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The Rediff Election Interview/Sanjay Pandey
April 22, 2004
Sanjay Pandey shot to fame in 1997 when as deputy commissioner of police he took on his political bosses in the shoe scam in which millions of rupees meant for cobblers were allegedly siphoned off by politicians, bureaucrats and shoe manufacturers.
Not surprisingly, Pandey was shunted out of Mumbai. A few years later Pandey, hailed as upright, chose to quit the police force and move to Delhi where he joined Tata Consultancy Services.
Currently, he runs a cyber security business in Delhi.
He is back in the news after announcing that he will contest the Lok Sabha election from the Mumbai North Central constituency, which houses Dharavi, Asia's largest slum settlement. It is an area he had policed before.
In an interview to Deputy Managing Editor Amberish K Diwanji he explains why he has decided to join politics.
You graduated from IIT, Kanpur, and yet chose to join the police force. What motivated you to join the civil services?
This happened when well-known civil servant (M N) Buch visited our campus. He asked students about where they would like to be 10, 20 years later in terms of helping society. He gave an analogy of how a person can help society. He said if society is like a huge mass (weight), then to lift it we need a lever supported on a fulcrum. And he said how far from the fulcrum we are able to exert our weight on the lever will decide how much we can lift the mass. The further away you are, the more you can lift. Vice versa, the nearer you are, the more effort you need to lift.
Buch said workers are right next to the lever and hence need too much strength or too many people. Next come the engineers, who make road, machines and with their knowledge help lift society. Even better are teachers, who teach students who in turn go out and do positive things thus having a multiplier effect. Next come civil servants, those who implement policies for change to help society. And then come the politicians, those who make policies.
But the person who is at the end of the lever, who individually can lift huge sections of society, are visionaries such as Mahatma Gandhi. This is something I believe in.
I did not attend this lecture but I heard about it and it affected me a lot. I decided I wanted to do as much as I could so I decided to first join the civil service and now, politics. Also, when I was doing my computer science at IIT (the first batch, class of 1983) many of us were motivated to join the bureaucracy with the hope of helping society.
Do you in retrospect regret your decision to join the police and not take up engineering, especially since IT is doing well?
No, I don't. First, as an engineer, I feel you are way down in your contribution to society. Second, regarding the Indian situation, I don't think Indian software is doing anything related to software. I think [construction firm] Hiranandnani making houses for Indians is doing more than what the Indian software industry is doing.
There is not one software product that has developed out of this country for this country. No doubt, we are making money, but it is like torrential rainfall. Today there is outsourcing, tomorrow there is no outsourcing. Then what will happen to these firms that has employed thousands of people?
You quit the police force because of corruption among politicians. Yet now you want to become a part of this very set of politicians.
I'd like to make a very pertinent point. Corruption also happens because we have a system that allows such corruption to flourish. Our laws in India today are so outdated they breed corruption. Do you know that before you move a motor vehicle on the road, you have committed some offence? Read the Motor Vehicles Act and find out.
No one has made any attempt to reform these laws. So much so that many things that should not be considered part of corruption is now considered so.
Let me give you an example. When I was in the United States, I could fill up my taxes myself. But here despite the existence of Saral [direct tax payment], I still need a chartered accountant to fill up my taxes.
Let me also say something. Every corporation in this country evades taxes. I have my own small company. My accountant actually asks me whether I want to show profits or loss. The option is with the accountant to decide what result I want to show. Our antiquated laws and regulations promote corruption.
You were once a part of the Mumbai police force, which today has a commissioner of police and an additional commissioner of police, besides other senior officers in jail. Why did the situation come to such a pass?
Without sounding like I am defending my former colleagues let me say that corruption exists in all walks of life. Much worse corruption exists in other areas. I have now worked in the private sector and know that corrupt deals between the private sector and the government actually make our policies, all for the benefit of a few rather than society at large. The corruption in the police is merely a reflection of society. The police are corrupt, no doubt.
It has often been said that one way to save our police force, or bureaucrats, is to remove political interference. Do you agree?
I have been hearing this quite often and I am not so sure. When a person joins the civil service as a government servant he knows that the politician will be his master. That is the case in any democracy. So when I hear bureaucrats complain about political interference, I think it is nonsense. Which servant anywhere in the world is without a master?
Also if we don't have politicians as the master then we have to devise a whole new structure to control the government servants. The servants can't be the masters. In my case I knew this was the system that I had accepted and when I was unwilling to stay on I took the option I had of quitting service.
What motivated you to become a politician?
If you accept that there has to be a government, if the government controls the entire political system, you have to accept that the largest and biggest work happens only through the government. The private sector is so limited. Which major project are they handing, how many private sector employees are there…
But isn't too much government in too many places the problem with our country?
Give me an alternative. I don't think there is an alternative to government in this country. Today, we talk about the five metropolises that all the television stations cover. But go out of the metropolises, go out of Mumbai, and we still have bullock carts. That is the reality of this country. Which private sector is working to change all this?
I am not promoting the welfare state. It may not have done very well for the welfare of the people. In fact, huge corruption exists here. But the fact remains that the best and the biggest that you see are in the metropolitan cities.
So you don't believe that India is shining?
You saw the mess in Dharavi today. Where was the shine? The 90-feet (wide) road was so narrow (about 10 feet wide only). Where is India shining?
Which party are you planning to join?
The question, which party, bewilders me. The entire world believes that a candidate means a party. I don't quite subscribe to the view that the party comes before the candidate. The candidate comes before the party. Perhaps I am questioning the basis of government formation and I will do that if I have the power to do so.
If there are people who want candidates to represent them, and those candidates in turn can form the government, why can't it be that way? Why do I have to get into this party business to get elected? What is worse is that we have so many parties that don't even get five percent of the votes? Perhaps the Election Commission should look at disbarring parties that get less than five percent of the votes.
What do you hope to achieve as a politician?
The thing I hope to achieve first is to take care of my constituency. It is sad that after all these years, Dharavi is still Dharavi. If people have the right to a house, they should have the right to the basic amenities. People in Dharavi are being provided with latrines but they lack the facilities to keep the latrines clean. The metropolis surrounding Dharavi has prospered, but not Dharavi.
Let me also very frankly make a statement. A lot of these NGOs (non-governmental organisations) have come to Dharavi and earned their reputation in Dharavi. But what have they done? They are perpetuating the poverty of Dharavi simply to keep themselves relevant. Why should a slum remain a slum? I want one NGO to come out and tell me that they have a plan to make Dharavi into a kind of cooperative housing society that exists elsewhere in Mumbai.
Anything else you want to say?
One thing I want to convey is that this country is being governed by 50-odd politicians for 50-odd years who are have crossed 50 many times over.
Independent India is being governed by those who were born when India was not free and whose thinking reflects that era, not the thinking of free India. I think it is time that we are now governed by younger politicians.
Photograph: Jewella C Miranda
Image: Rahil Shaikh