Monday, March 10, 2008

India abused

India Shining has been much used, but one phrase that should be brought into public lexicon is India Abused. One of my friends once said, "The poor do not need patronage, they need opportunities." But politicians and bureaucrats believe in patronage. Then and only then can they be the mai baaps of the aam aadmi, a much abused phrase in the UPA government.

Three different people (truly aam aadmi) and three similar experiences - that is what started the above chain of thoughts. The first one - My driver was saving some money for long term requirements and had asked for some safe investment options for Rs1 lac. After his initial query, he never asked again till I remembered after a few weeks. His reply stunned me. This is his true story - "My sister's son is a qualified carpenter and he had applied for a state government job in Mumbai. He cleared the exams, the interview and the medical tests. But before he could get his appointment letter, he was asked to pay a bribe of Rs1.5 lacs. So I gave my savings. At least he has a permanent job with Rs10,000 salary per month."

Story two and three are on the same day. Both the boys are from the hills - one from Siliguri and one from Darjeeling. They work with a movers and packers company in Mumbai. The immigrants against who Shiv Sena and its clones rave and rant against. Both the boys are very cheerful even as they were lifting backbreaking loads. I was moving residence - a regular feature in the life of immigrant workforce in Mumbai.

So how did these boys come to Mumbai? The Siliguri boy wanted to join the army or the police force. But in a regional sports event he dislocated his shoulder. On medical grounds he was rejected, which would have been overlooked if he paid a bribe of Rs35,000 to the recruiting agent! His family didn't have the money. Seeing the weights he was lifting, it was obvious that the dislocation was not hindering him at all.

The Darjeeling boy had a similar story. He cleared every test to join the army (he wanted to be part of the Gorkha regiment) - written, oral and physical - and was told to pay Rs90,000 bribe to get his appointment letter. He could not and today he works as a casual laborer in Mumbai.

Petty corruption has eaten away the core of our society. Almost every job in the government or its different arms is auctioned or bought. The bribery doesn't end with getting the job. A police officer or constable in service pay bribes to their superiors to get lucrative postings (Posta in Burra Bazaar, Kolkata is one such beat, according to rumors in Kolkata) and then they take bribes to get a handsome returns on their investment.

So what is new? It is appalling that the poor are denied a decent shot at livelihood due to such blatant corruption. When I asked the Darjeeling boy, "Even in the Army?" He said, "Sir, You don't know. Everywhere it is the same." “India Shining” or “Superpower India” and “Indians taking over the world” sound like cruel jokes as I, a major beneficiary of India’s growth story and economic reforms, think of the three people I met.

How did these conversations start? It all started when I asked the Darjeeling boy on why did the demand for Gorkhaland start again? He mentioned that Subhash Ghishing, the earlier hero of the Gorkha movement, was a corrupt person who had amassed huge wealth and done nothing since the Gorkha Hill Council was formed. He has now been driven out of Darjeeling, a new leadership has emerged and Ghishing has taken refuge in Kolkata. How will Gorkhaland - the separate state - help? It is hope that a new state - our state - will generate more jobs, will be less corrupt etc. But then Ghishing was one of their own and had fought for their own new state.

Vigilantism - is that the only answer then? Citizens embarking on their own path of justice outside the system a la Deewar and Shakti? Remember that famous Amitabh dialogue when he tells Dilip Kumar, "Mujhe mere ya mere saathiyon ke hifazat ke liye aapki ya aapke police ki zaroorat nahin hai." Recently citizens in Bihar pulled out an injured criminal from the hospital and thrashed him. Is that the future of India?

Maybe within democracy - Indian style - there is still hope. Narendra Modi's resounding victory gives some hope. As does my fourth story. Two carpenters from Rajasthan are working in my flat. I share a lunch of chapati and bhaji with them. They get up at 6AM, cook their food and then travel to Lower Parel to work in my flat - getting ready to move in this weekend. They get back home by about 10PM, cook their food and go to bed past midnight. They have a loose network of 70 workmen working on various sites. This group hails from a few villages within a radius of 5kms and reasonably close to Udaipur. Many of them are related. The classic story of hard working immigrants trying to earn an honest living.

I asked them, "Who will win the next elections in Rajasthan?" "BJP." There is not a moment's hesitation in their mind. "Vasundhara ji is doing a lot of good work," is what they said. But what about all the dissidence and the agitation and violence for reservations. That is all behind her, according to Hemraj and Kanhyalal, my lunch mates. Then they added, "Look at Modi and how he won even when the BJP deserted him. He should be the PM of India. Vajpayee ji did some good work and started building roads. The Congress government came and first took down Vajpayee ji's posters and then stopped the good work. We need BJP to come back to power."

I could not agree more. For the sake of the aam aadmi, for the sake of the immigrant workers in Mumbai, for the sake of our highways, for the sake of our pride as Indians, for the sake of India Shining, I hope the NDA is back in power and the UPA goes out. Hemraj also gave the example of Mahendra Singh, a Congress leader in Rajasthan and a descendant of Maharana Pratap. He had won an election on BJP ticket and was a well liked person in the area. Then he switched to Congress and visited Hemraj's village riding on an elephant in regal splendour. The people of the village drove him out and he lost the next elections. Yes, in democracy there is hope.


Vinod_Sharma said...

There is a saying in true Punjabi style "Natha Singh and Prem Singh are one and the same thing!"

It does not matter who comes to power; they are all the same. This model of multi party democracy needs to be re-looked at with an honest and open mind. Can you spot someone who can do that?

I have been writing on the subject in detail. May be you may find it useful.

madhushree said...

Mishti, I am shocked that you would want to point to narendra modi and his being reelected as a sign of hope! I think his 'performance indicators' come with huge social costs, and personally i find it scary that we as a society are changing our value preferences and the tradeoffs we are willing to make!

Mishti said...

Thanks, Vinod for your comments. I briefly visited your blog today and will follow up with more detailed reading.

Madhu: Thanks for your comments. Will post soon a more detailed post on this to put my stand forward.