Be the change

Politician-bashing is at its peak these days, with Arvind Kejriwal and the AAP making all kinds of allegations against all politicians, insinuating that all politicians are corrupt. Many of us are happy to agree with these insinuations. After all, by pronouncing politicians (and bureaucrats, officials and policemen) guilty of corruption and other sins, we give ourselves the status of ‘poor victims’.

My question is: how good are we, the people of India?
1. Have I always paid Income Tax in full, declaring all my income?
2. Have I never bought/used smuggled goods?
3. Have I never bribed a policeman or a government servant?
4. Have I never spoken on my cellphone while driving?
5. Have I never engaged child labour?
6. Have I never used official facilities (car, telephone, etc.) for personal use?

I have listed 6 questions, but there are many more. We should ask ourselves these questions. If we can answer YES to all these questions, we have the right to criticise politicians (and bureaucrats, officials and policemen). If not, it’s high time we all try to change ourselves.

While almost all, if not all of us have indulged in small and big acts of corruption, most of us will claim that we did not do so voluntarily, but only because the system (to use Rahul Gandhi’s favourite punching bag!) forced us to do so. Is that true? I don’t think so.

I believe we voluntarily indulge in small and big acts of corruption because:
a. We have an aversion for hard work. Hence, we always look for shortcuts.
b. We believe that the end justifies the means.
c. Our society respects wealth, irrespective of the manner in which it was acquired.

Politicians (and bureaucrats, officials and policemen) are only the face of the problems facing India. The body of these problems is we, the people of India. Democracy is “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. If people are good, government (politicians, bureaucrats, officials and policemen) will be good. If people are bad, government (politicians, bureaucrats, officials and policemen) will be bad.

If we want the country to change for the better, each one of us must change for the better. If we change, politicians, bureaucrats, officials and policemen will change. If we do not change, politicians, bureaucrats, officials and policemen will not change. Change has to begin with us.

As Gandhiji had said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

The MP’s PA’s phone call

Some years back, seven small-scale companies, all located in the same industrial area, incurred heavy losses in the first year of operation. Coincidentally, all seven companies had been set up by first-generation entrepreneurs, and all had purchased a machine each from the company I worked with. Their losses were due to a combination of various reasons, but these entrepreneurs claimed that their losses had been caused by the poor performance of the machines and demanded that we take back the machines after refunding their payment with interest. When we refused, they took up the matter in the consumer court, but their case was dismissed.

One morning, one of them telephoned me and told me that all seven of them wanted to meet me in my office at 11.00 am the next day. I agreed to meet them, stating him that, even though the consumer court had dismissed their case, we sympathized with them and would try to help them in whatever way we could. I took pains to assure him that we bore them no grudge for having approached the consumer court.

The group of seven entrepreneurs entered my office the next day at 11.00 am. This was my first personal meeting with them since I had assumed charge as the company’s Area Manager a month earlier. A few minutes after 11.00 am, I received a phone call. When the caller identified himself as the PA (Personal Assistant) of the MP (Member of Parliament) of the area where these factories were located, and told me that these seven entrepreneurs had met the MP the previous day, I assumed he would proceed to ‘persuade’ me to agree to our customers’ demands. The triumphant look on the faces of my visitors confirmed my fears.

However, before I could say anything, the gentleman continued, “Sir, I have not called you to put any pressure on you. After discussing with these gentlemen yesterday and studying their file later, the MP is convinced that their problems are not due to your machines, but due to many other factors. However, these gentlemen are in a severe financial crisis and are even talking of committing suicide. Hence, the MP asked me to speak to you to request you to try to help them on humanitarian considerations. If you think there is any way the MP can help to solve these gentlemen’s problem, please telephone me. Let me assure you once again that the MP is not trying to put any pressure on you. I have telephoned you now because I want these gentlemen to know that I have spoken with you.” I assured him that we would try to help our customers in whatever way we could.

While I had no reason to doubt the sincerity of the MP’s PA’s words, I was not sure how to react since I had read and heard many stories of politicians arm-twisting people. I told my visitors that the MP’s PA had called to request my company to see how we could help them. I said that I would discuss the matter further with the management and would revert to them as soon as possible.

After my visitors left, I discussed the matter with my seniors. We decided to take the MP’s PA’s words at face value and handled the matter without letting his phone call affect us in any way. A week later, I informed the seven customers that we could not take back their machines, but we would help them sell their machines to interested buyers. They were not happy with our stand and said that they would report to the MP that we had not tried to help them. I don’t know what transpired at their meeting with the MP, but there was no further phone call from the MP’s PA.

We all talk about the disgusting behaviour of our MPs and MLAs. As this incident shows, there are quite a few decent politicians around.

Mind your language!

Firstpost reports that, on February 16, 2014, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said in Farrukhabad that the Congress supported Arvind Kejriwal and “gave him eight MLAs in dowry…What can we do if the ‘dulha’ (groom) fled away?”

Being a lawyer, Salman Khurshid must be aware that dowry is prohibited by law. More importantly, he should have known that, by making this statement, he was inadvertently giving a signal to many people that dowry is socially acceptable. Surely, he could have avoided the reference to dowry without in any way affecting the effectiveness of his statement.

Unfortunately, politicians regularly make such statements to ensure that they grab more attention. Following the 2004 elections, when the Congress was set to form the government and Sonia Gandhi was expected to become the Prime Minister, BJP leader Sushma Swaraj had declared, “The day Sonia takes oath as Prime Minister, I will tonsure my head, put on white clothes, sleep on the floor and eat only roasted grams.” Obviously, she was referring to the cruel treatment meted out to widows, which, fortunately, is not commonly followed these days. Inadvertently or otherwise, she was endorsing this practice. To the best of my knowledge, nobody protested against this statement, and Ms. Swaraj even defended it at a later date.

Irresponsible statements like these seriously hamper the effort to eradicate dowry, ill-treatment of widows and other social ills. Not only should they refrain from making such statements, people in public life must not tolerate any such casual references by others.

Section 3(1)(x) of The Scheduled Castes and The Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 states, “Whoever, not being a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe, intentionally insults or intimidates with intent to humiliate a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe in any place within public view; shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to five years and with fine.” ET reported on August 20, 2008 that “The Supreme Court has said that addressing Scheduled Castes people as ‘chamar’ may amount to an offence punishable under the provision of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.”

Don’t Salman Khurshid’s and Sushma Swaraj’s remarks amount to publicly promoting social ills? Should public promotion of dowry, ill-treatment of widows and other social ills be made punishable offences? Perhaps that’s the only way to make our politicians mind their language.

Preaching without practising?

The New Indian Express (TNIE) reports that the inaugural of a political party’s 10th State conference at Tiruchy in Tamil Nadu on Saturday, February 15, 2014 was scheduled for 9.00 am, but the party president arrived at the venue well past 10.30 am. He unfurled the party flag on a 90 ft pole 10 minutes later to mark the inauguration of the conference. This was done deliberately because Raahu Kaalam (a period of time that is considered inauspicious) was between 9 am and 10.30 am that day.

This information is surprising, if not shocking, because the political party is the DMK and the party president is Dr. M. Karunanidhi, who, as TNIE reports, “made rationalism the cornerstone of his politics”.

The TNIE report states that this was not a coincidence because the DMK’s local heavyweight K N Nehru had informed the women’s wing on January 20 that, “We will bring Thalaivar (‘leader’ or ‘boss’ in Tamil) to the stage after 10.30 am as we want to avoid Raahu Kaalam.”

The report also states that ‘this is not the first time Karunanidhi has let his rationalist mask slip. During the millennium fete of the Brahadeeswara temple, he chose to enter the temple through a side gate because of the myth that netas visiting the 10th century Big Temple through the main gate would either lose their life or power.’

One wonders whether Karunanidhi has always been only preaching rationalism but practising the opposite, or whether he has become irrationally superstitious only in old age!

It is common to see ‘leaders’, political or otherwise, practising the exact opposite of what they preach. Many regional political parties advocate the boycott of the English language, but the leaders of most of these parties get their children educated in English medium schools.

Leaders of all political parties in India talk of internal democracy, but, without exception, they all practise ‘high command’ culture.

Don’t the followers of such leaders realize that their leaders are taking them for a ride?

In contrast, here is a true story: The Little Boy and Sugar

One day, a mother came to Gandhi with her little boy for help. She asked Gandhi, “Please, Bapu, will you tell my little boy to stop eating sugar. He simply eats too much sugar and will not stop.” Gandhi told the mother to leave and come back with the boy in three days.

Three days later, the mother returned with her son and said to Gandhi, “We have come back as you asked.” Gandhi turned to the boy and said, “Young boy, stop eating sweets. They are not good for you.”

The mother then asked Gandhi, “Bapu, why didn’t you tell my son that when we first came to see you? Why did you ask us to leave and come back in three days? I don’t understand.”

Gandhi said to the woman, “I asked you to return with the boy in three days, because three days ago, I, too, was eating sweets. I could not ask him to stop eating sweets so long as I had not stopped eating sweets.”

Zero tolerance is the only solution

Shock and outrage has been expressed at the use of pepper spray by a Member of Parliament inside the Lok Sabha on Thursday. Indian Express reports that senior politicians have used expressions like ‘big blot on our parliamentary democracy’, shame, disgraceful, unbelievable, and ‘insult to democracy’. An editorial in The Hindu comments that “nothing can be as shameful and disgraceful”, and further states that “Another member has been accused of brandishing a knife, but he has denied it, claiming what he was holding was a microphone, probably one wrenched from its fixture.”

I fail to understand how anybody could be even mildly surprised by this incident. What happened is nothing new. It is only slightly worse than what we’ve been seeing over the last few years in legislatures and outside.

Frankly, the politicians are all shedding crocodile tears. The Congress party is outraged because their own MPs have dared to openly challenge the party leadership. The BJP and other non-Congress parties are delighted to see the acute discomfort of the Congress leadership.

If any MP belonging to any party had done the same things while confronting his political opponents, his party leadership would either have justified his actions, or would have criticised him feebly in public but rewarded him suitably at a later date. In any case, no action would have been taken against him.

In December 2012, Sanjay Nirupam made personal attacks on TV actress-turned-politician Smriti Irani during a debate on television. No action was taken against him by his party.

In July 2013, Union Minister Beni Prasad Verma had said that Mulayam Singh Yadav was “not even fit to sweep the Prime Minister’s residence.” No action was taken against him by his party.

On January 17, 2014, Mani Shankar Aiyar made a derogatory remark regarding Narendra Modi’s humble origins as the son of a tea stall owner. No action was taken against him by his party.

Not only did Somnath Bharti’s party not take any action against him for his midnight raid, his action was justified by them. The AAP’s supporters keep claiming, maybe rightly so, that the party has good intentions, but they must remember that the end does not justify the means.

If our political leaders are sincere about improving the behaviour of their party members, they must show zero tolerance towards such behaviour, irrespective of the seniority and/or grassroots level support enjoyed by the offending member.