Return To Political Inequalities?

Dr. Rao VBJ Chelikani   

We are all getting very much concerned about the frequent abuse of power, rampant corruption and occasional arrogance of many of our MPs and MLAs and, in fact, by the whole political class, in general. Having removed the kings, sultans, and colonial masters and having abolished zamindars and jagirdars, now, are we returning to the rule by the feudal lords and petty dictators?  We admit that there are, certainly, some exceptions.

  1. Power-Broking: Traditional political power structures still create high-sounding designations and long hierarchies. Corruption, among the elected representatives (reps) as well as in the administrative personnel means that they see these positions as opportunities to exercise power over others and to negotiate some personal advantages. A peon or a karmachari who facilitates the visitors to meet the officers and who surfs the office files from one desk to the other in the same office, creates a space of power for himself. He expects some gratification for doing what he is supposed to do or more to do it favourably. An officer or a rep is doing the same. People themselves, who have been for ages imbued with inferiority complex are ever anxious to demonstrate their loyalty to the ‘powerful’ and the ‘useful’ and offer bribes to get things done, whether legal or not.

  1. Equality Among themselves:The reps among themselves are not superior to each other; nor are they, put together, superior to the citizens who have elected them. The prime minister, the most important person, is called the ‘primus inter pares’: first among the equals in the cabinet. There is no room for ‘one-man’ show or personality cult. Any citizen can become a ruler or a political leader, any time, in a due process of elections. In fact, the term leader itself is misleading in politics. Those who lead their lives as model for others are the leaders, and not those who expect others to follow them. We should rather avoid using the term leader to our political personalities, so that they may not continue to assume that they have power over others.

  1. Rule of Law:The reps are to be ruled by the same laws as the other citizens and they are to be punished for violations like any other citizen. They are treated as ‘public servants’ and as such, they are ruled by the same laws. The members of the legislative assemblies and councils have to follow the rules of procedure laid down by their Houses and in case of any misbehaviour, the Speaker has to take action. But, an honourable MP slaps 25 times another citizen in his functions, without any regrets and continues to sit comfortably in Parliament among his equals!  Even with tainted records, criminal charges and even convictions, they are presenting themselves in the elections and sitting in the legislative houses to make laws for others.  They are exempted from many laws that they impose on others.  Those who go to jail enjoy special treatment and hold ‘durbars’ to play politics and participate in elections.

Certain posts like that of a president, a governor or a speaker are meant for those people who can uphold the constitutional values and the rule of law and its due processes in governance. However, there is no particular sanctity attributed to their person and they need not necessarily be respected more than others. During the French Revolution, even the highest political authority was called as comrade or as citizen.

  1. The Cost Factor:All public servants, whether elected or selected should cost us at the same rate as in the market. They should not receive a pension after only five years of service, while everybody else needs to serve, at least, 35 years. They should purchase their own retirement plans, just as all other citizens. The functions of a rep cannot be without any retirement age. They should not have the right to determine their own pay and other advantages, that too, without any reference to the index of cost of living. They should have the same health care facilities and participate in the same system as rest of the people. No other working citizen gets so many free things - free air and train travels, rations, electricity, water, phone use as well as so many gifts of gadgets.

  1. Protection:                                                                                                                           a).Their Threat Perception: In India, security personnel attached to a public servant, elected as well as appointed became a visible sign of prestige of being a Very Important Person (VIP).  Some 5,79,092  persons are registered as VIPs in India in 2016. In comparison, China has 435 and the USA 252 of them. At the airports in the country, they have a list of 33 categories of people who are exempted from pre-embarkation security checks, such as, frisking the body, as a matter of privilege. A single VIP of Z+ category has got a 24-hour guard of 30 commandos of elite National Security Guard NSG), at a time.  Around the clock guarding means thrice the number. There are politicians in office who have up to 200 gunmen each around them. People out of office also manage to keep some gunmen around them. When these important people travel, hundreds of policemen are obliged to do ‘bandobust’ and thousands of citizens are stopped from circulating for hours together. One can imagine the total cost paid by the tax-payer to protect his ‘public servants! Finally, such people who were accustomed to so many barriers of protection against their imagined enemies would end up developing and suffering from some kind of persecution complex or paranoia and mental and social alienation.

b). Pacification of Mind: These protections can be, safely, abolished altogether, but slowly. After some initial scuffles, quarrels and heated arguments and other such incidents, the situation would, later on, become normal and peaceful. If, still, some perceive any threat to themselves, they may stay away at home or move away to elsewhere to more peaceful activities. Fortunately, we have a very good tradition of many real and irreplaceable celebrity artists, judges, professionals like doctors, lawyers, industrialists, etc. and many CEOs who manage lakhs of employees every day and there are some who earn a crore rupees a day, living normal life without private armies.

c). Ideally, security should be for an area and not for a person. There are, in our country, some hills and forests, as well as frontier areas that are not entirely under the control of our army, security and police personnel. Security personnel are needed where there is a threat perception and to attend to the security of common men and women as well as for traffic regulation.

d). No private person should be given license to possess or carry a fire-arm.and people should be disarmed of all firing arms. In homage to Gandhi who was shot dead by a pisto, we can launch a national pacification campaign, in the spirit of Vinoba Bhave’s Sarvodaya movement in order to appeal to individuals to surrender their arms and negotiate freely concerning their grievances. There can be people to people dialogue with the extremists who are indulging in violence against the civil populations. We can start declaring district after district as non-violent.

  1. a). Regal Splendours:After Independence, our people’s representatives have started relishing and imitating the grandiose pomp and lavish life styles of our former maharajahs and the nawabs, with tax-payers money. Let us look at the regal splendours of our Raj Bhawans and our Rashtrapathi Bhawans and their occupants!  Do we need all that paraphernalia of hundreds of rooms and hundreds of servants around a governor and a president, who have been normal human beings till the day they are nominated to these posts? Are we elevating the person or elating the post?  The red and blue beacon lights on the cars of all and sundry politicians, showing their high political connections, while disturbing the traffic is another vulgar exhibition of flashy superiority!

Luxuries are a sign of human sophistication and they should be enjoyed by those who deserve them by their accomplishments. In a democracy, a citizen’s participation is a civic activity and it is not a political conquest to enjoy the rewards. We have a lot to learn from the Scandinavian social democracies where their kings, queens, princes, princesses and other political dignitaries ride bicycles to the Sunday market for buying vegetables. In England, when an adolescent son of a Prime minister fell on the footpath, coming out drunk out of a pub, the following day, both the parents were summoned to the ordinary police station to receive counselling. Barak Obama, after his two terms as the president of the United States, was offered a job in an international shipping company for which he was not offended.

b). Public Buildings and Private Life:  All our reps and bureaucrats may have to be pooled together to work but not to live together. They need not be herded to live together in special quarters, as ‘reverse ghettoes’. They can come to work from their own or rented houses or flats from any street of any part of the city in their own vehicles or by public transport. At best, all those who would like to live upon public funds, should be content with hiring some decent flat or house without renovations. The splendid Raj Bhawans, palaces and other buildings that we would like to construct should be used for public utility, as clubs, hotels, restaurants, museums, art galleries, conference rooms, cultural halls, class rooms, research laboratories, hospitals, as well as orphanages and old age homes.

c). Protocols: In the name of protocols also, the reps are disturbing the civil life of many people. There is a growing tendency on the part of our reps, to be more than equal to the common citizens. For all official functions, they have to be invited, not just informed, whatever might be the subject. In the localities, bastis and in the constituencies which they consider as their spheres of influence, nothing should happen without their prior consent and presence and no other public authority should enter their territory. Their names should be mentioned in all official invitations and attend all marriage functions. They open or inaugurate or lay foundation-stone for all public constructions, like roads, buildings and bridges. None of those who have given their labour, their genius, their skill or those who made it beautiful do not figure anywhere. Those elected for a five-year term would like to immortalize themselves by disfiguring the public places. In many places finished works remain closed to the public for considerable time, as the VIP could not find time to come and cut the ribbon. It is they who should distribute all free things or issue cards that give concessions. As a remedial measure, the civil society activists should boycott and discourage others too from attending such ostentatious manifestations.

Consequently, the ultimate objective of empowering the individual has not been taking place, fast enough. On the other hand, the common man is being humiliated. We have won independence and installed democratic system in order to eliminate the differences between the ruler and the ruled. It means that nobody should be politically superior to the other. Our basic philosophy is that all the citizens are equal in dignity and status and all varied social functions are equally respectable. Egalitarianism is a commitment towards leveling up: oneself to raise upto others’ heights and, helping others to raise to what one is. Democracy is meant not only to keep all of them equal but also to elevate them and upgrade them to a higher level of equality.

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