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Over and Above Syndrome
|by H.N. Bali|
One of the continuing vestiges of our feudal past is what, for lack of another appropriate name, may be called the 'Over and Above' Syndrome (O & A Syndrome). (It has a more descriptive name in Hindi - about which later.) The British inherited it from the Muslim rulers and bequeathed in a better organized shape. After Independence we not only gave it a fresh lease of life but made every effort to perpetuate it. After all, there is nothing very exciting when you get what’s your due (like your monthly salary). However, if you receive something over and above your deserts, it is a pleasant thrill.
As a matter of fact, most Government jobs had ample scope for making something over and above whatever was officially paid as salary. It suited the employer i.e., the then Government of India because it could keep the lid on low wage structure. Those in authority knew pretty well that people down below were making enough money otherwise to live comfortably and pray for the continuation of the Raj. Often, if not always, such income was an extraction from the poor who came in contact with Government functionaries like the patwari in the village or the tehsildar in the tehsil offices or the collectorate staff in the district headquarters. But that didn’t matter as it hardly matters even now.
That rare brandy
Sir Akbar Hydari the celebrated administrator of his day as the diwan of many a princely state during British rule, once told the story of a bottle of brandy costing over ten thousand rupees, and that too in the 1930s. Very, very rare distillation from the choicest of cognacs, you may wonder. No, it was an ordinary IMFL (India Made Foreign Liquor). Why then this exorbitant price label? You may ask. Simple. When Sir Akbar was the Diwan of the State of Mysore, he had under him in the diwan's office a head clerk, a great believer in over and above income. When a caller showed up in the office, he asked him before being ushered in: "what nazarana (i.e., present) have you brought for His Highness?" Dumb-founded, the rustic fumbled his apology. "Alright, alright there is no time to waste now. Pay ten rupees for this bottle which I will present on your behalf". And he would grab the note to deposit it in his pocket and tell the poor devil to touch the bottle which he tremblingly did.
Among the assured regular recipients of incomes O&A their salaries were — and continue to be — the members of the Indian police force. Once you joined their privileged ranks, you didn't have to look back, or around. Each passing day deepened their stake in the continuation of such a marvelous system of governance which assured income not just O&A, but far in excess of their official salaries. How sorry they were, for a while, when the reins of the Government changed hands. What a great relief it must have been to discover that after Independence, it was business as usual. Their experience has taught them that rulers come and go, political parties take their turns, but the system and its wonderful arrangements continue undisturbed. The French have a wonderful phrase for it: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose: the more things change, the more they stay the same
As we became independent, there was, for once, a chance to dismantle the administrative structure bequeathed by the British. Hard pressed by demands to maintain peace and amity in the world, Jawaharlal didn't have the time for such mundane matters apart from making an occasional statement for record. Those who spoke out against such goings-on were effortlessly sucked in the system, becoming what they call part and parcel of it. Soon the bureaucratic culture acquired a priceless new attribute, namely, to attend only to that work which fetches something over and above the salary which at any rate accrues automatically once you are on the Government rolls. You don’t have to work for it.
Breath-taking indeed are the shapes and forms in which O&A Syndrome manifests itself in our national life. It is by no means confined to the corridors of power though it thrives there better than in other soils. Take, for instance, the work place in the organized sector of the economy. Whether it is the shop floor of a factory or the hall of an office, everyone working there takes his job for granted. He or she is there for the rest of his working life which by some weird calculation had earlier been fixed at 58. One of the unnoted achievements of the BJP-led coalition Government is to stretch this limit to 60. Till retirement, no power on earth — so it is assumed — can remove an incumbent unless he does something downright criminal — like eloping with his boss's wife. (Even then he is — at least to begin with — suspended and continues to get about half of his wages or salary till he's adjudged guilty which, given our legal system, can easily take a couple of decades.)
During the late 1960's when in the wake of the eclipse of the Congress Party the United Front came to power in West Bengal, workers in factories and offices started flexing their muscle. A catchy slogan was coined that hasn't lost its resonant ring till today: Asar jawar jane baten hoi-lo: Kajer jane over time chai. (Wages are ours for coming and going: if you want us to put in some work, pay overtime.) And since then paying OT is the only motivational technique for increasing work output. And as the festive seasons draw near — in our multi-religious society they come fairly regularly — more OT has to be paid to look after demands over and above the usual ones.
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