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Wake up, the peril is looming

February 02, 2011 14:54 IST

India needs to be concerned about the implication of restive people wanting to change regime after regime, says Mahesh Vijapurkar.

Across the Arab world, starting from Tunisia, the Jasmine Revolution is getting traction. Egypt is in turmoil, President Hosni Mubarak's regime under serious threat, with the army standing by and watching the civilian protests; Lebanon, is witness to political shambles; Yemen caught on; and in Jordan, the king had to dismiss the government and appoint a new one because the previous one was not accountable. Never has a region being in such tumult as this in a long, long time.

India's response has been kind of hands-off, in that sense it does not want to appear to be dabbling in the internal affairs of other countries, and has satisfied itself by the safe utterance of an opinion that it was 'concerned' at the developments. Apparently, we are satisfied that these are events which would take their natural courses, obviating the need for any intervention. If any, the need would arise after regime changes and how the relationship would have to be built with them later.

However, we need to be certainly concerned about the implication of restive people wanting to change regime after regime -- of course, not without an element of the respective country's opposition politics tempering the events there -- because the people there felt quite shackled by regimes that had no concern for the common man.

Jordan's King Abdullah II asked the new Prime Minister Marouf al-Bhakit to 'bolster democracy". Saying he should ensure "scope for broad accomplishment to all dear sons or our country and secure them the safe and dignified life they deserve".

That was big, acknowledging that equity and opportunities for each individual's progress was the concern of the State which ought to rightly promote them. This is where we in India need to take a cue from the events overseas and tailor our internal responses to our own people's aspirations which have not been fully met in a 61-year-old republic. That is why I say we need to be concerned enough to take lessons from the developments in the Arab world.

It is quite possible that I would be called an alarmist, but it is time to switch on the auburn cautionary light asking the establishment to gets their acts together. And change their ways.

I have to return to the oft-repeated view I have been holding for sometime that Indians, that is the ordinary Indian does not feel he is a citizen but a subject and the Arab world is now in serious trouble because it treated the people of their nationalities as subjects, only to be favoured, not delivered the entitlements.

It is an area where our own governing mechanisms have been seriously in deficit. Is it any surprise that the common man is distrustful of the government and the politicians, cynical that a few have taken charge of the country for personal gains, and the ordinary citizen be damned?

It may not take too long for cynicism to turn into boiling anger and roil the country but the clever politicians have ensured a system of quid pro quos where patronage keeps sections happy with him because he supersedes the formal governance mechanism with his clout – laws and rules can be set aside and the whim can become the criterion as long as the voter-leader bond is sustained.

However, a large mass of the Indian middle class is emerging in India where it finds that liberalisation and reforms in economy have not gone hand in hand with simplifying the routine chores of government. One has to bribe his way through the mazes that the bureaucracy has created which the patronage-dispensing politician cuts through.

This middle class, their own cynicism which kept them away from the all-important democratic task of having to go and cast a vote every once in a while is now chaffing: he does not see any option but to bribe which he dislikes, he does not like to seek patronage of the politician because they are scum and self-serving. Should this chaffing metamorphose into anger, spill on to the streets, would another Cairo and Alexandria and a million people protesting be far behind?

Let us not forget that the Nav Nirman movement of 1974 in Gujarat was broadly a success because the middle classes had enough of the nonsense by way of corruption, nepotism, and disregard for the common weal by the political classes. It is not that politicians were not part of it; it is that the success stemmed from the total involvement of the middle class.

If we have chosen to forget that movement in just 35 years and wear blinkers when looking at the Arab world, and not heed the import of the events there to our own destinies, then we would be seriously in error. Those who rule the roust should recognise that scam after scam, attempted cover-ups including lying in the apex court, etc does not exactly inspire confidence in the middle classes that they can nurse even remote hopes of a better future with appropriate governance the need for which King Abdullah of Jordan recognised. The poor has been ignored for too long.

I address not just those who are the rulers of the time but the political and bureaucratic class and their pimps across the country. The time is to get into good governance mode and fast. Enough time has been lost in issuing shibboleths and little action of any consequence. Time, I think, for those who rule and like to rule to fine tune their antennae and decide that the time has come to change their ways.

These is no sounding of the bugle but a gentle nudge -- change, or suffer the consequence, for the day of reckoning has to come sooner or later. Unless the people decide that a banana republic is something that they can live with. But then, that would be utterly sad and wrong even if it were out of sheer desperation, all hopes having been lost.

Wouldn't you agree?

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

Mahesh Vijapurkar