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Why do we give our politicians a free run?

July 24, 2013 17:16 IST

We take it as a given and allow a free run to those who deserve to be reined in by a simple democratic act: vote decisively, and if the television has made a farce of itself, use the remote control, says Mahesh Vijapurkar.

As a nation, we can appear to be a sensitive, very sensitive nation.

Here is the logic: politicians represent us people, and politicians are sensitive. Therefore, we are a sensitive people.

We saw how sensitive almost half of the country -- it is a kind of rough, not precise measure -- took umbrage at the belief that one politician now on the centrestage referred to a puppy using it as a metaphor for the innocent, and linked it to an entire community.

About a decade and half earlier, to the other half, again an imprecise measure, the word ‘Italian’ was a red rag. It became a metaphor for mafia, for overseas control of a nation free after centuries of foreign rule. An entire political platform was built on it.

And the media, especially the television, lends muscle to these ‘sensitivities’ in their nightly chatterthons at prime time, and demands answers from the guys who know only how to sling mud at each other but cannot provide answers.

The anchors scream, ‘the nation wants to know’ and ‘be honest, admit it on national television’ when befuddled politicians tie themselves in worse knots. The guys think they too represent us, our views, and our concerns.

Seems convoluted logic, isn’t it, assuming that the politicians, especially the elected representatives really represent us, the people? Yes, it is, for these classes of people, the India in which we live is far removed from their perch somewhere up there in the stratosphere.

The political class is sensitive only to their needs to an extent that everything else, including the oath to protect the Constitution, falls by the wayside. So self-centred are they that every institution thoughtfully set up in the past by the founding fathers, have been wrecked and smothered where the people like us do not even count.

It is here where their claimed or perceived sensitivities evaporate into nothingness.

Let me give only a few examples from the very recent past.

One, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister, young, educated, promised the school children a laptop each. When those who believed in the class to which he belonged swapped it for votes, he allowed them to gather dust in warehouses for he had little time to distribute them.

Two, in Bihar, where after 23 children died because of poison served on their plates when they gathered for a midday meal, the chief minister sees a political conspiracy against his government. His spokespersons insist it is so. Funds meant to improve the free-lunch programme remain for years in fixed deposits earning a cash-strapped state some interest.

Three, in Maharashtra’s cities, the civic bodies build roads so poor that they cannot withstand the first few showers so that the contractors who underbid, under-executed the work, and overpaid their bribes, are back to repair them with no liability to keep them in good trim.

An endless list can be prepared of things which show their utter lack of sensitivity to their masters the voters, but again, what they like today may have been what they hated earlier. When on the treasury benches -- should one say, into the treasury with their fingers deep into the treasure -- they propose one thing. Should they migrate to the other side in the Lok Sabha or the state legislatures, they would oppose it.

They would tell you ‘this is good for you’ enact a law. They would soon forget such commitments towards you for such enactments, even if by ordinances as is the case with the Food Security Law, elections would become their preoccupation. Its implementation is no more the concern as much as leakages from it would be.

They would tell you India was corrupt, and would insist they want a good mechanism to deal with it. However, what you get would be nothing near the minimum to make a dent, for none of them who flourish on corruption would want to commit hara-kiri. They would have mechanisms in place but let it idle or misuse it to make more money.

Such is the superficial -- I dare not call it tenuous -- connect between the citizen and the lawmakers who are nothing but politicians with no intended public purpose. Even if we were to concede that the media do ask questions on our behalf on their nightly shows, it becomes a daily soap because, after loudly shouting inanities and half-baked defence and excuses, they move to the next night’s studio visit.

So who pins down the political class? Us? We seem nowhere near doing that, except for venting our outrage at things we don’t deserve being loaded on our shoulders on the social media and consider our work done. We abuse these classes -- one for being rascals and the other for being low on credibility even at our addas and in drawing room -- and remain content with this neglect of the citizenry.

That brings us to the question: If they are not sensitive to our issues, our concerns, our lives as a collective called people, are we sensitive enough to their disregard seen over decades? I think not for we are a nation of mumblers. We take it as a given and allow a free run to those who deserve to be reined in by a simple democratic act: vote decisively, and if the television has made a farce of itself, use the remote control.

Mahesh Vijapurkar