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Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Modest Proposal - V

The other day, I was mobbed by the media. TV cameras to the left of me, TV cameras to right of me and a forest of mikes right in front of me. I rode past them, fending off the charge of the flash light brigade. But this young, sweet thing, confronted me - almost physically.

"How dare you write about serious problems in such a jesting manner? Have you no heart? And where do you get the inspiration from, for such cranky ideas."

I wish I had carried my heart on my sleeve. It would have served the twin purpose of providing proof that I have a heart and also... well forget about it. But the question was still on my plate. I answered only the operative portion - I said, "The source of my inspiration is Marie Antoinette. Marie Antoinette is my guru, my acknowledged master". (Mistress wouldn't do! Gender bending feminists).

She looked a little puzzled but then brightened up and said, "Aha! The lady who perished in the Russian Revolution. Wife of er-Emperor Lenin?".

I was impressed by her knowledge acquired from comic book history and a deep study of serious literature like Tin Tin and Asterix. And what is a hundred and odd year's error in dating a remote event. After all the history of human civilization is thousands of years old. But full marks to her for getting the first letter of the name of the king right.

"You got it right, lady. Actually she perished in the French revolution. The consort of Louis the XVI."

I pulled it off with the grace of the most accomplished quizmaster on a TV programme. But clearly she had the makings of a critic - She did not know in order to pronounce "Was Marie Antoinette such a big crank".

"On the contrary she was the greatest management expert that ever lived, but she was just a little too avante grade. That is why her paradigm of problem solving went a-begging. Leonardo da Vinci was another such genius. When the French people complained of scarcity of bread, Marie Antoinette advised them to eat cake. And history, in its ignorance, has held this against her ever since. The management guru is posed a problem. He gives a solution. It is now the business of the client to marry the solution to the problem. Or if you like it otherwise tailor the problem to the solution."

The lady was left speechless.

But this other lady was the swooning, fawning variety, under the spell of my considerable problem solving abilities. She was apparently a civil servant in charge of the prisons of the state - Her problem was that the jails of the state were overflowing and as a result there was unrest. In fact in a couple of jails the inmates had taken over the jails. The siege was broken only by the intervention of police and after considerable bloodshed. Did I have any innovative solution for her problem?

"Wait, lady wait. Let me get it right. Why can't the inmates take over the administration of their own residential quarters? I understand that governments are sometimes run, from inside the jail. So what is the problem in this? Small bit of local self-government".

"Oh, thaaat' She said, "Oh, thaaat is different". I didn't probe further. Not my job to reason why.

I held a detailed discussion about the problem and the inevitable conclusion was that the over flowing jails has been caused, because of the overcrowding of the jails. (See?) But this overcrowding itself was the reason of stultifying thinking, a failure of imagination. The simplest solution was of course to encourage jail breaks, till such time the number of occupancy tallied with the capacity. The jail department could split its staff into two halves for the twin tasks of guarding and breaking the jail. But then there would be great rush to join the section for engineering jailbreaks leading into lot of heart burning etc. Moreover it would look a little odd for the jail department to be guarding the jails as well as engineering jailbreaks. (No one would have very much minded the de-facto arrangement to be converted into a de jure one, though.) But more importantly the question of rules, principles came in the way because the arrangement had to be solidly rooted in principles, manuals, and rules. Hence the principle is being laid down with some care and in great detail.

The state, it seems, is being governed by a set of laws and statutes, which have become totally, effete and do not have the popular sanction behind them. And what are laws devoid of the endorsement of general more importantly the powerful but soulless creatures. Every citizen of this country likes to break or bend a little bit of his fancy or taste suits him . From mild bottom pinching to the manly vocation of rape, from mere penny pinching to big scams. And yet we have gone on criminalizing all kinds of conduct all this while at the same pace and enthusiasm with which we have engaged in these conducts. Prevention of Dowry Act has become more stringent in direct proportion to its increased prevalence and rising number of dowry deaths. Corruption and backroom dealing is opening more and more avenues for profitable enterprise every day and yet they went ahead and enlarged the scope of the Prevention of Corruption Act. But best of all taking of bribery may not be an offence in certain cases but giving would in the same circumstance. A lot confused practitioners of this art are also needlessly filling jails. And a society which doesn't understand these basic instincts of its members ends up incarcerating a large number of it able bodied, energetic, innovative members who could be put to good use by setting them at large in the market place of competing interests and matching abilities. This is what globalization is about. Therefore the mantra is de regulate, deideologise (the missing element of the triad) and decriminalize. From today all those conducts which find mention in the various penal laws stand decriminalized. Free all those who are inside the jails charged for the offences under hundreds of section of numerous laws.

"But then empty jails would mean more takeovers by unscrupulous elements". Don't worry: I have already a plan up my sleeve. The orders have been given to find suitable scrupulous inmates. After all how can a society survive without a portion of its members being in jails? It is a sign that it cares. It has not lost its ethical moorings, its sense of right and wrong. The jails should now be filled with those lazy pusillanimous bums who have not committed any of the hundreds of exciting acts mentioned above. We certainly can find a few hundred in the population of millions of inhabitants.

Thus the seek-and-destroy mission was out. Well, not seek and destroy really. Not quite. I mean seek such citizens who have not committed any of the acts that had been listed in as crimes in the old world order and detain them promptly. The tally was not quite impressive. The scouts of the new order returned with 53 people in a city which boasts a population of 1. 2 million. Against a vacancy of 530 only 53 could be located. The team looked downcast and a little sheepish. But I encouraged them: "It is not a bad beginning. Not bad at all I hope you have picked up the right people".

"Yes Sir", they chirped. No Old World chicanery."Booking the wrong people. You can interrogate them Sir. They have an absolutely clean record. They have not even hurt a fly".

It is a pioneering solution and the success of the programme depended on the integrity of the selection process. Moreover, now I am never oblivious of the griping critics. I motioned to the leader of the team to thoroughly interrogate them. The suspects were lined up and wired to the lie detectors and a couple of psychologists kept hovering, looking them in the eyes. The interrogation went on something like this. You Mr. so and so have you committed murder, rape, dacoit, fraud, forgery, buggery, thuggery, wife swapping, and bottom pinching eve teasing or even simple lechery. Have you abused your position to award contracts, telephones lines, and gas connection or have been a recipient of it? The choruses of, "no never" drowned the doggerel like questioning until such time the interrogators exhausted their considerable lists of old world crimes. But two of these fellows showed some positive signs. They were jittery and shifty. The psychologists swooped on to them like birds of prey. They were subjected to intensive and intrusive questioning and given an extra dose of the truth serum to make them confess the truth. The psychologists rained on them like the monsoon showers and bore down on them like the relentless summer sun till they wilted like flowers.

"You know", the interrogator said in a very friendly but accusing tone in the manner of O'Brian of 1984 fame."It would be a huge shame if we let our adventurous healthy members of the society who had either indulged in the pastimes mentioned above or even if they had the inclination to be incarcerated. The society needs to be saved from those sick and morbid members who have failed to avail themselves of the huge opportunities them."

It was too much for him to take. He fell on his knees: "Yes I have sinned. I have sinned. For the privilege of going to jail. And now I have lied. He was inconsolable. But the psychologist persisted in a very polite, persuasive manner."Yes come on out with it."

"I wrote obscene graffiti on the ladies loo in a public bath. I was drunk. I was depressed I know I shouldn't have but I did. I swear, I have a clean slate otherwise. But wouldn't you forgive me this small breach. Shall I be denied the privilege of going to jail, just because of this small bit of indulgence I shall be denied this opportunity.

This had an electric effect on the other suspect. He also gave in but in a very dignified manner. He was almost magisterial in his approach.

"I confess to my guilt, Sir. I had thrown peanuts at the monkey in a cage in the Sanjay Gandhi zoo despite a waning to the contrary. It was the first of January. The atmosphere of revelry was infectious. I got carried away. I should have told you but suppressed it with intent. I have never been a member of any prestigious club. I had heard that they provide you with TV, cellular phone, liquor, free facilities of moving to and fro to the best of hospitals. I am sorry. I lied".

So out of the total of 53 two were out. The batch of 51 detainees was immediately marched out and they rushed into the privileged precincts of the Jail. They were euphoric and they departed crying Satyamev Jayate and murdering the tune of Sare Jahan Se Accha Hindostan Hamara in their various ways.

The civil servant was disconsolate "Against a capacity of 530 we have got only 53 and of these two you want left out".

"Lady, you asked me to solve the problem of over population. The jail stands depopulated. Quad Erat Demonstrundum."

"But let us have the two at least".

"No way. No way. They have the promise. They are still capable of being reformed to be active conscientious citizens in this vibrant market place. Set them among the believers, among people of their own ilk. In a year they will have committed the whole roster of old world crimes which have ceased to be crimes in the New World order. They will be happy as lark. Just as those inside will find enough opportunity to indulge in their lunatic desire of earning their honest bread, by the sweat of their brow. They will have an acre of a plot of green to each one of them."

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Modest Proposal - IV

(Repost of an an old article.As it originally was.)

The other day, I attended some commemoration ceremony or the other. Speaker after speaker eloquently, and in great detail, recounted the deeds of the departed soul, and bemoaned in telling phrases how much the nation was in debt to him. There was a lump in my throat at this selflessness and sacrifice but an indeterminate, diffuse and unfocussed sense of rage was also welling up in my heart. Why did the great man leave us all forever in debt? He had rather accepted the full recompense than condemn us to the fate of dying in debt. Debt is certainly a fate worse than death. Because of the misplaced magnanimity of the great man, the nation would forever languish in this helplessness.

Impereceptibly but inexorably, it seems our nation is falling into a twin debt trap which the people at the helm of affairs are not fully seized of. The debt of the IMF - World Bank variety is a crippling burden no doubt, but by various scheduling and structuring adjustments, abdication of policy initiative, or, if it come to the crunch, by handing over the reins of government altogether to the World Bank, IMF we can still redeem our credit worthiness and Moody rating. But what about this other debt; the one that cannot be quantified but is weighing the nation down? The thought has been nagging me ever since.

What has been done cannot be undone but we can certainly be forewarned to take some preventive measures so that the tangible debt situation does not get exacerbated by the intangible one. The debt incurred in dollars, perhaps, can not be prevented. Because, after all, if there are Banks, there would be borrowers. The global village cannot, perhaps, do without its moneylender. And from the pockets of those whose coffers are overflowing with dollars, something will spill into the pockets of those whose coffers are empty; it is a fairly equitable kind of order and one would sooner wish the distinction of the sexes to disappear than try to tinker with this. So forget about the debt accumulation in dollars. Pragmatism demands that we concentrate whole heartedly to ensure that there are no further accruals to the debt of the other kind. Of course I must express my indebtedness to the various figures in public life to whom I owe the inspiration, but to me must go the credit of fully articulating and systematizing it.

A sizable section of the population has already started feeling grateful for the brilliant, rearguard action that I have been mounting for national reconstruction through this column. Gushing admirers have been so overwhelmed by my reformist zeal that they swear I am the only hope. It is only natural that this feeling would spread far and wide. I am not worried overly on this score, but what is worrying is that soon the nation will start recognizing the debt that they owe me. Gradually, the sense of guilt on account of the unacknowledged but unrepayable debt would grip the national psyche. Therefore, I have decided that, at an appropriate time, I shall succumb to the pleadings of my numerous acolytes and allow myself to be anointed; to be elevated to some kind of a national institution. I would let it be known very discretly how much the nation is in arrears to me for my services etc. My birthday would no longer be such an esoteric secret nor would my predilection for being weighed against gold on that day of national thanksgiving be held back from the grateful, indebted population. A rumour would do the rounds that if gold (67Kgs of it! I have added precious kilos since then.) was scarce, coins would do just fine. Universities, roads, bridges would in fitness of things, be named after me. The nation may honour me by conferring awards etc. on Republic Day. My scholarship, my contribution to the realm of ideas, the early promise that I had shown even in school would easily pass muster and there would be no cause for me to disbelieve what the nation firmly believes in. To afford the nation the fullest opportunity of benefiting from my advice or just gawking at me, people may clamour that the facility for travel in greatest comfort be made available to me at the taxpayer’s expense, to which I would initially demur but finally accede to.

As a first tranche of the repayment of the debt, this should do, but if nation is eager to completely free itself from the obligation that they owe me , a couple of SDRs (Special Drawing Rights) which will be explained presently, for my children and children’s children can be considered. Ours is a land of equal opportunity, no doubt, but the wishes of the majority have to be heeded to. Therefore, in any contest for office, public or otherwise, my descendants could encash these .In any contest or competitive struggle for opportunities, the mere fact of being my descendants should suffice.If they were running a race they could be allowed to stand on the finishing line when the pistol cracks to signal “go” for the rest of the lot.

In fact for the whole cadre of the selfless, self-effacing public men, I would recommend this brilliant scheme whereby they could be remunerated for their services rendered to the nation in the manner of encashing Teller cheques (ATM's were not heard of a couple of years back). Promptly and without delay.The utopia dreamt of in the old maxim neither a borrower nor a lender be would be very much here.

That way we can become a nation of proud self-respecting people who owe nothing to any one.