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'This country is bound to destroy itself'

India's bestknown constitutional lawyer Nani Palkhivala has been an eyewitness to the birth of India's nationhood. He has closely observed India over half a century of its post-Independence destiny.

But today the 76-year-old jurist is a man wrought with despair.

In a conversation interrupted with desperate sighs at India's present situation he spoke to Archana Masih about his disenchantment with India, its leaders and its people.

As we enter the 50th year of our Independence how do you perceive the state of India today?

We are reaping the fruit of neglect. You cannot have a democracy with adult franchise when half the people are illiterate. I think their percentage must be more than 50 per cent. Illiterate is a person who cannot read or write.

What the Government of India does is is ask you to write your name and if you write your name, they regard you as literate. But you may not be literate because you are able to write your name! This is no criterion.

This is the way the government has fooled the people. You may say why are such people elected?

They are elected on the basis of caste and religion. If I am a Muslim I'll vote only for a Muslim, if I'm Hindu I'll vote only for a Hindu. This is no criterion at all! I'm a third rate man but you give me the vote because I'm a Muslim or a Hindu. You cannot run a country on those lines.

Keeping this in mind which way do you think our country is headed?

I think we are headed for a disastrous future. Not because our people are not intelligent. There is enough intelligence but there's no wisdom or buddhi as the ancient Indians called it.

We are misleading the people. It is not that the nation is left to fare for itself. It is positively misled. And it is positively misled by those who come to power on adult franchise.

To give you an example, there was a man called Hari Nanda. He founded Escorts. People told him to stand for Parliament, including a fool like me.

He said, 'Okay, I will stand for Parliament,' and was defeated. Not only defeated but also forfeited his deposit.

There was no comparison between him and the man who was elected. No comparison at all. This man had done so much for the people. He had given hospitals, schools, colleges, dispensaries and had a great public spirit. I had met him myself and I know how sincere, devoted and patriotic he was.

But he got defeated. I repeat he forfeited his deposit. Which is a disgrace. It meant this man was not fit for public office. He was, of course.

The man who was elected was a total nonentity. This is India. This is what adult franchise does. This is why I say that no country has ever paid so highly a price for adult franchise as India. No democracy has ever paid highly a price for adult franchise as India. And it has been going for years. There is no use of saying you are the largest democracy.

Photographs of Nani Palkhivala by Jewella C Miranda