Petty-Mindedness Runs Amuck - Deplorable State of Indian Polity by H.N. Bali SignUp

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Petty-Mindedness Runs Amuck
- Deplorable State of Indian Polity
by H.N. Bali Bookmark and Share

Har bul-havas ne husn-parasti shaar ki
Ab aabru-e-sheva-e-ahle-nazar gayee

Every slave of passion has turned to worship of beauty
No wonder people look askance even at the discerning
– Ghalib

Years ago, researching on a subject (I forget which?) I ran into a priceless gem defining a species which strut around in our political landscape by the name of politician. I’m quoting it from my graying notes:

A politician

A canker
Who cankers the very wood
Wherein he stays.

A climber
Who sucks
The marrow of those
Who nursed and nourished him
With pills and potions of power.

A snake
Who stings and bites
Who managed milk for him.

Makes promises
Never means to fulfill
Wears smiles

Emerge not from the heart
Preaches precepts

Flouts with impunity
Propounds principles

Violates with a vengeance.

Swears by poverty
But shuns the poor
Castigates riches
But sheathes the rich
Declares war on corruption
But shields the corrupt
Loudly advises frugality
But rolls in regality.

A living and licentious example
Of service-above-self

Nothing describes a typical politician of India better than the above. (Should you have a better definition, do append it in comments for the benefit of all readers.)

Portrait of a Politician

As it is, there’s no dearth of politicians’ portraits both in fiction and the real world. One of the best I know of is Joseph Fouché: Portrait of a Politician by the Austrian novelist, Stefan Zweig. This biography of the man that Zweig viewed as “the most perfect Machiavelli of modern times” was written years ago before the full impact of Nazism and Stalinism was understood in contemporary Europe. In this gripping case study of ruthlessness, political opportunism, intrigue, and betrayal, Zweig portrays Minister of Police Joseph Fouché a “thoroughly amoral personality” whose only goal was political survival and the exercise of power.

While appearing to be the servant of the victors, present or prospective, he never gave himself to any one party. In this versatility he resembled Talleyrand, the French politician and diplomat, of whom he was a coarse replica. Both professed, under all their shifts and turns, to be desirous of serving France. Those he served -Napoleon, Louis XVIII and Louis-Philippe - often distrusted Talleyrand but, like Napoleon, found him extremely useful. The name “Talleyrand” has, thus, become a byword for crafty, cynical diplomacy. What Talleyrand did in the sphere of diplomacy; Fouché did in the sphere of intrigue.

Epitome of a Politician

Nearer home, the best example of a perfect politician of the above vintage in contemporary India is the Aam Admi Party supremo, Arvind Kejriwal: an epitome of a politician. He’s voraciously hungry for power, ever ready to stoop to any degradation in a bid to promote himself, prepared to do anything conceivable (including kick-my-arse-but-talk-about-me) to keep himself in the news, say something outrageously stupid just to be talked about, possessed by over-vaulting ambition to achieve which he is ready to pay any price, including indulging in the pettiest of petty politics even if it mortgages national interest. And most importantly, he is - and thank God Almighty for it - the only honest man in India.

Kejriwal is also a thoroughbred skeptic, an attribute that helps him to remain newsworthy. He has grave doubts and profound misgivings about anything that Prime Minister Modi plans or does. And he has found in Chidambaran another bed-fellow. Both have their own compulsions. Kejriwal has to keep himself in the limelight. Chidambaram, whose son is being investigated for some grave offences, needs to build an image of a political victim. What unites them are profound doubts and misgivings about Modi’s claim to have ordered a surgical strike against Pakistan’s frequent cross-border incursions.

Chidambran claims that cross-border pre-emptive military actions took place during the UPA regime of which he was a prominent figure. So he joins the public chorus to demand the release of video footage of the recent surgical strikes carried across the Line of Control (LoC), as the Narendra Modi government has taken political ownership of the military action. Can there be anything more absurd and petty than the demand that governments of the day show video-recordings of every action they take?

Chidambaram goes a step further. According to him, unlike the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government, of which he was a pillar, the Narendra Modi government has deliberately taken political ownership of military action. “Such cross-border pre-emptive actions have taken place in the past. At least one such strike has been confirmed by then Chief of Army staff Gen. Bikram Singh in January 2013. Fine.

But don’t forget Modi did so because he was charged of being incapable of taking a decisive action like that?

All this has resulted in lowering the standard of our public discourse, particularly following the November 8, 2016 demonetization decision of the Government. Here are some distressing specimens

If you can’t trace money parked in Panama,
Target those who keep it in folds of pyjama,
If you can’t scare a Mallya or a Lalit Modi,
Ensure every trader wets his vest and dhoti,
Can’t stop owner of KF airlines from flying?
Haul up drivers of autos, ricks and Bluelines,
If you can’t identify and catch a thief,
Scan everyone right down to the briefs,
If you can’t win polls with a surgical strike,
Let everyone experience financial strife.

This is how his detractors want to sum up Modinomics for you, particularly defined by his monetary policy of demonetization, which is shown as victimization of every Indian.

The only news is that of people queuing outside banks complaining of hardships in daily lives. Small traders are worried that their business has come to a standstill. Construction activity, we’re told, has stopped. Builders have stalled ongoing projects. Farmers are waiting to sell their crops in the market but there is no cash in circulation.

And that’s not all. Look at the extent these detractors of Modi’s decision can go:

‘Modi boasts of his 56-inch chest, but what kind of son is he who lets his 96-year-old mother stand in queues to change notes’ (MailonLine)

Sex workers complain punters are scarce despite accepting old notes and dropping prices..... Brothels have reported a 60-80 per cent decline in customers (MailonLine)

Sharp Contrast

Now contrast these outrageously crude utterances with the sobriety and maturity expected of national leaders of some caliber. And for that here’s the statement that President Barack Obama made on the morning when the results of Presidential election were announced:

I know everybody had a long night. I did as well. I had a chance to talk to President-elect Trump last night about 3:30 in the morning, I think it was, to congratulate him on winning the election and I had a chance to invite him to come to the White House tomorrow to talk about making sure that there is a successful transition between our presidencies.

Now, it is no secret that the president-elect and I have some pretty significant differences. But remember, eight years ago President Bush and I had some pretty significant differences. But President Bush’s team could not have been more professional or more gracious in making sure we had a smooth transition so that we could hit the ground running.

And one thing you realize quickly in this job is that the presidency and the vice presidency is bigger than any of us. So I have instructed my team to follow the example that President Bush’s team set eight years ago, and work as hard as we can to make sure that this is a successful transition for the president-elect.

Because we are now all rooting for his success in uniting and leading the country. The peaceful transition of power is one of the hallmarks of our democracy. And over the next few months, we are going to show that to the world....

Now, everybody is sad when their side loses an election, but the day after we have to remember that we’re actually all on one team. This is an intramural scrimmage. We’re not Democrats first. We’re not Republicans first. We are Americans first. We’re patriots first.

The point though is that we all go forward with a presumption of good faith in our fellow citizens, because that presumption of good faith is essential to a vibrant and functioning democracy. That’s how this country has moved forward for 240 years. It’s how we’ve pushed boundaries and promoted freedom around the world. That’s how we’ve expanded the rights of our founding to reach all of our citizens. It’s how we have come this far.

And that’s why I’m confident that this incredible journey that we’re on, as Americans, will go on. And I’m looking forward to doing everything that I can to make sure that the next president is successful in that.

I’ve said before, I think of this job as being a relay runner. You take the baton, you run your best race and hopefully by the time you hand it off, you’re a little further ahead, you’ve made a little progress. And I can say that we’ve done that and I want to make sure that handoff is well executed because ultimately we’re all on the same team. (Italics and highlights inserted.)

Modi’s Critics

Let’s have a hard look at the two main critics of Modi’s bold bid to demonetize high-value currency notes, namely, Mamata Bannerjee and Arvind Kejriwal.

Mamta-di is well-known for her shrieking demagoguery. Her specialty to stay in power is to give things for free for popularity and votes. Out of all the big large-sized states in the Union, only two - West Bengal and Kerala - are revenue-deficit. The reason is that both states have been taking the easy and but slippery path of subsidy. The left governments in both the states have given huge subsidies, thus emptying the state treasury. When things are given for free, the urge of the society to grow is stifled. Kolkata is a live example. It was capital of India at one time. It was once the first to have a Metro. But now the same Kolkata looks like a decaying city living in its once-glorious past.

Delhi under Kejriwal is taking the same route. Subsidies result in poor money flow and bring stagnation to the whole process of development. Subsidy should only be given to the poorest and that too on something that is necessary to survive, with an intention to bring him out of the poverty trap and end the subsidy circle as soon as possible. The poorest in Delhi don’t even have electricity, forget about the subsidy. The result of the subsidies is that Delhi does not have money to pay the MCD workers, thus resulting in strikes and huge piles of garbage all around the town.

Kejriwal specializes in focusing on controversial topics resulting in clashes between the Center and Delhi. Out of all the declarations in the AAP’s manifesto, all the non-controversial topics like women safety, cleanliness, mohala sabhas, charges against previous congress government etc have been jettisoned. He is concentrating only on which would result in clash with the Center, and thus keep him in the news.

Kejriwal, for instance, had been claiming jurisdiction over Lieutenant Governor of the Union Territory that he’s the Chief Minister of, just to elicit emotional personal support for him and keep alive the tussle between Delhi and the Center. Finally, the Delhi High Court had to establish the boundaries, in favor of the Lieutenant Governor. The point is that everyone knew from the beginning that it was a futile debate, yet it was continued unnecessarily. Even after several rebuffs, the Jan-Lokpal bill has been presented in the Legislative Assembly without prior consent of LG, which is illegal.

Above all, Kejriwal has a penchant of making promises and then forgetting all about them. He capitalizes on the good old axiom that public memory is short. Formidable indeed is the list of the promises he made only to break later:

  • Promise of not joining politics.

  • Promise of not taking support from Congress or BJP.

  • Promise of filing corruption charges against Sheela Dixit.

  • Promise of removing VIP culture. (MLAs of Delhi are enjoying same old protocols, bungalows, VIP cars and last but not the least 400 percent increase in salaries!)

  • Promise of mohalla sabhas and budgets for them.

Come what may, whatever action Modi Government initiates must be opposed is the leitmotif of Modi critics of the Mamata-di-Kejriwal vintage. And that’s nothing if not pettiness.

Real Issue

Let us take the demonetization of Rs 1000 and Rs 500 currency notes. In a brilliant article “We did say we wanted less corruption” in the MINT dated November 17, 2016, Monika Halan summed up the perceptions of the silent majority who, now like Kejriwal’s own political mentor, Anna Hazare, welcomed the unprecedentedly bold decision.

For decades, the honest have felt like fools in a nation that runs on graft. The complicity, and active encouragement, of the political leadership gave feet, legs and body to this parallel economy. There is a saying that in any organisation 25% of the people will be honest, always; 25% will be corrupt, always; and the middle 50% will look at the boss and do what he does. The political boss has spoken in India finally, giving teeth to the war against corruption by making currency notes of Rs500 and Rs1,000 worthless overnight.

The proverbial man-in-the-street put it plainly; you and me had wished and waited for someone to do something to rid him of the all-devouring demon of corruption that had ceaselessly stalked him day in and day out, and for decades. And then someone showed that none-too-common entrepreneurial leadership attribute of taking a much-needed decision amidst all uncertainties. That was Narendra Modi. Give him credit for that. And that’s not all.

Modi’s Future Plans

It’s an open secret that given the depth to which real estate corruption has sunk – most national - and state-level politicians own benami properties. Is Modi willing to take on the entire corrupt establishment in an all-or-nothing fight or is merely firing a warning shot across his bow?

A story in Business Standard (November 14, 2016) by Sai Manish suggests that Modi has been methodically building his arsenal to also go after benami properties. He writes:

Modi’s plan to smoke out the real owners of benami properties rests on a three-pronged strategy – using information from digitized property records and verifying them, monitoring property transfers since sounding out his warning to benami property holders on 13 November, and a special monitoring of government officers with holdings much beyond their means.

And with the passing of the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Amendment Act, 2016, Modi has the statutory powers to go after property crooks, most of whom are either politicians or realtors connected with politicians. The law is draconian, and, as Manish explains, it can be used to confiscate benami properties. Demonetized money can be laundered sometimes, but confiscated property is gone forever.

Under the law, Manish explains

Once the government sets the process in motion, an initiating officer will serve a notice on the benamidaar and take the property under his control. An adjudicating officer will then examine all documents and evidence and pass an order on whether to confiscate the property. Once the property is confiscated, it will be managed by an administrator till a further course of action is prescribed against the offender. What will further strike fear in the minds of beneficial owners and benamidaars is the provision of a jail term and massive fine if found guilty. The amended Act provides for prison terms of up to seven years and fines of up to 25 per cent of the fair market value of the confiscated property.

That in all likelihood is going to be Modi’s next move. And don’t forget for years, has the much-talked-of-but-the-least-cared-for common-man wished that someone, some day does something about it. And Modi has done what the renowned Urdu poet Majaz Lakhnawi had pined for in his “Khwab-e-sahar”:

Ye musalsal afaten ye yorish ye qatl-e-am
aadmi kab tak rahe auham-e-batil ka ?hulam
zehan-e-insani ne ab auham ke zulmat mein
zindagi ki sakht tufani andheri raat mein
kuchh nahin to kam se kam khvab-e-sahar dekha to hai
jis taraf dekha na tha ab tak udhar dekha to hai

These unending miseries, these onslaughts of time, these mass slaughters
But for how long can man remain chained to false superstitions?
Human imagination, wrapped in the fog of fallacious make- beliefs
In the mist of this dark frightening night
Someone has at long last ventured to dream of a new dawn, and a new day
He has for once dared to look at horizons that he had turned his back to.

So, make up your mind, dear readers, should we suffer some inconvenience to queue up to get our money to make a meaningful assault on the hydra-headed monster of corruption that haunts our daily lives, or in a nauseating bout of pettiness run down the man who for once showed the courage of convictions to take a desperately needed bold decision?

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