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The widespread public anger against the vulgarity of most politicians is increasing day by day. In the coming years, perhaps, there will be a churning of the political system that should bring out new models of people-oriented groups willing to enter the arena of politics and governance
The emergence of Aam Admi Party (AAP) as a political heavy weight in Delhi took the country by surprise. Last year, when Arvind Kejriwal decided to form AAP, the big-ticket political parties, far too arrogant to accept anyone questioning their dubious business-as-usual approach to politics, brushed him aside, calling AAP a “chillar” party not to be taken seriously.
Most of our politicians, once elected, feel unaccountable to the public; feel they can do whatever they like and adopt a condescending attitude to the ordinary citizen.
Take the case of Karnataka legislators, for example.
A contingent of legislators of all political hues in the State is embarking shortly on a holiday junket to South America, all at the expense of the tax payer, to study the “exuberant ecosystems of Rio's tropical jungle” and shopping at Manaus, where they will experience the “rhythms of Samba, Tango and Paraguyan music”. On a TV channel, one of them sheepishly admitted that the legislators who “toiled hard” needed an experience that would “rejuvenate” them. Facing inconvenient questions, another legislator walked off the TV studio in a huff. Another one, fresh from an earlier rejuvenating trip to Australia is about to join his compatriots on the Amazon junket.
It is ironic that this pleasure trip should be planned at a time when 65 taluks in the State have been declared drought-hit and Karnataka's fiscal position continues to be unenviable. It is not as though such junkets are offered at a time when the state is ruled by the Congress. Its predecessor Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in fact, innovated this idea by deputing hundred legislators on a similar junket when large parts of Karnataka were reeling under a severe drought.
Vulgar display by the politicians of their ill-gotten wealth is yet another trigger for public anger. Last year, an Andhra Pradesh Minister celebrated a big, fat wedding for which he commandeered more than 300 private taxis under duress to ferry the VIP guests who would not stay anywhere else other than five-star hotels. There were traffic snarls, as three governors decided to attend the wedding at tax-payers' cost. There have been instances of this kind in different parts of the country over the years.
Recently, when BJP flatly refused to form the government in Delhi, Kejriwal found himself facing the dilemma whether AAP should take on that challenge. Since it was only a minority party, Kejriwal thought it fit to seek guidance from the electorate. A friend of mine felt outraged at this. He thought that Kejriwal was “crazy” in doing it. The idea of a referendum on important issues is germane to a healthy democracy but in today's political culture, it is unthinkable!
Indian politicians may commit the most heinous crimes but they have innovated a tu tu main main kind of blaming each another to shield themselves. When AAP assured the Delhi citizens of improved water supplies and affordable electricity, the least that any responsible government should provide, the Congress party had the audacity to set a three-month deadline to AAP to fulfill its charter, apparently anxious to topple Kejriwal at the drop of a hat! Never mind it was the same Congress party which ruled Delhi for the previous fifteen years and failed to secure even a double-digit number of seats in the latest election.
The status symbols of our politicians include sprawling bungalows in Lutyen's Delhi, a red-beaconed imported car followed by a long motorcade and a huge army of security personnel, the kind of which no other country in the world can ever boast of.
For example, a senior political leader has appropriated four spacious bungalows in a row in Delhi, flouted the official building rules and converted them into a massive “super bungalow”. There are chief ministers, whose motorcades comprise of 50 to 70 vehicles, causing chaotic traffic snarls and accidents in which innocent lives are lost. That such a thing should happen even when the price of oil crossed the $100 per-barrel-mark sometime ago indicates the gross insensitivity of the politicians to the national interest. The sight of a politician these days is awe inspiring as he is surrounded on all sides by gun toting security men. Since several of these politicians have criminal track records, perhaps, it is the helpless citizens who are in greater need for security.
Coming down heavily on some of these frills, the Supreme Court called the misuse of beacons a ‘menace’ on the roads and prohibited their use by anyone other than a person occupying a Constitutional office. The apex court also questioned the politicians on flouting the rules applicable to official residential buildings.
Compare this with what Kejriwal did soon after being designated as the future CM of Delhi. He refused to move into the CM's bungalow. He said “no” to a red light on his car and security personnel surrounding him.
The implicit public anger against the political class in general centres around larger issues of governance as well, such as, merciless displacement of the people in the name of ‘development’ projects, industrial pollution, profiteering by crony capitalists in league with the politicians and so on. A farmer in Khammam district committed suicide when he was informed by the local bank manager that the bank could not ‘restructure’ his loan of Rs7,000 which the farmer could not repay on time due to drought conditions prevailing in the district. Around the same time, as a part of the dubious Corporate Debt Restructuring (CDR) scheme, an influential airline promoter's loan of Rs7,000 crore was readily restructured, though the dues arose largely on account of mismanagement and lavish spending by the promoter.
New parties like AAP, more rooted to the ground than the others, less arrogant and more idealistic, provide the much needed alternative to the people. The widespread public anger against the vulgarity of most politicians is increasing day by day. In the coming years, perhaps, there will be a churning of the political system that should bring out new models of people-oriented groups willing to enter the arena of politics and governance.
The “Arab Spring” that started rattling the rulers of the Arab countries since December 2010 occasionally turned violent but revolved around governance issues. The civil protests in Turkey in 2013 were aimed against the demolition of Taksim Square Park in Ankara. The strength of our own democracy is its inherent plurality and an increasing thirst for a people-friendly governance system. The coming decade will no doubt shake up the foundations of the feudalistic democracy we have inherited. Perhaps, we will soon usher in a democratic “Indian Spring” that will transform the political structure of the country for the better. Let us hope it will happen!
(Dr EAS Sarma), IAS, is a post-graduate in Nuclear Physics (Andhra University) and in Public Administration (Harvard University) and a PhD from IIT, Delhi. As a Union Secretary he has held the portfolios of power, economic affairs and expenditure. He quit the government in 2000 over differences regarding policy issues with the National Democratic Alliance government. He is the convener of Forum for Better Visakha (FBV), a civil society group set up in 2004. Dr Sarma was also a member of Godbole Committee appointed by the then Maharashtra government.)