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Citizen's dilemmas: Deficits of all kinds

April 25, 2012 17:02 IST

I wonder if I can find anyone I could trust as a citizen, asks Mahesh Vijapurkar.

The catch phrase amongst sophisticated politicians is 'trust deficit' which in the earlier days was plainly the 'lack of trust' or more bluntly, 'untrustworthy'.  To this, Milind Deora, MP and Union minister, added a new expression, 'decision deficit', which in the past was more plainly 'inaction'. The sophistry of the politicians' expression is more a polite language -- after all, for instance, Deora cannot say Prithiraj Chavan, the Maharashtra chief minister was sitting on the chair, merely warming it, enjoying the perks of a grand office.

A pertinent question would be whether the 'trust deficit' is felt by the political parties which are opposed to the government -- being opposition, of course, cannot be trusting the rulers, can they? -- or by the people for whom both the government and the opposition are committed to serve, one ruling, and the ensuring the former rules properly? And who feels the impact of the 'decision deficit'? Or are they the words to be flung around in the debates alone or addressed?

For me, the two deficits point to the woes of the people who can neither trust the rulers or the opposition, nor see no action on much of issues which can and would make a difference to the people. Let me add to these two much-bandied expressions another one: 'corruption surfeit'. Even if there were to be trust and decisions galore, chances of their being felt on the ground are minimal. Corruption acts like a choke and for the common man, mere crumbs fall from the high table. The high table seats he politicians, the bureaucrats and the contractors.

It boils down to one simple issue. Can the common man, despite his vote -- ritually cast or occasionally, even out of hope for a change -- trust anyone at all? He sees a huge chasm between policy and execution, even if the policies emerge after much dithering, after making room for enough loopholes to allow the cronies to gain at the cost of the people. There seems to be no area where trust can be met -- not one.

The intent is not to parade rhetoric but ask questions that matter, from the point of view of the commoner on whose behalf the entire edifice of democracy and its institutions have been built; at least the purpose was clear because it was government, as the Constitution, which people gave 'unto ourselves'. That dream is shattered and for which we need not meander into the realm of the high table but see at the worm's level where the crumbs fall.

Can the courts be trusted? Lack of speed in delivering justice queers the pitch and high cost of hiring a lawyer makes meaningful access to the judicial system near impossible.

Can the police be trusted? Police stations and their personnel function on one single premise: meet targets of two kinds -- detection rates without a care for the conviction rates, and enough moolah to meet the personnel's greed and the haftas they need to transfer to the seniors.

Can they trust the education system, which of late is caught in the excitement or despondency, depending on which side of the fence the providers is. If government, they have secured the verdict from the court for the Right to Education being constitutional. If they are schools now expected to translate that right into a delivery, they have worries of how to fund it though such schools have been mulcting parents who can and cannot afford better education. The cause for worry is that government provides the right but has no means to deliver it.

Can the healthcare system in both the private and public sector be trusted? The former is defensive, dependent on needless tests with the doctors having lost, in the bargain, their ability for clinical diagnosis. The public sector is large but inefficient without doctors, drugs and even basics. And here, often, bribes are required.

Can one trust the local civic bodies? They get elected, and then forget, as do other elected bodies, the villages, towns and cities they are meant to serve. They promise roads and build something as fragile as a roasted papad. They promise cleaner drains before monsoon and let the contractor pocket the fee after sharing part of it without doing much work because the muck would hopefully get washed out. If it did not and clogged the drains, then a few critical headlines is all there is; then on to next year, and the citizen has that sense of the déjà vu.

You can't even trust the vegetable seller; he fixes the weighing machine and the metrology guys only warm the chairs -- 'action deficit', if I may modify Deora's expression is what faces the citizen. You can't trust the autorickshawwallahs for he carries a fake rate card and transport officials talk of drives to end the menace.  These days, you cannot even trust the post office to deliver your mail within the month.

Instead of going on and on about it, though a chief minister, in this case the above mentioned Chavan had said in the legislature that 'there was more talk of corruption than corruption itself' or words to that effect.  That generated in me a 'confidence deficit' for his 'decision deficit' emanates from the fear that decisions lead to 'corruption excesses' while delivering on them, thus spreading the trust deficit.

So how does one overcome them when institutions, except the courts, are being suborned for political and personal gains of the leaders and the political class? You cannot depend on the people too -- I mean trust them -- because they complain but don't act to end the mess.

So whom do I trust?

I wonder if I can find anyone I could.

Mahesh Vijapurkar is a Thane-based commentator on public affairs who takes the commoner's woes seriously enough to voice them

Mahesh Vijapurkar