The miscarriage of democracy - I

Tags: Op-ed
The miscarriage of democracy - I
Bloomberg
SECURING SAFETY: A politician’s clout is judged by his/her ability to get security for himself and for as many family members as he can manage. Why should a politician’s familiy get security covers at the cost of the aam admi?
We like to think of ourselves as a democracy, but in reality, we are at the very best only a notional democracy, in which we elect people’s representatives. Period. Then we allow our democracy to be plundered and ravaged and add our bit to ensure its miscarriage too. Many a times I wonder whether we deserve a democratic establishment at all? Our rulers behave like the bandit princes of yore and we, like lawless heathens. In this essay, I will write about the robber barons of our democracy and their plundering ways. In the next instalment, I will justify why I call our citizens ‘lawless heathens’.

Take a look at our rulers. They don’t allow us to be members of a participative democracy. Even at the local level, there is an obligation to have citizen councils at the village/ward levels, which would have a say in framing policies and overseeing the functioning of the government apparatus. But what happens in reality is that babus and elected representatives collude and get their henchmen along with some opposition party members on these citizen’s bodies, ensuring a majority of their yes men and partners in crime, to subvert the citizens’ already faint voice, it’s all about adjusting.

Councillors, MLAs and MPs are sanctioned constituency development funds to use or siphon off as they wish; another ‘mai baap’ privilege. Although the funds are from the exchequer, contributed by the taxpaying citizens, they have no say in the utilisation, in most cases they don’t get to see the accounts and there is no procedure to allow a citizen’s audit. In a healthy and participative democracy, the citizens should have the final say in what projects are selected and how they are prioritised. Also, development should be their automatic right, not a favour. The citizens should have the power to audit the cost of the projects, supervise the awarding of the contracts for civil work and supervise the work itself.

I said that our elected representatives behave like rajas and dakus. Take for example, how the gang of officials and elected tolis collude in promoting and sustaining the VIP culture, the bane of our democracy. Look at how VIPism is encouraged. We have growing lists of ‘dignitaries’ exempted from so many things that a common citizen is subjected too. No paying road tolls and other such levies, which have to be paid by citizens. A growing list of VIPs who cannot be frisked at airports, every other day more are added to these VIP lists. When the court asks ‘why?’ creative reasons are given for these VIP privileges. Recently, a court was told that providing security helped VIPs take ‘creative decision’.

Look at how politicians and babus acquire security covers. Senior police officers make deals with politicians so that they are granted security privileges after retirement too, making their VIP status permanent. They too, enable politicians to avail similar privileges in return. A politician’s clout is judged by his/her ability to get security for himself and for as many family members and friends he/she can manage.

Why should a politician’s immediate or extended family get security cover at the cost of the aam admi? These, who manage, use these privileges to flaunt their VIP status. A couple of days ago, I was driving to south Mumbai. There was moderate traffic when a ‘VIP’ motorcade, aided by a pilot car and a trailing security vehicle zipped past. Sometime ago, when I had refused to make way for a similar ‘VIP’ motorcade, one of the police gunmen threatened me with dire consequences, even pointing his carbine at me menacingly. The VIP motorcade, which passed by me, was transporting neither the CM nor the governor. When it approached the Haji Ali junction, they threw the traffic into disarray, traffic police on duty were informed to ensure unobstructed passage for the VIP motorcade, so the common law abiding taxpaying citizen be damned. A common non-VIP citizen would never be shown such curtsey, even in a genuine emergency.

Why should VIPs have these privileges? Privileges denied to citizens and which cause inconvenience to citizens. And to what avail? Why are these VIPs always in such a rush? What makes them deserving of such privileges?

The list of such undemocratic privileges, enjoyed by the VIPs in India is endless. Our pampered and undeserving VIPs, modern day robber barons, have become addicted to them and both ruling as well as opposition politicians and venal prestige hungry babus collude and usurp privileges for each other. Then it is I provide for you, you provide for me. Merit be damned, democracy be damned.

I said that we do not deserve a democracy. I have enumerated only a few examples of how we have allowed the robber baron elite to hijack our democracy and make a mockery of it. In the next instalment, I will write about how us citizens have failed our democracy and compounded the immoral and venal depravation of our democracy and cause its miscarriage; the collusion of robber barons and immoral lawless citizenry.

(The writer is founder president, Mahatma Gandhi Foundation)

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