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Deliver the change, Mr Prime Minister

By Mahesh Vijapurkar
July 21, 2010 13:28 IST
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Will Manmohan Singh neuter the rapacious, brutal and greedy elements that thwart the people from getting their entitlements, asks senior journalist Mahesh Vijapurkar

The administration is "seen in the form of a rapacious forest guard, a brutal policeman, a greedy patwari", by the tribals towards whom the Indian Constitution has "bestowed" a "special obligation" on the State. The obligation is to bring the disadvantaged on par with the rest of the ordinary citizens, ordinary here being the well-off: educated, sufficient in food and income.

The rapacious, brutal and greedy dimensions of the State at the cutting edge was described not by a civil society activist but Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on July 14 when speaking to a conference of chief ministers who are running states which fall in what is now infamously known as the Red Corridor -- Maoists play havoc there.

Actually, that was a confession coming from the top guy holding the top job in the country and when he speaks, it is like a mea culpa on behalf of the government, much like the one from Rajiv Gandhi in Vadodara at a public meeting long ago: only 16 paise of a rupee trickles down to the people, the obvious inference being that rent-seekers and the corrupt are a barrier between the government and the people.

Rajiv Gandhi did precious little to check corruption, the main reason for leakages and shoddy work by government in all sectors. Will Manmohan Singh do better and neuter the rapacious, brutal and greedy elements that thwart the people from getting their entitlements? It is admittedly a hard task for anyone to correct the system to its textbook form, but a beginning now would help enormously. Being non-corrupt and incorruptible is one thing, but presiding over a system which is an antithesis of yourself is another thing. If Dr Singh so chooses, he can be a good enforcer and start the reform process.

Of course there are pitfalls. The politicians and the criminal dimension to them has led to the emergence of a new class which I would like to term 'the political entrepreneurs' who use politics for personal gain and use money to further politics. They have such clout that chief ministers are known to have been brought to tears when attempting to deal with them. The easy way of even the honest in politics has to accept them as colleagues but remain above corruption. But there are few of that kind.

Brutality, rapaciousness and greed are not the exclusive prerogative of those working in the distant and dark corners of this country where the tribals live and suffer. Such characters abound everywhere, including, even especially, in the cities as well. There is hardly a pocket left where clean politicians have a chance of surviving, if elected, till the next election. The sickening aspect is that politicians are of a class who believe that they are also above God: some complained that MLAs and MPs were not given preferential treatment when visiting the Vitthala temple in Pandharpur during the Hindu month of Ashad. 

Things have gotten so bad that the corrupt system fights back resolutely against those who want to cleanse it; there are far more concerned citizens at this task than there are politicians and bureaucrats. Activists who use the Right to Information as a means to an end, ending the system's mischief, are harassed, beaten up and even murdered. The stranglehold of the corrupt is to such an extent that even salaried people who pay their tax at source and have some nominal refunds due from the I-T department, have to pay a bribe. A policeman issues a summons to a person for drunken driving but at the same time, provides the cell phone number of a fixer who could ensure there is no jail term.

While we know, as obviously does Manmohan Singh, that the entire system has become rotten to the core, where nothing works without a quid pro quo, where back-scratching and cronyism hold sway, where the ordinary citizen has no role except to cast a vote from among several impossible choices, the least he could do is to ensure that at the cutting edge, the delivery improves. He said in his July 14 speech that "this state of affairs needs to be changed". People see the State not from what the top guy is -- Manmhoan Singh may be honest, but what about the rent-seeker who plagues the common man, especially the one who is in distress?

The common man, knowing that nothing works, complies, falls in line and perpetuates the system which gets worse by the passing day. It is here that Manmohan Singh has to call things to order. The common man, even the tribal, is not a beneficiary of the State's largesse -- that is what is being doled out, the instruments of the State assume -- but are people with entitlements on which the State has to deliver. 'Entitlements' crept into Pranab Mukherjee's budget speech only two years ago, which, one hopes, becomes the cornerstone of all policies and delivery mechanisms. That would make a difference to the people.

Governance is best judged by finding out if the target groups get their entitlements efficiently, swiftly and at the least cost. But in our country, the goods of welfare that are sought to be delivered cost much less than the expenses involved in delivering them to the people. One hopes that Manmohan Singh delivers on his words, "This state of affairs needs to be changed". And swiftly too, though it cannot be at the point of start or in his career, be much but at least a start.

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Mahesh Vijapurkar