A police officer tells Mahesh Vijaypurkar why he has to be corrrpt and how the system works.
A constable caught me for a minor traffic offence and kindly compounded it on the spot to save me the trouble of appearing in a court for two reasons: I was a senior citizen, stopped when flagged down and above all, because my profession was journalism.
We got talking and he asked if it cost a whale of money by way of fees to learn journalism. His son was in the in the junior college and he would like him to be one. He had good reasons because after MPs, MLAs, civic corporators, "journalists are powerful people. He can't aspire to be them so why not journalism?"
Sound argument that. What he said further was disquieting. "Even the MPs, MLAs, and corporators respect journalists. Those politicians live off us and treat us like dirt. While on duty, I have seen these powerful people swagger but bow to the journalists."
"You call us corrupt", he went on, but most of the time we collect for them. What we make here goes up and up and we get a bad name. I do not deny we are corrupt but we only get to keep a small portion but get a bad name."
He rationalised it well but his justification is hard to digest. His regret was that people like him get to keep a small part of the daily take. Of course, what he said was not a revelation, was it? There are journalists on the take too, and some are in cahoots with politicians. There are saints and sinners too but as a class, politicians are seen as sinners. All the talk we hear of deals and 'paid news' is not entirely untrue.
But let us talk about the people who get the bigger slices of the cake -- the politicians. Because it is election time, we see the place crawling with them, all the fat cats out of their limousines and plush offices begging for votes. That is the only time they appear humble and everyone matters.
This election in Maharashtra, fat cats abound. Each of them has declared their assets and 68 of them are what we call crorepatis. They are people who have amassed wealth and many have had it doubled despite the recent recession.
Moreover, what we know is what they told us in the affidavits filed with the Election Commission while filing nominations.
How many of us -- or for that matter, even the Election Commission know -- how the wealth accrued to them? Maybe they have legitimate businesses but did these businesses grow because of politics or did they get into politics to protect their businesses? My suspicion is that, save a few exceptions, most did both.
Most describe 'social service' as their vocation in the papers they file after being elected, and never indicate what their real sources of income are. Obviously, politics is their profession and means of income is politics. Those who don't belong to this category should submit themselves to public audit.
That's why that constable's unvoiced fear appears justified that these fat cats would ultimately take charge -- they already have a good grip on it anyway -- and distort the entire system to such an extent that one either belongs to that or gets cast aside. They pretend serve but serve themselves.
"Only I die on duty will my son could get a job in the police department on compassionate grounds, but that does not happen often. Here, a politician plays around with us and then builds his dynasty -- a son here, a nephew there, a daughter here -- all get nominations and with their parent's clout and money, win," he said.
"They need us," this constable said, "when elections are on. Once it is over, we do not count. They only count the money." With that, they "contest the elections again next time and it goes on and on."
"We get left behind. We are a means to their end."
"Because of that, they even abandon a party, an ideology. They are the centre of the universe we are supposed to selflessly serve."
How I wish that man sheds his uniform, takes the microphone, and tells the world what it already knows. In a democracy, he indicated, people don't count, their votes do and then the politicians strut about.
He would be doing a great duty to the nation. But he has to survive so he collects the hafta, the mamool, and passes it on. When someone is nice to him, the least being polite, and halt when he flags down a vehicle, he is happy and opens his heart and mind.
If I reveal his name, he would lose his job. That would be sad.
Most citizens are like him but they think going and voting is a bother.