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Why Indians need to get angry

August 05, 2009 16:36 IST

Indians ought to be angry, very angry indeed.

But as a people, they are not. That compounds our problems as citizens.

You may well ask, why am I advocating this anger? There are good reasons but a caveat first: the intent is not to instigate violence, anarchy or even disruption. In fact we have enough of that in our lives already and I am urging people to get upset enough to do something about it.

There is violence done to body and life, even to our sensibilities 24x7 and we take all in our stride. There is anarchy in terms of misgovernance and poor delivery on citizens' entitlements. There is sufficient disruption in lives because of unreliability in terms of whatever little is delivered.

Supine people

That would not be the case should we decide as individuals and a community that things should be as is required for order and not as ordained by the couldn't-care-a-damn establishment. That would not be the case should we decide that as citizens, we want and therefore shall get value for money. Value for money paid as taxes.

But we are a supine people.

We accept all the short-changing saying that is how this blessed country is run, that is how it has been for a very long time for us to even expect it to change, leave alone make a move towards seeking a change. Every opportunity we get to attempt to change fails for two reasons – they either don't want go and vote, or those who do, vote for status quo because they have caste, money, patronage et al to consider when preferring a candidate.

Of course, that is all about the politicians who make up for the executive. But there is another insular, all-knowing class called the bureaucrat who is there for life and can hope from a chair to another with little to trouble his conscience. They are forever, in collusion with the rent-seeking class called politicians, forever looking after themselves.

Couldn't care

How many of us have ever bothered to go and lodge an official complaint with the civic body against a restaurant being run in a place where not even an ordinary washbasin is in place? How many of us have complained about the poor shape of the buses which trundle us from place to place? How many of us have stopped patronising hawkers who crowd the entry and exist to railway stations though we may grumble about how there are no places to walk?

We know plastic bags below 20 microns are banned. We don't take our own cloth carry bags to the market. We don't stop a guy and tell him spitting is fouling the atmosphere. We don't collar a guy who urinates on the street's side, we don't do anything that can make a difference. If a corporate hospital keeps asking for tests after tests draining your pocket, you simply oblige without asking why because you are scared to ask. The list can go ad infinitum.

We don't change, don't ask others to, either. Leave alone support a good cause.

Bashing on regardless

There is a valiant lady in Hyderabad, Kanthi Kannan who single-handedly tries to run a campaign seeking the right for the pedestrians to walk. She is on a warpath against opening of huge showrooms without adequate parking spaces in the absence of which people leave their cars double-parked on the sidewalks. She does not manage to find enough volunteers to picket the shops.

I am citing her as an example. No doubt there are heroes like here everywhere but perhaps not enough in numbers. She is a determined person notwithstanding the lack of adequate support. When she sprained her ankle just days before a joint survey about the 'walkability' of footpaths with civic officials, the latter were quite pleased!

She is angry but not despairing and keeps at it like a boy scout. People like her and me believe that governance, whether at the gram panchayat level or the South and the North Blocks in New Delhi, with assorted district headquarters and state capitals thrown in between, is not laws and rules but their equitable enforcement.

One needn't be like her, with a single-minded pursuit but if someone is willing to pick up the cudgels, then why not back him or her? The outcomes could be good for you too, right?

Simple efficiencies

Governance is all about the simple efficiencies, of just doing whatever has been mandated to the instrumentalities of the state, to do so swiftly at least cast to the entitled recipients of all services, whether it is a clean public toilet or a domicile certificate when sought. But the very path to these is riddled with potholes created by the system.

There is a misplaced opinion among the government functionaries that all who seek their rights are actually beneficiaries, they themselves being the dispensers of patronage, often at a cost. That cost is time, bribe and smirk if you act smart. If you act smart, they would withhold some information and ask you on your next trip to fill the gap till you are exasperated. That can go on ad nauseum till you reconcile to pay.

These dispensers of services of all kinds know how to distort and sabotage the system to their benefit. Here is an example. Go to the Regional Transport Office behind the Wellington Club near Mahalaxmi in Central Mumbai. During the working hours, at least prior to the lunch break, the place, despite over 150 windows, is deserted and virtually the only activity is seen as you enter the premises, the touts pounce on you. The place inside is empty because the touts do all the work outside -- giving out forms, guiding you to fill them up, securing the requisite medical certificates in absentia etc. They take it in for the signatures of the sahibs in the afternoon.

The middleman

This has become possible for two reasons: the word has been spread that unless you use an intermediary, nothing can be done there, and you are too lazy to go and get it done. These guys have not been told that they are paid for their livelihoods by the tax payers and they had better serve them properly. But by not asking for that, we perpetuate the system. Therefore we are not angry.

That's why, I want the Indians to be angry and demand their right. It calls for simple assertion, and willingness to stay the ground and defeat the insouciance of the guy on the other side by showing that you have patience to deal with him, not cash to grease his palm.

Perhaps, if that were done, things would change.

Time they did, don't you think? Change, I mean!

Mahesh Vijapurkar