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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Wielding the broom and cleaning the nation


Wednesday, 01 October 2014 | Ashwani Lohani | in Oped

The Clean India campaign embodies the Mahatma’s ‘cleanliness is godliness’ slogan. It has the potential to revolutionise the Indian mind, body and soul
The launch of Clean India campaign on October 2 is perhaps the best tribute that our nation has ever paid to its father, the great saint Mahatma Gandhi. The Mahatma likened cleanliness to godliness, yet unfortunately so far, the nation never really embraced this saying — muck and dirt being commonplace in public and private places. Worst of all has been the spectacle of unclean environment in almost all temples regardless of their holy stature.
It is indeed a problem of mindset that engulfs the entire nation, a mindset that fails to appreciate the impact that a clean environment can have on delivery and also on happiness levels of the people thronging the environment. And, therefore, we have dirty offices, dirty markets, dirty temples, dirty railway stations and dirty trains and so on with almost everyone blaming the society at large for the state of affairs. It is indeed a classic case of the great indian blame game where everyone finds the others blameworthy.
It is also a stark reality that economic status does not play a role in the cleanliness of a place. We are often witness to garbage being thrown on the roads by people travelling in swanky cars, even in cities like Mumbai and Delhi that call themselves modern.
The Varna system that classifies society in four major groups with the Shudra, who is generally considered to be in the ‘cleaner’ category being placed at the bottom, is also to blame. There is hardly any rationale behind expecting excellence in work by someone devoid of basic dignity that human beings deserve. The existence of the safaiwala is denied by society yet, he is expected to keep places spic and span. The sheer act of cleanliness is looked down upon, yet a clean environment is desired by all and sundry. This attitude has to change and dignity of labor restored.
The wielding of the broom by the high and mighty of the nation on Gandhi Jayanti should, therefore, be much more than a mere photo opportunity. It also has to extend beyond mere symbolism as the intent this time is apparently genuine. The Prime Minister, it appears, genuinely believes that a clean environment is the precursor to growth and progress and his intent and push should, therefore, not be allowed to wither away. 
The campaign, however, needs to extend beyond mere cleanliness of places and percolate the intangible world. During the last 10 years, the nation witnessed the rock bottom in the realm of ethics in governance. Rampant corruption marred almost all acts of governance and ethics were conspicuous by their sheer absence in the bureaucratic and political systems. Even events of national pride like the Commonwealth Games were juiced to the hilt, regardless of the beating taken by the national image. And almost every single Government contract was viewed as a means of amassing wealth. Ethical behaviour become a rarity. Literally cleaning the act of governance itself is perhaps the order of the day.
It is from this abyss that the nation now has to rise. Why is dealing with Government a nightmare for the common man and the towering corporate alike? Why should change form an essential part of the rhetoric and not be a reality on the ground? Why has our tryst with destiny been belied with the nation not being able to solve the basic issue of poverty even after almost 67 years of its independence? These fundamental questions should churn our minds while we, on October 2, wield the broom.
It is perhaps now or never. Rapidly changing times are upon us and the nation appears poised to once again achieve the state where the entire citizenry can take pride in being an Indian. After all, it is not mere rhetoric that can motivate and instill pride; only real change can.

Friday, September 19, 2014

What is good for the goose is obviously not for the gander

The on-going tussle for a house on Tughlaq road between the government and a former cabinet minister is as interesting as it is disgusting. Yet what needs to be appreciated is the perseverance of the government of the day in ensuring that housing rules are made applicable uniformly for the hoi polloi as well as the high and mighty.

That repeated excuses parroted by the occupant seeking time to pack his things were not genuine was exposed by the emergence of the demand to convert the house into a memorial for a kisan leader of the nation who happens to be his late father. That a battery of farmers threatened to cut off water supply to the city of Delhi in retaliation for applying rules on those who regard themselves above the same tantamount to blackmail for a cause that is grossly unfair and unjust.

What else does one expect from the political class that is the true mirror of the materialistic society that has evolved in the nation since the tryst with destiny almost seven decades ago. Perhaps we were not ready for democracy, a system in which rights and responsibilities have to go together if it is to be a success. And therefore I am also often amazed at the national penchant that seeks improvements in the nation without paying the price that the act warrants.

In the last ten years the nation witnessed a nadir in governance. Corruption touched new heights and scams that surfaced with amazing regularity remained the popular topic of discussion among the masses. Rise in prices as well as crime was a natural corollary and the people at large, fed up of shoddy governance therefore effected a change, a change that had disenchantment at its root. The populace tired of a glaring lack of ethical conduct in those who govern expected things to look up. It also expects that those who had their hands in the till will be made to pay. One seriously hopes and prays that these expectations will not be belied.

Talking of memorials, I fail to appreciate the need to have a memorial for people other than saints or those who changed the course of history. Merely being a leader of a class of people or even a state or a nation should not justify creation of a memorial, as that would never touch the chords in the hearts of the citizenry. And memorial on political considerations, as many of them are is indeed unacceptable by any stretch of imagination.

I vividly recollect asking a leading local politician during my stint as the head honcho of Delhi division, whether he would keep aside one room in his house for the encroachers whose case for not demolishing encroachments he was so vehemently piloting. Obviously what is good for the goose is more than often not good for the gander.

I also often witness to manipulation of laid down rules by the babudom with the specific motive of pinning down or favoring individuals. The same guy for whom the rule was manipulated for cries hoarse when he gets affected by a manipulation aimed at helping someone else.

I wonder when the era of double standards and double talk would come to an end. Till then we would continue to be witness to such dramas being played on the national stage.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Alas there are no Ceasers anymore!

Somehow the depressing feeling that there are no doors to knock at, except perhaps the supreme court for a honest official in distress or for someone longing to bring to book those who loot the country, that had started taking root in my heart since the last decade or so refuses to ebb even in the recent times. The thieves, looters and the depraved seem to be getting away with ease is the popular public perception taking root.

The ancient saying the Caeser’s wife should be above suspicion is held more in breach in our nation. Perhaps even the Ceasers of modern times are generally not above reproach and that is sad for this nation that in ancient times was indeed the torchbearer for the entire global civilization.

The media splash in the last few days covering the activities of the head of the country’s premier investigating agency has indeed shocked the nation. Perhaps even the last bastion has fallen and unless the defenses are restored asap, the nation is indeed in for harrowing times.

Sometime back there was a whisper that an officer of the railway service was shunted out for refusing to supply toilet paper for the residential use of a senior honcho of the organisation. Well definitely this could not have been the first such indiscretion of its kind, but rather the one that emerged in the public domain and shocked everyone by the brazenness of the act. And it is not always that someone from the bureaucratic class possesses the courage to stand up against illegal orders. After all very few of us treat sarkari assets as amanat, while for the brute majority it is milkiyat. It is indeed sad that with minor exceptions the custodians are prepared to sell the nation along with their conscience for petty personal gains. It is not really a bargain that is worth it.

It is also true that the fear of retribution for committing gross misdeeds has receded and in its place a new kind of fear of speaking out against those in power committing gross misdeeds has taken roots, rather deep one at that. The full tantra cutting across services and states and to some extent even the common citizen remains in awe and fear of those in power regardless of the misdemeanors committed by them.

Yet there are some who rebel against the loot by those who are expected to protect. And it is this minority, comprising of individuals like the one shunted out who have kept the flag flying high.

Somehow it all boils down to a major decline in value systems in our society. A society that generally regards power not as a means to serve but as a means for self-aggrandizement and a display of superiority over mere mortals will never be able to achieve what is right. Yet a few right steps by a few men have the capability to bring about changes that can alter the course of history and perhaps the time for such changes is knocking at our door.    

In God and providence we trust.