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Monday, November 16, 2015


    An article that I wrote long time back for Bihar Times
    appears to be as relevant today
    I am posting it on  my blog in the memory
    of those killed in the Paris terror.

The German poet Schiler's remark "The man who fears nothing is no less powerful than he who is feared by everyone" could very well serve as epitaph to the thousands of Americans who died in that insane, random suicidal attack on the World Trade Centre New York on Tuesday morning. The live coverage of the horrendous events made the phenomenon of terrorism it a universal threat to contend with. The blurring of the distinction between science fiction scenarios and reality bytes narrow down the awareness that vulnerability is a condition of our existence to day. In 1993 it was the serial blasts in Bombay, which caused untold destruction, and death in hundreds and a trail of bloody communal clashes throughout the country. To day it is Manhattan, which has been struck by a calamity of much greater magnitude. Which city is ripe for picking tomorrow?

India has been only too familiar with this sense of hurt and outrage for years now. Terrorists strike downtowns, trains, cars, buses and aircrafts. Even school children are not spared, nor are the aged, infirm or women. But then our pain is of the less dramatic variety. It is dealt out in small installments. It is like an open sore; a continuous hemorrhage. But here the similarities end. When the serial Bombay Blasts took place all we got from the international community was some polite queries and a lot of skepticism about the evidence furnished by India about the source of terror. The perpetrators are free and enjoy the patronage of a sovereign state.
But America the sole superpower has the resource the wherewithal and the determination to wreak vengeance. It has domestic consensus and the unlimited and unqualified support of the international community at its beck and call.
Several truths are told as to the terrorist attacks on World Trade Centre, Pentagon and other symbols of American power. One that terrorism is a crime proper to the 21st Century and that centralised technological societies and powerful military states are as vulnerable as the lesser states. A lone malcontent exploiting the vulnerabilities of a society so organized can wage a war, almost on an equal footing. That the concept of security is illusory and the developing asymmetries are mind-boggling.
Consider the absurdity of the situation. America is hit right in its soft underbelly-its financial district lay in ruins, casualty in thousand and untold misery and destruction is wreaked in peacetime. It is already being described as the second Pearl Harbour. But the blame for Pearl Harbour could be laid on the door of the Japanese; there was a visible identifiable focus of rage, revenge and reparation. But here two days after the tragedy struck and benumbed not only the United States of the America but the entire world, the American President was reduced to take recourse to vague hints, or at best tentative conclusions about the source of mischief. They didn't know for sure who to hit. And it adds to the frustration, misery and the immense self-defeating rage.
Consider the asymmetry. The U.S.A. has mightiest military machine in the world; they have formidable offensive capabilities. Their capability to project their power anywhere in the world was show cased in Operation Desert Storm. And here it is lying devastated by its own civilian flights commandeered by a group of terrorists who cannot be more than a handful. NORAD or NO NORAD. And all its Minutemen and Midget men, Perishings and Cruise, the AWACS and Stealth Bombers proved to be so many duds on the shelf. What can the strategies of pre-emptive strike or launch-on-warning achieve or how does NMD eliminate this threat? That is the special appeal of terrorism. Dramatic success with minimum costs. A cat may like at a King. A David may take on a Goliath.
And where do you go looking for the enemy. It is dispersed within the body politic. To eliminate the possible risk of a terrorist attack you have to invade the privacy of a hundred thousand people on a hundred counts. To make a society free of terrorist threats who have to take away a very large measure of the freedom of your own people. And even then you cannot be sure. Because to know the terrorists mind is like knowing the devil's mind. It is inscrutable; the possible scenarios of deviltry limitless.
To the Americans resolve that "we will make no distinction between those who indulge in terrorist acts and those who harbour them" we can only say that let this be consecrated into a general principle. Because terror is terror and like love "no season knows". American society can never be safe even if it eliminates the potential source of threat to itself because like cancer any hidden focus anywhere in this global society is a threat to the entire international order. Terrorism is not a local enterprise. It is incorporated in the planet earth itself and it must be rooted out as such.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Help Me Make Up My Mind Who To Vote For - I

Assembly elections are upon us.  Universal suffrage is one of the great gifts of our constitution and the elections are our opportunity for making a choice; if we do not make a correct choice then we would have to suffer the consequences of the ineptness of our choice.  So we must choose wisely!  We have been fed on this diet for so long that I have come to believe that this bit of wisdom has welled up from within me; it is immanent, self-evident and without the need of proof.  But I am wondering whether voting is a privilege or a punishment? 

My diffidence stems from a variety of reasons.  To start with, the high power but subtle canvassing by the media, by way of surveys and opinion polls, has already narrowed the choice of acceptable alternatives to the two major political alliances.  The oracular wisdom is that the third front is a mishmash coalition of non-serious contenders, which in some situations will act like red herrings. 

This time round the daggers are out in the open.  Votes are being boldly solicited, even by reasonable men, in the name of caste or religion.  According to the current ethic, members of the same caste must share the same electoral preference.  I belong to a marginal constituency of voters; my caste men are thinly spread all over the state, not concentrated in any place to make us count.  My individual vote is of no consequence.  Where does that leave people like us?  Maybe the Election Commission will designate a separate category for sundries.  Or would it transfer my name to a constituency where one of my caste men is seeking election?  Or shall I be disenfranchised by default?

The fact that I am thoroughly confused as to the character and worth of the leadership of the two competing groups is another cause for my reluctance.  Like it happens in a wife-swapping community, each one of our leaders has slept with the other.  At one time or the other they have been allies and have now split.  Only the other day the current alliance partners had draped each other in a set of threadbare attributions - calling each other thugs, frauds, backstabbers, communal - and now they are recommending each other as leaders full of political virtue who would take Bihar out of the valley of tears.  Reminded of their earlier opinions, equally copious volumes of contradictions, refutations rebuttals, and revision of opinions are offered.  Were they lying yesterday or are they being truthful today?  What irreconcilable difference kept them implacably hostile for decades and if they have come together what was the factor for this moistening of the soul?  Sheer opportunism kept them glued together and vaulting ambition made them part company.  The voters of Bihar were not even distantly on their agenda.  Given their long history of association, betrayal, homecoming there is no reason to trust them now.  I am not sure that those whom I choose will not end up on the other side. 

There are other weightier reasons: even though they offer themselves as alternatives to each other both the alliances hew in to the same logic of power; even though they claim to be as different from each other, their agendas seem to be informed of the same concerns.  We look for political manifestos that chart routes to a better and more prosperous future but both the alliances are by habit preoccupied with the past.  They both present a vision of an alternative social order; a social order in which full reparation has been made for the iniquities and injustices suffered in historical times.  In the popular debate it has been termed as Mandal Vs Kamandal. 

For the Grand Alliance, reservation of jobs in government services - with plans to extend it to private enterprise - by the affirmative action of reservation is the essence of social justice.  Since reservation is an open ended scheme with no time-frame or cap, there are fears in some quarters that in the end it will put in place another system of privileges and exclusion.  Unborn generations of certain social groups come to this world in debt to the disadvantaged groups; they must pay for the putative sins of their ancestors.  In the new jurisprudence, one can be punished not for what you have done but for who you are.  This poses huge difficulties for the system: because there must be an affective nexus between guilt and punishment.  But under the pressure of the majority the system is forced to violate its own rule; when reminded of the premise or the promise of the constitution it refuses to enter into a debate.  The much reviled pre-modern Manuvadi system can now be achieved by parliamentary and democratic processes.  Hardik Patel’s agitation for wholly unfeasible demands, which are impossible to meet, flows from the irrefutable logic that those with sufficient numbers and political clout can get reservation.  The complexity of the politics of reservation must be evident to all but immediate gains are what matters; the devil can take the hindmost. 

The Kamandal brigade claims to be both the self-appointed guardian of the interest of all the Hindus as well as the custodian of their racial memory.  It cites the same rationale of the reconciliation of a large generalized grievance of victimisation in historical times at the hands of the foreign Muslim invaders.  Their task is equally open ended, loosely defined and amorphous but there is no doubt that the aims are reactionary, retrograde, and revanchist.  Political theologian of social justice and philosophers of Hindutva when in power apply the same criteria   for determining “who does and who does not belong to a given civic community. ” 

Facts of biology become the determinant for entitlement.  We have not yet forgotten the militaristic slogan BHURA BAL SAF KARO (Bhu – Bhumihar, Ra- Rajput, Ba- Brahmin, L- Lala, and Kayasth) that emerged as an agendum in an earlier regime, and was voiced quite openly in speeches and street rallies.  A crazy idea that police should withdraw to let the Hindus wreak their vengeance was allegedly articulated and practiced in Gujarat.  I am sure it must have equally shaken those at the receiving end of it.  Both the BHURA BAL and Gujarat have become part of our sense of time and place.  Disagreement should not invite peril in a democracy.  Fear is the characteristic of totalitarian regimes.  So whichever way I vote it will be for an essentially pre-modern, sectarian regime capable of inducing fear of persecution and discrimination in a sizeable section of my fellow citizens.  Whoever comes will be fighting yesterday’s wars today, and our todays will have become yesterdays for nothing. 

The reasons for disenchantment are many more.  The electoral arena is crowded with the heirs of political dynasties who bring nothing to the table except that they are the sons of their fathers.  Exempt from the compulsion of earning a living, they roll in unbelievable luxury and bide their time to stake claims for   a slice of the cake of political power.  Chances are that many of them will be elected, and we would have helped the creation of a new aristocracy, a new feudal class.  Again the irony of the situation is that the new feudalism will draw its sustenance from the democratic processes that we cherish so much and the results are achieved with remarkable economy of effort.  There are no violent upheavals; the electoral mechanism, the jewel in the crown of parliamentary state form is retained and the facade of our precious democratic form is maintained in all particulars.  It is our version of the “velvet revolution” with retrograde and reactionary aims. 
Power is tested on the touchstone of legitimacy and in a democracy it is the electoral fray where the claims of legitimacy are interrogated, denied or granted.  The Midas touch of the people’s mandate has become the ultimate test of political virtue.  

Every election ritually consecrates history sheeters of yore, murderers, kidnappers, thugs, extortionists as our leaders. 
This election is no different.  No wonder political discourse is conducted in the lingo of street brawls- maa ka doodh piya hai, chaati phad denge etc.  In fact one our venerable leaders openly threatened a serving CM on prime time TV.  What could be more tragic, farcical or absurd that the fight within the terrain of national politics is now confined to a ridiculously tiny number of jobs that are available with the government, or renaming of roads and alleys? 

Meanwhile, in Bihar, development issues are left to the ingenuity of the statistics department and captive intellectuals of government funded think tanks who tote up figures indicating a meteoric rise of the state in every sphere, but urgent problems of poverty, insanitation, education, health care, and the catastrophic erosion of democratic infrastructure stare us in the face every day. 

On my table diary 28th October the D-Day, the date for polling in Patna, is marked in admonitory red, but with every passing day I feel less and less sure of my ability to choose rightly. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

No Tears for Ravindra Patil

(Ravindra Patil was a commando from Mumbai police who was assigned as bodyguard to Salman Khan in the wake of threats to him from the Mumbai underworld, and was with him on the fateful night when the superstar ran down pavement dwellers and ran away.  Patil was the lone eyewitness, who stuck to his account that Salman Khan was drunk and drove rashly despite being cautioned.  Repeated threats, inducements and pressure from his own department did not dissaude him, and he paid the price with his eventual dismissal, and ultimate death, alone in a hospital.  Newspapers report his statement to a friend a mere two days before his death : “I stood by my statement till the end, but my department did not stand by me. I want my job back, I want to survive. I want to meet the police commissioner once.” )
Ravindra Patil

You heard of honest Socrates
The man who never lied:
They weren't so grateful as you'd think
Instead the rulers fixed to have him tried
And handed him the poisoned drink.
How honest was the people's noble son.
The world however did not wait
But soon observed what followed on.
It's honesty that brought him to that state.
How fortunate the man with none.

-Bertolt Brecht

L’affaire Salman Khan was deconstructed in different, even discordant ways by various groups of people, depending on their particular socio- economic situations.  A large section of Bollywood declared it as a triumph of justice and a vindication of their peculiar ethic that  claims special privileges for  celebrities who entertain the nation, who spend so much on charity, who keep the industry going (several hundreds of crores are said to be riding on Salman Khan)

Those who are not star struck, nor are rich and famous received it as yet another confirmation of their belief that the law of the land cannot chastise the rich and the famous.  Still others – commentators, anti-corruption activists etc. – saw it as an endorsement of the “truth alone triumphs” motto.   As a former IPS officer who has put in forty years in the organisation – I see it quite differently.  To me, it is yet another stern warning that the perils of honesty and commitment to the rule of law come with an unacceptable risk – for the policeman. 

Society has evolved considerably from its earlier identification with courageous and conscientious upholders of law as heroic figures; achievers and the successful are the new role model.  In a time when even directors of CBI have been seen to be puny foot-soldiers of the rich and powerful, characters like Patil seem to be chasing illusory, quixotic goals.  As a lowly constable, he had the temerity to stand for truth, equality before law and a determination to bring the powerful to justice.  In doing so he went against the organizational culture.  He was a turncoat of his profession.  No wonder the Mumbai police force excommunicated him. 

The system wreaks punishment in great detail to those who stand for truth in contemporary society, and the utter futility and pointlessness of such a gesture would be evident if we plot the life of the individual in history as opposed to the timeless image of the hero.  Satya Harischandra’s insane commitment to fulfill a promise made in a dream cost him his kingdom, and his son.  He sold himself into slavery of the worst kind, and even felt duty-bound to ask his wife to part with a portion of the saree covering her modesty. He passed the test and the gates of heaven opened for him. The gods themselves anointed him. Those were the days when gods and men were on equable terms of association - reward, and punishment, redemption and retribution followed close at hand.

Patil was similarly seized by a delusional notion called commitment to rule of law; he believed in the grandiose promise of law made grander still by the Latin it is couched in. 
Fiat Justitia Ruat Caelum 
(Let justice be done though heavens fall).
We have rarely seen the heavens fall, but the fall of those who try to bring the powerful to justice is an everyday occurrence. When it confronts the powerful the law of the land reads itself differently from the way it initially wrote itself. So he had the devil to pay for his naïveté. He was subjected to physical threats, he had to go in hiding, he was deprived of his job; his family deserted him, he contracted the most virulent disease that can afflict a human being, was reduced to begging and died an anonymous death. Patil’s victory was both pyrrhic and pointless. The powerful man walked free in a few hours. The policeman’s prolonged suffering, disgrace and ultimate death did not sanctify any cause because no such cause exists today and the just gods who in mythical times rewarded the virtuous and punished the wicked have departed long back, leaving no addresses.

But there is cold comfort at hand.  Media, the nearest equivalent of God in our godless world, have woken up to him as if he had been incarnate yesterday. Perhaps if it had taken some notice earlier Patil may still have been alive. But no one, it seems, wants martyrdom interrupted because the deaths of these suckers serve a very utilitarian purpose. They help derive a very comforting moral: fighting injustice and corruption in the system is beyond the realm of an ordinary man's effort.  So while in principle the society may continue to endorse the values of probity in public life it can merrily go about its business in the usual manner.


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Modest Proposal - VI: Liquidating Black Money In Two Steps

My reputation as a problem solver seems to have never died down, even though it has been years since I last showed my abilities.  

(For those ignorant few, please scroll down to the end for links to my "A Modest Proposal" series where I have described my heroic feats in quite un-heroic terms.)

In fact, it is only I who seem to have put aside that glorious chapter of my life behind me, the rest of the world remembers.

The other day a whole lot of people trooped in to my house demanding an audience with me.  Everyone wanted to speak to me all at once - the entire surging sea of humanity.  Out of that lot, a significant number said they were having a problem in taking out their cars out of the parking lot because my driver had parked it in the middle of the exit road. I immediately handed one of them the keys to my car, to do the needful, and they went back seemingly satisfied.  Do not quite know why their satisfaction was not full and final. 

But there were still some people who would not go away.  Their faces seemed familiar and, unaccountably, in my mind’s eye, they were always hoist on high places - seated on a dais, podium, prime time, media etc.  I magnanimously walked up to them and encouraged them to speak to me without fear or reserve.  They asked if they could sit down for a while - they had some more serious issues.  There was an awkward silence, and each one of them hoped to open up after the others had left. 

Finally, a nervous, fidgety fellow spoke.  He said, in a conspiratorial tone, “it is the problem of black money.”  Ah! Big problem with international ramifications, a problem which others had tried their hands on and failed, a problem which occupies the national mind.  That is quite up my street.  “What about the others?” In a unique manifestation of “a revolution of moral concern” they said that their problem was also the same. 

The gathering had barely seated itself when a man who distinctly smelt of money, without any preamble, started reeling out figures related to black money. 

“Yes, but are these figures inclusive of the black money that you gentleman have secreted at various locations?”  

He was not clued on to this.  All that he wanted was that the money should be brought back without delay.  He said that half a dozen times, to underline the urgency of the problem.  He kept both his hands in his trouser pocket throughout, not taking them out even once.  I thought he had already taken out his hoard of black money and secreted it in his deep pocket.  Secretly, in some corner of his mind, he also wished for his promised 15 lakhs out of other people’s black money.  But I could see the logic.  I could also see that he was speaking for all of them. 

I assured them that the problem of locating and confiscating black money was child’s play for me, but would they like me to go down in history as the biggest bumbling idiot who ever lived?  They were shocked beyond words. 

You see, it is not for the first time in the history of our great nation that such an idea – shall we say Quixotic before Quixote – has come up.  In the golden age of Vikramaditya, Kalidas had authored such a proposal to weed out black money, and nearly sank the ship of his state.  He was immortalized as a fool sawing off the branch he was sitting upon.  The rhyme Kalidas kate ghaas (Kalidas cuts grass) became a national ditty.  It was the revisionist historians who, in order to refurbish the image of Vikramaditya, ascribed to Kalidas the authorship of the books he is credited with, and the foolish project was consigned to the memory hole.  After painstaking research, I had been able to establish this little known but very instructive fact of history.

The penny dropped for them instantly.  The spokesman said with great finality “We see the point of it.”

Then he became desperate. “I know, it is difficult.  Not only difficult, it may even be suicidal.  But my new party is sworn to the idea of doing away with black money.”

“That is simple”, I said.  “Make another promise, change the party, change your name, your parents, your face, or simply deny that you had made any such promise.  Better still, say that investigations have revealed that nothing called black money ever existed.” 

“I have tried each one of the options, except the last one, several times during the course of this campaign itself.  I will be found out.  And I cannot say that black money never existed because like poverty, secularism, nationalism, development etc., we will need to exhort the liquidation of black money to lure the masses in all future elections.  Parties, irrespective of ideological leanings, make these promises.  Unity in diversity.  Please, please do something.”

There was a pin-drop silence.  He was clearly speaking for the collective!

 “You mean you just want to be seen to be doing your utmost to clean up, right?  Cheat people out of their votes.”

“Is that not what democracy is all about, a competitive fraud where the cleverest con man wins?”

“Well said.  Let us go”. 

“Where to”. 

“To locate, unearth and confiscate black money”. 

“Yes but let us first inform the authorities...”

“The law minister’s famous raid on drug peddlers has already laid down the precedent.   Every law-abiding citizen can enforce the law according to his understanding of it.." 

As if guided by some demiurge, we were standing in front of a modest looking house  hidden among imposing palatial houses in a famous colony.  An old man came out to investigate what it was all about.  My God!  Is not he the man I had seen yesterday, on my way to the bank, clutching something close to his chest and looking utterly watchful? Spurred on, we searched his house with a fine toothed comb and soon enough the precious horde of black money, secreted in a black bag, wrapped in a black shawl, and kept in a black box was  winking at us

.  I smiled at my own problem-solving ability, which now seemed to be getting automated. 

Four hundred and seventy eight thousand rupees in all!

The media was not far behind, and my beaming interlocutor, who was exploiting it as good photo op, was struggling to be seen in the forefront of this campaign. 

“Four hundred seventy eight thousand million, is that the figure you quoted for black money?”  

“We have unearthed the four hundred seventy eight thousand - the million that remains is now child’s play, I think the tax authorities can take the small stride after the giant step we have taken today.  Let them also claim the credit.”

The old man, who happened to be a primary school teacher, came up with all kinds of receipts to prove the money’s legitimate origin.  My interlocutors became nervous. 

“Now the media will nail our lie.”

“Impossible”, I said; “The media have money so much on their minds that, on matters concerning money, they cannot distinguish black form white.” I was ready for them. 

“Sir, but on the basis of papers furnished by the old man it seems to be white money.” 

“It appears to be white money alright, but actually it is black money gone white, out of fear.”

The media got more than it had asked for.  Not only was the issue clarified, they had got a catchy headline for tomorrow’s dispatches.

(The author requests that he should not be encumbered by any awards - Padma or of some other variety - for his pains.)

Monday, December 15, 2014

EYELESS IN PATNA: The Suspension of Kuldeep Narayan

The news of the suspension of Kuldeep Narayan would deeply upset all those who  value probity in public life. I do not know him personally but from the crowd sourced accounts of his performance as municipal commissioner  he is an IAS officer who meant business and he was prepared to take risks much beyond the call of his duty. The media reports suggest that he had tried to introduce some semblance of order in the chaotic urban landscape of Patna which embroiled him in an unequal battle with the builder lobby and their patrons in the government. The government did what it could do and transferred him from his assignment as municipal commissioner. But amnesty came his way, thanks to the Hon’ble Patna High Court which stayed his transfer. Needless to say he was a thorn in the government’s flesh.

To compound his misfortune  the mayor of Patna is also  not favourably disposed to him and their  ongoing fight is the staple of local newspapers.  The resultant  forces of friction and resistance required ten times the normal effort for him  to get anything done in the municipal corporation . It takes two to make a quarrel but the blame for the deadlock seems to have been laid exclusively at the door of Kuldeep  Narayan.A civil servant is seriously handicapped in such a contest because he is bound by strict rules of engagement where as the freewheeling politician frames his own.

The charges that have been levelled against him are laughable. If a civil servant  could be suspended for his failure to spend  the budgeted amount then  what about governments which routinely surrender thousands of crores  allocated for core sectors like health , education , agriculture  etc ; what action would be commensurate to the charge of not accounting for thousands of crores supposed to have been spent years back?

Governments have never been known to be just nor fair but pretence of even handededness is generally maintained. When it comes to dealing with those of us who do not have the talent to please, this government seems to be  merely a continuation of its predecessor in terms  of its  ruthless,  its highly unjust and vindictive  approach. Invoking rules and statutory provisions will not do because the government servant seems to enjoy the protection of rules and regulations only during the pleasure of the government. Conversely when it comes to protecting its favourites, nothing comes in its way- law of the land, its own rules, or its public policy proclamations. This government knows no moderation, either way.

I would like to appropriate Kuldeep Narayan’s situation to talk about the perversity of decision making in this government- which is merely a continuation of the earlier one- that many of us have suffered at first hand . It will also  forewarn  him and his tribe  to the kind of rough justice that they can expect.

In 2009 in my capacity as DG (Vigilance Electricity  I ordered the institution of a criminal case for the abatement of the theft of electricity and criminal misconduct against the chairman of Bihar state Electricity Board who was perceived to be extremely close to the government.   

Ever  since  I became a marked man and when nothing could be found to discipline me the government revived a patently absurd charge in July 2009  that I had disobeyed the orders of the Election commission during the November  2005  Bihar Assembly elections. Allegedly  I did not hold an enquiry into a matter relating to Jamui ordered  by the Election Commission  even though I had furnished the government a copy of the televised interview of the Chief Election Commissioner B N Tandan in which he himself had clarified that he had asked the Commissioner Munger division to hold the enquiry.  He added that he had turned down the suggestion made locally that the ADG (that is me) should hold the enquiry  when he learnt that the conduct of the SP was also involved.
(from 1.40 to 3 minutes of the 4 minute clip.)

A full scale disciplinary proceeding for disobedience of an order which was not directd at me   was initiated  . I immediately challenged it in the court. A civil servant is absolutely at a disadvantage, however vexatious and without substance the proceeding may be, because the government can make his the  act of seeking justice outside its scheme of things punitive. The litigation which is taken to the bitter end by the government is ruinous to the civil servant both financially and psychologically, whatever the outcome. The government used all the tricks of the trade – the dvd submitted with my explanation suddenly went missing, a letter written on 22 December 2006 was annexed as an exhibit in a report which had been submitted on 2ndNovember 2005 etc etc. The devil lies in the details, but that will be a digression.

The High Court said that the report had been lying with the government for years during which period I had been promoted to the rank of the DGP etc .It also saw a connection between the fact that I was the senior most IPS officer in the state and impending vacancy of the post of DG P Bihar hence the court saw no merit in the proceeding being raked up at that stage and quashed it.

The government found it difficult to stomach the idea that the courts should grant me reprieve and contemptuously   ignored the order.  The information furnished by the government in response to an RTI petition included my name as one of those facing disciplinary proceedings.  It became a constant source of vilification and PILs were filed in the High Court on the basis of this. When a news paper front paged my name as being a tainted officer on the basis of this list, fifteen months after the High Court order, I took up the matter with the chief secretary.  He did not acknowledge my letter  but through an RTI application I learnt  that the government intended to move the Supreme Court .The time limit for moving the SLP is 90 days and it was more than fifteen months  .The government did not file the SLP nor did it issue the notification.  For the record the letter to the CS is at

Why am I saying all this today? I am saying all this because despite the routine victimization of honest public servants, despite the fact that those who are the epitome of corruption and misuse of power in public domain are increasingly having their way. There are no signs of any mobilisation in the civil society and this conspiracy of silence is making the things progressively worse for officers like Kuldeep Narayan .  They are the precious drops in the ocean and it seems that unless we speak up on their behalf individually and collectively, he and his kind will have no future.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bihar hits the Tunnel at the End of the Light

Uncharacteristically the mainstream media in Bihar has been reporting news on Bihar’s corruption and urban chaos in Patna for the last few months. While the muck raised by the opposition on the score of  dozens of scams could  be dismissed as malicious propaganda,  the admission of Sri Jitan Ram Manjhi the CM of Bihar, that corruption had gone up in and in fact as a minister in the previous  government he  himself  had to pay a bribe of Rs 5000 to get his  electricity bill rectified cannot be dismissed lightly.1  Bihar’s mythical rise from the ashes as the model of good governance- its peace and tranquility, double digit growth, transparency in governance -had caught the imagination of the nation.So the two views of the Bihari reality are deeply confusing . Is it a crisis in mimesis or is this apparent free fall for real?

In November 2005  the Nitish Kumar government came to power in Bihar  riding the popular wave of anger against the RJD regime which had acquired a place in the history of political infamy  for corruption, mismanagement and lawlessness. An abundant fund of goodwill had accrued to the incumbent regime even before it had given any account of itself- good or bad- merely because it had dispatched the seemingly invincible RJD regime into oblivion. It also carried a heavy burden of public expectation and the government did take up the task of rapid development and good governance in right earnest.

The post AH scam RJD regime had severely  restrained public spending; it was difficult to get past the treasury for anything but the most essential housekeeping expenses and regulatory functions like police  etc . Deferral of financial decisions became the norm in bureaucracy for anyone who valued his career.  However, a confident government armed with peoples’ trust and mandate for rapid development was not afraid to unshackle its bureaucracy and the financial rules were liberalized much beyond their dreams. The several fold increase in public spending in Bihar dramatically enlarged the “corruptive interface” for the public servant. More and more areas of our concern became the subject matter of bureaucratic scrutiny and control  due to the enactment of many new, legislations and regulations etc. The opportunities for rent seeking and corruption increased enormously.  So did the need for much greater vigilance. But there was a huge asymmetry between the capability of the anti corruption agencies- ill equipped, poorly staffed, unprofessional, disheartened and above all placed   largely under risk averse officers- whose own past record could not bear much scrutiny-and the enormous challenge at hand. The situation was ideal for the loot to commence and the need of the hour was to crack the whip in earnest.

The government   seemed to be serious about its efforts. But at the same time it was even more serious to be perceived to be doing that much – often more - to earn the maximum political dividend. So with equal energy it set about the task of building its image on a global scale. In a professional manner it set about projecting the change in government as a millennial event. 25th November 2005 became the temporal marker separating two distinct periods in history, two different modes of being in Bihar. As a matter of considered strategy Biharis were never allowed to forget the nightmare that they had left behind nor of the ever present danger of reverting to the same state of undifferentiated chaos, should the government’s hands be weakened.

Aware of the huge potential and global reach of the social media the nonresident Biharis were feted and treated by the government like royalty at the state sponsored annual conclaves. They in turn, became the greatest messengers of the gospel of resurgent Bihar to the four corners of the earth. They patrolled the social media sites with great energy and hundreds of guardian spirits would materialize from the cyberspace to stamp   out with finality even mildly critical references to the government on the social network sites. (They seem to have departed now or have they taken up other causes.) It was a fertile climate for mythologies and superstitions to grow and proliferate! One of them was that the public sphere had been cleansed and this transparent government free from corruption was a model to be emulated.

The media was more than compliant in reinforcing the beliefs. Its efforts were supplemented by the implacably hostile elements of privileged society , civil servants industrialists businessmen and intellectuals who had been tirelessly reporting about the misrule of Laloo Prasad .Their opinion constituted the common sense on Bihar and now they became the self appointed troubadours, the intellectual outriders of the new régime. The media appeared keener than the government itself to propagate its drive against corruption. It recycled and endlessly highlighted seizure of one house, raid against one IAS or IPS officer creating an illusion of a hyperactive vigilance. Instead of  deploying its resources to verify the extravagant official claims, expose the fake and fictitious and of course endorse the sincere efforts, a large section of the media generally took the government hand outs as the authorized version of truth. Non official versions of reality were all but obliterated through a clever sleight of hand. Reporting of news can make inroads in the public consciousness only if relayed on particular frequencies; there are levels above which they are reduced to being endless background chatter just as the low key positioning of others drowns it in a cacophony of insignificant verbiage. This became a specialized media industry. On the other hand to advertise the Bihari millennium became a collective, coercive creed imposing a moral obligation linked as it became with the issue of Bihari pride. Some said it was voluntary servitude; others called it paid labour. That Bihar was in the grips of a different kind of tyranny was soon evident - the tyranny of (manufactured?) public opinion.

Sadly the government of the day had begun to live by the image of its infallibility and incorruptibility created by the media. The consequences were disastrous. In absence of uncomfortable questions to the government, as the years passed by, the crowd sourced version of the extent of corruption in Bihar diverged more and more with the official reality, much to the delight of the corrupt. In the fissure between the fact and the projection of it they could operate peacefully, thank you very much.
The same tendency to earn money through misuse of public office made worse by a noticeable slide towards unashamed casteism, whose reality no one had imagined or foreseen, became evident to neutral and impartial observers quite early. But those who reported contrary to the official line ceased to be credible witnesses. In the absence of standard outlets it spawned a samizdat whose co-evolution took place with the over ground story. But this one was whispered behind the years. Or published in little known news portals-notably Bihar Times – which kept flagging off issues of urgent concern for the more resourceful media to pick up. They rarely did. 

To illustrate the point two quotes from media “insiders”, reporting back to us about what they think, and also as outsiders, as shocked and angry about it as ordinary citizens might be   quite apposite. Amarnath Tewari quoting2 Press Council of India wondered aloud: “Has the fourth state in Bihar been sold out ?...The state government is using media for its own publicity and propaganda and the newspapers in the state have totally surrendered to the government for their only sources of revenue, government advertisements”. Saroor Ahmad3 another well respected journalist from Bihar was even more forthright and blamed the media for being complicit in the loot by refusing to “highlight”  “…repeatedly ..rampant loot right from secretariat to panchayat level …. …”
Nine years down the line there was the devil to pay on both sides. The ruling party took its punitive drubbing in the Lok Sabha elections 2014 for rampant corruption as a verdict against transparency and good governance. So it appears to  have , more or less, abandoned the agenda of good governance  and  reverted to its old terms of appeal: in caste identity, in the priming of the latent psychological markers, and exploiting the innate hostility and suspicion between castes. We in Bihar discovered at considerable cost to ourselves that if the media essays the role of a lap dog instead of its appointed role of a watch dog it can have disastrous consequences for democracy as well as for media itself. Marching confidently all the while, to the applause and encouragement of a large section of the media, we have hit the tunnel at the end of light!