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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.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/patna/Vigilance-books-power-board-chief/articleshow/4352588.cms.   

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. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M64jy4agGpQ
(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 http://bit.ly/16nyfJh

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!





Friday, August 22, 2014

Waiting for Scorpio


My mind was made up. I would not waste a day more in approaching the neighbourhood bank for a loan of Rs 5 crores. But I was not too sure if the bank would as readily make up its mind about my creditworthiness  with such a large sum. How would  I know that, I thought, unless I took the first step.  All my life I had been following the principle “neither a borrower nor a lender be”, so I was ignorant of the ways to charm your lender about your creditworthiness.

 Bankers are neat, tidy people. Strutting in their three piece suits they take naturally to those so dressed. So I took out my best suit -a little frayed in places  but it had been considered fashinable once.It stood for stability, mocking the fickle mindedness of my colleagues who seemed to change their suits half a dozen times every winter. Whatever. Looking my best  I presented myself before the manager who made a  huge effort to look pleasant and polite, though I could sense that he had sniffed me with his banker’s nose that I was an interloper.  He made me sit. I thought he had no option – the three chairs in front of him were all vacant!

Without any further ceremony he talked business. Without any ceremony I stated my purpose – I wanted a loan of Rs 5 crores. He just stared at me. Then he took out a neatly folded handkerchief, wiped the nonexistent beads of sweat from his brow and asked with an exaggerated – almost faux politeness, “what do you do, sir.” “I am a retired police officer and I draw a pension of Rs 80, 000 per month”. He stared at me longer, harder and with more venom.  “Before we get to the other details sir, what will you do with this huge sum? You said you had retired?” “I want to buy a Hummer.”He looked quite uncomprehendingly at me now, doubting my sanity. “I said it is not an impulsive decision, it is not a fad. I have given it days of careful thought .You see, actually my first choice was an ocean liner. But it would have been very expensive and quite beyond my means. But even if I had the means there was still the problem of berthing facilities, the uneven depths would require a proper channel to be dug up. Quite expensive. Then I thought of an amphibian vehicle. But that would have raised the hackles of the buggers in Intelligence Bureau and who knows even the CIA might have shown interest. Who wants trouble with these paranoid cops?” I could see his face getting contorted with impatience or incomprehension I could not tell but it looked like he was going to get a stroke. I wanted to give some more details only to convince him that I was not a loony bugger lately escaped from the asylum. Sensing that he was in some distress I stopped. After considerable time and effort he barked at me at an almost subsonic level.“What the hell is a Hummer and why do you want it?”
  
“Oh I see. I have a Maruti 800 so I want to buy a Hummer. I have heard that it is the sturdiest heavy duty SUV or whatever and with its high chassis it can clear any obstacles. Some of my loan will go to buy the vehicle and the rest to get it periodically filled up, what with the prices of petrol going up by the hour, one has to be well provided for. Dhoni owns one such SUV.” He still looked puzzled. Dear me! I should have told him. “Well my house is in the Gandhi Vihar Colony, in Patna. Now don’t tell me, you don’t know where Patna is. Amitabh Bacchan was here recently and the sheer beauty of the city sent him into raptures. The word is that Joseph Stieglitz who came here for a visit made enquiries about a suitable property.Patna is likely to overtake Paris in terms of beuaty and grandeur and the mayor of Paris is already feeling threatened; he is keenly studying the pattern of construction and destruction in the city. It rekindled the hopes of the likes of Lord Nicholas Stern, professor of economics, London School of Economics as a model for urban renewal and regeneration.  Never mind that it gets inundated even when it just threatens to rain. And if it actually does then it is deluge. I have my house there so I am supposed to go there, aren’t I?”

He lost his cool. “Living in Patna you dream of an existence free of water logging.Next you will come up for buying a garbage disposal truck because garbage doesn’t get cleaned up. You may like to buy an incinerator, or build a brand new power station for yourself because there is no electricity. You better go to the moon. There are no problems of water logging there, none of garbage disposal.”  I was quick to catch the symbolism of my banishment to moon. He was convinced I was touched in some corner of my head and to escape me he seemed ready to throw himself out of the window. I reluctantly made a move.


 But I still have the problem at hand. Perpetual problem .If by some miracle, at some future date the stagnant pool of water does dry up (Well if the Ganges can, cannot the pool around my house?) there will be the piles of garbage and construction rubble. Inspired by Ferrari Kee Sawari an incipient but passing thought crossed my mind “Shall I steal Dhoni’s Hummer? Immediately the former police officer in me caught the momentarily way ward law abiding citizen by the scruff of his collar. I am  still  waiting at the bank to hitch a ride back home, on my private island, from some lucky guy with a Scorpio . 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Dishonesty is the Best Policy

The name Gandhi spells magic for my generation of Indians and anyone associated with the lineage raises expectations of character and quality, whatever the occasion.So one felt naturally drawn to Gopal Krishna Gandhi’s Kohli Memorial Lecture, delivered to CBI officers, in the hope of some serious food for thought, some  valuable personal experience or insight which could illuminate our own, troubled questionings as to what exactly had gone wrong with the Indian Republic. But as it is, it turned out to be more in the nature of a  tete –a-tete, rather than a serious engagement with any of the myriad issues staring the nation in the face.

The lecture breathlessly surveys a whole gamut of institutions of the Republic, how they achieved the high noon and then the eclipse set in. But when he came to the CBI the point of the lecture began to be evident to me. What was the occasion for making the point about a CBI director posing a threat to the political class by being a self directed robot, an instrument of terror, a power centre in its own right? Has any director of the CBI ever shown any inclination in that direction? The besetting malady has been their pusillanimity, their reluctance to make a move against the really powerful even after being flogged by the courts? The inexorable laws of natural selection favour only those with the right attitude get to the top of the organization; those whose moral compass always points northwards. The system separates the chaff from the wheat and then opts for the chaff. Those who could instill the fear of law in the hearts of the powerful invariably fall by the wayside. Hence it is not the powerful who have to fear the CBI (or the police for that matter!) Mr. Gandhi seems to have got it all wrong. It is not the highhandedness of the CBI , or for that matter of any police force that people in high places are worried about. It is about the threat to their privilege which is the real issue.

But Mr. Gandhi is a man of culture and his anxiety on this score is sufficiently well disguised. “There is justified criticism of CBI highhandedness and lack of sensitivity to loss of reputation of senior members of the bureaucracy against whom needless enquiries can get initiated.” But even so one would like to know from whose point of view is it “justified criticism”? From the point of view those whose decisions are the subject matter of investigation? From the point of view of  Mr. Parekh who has rightly dared the CBI in his book, because he knows, as indeed everyone else knows, that CBI has that fine sense of discretion not to encroach upon the area marked by the crossed skull and bone of privilege. He is in a boat which the CBI cannot rock. The CBI practices the dichotomy of distinction with panache – put on trial the man who supposedly took bribe on behalf of the railway minister and spare the railway minster himself.

But post Coalgate a genuine fear seems to have gripped the high and mighty in the upper reaches of bureaucracy.Mr. Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India in his speech to CBI officers on the occasion of its golden jubilee was more forthright when he instructed a gathering of senior officers   of the CBI on what constitutes the ingredients of criminal misconduct. He claimed an exemption for policy makers from being made accountable in Prevetion of Corruption Act 1988 for policy decisions.There could not be a more disingenuous plea for exceptionalism. It is a plea to be categorized as special  class of citizens. After all who makes policy – not the legislators, not the judges, not the police officers. It is the government on the advice of its top bureaucrats. So all that they have to do is to invoke the magic word “policy” and the loss of 1.76 lac crores of rupees of the Indian tax payers money could be just written off?

Experience tells us that for long governments have been running on the unstated motto “Dishonesty is the best policy.”Claiming for themselves immunity in the name of policy is the first step. Then they could go ahead and announce that dishonesty is their policy thus taking both their dishonesty and their policy out of the purview of prying investigators.

While we are at it, many police officers believe that extermination of terrorists, criminals etc are the only policy options in times of crisis, but it so turns out that some of them turn out to be normal peace loving people like you and me. Will the immunity extend to these matters of life and liberty also or shall we limit it to pecuniary losses only? The CBI understands things but the rest of us uninitiated folks have still not divined the gnostic themes spelt out to them from time to time by eminent people.  So these tactless undiplomatic questions need to be raised.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Make Haste Slowly, Mr. Kejariwal




Any assessment of Kejariwal must concede the monumental nature of his project. He has dared to dream of an emancipatory politics that is geared to unfold the consequences of a new possibility. Established as well as newly forged opportunistic parties exploiting the various fissures in society, anchored in the minds of their followers by pure greed and rewards of office have been ruling the roost.   Kejariwal arrived at this crucial juncture, this moment of crisis when the various debauched versions of politics had ceased to interest people because ordinary citizens felt they had no say in state decision-making. A sense of pervasive despair had overtaken a large number of people; each one of them thought that alone he could not make the difference; he needed to convince countless others like him. He was able to energies this inert mass of people and inspired by his vision the political arena has seen the influx of IIT engineers, management graduates, former civil servants, apart from common people. It has radicalized the political sphere by posing a challenge to the tired old generation of professional politicians or others who owe their rise to prominence exclusively by inheritance or political maneuvering or daring acts of criminality. A greater variety by way of “new people” itself promises to open the possibilities of radical new evolution which had been stopped in its tracks by the inbred nature of our politics. It would be irresponsible to spot him as the man in Taine’s famous triad of the man, the moment and the milieu so soon but he has certainly brought a glimmer of hope, something solid to stand upon and look beyond the imprisoning wall of despair. But above all he has promised to dismantle the political system where every source of power has been conscripted to politics and political connections. Direct democracy would be a reality and referendum the normal mode of consultation. He needs to be cheered, if for nothing else, for   the mobilsation of valuable social capital in the interest of better politics.

 It will be worth the recall that he was part of the Anna brigade and the main plank of this agitation was
 fighting corruption. After the parting of ways with Anna on the issue of a more direct political engagement to  fight corruption Kejariwal began his campaign for being anointed as the font of moral authority, as the social conscience of the age in a very systematic manner. He painted everyone in the public eye in hues of black. Revelation of financial malfeasance and corrupt practices, a disclosure a day, scandal piled upon scandal. Like Bernard Shaw, he built his reputation by murdering other people’s reputation. But he was also treading a dangerous path by setting himself up, as the Socratic figure, of a detached disinterested dreamer one who could “set against the laws of the    state a discourse of superior law, an ideal against an established order of power.” He was stacking the dice every day but I guess he misread the signal. He seemed to have located his utopia quite some distance away in time. But the people of Delhi took him more seriously than he himself. The “detached dreamer” was now called upon to take the role of a man of action. He was found to be lacking in logistics as well as a viable strategy. Surprisingly for a man who had at his command the national brains trust of IIT and IIM fellows  he did not seem to have thought deeply enough. Abundant goodwill and a determination to do good are not good enough to compensate for amateurishness, lack of experience, and ignorance about the dimension of the problems. When you proclaim sainthood you are bound to be judged by the high standard of a saint! The jury is out – almost on a daily basis.

He solved the easier questions easily. Henceforth it was for the Aam admi to decide whether its party would accept the support of another party to form a government. Whether the CM will stay in a ten room bungalow or in a three room quarter? In fact it seems the AAP is determined to disprove the wry observation of the maverick thinker, commentator and polemicist Slavoj Zizek “those in power pretend that they do not really hold the power, and ask us to decide freely if we want to grant it to them.” he wanted to transform the pretense in to the essence.  Redeeming his promise of electricity and free water were also rather easy and their consequences, whatever they may be, would be felt only in the long run.It may be a bit of pure theatre but it has reaped a great dividend by way of spurring other parties to emulate him. So we have the slightly incongruous situation where an MP sits on dharna to reduce the price of electricity. Another political party has sought the opinion of the constituents to indicate their choice of candidates in the forthcoming parliamentary elections. More reasons for cheer for Mr. Kejariwal.  

Unworkability is one of the main elements of utopian projects; the other being a certain endearing vagueness. Who is an Aam admi? An Aam admi is indeed an abstraction. In him he has sought to locate the source of ultimate purity and honesty. Some kind of a noble savage dressed to make a living in modern times. He is the personified victim of a dysfunctional system. The fact of the matter is that he is a Janus faced creature, much like Sartre’s “half victim half, half accomplice like everyone else”in a polity whose wheels are kept in motion by the grease of corruption and extortion. To begin with who is an Aam admi? The railway porter who will not hesitate to extort the maximum portage   from another Aam admi, on one of the many railway stations? Is it the auto driver who will maximize his advantage by refusing to take a fare on a lonely less frequented route, or late in the night unless he shells out the price he has quoted? Is he the milkman or vegetable vender who considers adulteration his birth right? The international film director whose outing for an evening could mean the domestic budget of any of the three categories of people mentioned previously? Or is he the owner of a private airline? Or is he the law minister who orders about the police to do his bidding whatever the circumstances? Or is he the one who is prepared to let lose anarchy should the central government not accept his advice? Aam admi is the embodiment of all the romantic notions about helpless citizen pitted against the vast impersonal state but he is also Khas in his own sphere of activity. Aam adami subsumes a variety of mutually hostile interests; they do not make a solidarity group and are a source of many contradictions. As indeed Kejariwal learnt to his embarrassment when he fled from them to take shelter on the roof top.

His pronouncements about corruption also showed the same lack of awareness of the scope and reach of corruption nor does he seem to be aware of the slow, inefficient and unreliable process of law to curb it.  When the time came to redeem his promise into the CWG scandal and the lady who gave it a visible face -Sheela Dikshit- to set in motion definitive investigation, punishment, and expiation, the 370 page document with which he had threatened to nail the culprits who had siphoned away tens of thousands of crores of public money during the common wealth games turned out to be just a whole baggage of news paper clippings, not enough to nail the culprit. Or was it? The fact that he was sharing power with Congress added more grist to the rumour mill. The ghost of murdered reputations has come to haunt him.

Kejariwal’s, mind is inscrutable. It is also dangerously agile and jumps nimbly from one issue to another even without so much as a semblance of continuity or design. May be he has programmed such a randomness in his mind that even he does know not where the trajectory of his thinking will lead him to.
 His focus soon shifted the battle lines to the unrequited sinfulness of the African nationals- from plunder of astronomical sums of public money by a CM to peddling of drugs and sex on the street- which was revealed to him by his law – or lawless - minister. Kejariwal’s ideas about governance imply a kind of basic, constitutive naïveté: or else he would not have taken the legally and pragmatically indefensible position. As I understand a minister, a minster of law at that - wanted his impromptu orders to be implemented by the police. The law minister of Delhi has no authority in law to order about police men He has, just as any citizen, the right to be heard and his grievances attended to with utmost dispatch. As subsequent events have shown the police was quite right in exercising circumspection.No one can deny that the CM of Delhi should have control over the police. But so long as the untenable position remains the police is duty bound to act in accordance with this arrangement.

 Unable to counter charges of impropriety on part of his minster, he quickly turned the barrel on to the police. No harm there. Police serves a useful purpose in giving all forms of democratic and undemocratic protests – howsoever senseless, howsoever meaningless- substance and form. A few broken skulls on either side, a demand to punish the guilty policeman is also par for the course. But the revolutionary nature of Kejariwal’s politics consisted in reneging on his solemn oath to the constitution which he swore amidst great fanfare to profess anarchy. His two day old dharna at the Rail Bhawan is reminiscent of the remark of one of the Pussy riot activists “Humor, buffoonery, irreverence can be of use in the quest for the truth.”But the truth did not emerge; here it led to more controversy. How can a CM profess and propagate anarchy? Is he is now trying to locate his support base more in the urban poor even at the risk of alienating a large number of middle class constituents? Police has been a rallying cry for mobilization since the pre independence days. Delhi has a considerable number of urban poor and a fairly large number of youth - traditional foes of police – and they welcomed it with great gusto. They seem to have the least to lose.

  Not surprisingly his exhortations to anarchy have been welcomed, even, by members of the middle and upper class ,including civil servants, personalities from the film world, people living in gated communities and others located in various islands of privilege. Radicalism finds a more fertile breeding ground in the minds of the most conservative and reactionary of circles. They can talk about injustice because they get more than their share of justice all the time. But possibly they have not seen anarchy at close quarters .The  radicalization of the urban masses could prove to be a dangerous thing, especially in view of the fact that our democratic infrastructure- time worn and decrepit- are already finding it difficult  to manage dissent.  More than 350 districts- largely forests and rural areas- are already taken up by the activities of the extremist groups, their criminal activities masked as “revolutionary “struggle. Add to that the communal cauldron which is perpetually on the boil; we are sitting on a tinder box. Anyone with “an adequate sense of causation”, anyone with a sense of history could see that such frontier bravado could easily get out of hand.Tahrir Square is an enticing metaphor but it hides the nightmarish reality of the unworkability of the revolutionary hypothesis.