritsar to London in a brilliant work of faction – fiction based on fact – entitled ‘The Illegals: Visa-Less,
Homeless, Hopeless – Striving for the Good Life ‘(jointly published by
Crownbird Publishers and Har Anand Publications) launched in Delhi and London a few days ago.
This is the hair-rising tale of twelve Indians cheated by a dodgy agent who extracts big money from them on false promises and sent off on ‘the donkey route’ through Russia and Europe to Britain.
Once in a while, the drivers stop at isolated spots to relieve themselves, stretch their legs and maybe sip some tea. Many fall sick with no medical care during a real bone shaker drive. The money paid to the Indian immigration agent lasts halfway en route. Stranded in the middle of nowhere, they are forced to pay their own way for the rest of the trip. They beg, borrow and steal to pay the truckers.
The real test comes in crossing the English Channel as the police use
digital scanners to measure the heat inside the container to determine if any person is hiding. To avoid detection, they wrap themselves in thick, black plastic bags and are drugged. Sometimes, they suffocate to death. One tried to jump on the roof of the chunnel train from a bridge in France, missed the fast moving train and died. Less than half of them survive the long road trip. If discovered during the trip, they are imprisoned and deported.
When they flew to Britain for illegal entry, they were dubbed as ‘kabuttars’ or pigeons. If they go by containers, they are called ‘faujis’ or soldiers battling against impossible odds. After reaching Britain, their ordeal takes a new twist as they have no legal papers to work, no home, not even proper meals. So now they are called ‘illegals’ living in fields, under motorway bridges, in four-wheeler bins and even in cemeteries in Southall, west London, eating from soup kitchens or Sikh temples or gurudwaras and looking for work for a pittance. If they are caught by the authorities, they are deported and their employer fined 10,000 pounds per illegal worker.
“After reporting on ‘faujis’ for many years, my late father, Hussan Chand Puri, encouraged me to write a book to record their problems so that the Indian children and their parents do not have to go through this suffering,” says Shamlal, “These desperate young me want to get away from Punjab at any cost. Jobless, they just want to start a new life no matter what the consequences.
“Unfortunately, their worst enemies are fellow British Indians who employ, rather exploit, them with far less than legal wages as they risk a huge fine if they get caught. Many small businesses have gone bankrupt by employing these faujis,” he said.
“Interviewing them is tough as they don’t trust anyone. They sound an alarm and threaten violence whenever a stranger comes to where they are sleeping overnight in the open fields even during winter or under a bridge. Desperate, homeless, jobless and homeless in cities, they sleep on the streets, in abandoned homes, garbage bins or a cemetery. I joined a charity to reach them and spent time under the bridge and in the cemetery in freezing winter listening to their painful stories. One of them is always alert as a lookout for a police raid during the night.
“Depressed and jobless in UK, they seek solace with drugs. To survive the cold, they cover their bodies with oil. If they do not get meals from a soup kitchen they survive on tins of dog food scrounged from the bins or they go hungry,” he said.
“The illegals do not want to return to India because of the shame they would bring to their families and the huge loans, up to five million rupees, taken to pay the human traffickers and immigration agents. They try to enter into sham marriages with British and Indian women solely for obtaining British passports. Again, they are duped by some women.
Among the illegals are Indian engineers, lawyers, graduates, pharmacists and well educated men. British immigration authorities raid these camps arresting, detaining and deporting them back to India. Others commit suicide. The book lifts the lid off the lives of paperless immigrants. Its drama and action does not stumble.
Shamlal Puri says, “Even if just one young man drops the idea of going to Britain by the donkey route after reading this book, my whole effort would be worthwhile.”
Kul Bhushan worked as a newspaper Editor in Nairobi for over three decades and now lives in New Delhi
* Published in print edition on 28 March 2014