The miscarriage of democracy - II
Feb 03 2013
A citizen volunteer, Anita Lobo, has been voluntarily regulating and managing traffic at traffic hotspots in Khar and Bandra for years. She does a thankless job, tirelessly. She has a temper and when people do not obey her, she lets them have a piece of her mind in a very loud and angry manner. But the fact is that she does this service selflessly and thanklessly.
Last week, minister Narayan Rane’s MP son Nilesh Rane and his VIP entourage of private security and police escort were zipping through the by lanes of Khar. At one place the VIPs stopped, MP ji parked his car, his VIP bodyguards parked next to him, VIP saab’s police escort parked their car next to the bodyguard’s car, thus blocking the narrow lane and throwing the traffic into disarray, but they could not be bothered. Anita Lobo was managing traffic there and most probably in her own indomitable way must have gone and told the VIP to move it.
I can picture how Anita must have confronted the errant VIP. A slanging match ensued between the VIP entourage and the citizen volunteer. The long and short of it was, VIP saab took offence, called Khar police station and complained about how Lobo had insulted him and told them to deal with her. The police as always was eager to please their VIP mai baaps, so Lobo was picked up and detained at the police station. Her offence?
As they say in bambaiya language, ‘Taking panga’ with VIP mai baaps. This is how our democracy has been corrupted, where not the law of the land, but the ego of a VIP rules supreme. But are we any better? Are we fit enough to merit a truly, for the people, of the people, by the people democracy? NO, definitely NOT. Take the example of Singapore. There is a long list of offences for which people are fined there, so much so that with tongue firmly in cheek, Singapore is known as a ‘fine’ city. This does not mean that citizens of Singapore only behave themselves when police is patrolling. Singaporeans abide by the rules voluntarily. In Europe and the US too, citizens don’t have to be policed to make them obey laws; it is in their nature to obey the laws.
Once I had gone to Sweden. I was being driven back at midnight. When we reached the turn off for my host’s village, the signal had just turned red, he stopped, the only car. Throughout the duration of the signal, not a single car passed us from any direction. I asked my host why he was waiting since there was no traffic or cops? He looked at me with horror and said, “How can I drive through a stop signal? If the signal is stop, I must stop and wait for it to turn green.” Neither of us could understand one another. But I realised that it was in his mental makeup not to disobey rules.
Back home, traffic rules are seldom obeyed, the more expensive the car, the more blatantly it violates the rules. Two wheelers drive on pavements, auto rikshaws drive in a lawless manner. Not only traffic rules, we don’t obey civic rules either, we litter, we misuse public utilities, we abuse the services provided to us. At airports, when others are looking for seats, we keep our luggage on seats and don’t bother to remove it to let others sit. Bribing officials, policemen and civic staff has become a second nature. We call ourselves victims of corruption, but we are as much initiators of corruption.
The examples I have given may sound trivial, but they are reflective of our lawless character. How we have become habitual offenders. These are small evils that collectively become deadly sins, which will eventually abort our democracy. When we disobey laws, disregard rules we become traitors, traitors to our society, city and nation. Patriotism is not a mere ritual. It is reflected in the way we behave without being policed without fear of punishment, voluntarily. Policed discipline is not democracy; it is a form of dictatorship.
A day may come, due to our own misdeeds, when our democracy will abort and we will be subjected to something evil, we will be to blame when that day dawns. I have lived through the 18 months of Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi, it was a very mild form of dictatorship but it was still scary, I don’t wish to see that happen to my nation, ever again. Do we as a people deserve democracy? Judging by the way we sabotage and subvert it, the answer is a resounding NO!
(The writer is founder president, Mahatma Gandhi Foundation)