Sunday, August 21, 2011

Shut up and go home!

It happens every monsoon, there is nothing new about it, really.  

My roof is leaking. But the town I live in, has a set system for roof repairs. I was given a list of contractors, who are on good terms with the town council, and asked to choose one. I didn't think very highly of any of them -- to be frank with you, some of them seemed like absolute scoundrels. But, I had no choice, my town council forces me to pick one of the contractors from the list. No exceptions are allowed. So - I chose the one, that looked like the benign pirate from the wrecked ship on the Bahamian beach.

In a few days, I found out how wrong I was. Not only did the roof leak more than ever before, I saw that the contractor's men had started stealing my doors and windows. I wanted to fire him, but my town council told me that I couldn't. The contractor was authorized to fix my house for the next five years. It was the law.  There was no process in place for me to express my disappointment to anyone. And, when I tried to, I was told -- "You have selected the contractor yourself, if you don't like it, wait for five years, and then, select another one. So, shut up, and go home!"

I am assuming that you have guessed by now, that I just told you a cock and bull story. And, you probably have guessed what this is all about.

With Anna Hazare's fast in its sixth day, one of the things that countless people have started talking about is, if our parliamentary democracy really represents the people. In spite of the best intentions of our founding fathers, our system neither allows for a referendum, nor does it allow us a right to recall. That means, once we have elected a representative, we can neither participate in the legislative process, nor can we fire rogue representatives. Like the contractor in my story, we are stuck with the pirates we elect. For the next five years.

So, there is a very good reason why the Indian people are on the streets. Our representatives, ask us to shut up and go home, as soon as we send them to New Delhi.  And then, they are free to do what they wish to do -- with our money. 

The fight against corruption is only a first step. What we really need is a set of systemic repairs, that allow the people to participate in the legislative process. Gone are the days when elections would be conducted with ballot paper and boxes. The results would be tallied over days and weeks, while India's state-owned news channel, Doordarshan, would keep us entertained through the whole process, with Bollywood heroes chasing heroines around fat tree-trunks in Kashmir. Helvetian backdrops were simply too expensive for Bollywood in those days.  And then came the Electronic Voting Machines, and now it barely takes us hours to know the results, once the counting starts. So, what is the logical next step for the largest democracy in the world?

With the Unique ID process in full swing, Indians are soon going to have unique biometric cards. And all of us, are going to be on a national database of citizens. The technology is already there to take this information, and allow people to vote with their computers and mobile phones. After all, if the State Bank of India allows me to transfer a million rupees per day with an online account, the State of India should have no problems allowing me to vote online, after I have identified myself with biometrics. And, if mobile phones are all that we need to vote, why can't we vote for the crucial issues that concern our future, instead of a handful of people doing it on our behalf?

Very soon, technology will make it possible for us to have a direct say in our legislative process. One wonders, if our representatives will. Although we will be happy with Anna's anti-graft legislation in the short term, I think we should finally start pushing for legislative reforms. Including the right to a referendum, and the right to recall.

I have realized, that under the current situation, I need to fix my leaking roof myself. Cement anyone?


  1. To get to the root of the problem you have mentioned in your post, we need to dig a little deeper. The problem is not the government (and its systems) – the problem is us – We, the people.

    Both the aam-junta, and the movers-and-shakers, look for importance – this feeds their ego. Who else can give it to them but a government (and its systems), that is designed to suppress the people at large. While all are cursing the government in public, in reality they are all trying to crawl into its arms, so it can now look down at the same people whom they were once part of.

    Why does the minor government official make the person who drove up in the Honda City wait? It is not just to get a bribe – he revels in the power he holds over someone much better off than himself. That is why every government clerk, every person who aspires to be a one, and every person who aspires that his son will be one, has no real interest in fighting the system. The person who drives a Mercedes or a BMW has the power and money to bend the system, so he has no interest in fighting the system either.

  2. Continued from last comment)
    Who is left? A few Honda Cities, several Hyundai i10’s and Maruti Swifts, and lots of Bajaj Pulsars (the salaried middle-class). While they want the revolution, they simply are not powerful enough, or have enough numbers to be anything more than a nuisance.

    (You want another real example of this –just see the Telengana movement).

    Please don’t let the media fool you into thinking that Anna Hazare is leading a mass movement. The salaried middle-class are the only genuine supporters hoping for a better tomorrow.

    The other entity supporting Anna are the ‘activists’ of all hues, because many of them need to show ‘activity’ (for want of a better word) to keep the funding inflow going. The latter class is causing the media coverage which makes the whole thing look like a revolution Anna is just their latest murga (no disrespect to Anna’s intentions here).

    If, and when this becomes a mass movement, you won’t need the media to tell you – you will know when you see Mr. Chidambaram’s suave complacency turn into panic.

  3. >>We are stuck with the pirates we chose!
    That's very apt description of the situation

  4. .............we get the government we deserve !!! political reform will only succeed social change, never, the other way around.