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How To Wake Up a Deaf, Insensitive Government

More and more politicians are adopting old-style agitation, brought back to fashion by Arvind Kejriwal, because it is probably the only way one can force a government to care about us

You may agree with him or disagree with his tactics, but there is no doubt that Arvind Kejriwal, by demonstrating electoral support to his Aam Admi Party (AAP), has shaken up an inconsiderate and insensitive political system. The jury is still out on whether these hit-and-run tactics, devoid of a clear plan for economic growth or governance, are good for the country or we will dissolve into mindless anarchy and public protests. But the AAP’s success has signalled that the educated, non-voting, chattering, middle-class has woken up and is willing to go out and vote when it finds a seemingly plausible alternative.

The AAP experience shows that ‘new generation’ political parties (a phrase used by the founder of NavBharat Party) are just as capable of playing to the voters’ gallery by making economically unviable promises about government jobs, subsidies or law & order issues. Consider the AAP record so far. Delhi’s law minister, Somnath Bharti, encourages mob action against two women because the police refused to obey his order to raid without a warrant and arrest women after dark.

This was followed by a street protest by an incumbent chief minister to demand action against the police officials who did not heed Mr Bharti’s illegal order. That agitation fizzled out with considerable loss of face to AAP, but its already implemented populist decision with regard to power tariffs and water charges, at the cost of the state exchequer, remain in place. Importantly, AAP is in no hurry to act on the allegations of corruption against the previous Congress regime. However, this article is not about AAP’s actions, but about its fallout in Maharashtra.

A couple of months before the general elections, the Congress and the Maharashtra Navanirman Sena (MNS) have chosen two middle-class issues for their protest—the MNS is going after high toll charges while Congress MP, Sanjay Nirupam, wants electricity tariffs cut in Mumbai’s suburbs.

MNS leader, Raj Thackarey, exhorted party workers not to pay tolls and to attack anybody who obstructed them. It led to predictable violence and destruction at several toll plazas near Mumbai. A few weeks earlier, the Shiv Sena had resorted to arson and violence at Kolhapur to protest against toll collection. The Maharashtra government made little effort to check the violence or book Raj Thackeray for openly inciting violence.
The toll issue has been festering for years and public anger against usurious levies, cost escalation, poor road maintenance and non-transparency in collection have agitated people for several years. Bankers openly tell us that toll-collection is a cash generation machine because the traffic, in most cases, has far exceeded the projections. The nexus between toll companies and politicians is also an open secret. Contractors, such as Ideal Road Builders (IRB), maintain close relationships across political parties as well as the media. In 2003-04, when I criticised IRB first toll hike for the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, IRB promptly sent me a ‘VIP pass’ to avoid toll.

This nexus was probably key to the stunning silence BJP leader, Nitin Gadkari, has maintained about the many changes in the Mumbai-Pune Expressway contract which ignored alternative modes of revenue generation. Mr Gadkari did not utter a word when every non-toll measure to raise revenues and meet construction costs was dropped. A truck terminal, an IT city at Chowk, advertising hoardings along the Expressway and revenue from food courts and petrol pumps were supposed to be part of the plan. Mr Gadkari also did not challenge the repeated increase in toll fees by IRB under a one-sided contract with a hefty escalation clause.

The situation gets worse at the entry points to Mumbai. A Congress MP admits that his government’s inaction, despite many letters of protest, is embarrassing. At Dahisar, he says, people pay toll “every time they drop their children to school or go out to the market.” Why hasn’t the problem of local residents been addressed by issuing them passes? He throws up his hands and points to the current chief minister who has become known for his monumental inaction.

Contrary to the national policy on tolls, which mandates a distance of 80 kilometres between two collection points, the Maharashtra government permits toll plazas at a distance of 35km-40km. Nobody seems to know why. Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan has asked public works minister, Chhagan Bhujbal, to conduct a comprehensive review of the policy governing the road sector. But many believe that Mr Bhujbal has already failed to act on the recommendation that all toll collections in the state must be linked to a central server to monitor collections.

Meanwhile, media reports say that there will be no change in the 20% hike in toll rates from October 2014 at Mumbai’s entry points. Congress leaders themselves express frustration at this attitude. They point out that Anna Hazare first protested against arbitrary and non-transparent toll charges three years ago; the government’s failure to initiate corrective action makes this a ripe issue for the AAP to capitalise on. AAP, which is hoping to make a mark in Maharashtra, has already jumped in the take up the cause of traders protesting the LBT (local body tax) that replaced octroi.

Congress MP, Sanjay Nirupam’s protest against high electricity tariffs in the Mumbai suburbs is even more interesting. Mr Nirupam went on a fast and had to threaten self-immolation to get the Congress-led coalition in Maharashtra to agree to look into his demands. Having ended his fast, Mr Nirupam has written to the chief minister levelling serious corruption charges against Reliance Infrastructure as well as the electricity regulator. He claims that tariff proposals from Reliance Infrastructure receive ‘benevolent’ consideration by the regulator which has been receiving ‘huge payoffs’. Mr Nirupam wants the government to “rein in vulture capitalists like Reliance Infra (RInfra) to prevent them exploiting and looting their consumers;” he also wants action to ensure that power reforms actually benefit consumers. Having openly alleged corruption and pay-offs, he says that if an independent investigation does not reveal complicity, he will withdraw the allegation.

This tactic of alleging corruption and calling names was Arvind Kejriwal’s modus operandi before the Delhi elections. He even waved around a bunch of papers allegedly containing evidence of corruption against former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit. It is startling to see a Congress MP use the exact same strategy in a Congress-ruled state without raising any eyebrows.

Interestingly, neither Reliance Infrastructure nor the electricity regulator seems to feel defamed or offended at these charges. There was a time when these companies sent out legal notices against hard-hitting media reports, even when they were accurate. Has corporate tolerance for abuse increased dramatically after the scams exposed in the past few years? Or, are power companies keeping mum because they know that an independent audit by the comptroller & auditor general (CAG) will establish how they have reaped huge benefits through the transfer of massive public sector assets (as is alleged in Delhi, where CAG has already begun an audit) while consumers face repeated tariff hikes.

The rage and political protests over tolls and electricity tariffs reveal a dangerous new trend in public life and only time will tell whether people choose good governance in the coming election or we face the danger of anarchy and violence.

Sucheta Dalal is the managing editor of Moneylife. She was awarded the Padma Shri in 2006 for her outstanding contribution to journalism. She can be reached at [email protected]

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COMMENTS

Gopalakrishnan T V

3 years ago

The only way to wake up deaf and insensitive Government by raising queries through RTI Act, filing legal cases where ever possible and make it public through media presentations the Governments failures at regular intervals. The public have to ensure that they do not forget the Governments' failures and elect them back in the next election and in any election in the future.

REPLY

nagesh kini

In Reply to Gopalakrishnan T V 3 years ago

What happens when the Delhi AAP government under AK fobs off RTI queries?

jaideep shirali

3 years ago

The years since independence has seen the average citizen reduced to a beggar, begging favours for simple things from an increasingly arrogant "mai baap sarkar". We need action, 60% of this country is young and the citizen has been extremely patient. Should we be quiet when rail accidents take place, when we know over 90% of revenues are eaten up by administration costs, leaving little for the passenger ? Why are we only grumbling about potholes, when 2/3rds of the Mumbai municipal revenue is also eaten up in administration costs and the staff being given a Diwali bonus inspite of opposing legal opinion, citizen be damned ? Which babu or neta has been punished for corruption and loot of the taxpayer's money? What disciplined approach are we supposed to have when government after government lies to its citizens ? Take the Adarsh case, take communal riots, all have the same strategy. Set up panels, get reports, then bury the reports, nobody is punished, yet the citizen has to pay for the increased salaries and perks. The government today is not accountable to citizens and even after paying taxes, we are not supposed to ask questions. Which reader expects no accountability from anyone he works with or employs ? To me, the AAP is doing what each of us secretly wanted to do, but have not had the guts to do. Had Bapuji done this, we would have been fine with it, today it's called anarchy.

REPLY

Yerram Raju Behara

In Reply to jaideep shirali 3 years ago

Please remember that it will happen in your home as is already happening in several homes. Please also remember that it will happen from your neighborhood at the slightest irritation that you may have caused unintentionally. It will happen all over. I do not say that we should all be Mahatma Gandhis. We should be Netaji or Sardar Vallabhai Patel. Build an informed constituency to fight. Several issues resolved by Moneylife are case in instance. Sucheta Dalal did not take to streets. Fortunately, the legal system is not dead. On the other hand it is active.Fight for rightful justice in a demanding way rightfully - and this is my response that you may or may not agree.

Yerram Raju Behara

3 years ago

Leaders should lead through disciplined approaches and not through street fights. AAP Kejriwal should know that means matter very much and his choice is bereft of education and etiquette. Nobody need worry about his tenure for he himself wrote on the streets.

REPLY

nagesh kini

In Reply to Yerram Raju Behara 3 years ago

AK should know he is now no longer an activist-agitator but the AAP has to govern from State Secretariat/Assebly and not from pavements or Ram Lila Maidan where he has threatened to take his assembly to see thru his Lok Pal Bill.

nagesh kini

3 years ago

AAP by turning a damp squib and resorting to agit-politics has totally belied all voters hopes.
Though high profile Mallika Sarabhai and Capt.Gopinath joined in, soon got disillusioned, don't be surprised if others also quit.
AAP has failed to make any impact in Mumbai, Pune and Bengaluru.In Chennai it opened account with a nasty split.Not heard of in Didi's Kolkatta.
When their selection of MLAs for Delhi turned out to be a great fiasco, how on earth, sitting up north in Delhi will they locate 'pure and honest' 300 candidates pan-India?
Let them test waters in neighbouring Haryana first!

olga tellis

3 years ago

the reference to the agitation against toll collection and reasons for it was very enlightening . thank you. its un fortunae that even the so called vandalism by the mns against toll collection centres has not got the maharashtra cm to move. maybe people should collect in droves for a dharna in front of the cm's house till he acts!!! am sure it will work. there should be placards showing the daylight robbery, the politician irb nexus. am sure it will produce results!!!!
thanks sucheta!!!

CHANDU CHARTIST

3 years ago

MAHATMA GANDHI WAS ALSO ANARCHIST FOR RULLER BUT BADALAV KE LIYE AISA HI AADMI CHAHIYE

Shivangni Sharma

3 years ago

You are right about the new method but the credit goes to Anna Hazare, not this Mr Hit & Run and his bunch of opportunist journalists.
Interestingly in their latest salvo ag. BJP they have admitted to not having any proof!
I wish Kejriwal had stood with Anna, they together would have served this nation by exposing the politicians instead of becoming one of them and behaving worse than them.
Thank God for people like Kiran Bedi who are not afraid of calling a spade a spade

REPLY

CHANDU CHARTIST

In Reply to Shivangni Sharma 3 years ago

KIRAN BEDI JI LALBATTI WALI HAI AUR USE MODI JESI VVIP LOGO ME INTREST HAI BAKI AAP JO KAR RAHI HAI WOH SAHI HAI AUR LOGO KO ARVINDKEJARIWALKI TEAM KO LOKSHABHA ME 272+ SEAT HUM TO KAHETE HAI 3/4 SE JITANA CHAHIYE TAKI ABHI JO SADEGALE KANOON HAI USE SAHI KAR SAKE BAKI MODIJI JESA "POPAT"LOKAYUKT NAHI MODI JESI BHRAST SARKAR EK STATE ME SE HI KITANE PAISE NIKALE HONGE KI ABHI ITNE ELECTION ME KHARCH KAR RAHE HAI

SuchindranathAiyerS

3 years ago

How do you fight anarchy? With anarchy. Eighty years ago it used to be called "Civil Disobedience" or "Satyagraha" that was idated by Thoreau and Emerson for Gandhi to attempt. While it was enough to dislodge the war weary British who were governed by a sense of fair play, non violent means are unlikely to work against the far more ruthless and self serving monster of Neta-Babu-Cop-Judge-Criminal nexus that Indians face today.

REPLY

Yerram Raju Behara

In Reply to SuchindranathAiyerS 3 years ago

If a judge, advocate and a doctor join together they can turn a murder into suicide. You cannot fight disorder with disorder. Sensible demand that order should be injected through demonstrative action on orderliness and impartiality in dealing with situations and people and not through vulgar display of chaos and disorderliness.

sathyacumaran

3 years ago

sathya cumaran
operational head india
singapore media and channel
it is common for indian politician to remain as thick hide buffalo because our countries judicial system is so weak and also the politicians are goondas to the core they can even murder the supreme court judges and others and they would threaten the family members of the judges and as such these judges have to budge for the pressure and this is taken for an ride its now the citizen who have to take the Gun Culture like USA where if their demands are not meeted then they should have right to shoots that should be law then only country like india imporve or there should be some super natural power with the blessing of GOD the erring ministers or beuracrats if they found guilty they should be severly punished such should be case and now that is possible we have reached the peak of corruption and naturally the GOD cannot save they have to come to earth and punish them that is expected shortly our vedas says when evils force errupts beyond control the god manifest in human form and punish that is going to happen let us sincerely pray for early adavant of god to earth and punish the erring human beings

sivasankaran

3 years ago

there is no doubt.it will be anarchy unlimited.

Yerram Raju Behara

3 years ago

We cry hoarse. But who cares? Irrational subsidies have taken away from the poor their right to free education of quality in schools supposed to be maintained well by the Government and good and affordable health care in primary health care centres. They threw alms in the shape of cash for votes. The Government is far away from safe drinking water and good sewerage and good sanitation in the rural and urban areas which would have ensured certainly good health for millions of the poor. Neither the IIM Kejriwal nor the Harvardians bother about such basic infrastructure that the Directive Principles of Indian Constitution promised its citizens 67-odd years ago.

Vinayak Bhimrao Mudholkar

3 years ago

Though certainly there are problems with the decline of the family-oriented society in the West; may be, it is the cause of there social awareness....
Wealth brings in discipline or discipline creats wealth....which came first, the chicken or the egg or both?
In America Corporate lobbying is legal....Will legitimizing corruption help India?

M Muralidharan

3 years ago

If people are OK with Congress even after 30 years of riots and no one punished or no concrete action taken against violators, why are people making so much fuss about 2002 riots where SC is monitoring the cases, punished many, and also cleared Modi?

PATTABHI

3 years ago

Thanks to AAP legitimising the Street politics approach of MNS , Shiv Sena etc, even moderate people like Sucheta Dalal have started batting for Modi, as the hope of good governance..

It is rather sad..

REPLY

Vinay Joshi

In Reply to PATTABHI 3 years ago

Kindly make it known & make no mistake in understanding that neither Sucheta OR MLF OR Debashis have any inclination, tilting to any political party or parties.

Neither does MLDT [money life digital team] have ever expressed any such views.

THE LAST WORD, kindly introspect yourself on your statement.

You've NOT KNOWN SS / MNS, FUNDAMENTALLY Ms. Sucheta, her career, her achievements, the dedication for MLF goals.

Regards,

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