Incredible India Discreditable Politicians

by Satish Tandon, March 2005

I am looking at the latest news in the ongoing saga of Bihar politics. The UPA government at the Centre announced early this morning the dissolution of Bihar legislature merely 3 months after the last assembly elections. The timing of the announcement, just a day before the NDA was expected to stake its claim to form the government with the support of the breakaway LJP faction, has created intense debate. Obviously, the NDA is furious and complained that this presidential proclamation amounts to a murder of democracy. Laloo Yadav, on the other hand, is happy with this outcome because firstly he is one of the architects of this decision and, secondly, he and his RJD would get another chance to recapture power in his home state. Without going into the legality/morality of this decision let me ask the fundamental question, "What do the people of Bihar want?"

The people of Bihar, like people elsewhere in India, want clean water, electricity, schools, hospitals and security, or what we call public goods. This is something our politicians never understood. Why? Because, if I am an MLA/MP then I live in the best government-provided accommodation in an exclusive area of the city having mostly 24-hour supply of water and electricity and full security arrangements. Furthermore, I have access to the best hospitals and medical aid and my status entitles me to send my kids to the best schools. My selfish nature ensures that I do not see or understand the problems I am supposed to address, because they do not affect me. It is ironic that a non-representative and 爽nelected・government of China has a far better feel for the needs of its people than have our democratically-elected successive governments at the centre and states for over a half century. I would be surprised if more than a mere handful of our politicians, whether in or out of government, are even aware of their responsibilities especially in relation to the provision of public goods. The United Nations Committee on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights in 2002 declared access to water a human right and said that water is a social good, not an economic commodity. The WHO director-general Gro Harlem Brundtland said the declaration of water as a human right "is a major boost in efforts to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals of halving the number of people without access to water and sanitation by 2015 -- two pre-requisites for health." The provision of public goods is the basic and fundamental responsibility of any state. Not so in India.

In 1978 when I left India to go to Japan we used to get water for 30 minutes in the morning and another 30 minutes in the evening if we were lucky. Load shedding was done on a daily basis. During these last 28 years the situation has not improved. It may have become worse. This is in New Delhi, the capital city of India, a country that aspires to be the next permanent member of the UN Security Council. And in Japan, another country which may take a seat along with India in the same body and where I have lived since 1978, there has not been a single instance when water did not flow out of the tap or a power outage occurred. Is it too much to ask our politicians to divert their attention from the Security Council in New York to food and water security in our own home? But then again, it may be too much.

We claim to be the largest democracy in the world. That may be so because it is the only one of its kind. No other democracy gives its politicians the right to constantly divide, exploit and deceive its people. A democratic government by definition is a government that cares. Its principal objective is to enrich and raise the quality of life of citizens by the provision of social or public goods and by creating an environment which is conducive to the attainment of this goal. Looking at our governments (and politicians, who make them) can we honestly say that they care? Can we say that the life of an average person has been enriched and enhanced? As regards the delivery of public goods, can we say that anybody is satisfied with the trickle of water and electricity in our lives? And what about hospitals and health care? If you have to suddenly go to a public hospital, will it have the medicines? More importantly, will a doctor be there? What we are witnessing here is not merely a crisis of governance. The failure of successive Indian governments to deliver represents a deadly combination of criminal neglect of responsibilities and unjustifiable appropriation by politicians of state machinery, property and resources for personal gain, security and aggrandizement.

What has actually happened is that by keeping the people continuously deprived of public goods our politicians have succeeded in lowering our expectation levels, so much so that most of us accept this as a normal situation. Lack of schools, hospitals, water and electricity is normal! What can the governments do? How can we blame them?

In our India, problems and politicians are for ever. They just don稚 go away. Our democracy gives the right to the likes of Mayawati and Laloo and thousands more to continue to exploit, loot, blackmail and pollute our environment. What has Laloo and family contributed to Bihar in the last 15 years? After numerous scams, scandals and looting of state treasury he is still there controlling and marginalizing the lives and destinies of tens of millions of Biharis from the Centre. Members of his family continue to illegally occupy palatial state properties. The police and other state officials who went to evict them lost their nerve and ran away scared. No Sir, there is something seriously wrong with our political system that rewards him with an important ministerial portfolio while our judiciary tries against heavy odds to convict him for his crimes.

Our progress is a myth. It is an illusion, like the 選ndia Shining・slogan of the previous NDA government, which is being spread and fed on the back of increased economic activity that is due mostly to private sector dynamism and overseas capital, investments and technology as part of the ongoing globalization of the world economy. Our governments made no contribution to this except indirectly and under duress by caving in to the World Bank in 1991 to avoid bankruptcy, and subsequently under pressure from the WTO and the globalizing forces which were gaining momentum. It is unfortunate that for a lot of Indians the availability of material goods like cell phones, flat-panel televisions and cars has become synonymous with progress. By my standard, and by the standards of most of the civilized world, India will have progressed only when all Indians have access to clean drinking water, schools, electricity, hospitals and healthcare; when our judiciary is able to dispense justice within a reasonable time frame; when we have governments which are responsive and responsible; when we have an environment that is friendly, secure and free from bureaucratic high-handedness and police excesses; and most importantly, free from the tyranny of scheming politicians.