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The common man's worries and complicity

December 23, 2010 14:25 IST

If there is one single fault among the common people, it is the willingness to send the same kind of people time and again to Parliament and tolerate the venal ways of the people appointed to serve the citizens, says Mahesh Vijapurkar.

The common man has a few questions that are dying to be answered. Let us deal with just three of the several.

The argument is that the telecom ministry's actions led to a presumptive, not actual, loss of revenue of Rs 1.7 lakh crore, as pointed out by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, during the spectrum allocations. Would anyone enable that loss without a personal gain? Take the analogy of a policeman pocketing Rs 100 to let you off the hook for a traffic offence that would have yielded Rs 200 to the state's exchequer by way of fines.

Assume that the quid pro quo for such a presumptive loss was a ten per cent cut -- though ten per cent is no more the norm despite the presumptive death of the licence raj -- it amounts to a grand Rs 17,000 cr. With that kind of money stashed away, it is possible to buy one's way out of the mess. After all, the alleged scam is being investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation which comprises the same mortals as the ones who fill the police stations.

And we have it on the authority of Union Home Secretary G K Pillai that the police force in almost every state was "mired in corruption" which he traced to the graft paid to get recruited to the force. The graft would, the common man assumes, nay, knows, always travels upwards for the booty has to be shared to keep more coming.

The recruitment-level graft is the "first level" according to Pillai. So wouldn't the police probing this and other scams via various institutions become easily amenable? No prizes for guessing.

Perhaps, the common man thinks, the only thing that would happen is the humiliation by what he knows is the trial by the media because the culprits would never be punished. Should a trial by the media become the routine then what price the Indian criminal justice system? And there have been scams involving high court judges and provident fund monies, there have been other cases where the shadow of doubt have lingered on the courts' efficacy.

There is another question.

How come the government scented a possible coordinated action by various airlines to jack up airfares to astronomical levels and asked the Director General of Civil Aviation to crackdown on them but ignored the fact that despite good arrivals, the skyrocketing prices of onion was ignored till the media cried hoarse when it topped Rs 80 a kg?

The common man is justified in asking whether the government moves only when the well-off middle class are hurt and has only pious platitudes for the poor? Those who eat a raw onion as a staple with their jowar roti are not the ones who have ever seen an airport up close unless they worked as construction workers there once.

If the arrivals of the crop had been normal, then why is the pretext of untimely rains and consequent poor arrivals used to justify the high onion prices? It smacks, the common man would concede, a bid to support the onion trade cartels. The argument offered, and asking the people to bear with such expensive onions for another few weeks just does not wash.

The suspicion that charges of corruption in high places and high prices of onions and the proactive media and their consequences to those in power drove the action to ban exports, withdraw duties, etc.  Not the hardships to the common man.

In this background, Sonia Gandhi's charter against corruption and how to fight it -- put it on fast track et al -- means nothing because the will to curb it is missing. If it were, she would have agreed to a Joint Parliamentary Committee and not asked the Bharatiya Janata Party to look inwards and at the Karnataka government before hurling accusations against the Congress.

A corrupt BJP government is no justification for a corrupt United Progressive Alliance government. One cannot put the other in a glass house and ask that the stone-hurling cease. The short point here is not who is corrupt but corruption itself.

As often pointed out by this writer, corruption has embedded itself so deep and is so widespread that it can at best be mitigated to an extent for a short time and not for ever. It is found at the lowest level and equally at the top. It should not be unexpected that one day someone would stand up and ask the Gandhis whether they are living off the royalties of books by Jawaharlal Nehru and salaries -- such salaries are indeed paid -- by the party to the leaders. Of course, this question has to be asked of every political party, from the far Right to the Left.

The disruption of Parliament has had its entire winter session washed out because the Opposition did not allow it to function till the setting up of a JPC was announced. The Leader of the House, Pranab Mukherjee, while on national television, giving away awards, including a special one to the journalist J Gopikrishnan for unearthing the telecom scam, said that institutions should not be destroyed. The third question relates to these institutions, so painfully, so diligently built by the country's founding fathers. Of course the irony of Mukherjee giving away that award and his embarrassment was visible.

There is no doubt these institutions ought to be protected from erosion of their status and roles. But how could these institutions be respected by the common man because he knows that they do not matter because virtually everything happens by extra-constitutional means -- the bribe, the influence, the bending of the rule, the seeking and securing of a favour with a built-in quid pro quo -- in this country?

The issue is with the content of the institutions under assault. The assault has come, it has to be noted, not from the helpless people but those who occupy them.

If there is one single fault among the common people, it is the willingness to send the same lot, or the same kind of people time and again to the Parliament and tolerate the venal ways of the people appointed to serve the citizens. The people of India, I have always argued, are not citizens but subjects who routinely legitimise the rascals by casting their vote. But they never cease asking the questions. But answers never come, do they? But that vote also is a common man's complicity, isn't it?

Mahesh Vijapurkar is a Thane-based commentator on public affairs.

Mahesh Vijapurkar