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        Volume 11 |Issue 17 | April 27, 2012 |


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Fatal Contradictions

Shah Husain Imam

With so much of security presence all around, we are insecure. With oft-expressed concern over corruption, we are among the most corrupt. With repeated emphasis laid on a rights-based society, we are among the worst violators of human rights.

We are a verbalized society, if you will – thanks to unresolved and incrementally complicated issues that produce more words than action.

All these contradictions are upshots of failures on two levels: First, the institutions supposed to secure the citizens' lives against such onslaughts are wrongly mandated or act arbitrarily or hunker down to being mere timeservers. Secondly, the culture of the ruling party to lord it over everything it surveys is at the heart of the erratically performing institutions. Like the ruling party feels that it's above reproach and answerability, the institutions develop a house style of immunity to accountability and prosecution.

We have hardly come by an instance where a state functionary has resigned on a note of dissent with a higher-up. Compromise, acquiescence or joining the bandwagon have been the order of the day, even for people who are supposed to be in charge of state institutions. Mere expression of disgust over a certain scandalous development or pattern of misdeeds may be personally salving but it can hardly have the effect of quitting a job on a point of principle. Those are fables from long forgotten days.

Not surprisingly, the functioning of a hollowed out executive organ is being taken over by the judiciary issuing orders on matters that should have been for the administration to set right as a normal call of duty. If all agencies of the government had performed to their obligations there wouldn't have been the need for judicial intervention in such a wide variety of areas. Given the huge backlog of cases the judiciary is faced with, could it afford time to fix poor governance in diverse fields with the increasing frequency that is being demanded of it?

Of course, people are taking recourse to courts through filing writs against instances of social injustice. Public interest litigation is on the rise, but just.

The higher judiciary is also taking suo moto cognizance of offences reported in newspapers thereby intervening in the protection of public interest. Judicial intervention comes as a boon to a developing and yet an unjust society but compliance with its orders remains dependent on the executive. That is where the problem lies.

The attitude of the elected government and its machinery is one of ruling rather than serving people. That is why we see Deputy Commissioner being called Zila Proshashak not a Zila Shebak, and the same designational anachronism goes down.

The overarching fact is that our prime ministers exercise personal rule almost like monarchs with all the panoply and paraphernalia that go down the pecking order right through to the bottom.

Without being structurally feudal our society is feudalistic. Landed gentry now gone obsolete has been replaced by the urban and semi urban-based political classes who are also nouveau riche. They are the money power behind the political power with all their cronies and sycophants.

The stage is set for all kinds of regal trappings of power play inconsistent with any semblance of democratic culture. When the VVIPs are on the move their routes are to be cleared keeping the rest of the traffic standstill for anything between two and three hours. The little said about the congested streets the people have to endure on a daily basis the better.

The traffic jams spiraling into impassibility are the backlash of huge receptions organised when the prime minister or the leader of the opposition (more the former than the latter) go out on some special occasions or come back in after much publicised overseas trips.

Fleets of buses, coaches are commandeered and a carnival atmosphere thrown in to galvanise people into seeing off or receiving in the VVIPs. This practice of spending money, time and energy of a whole lot of people at the expense of practical public interest and their convenience is clearly out of place in today's high-tech super speedy business world.

In other democracies, even in a Scandinavian monarchy, the head of the government or the state move quietly and unassumingly without even inviting stares. In Britain, David Cameron just moves with only two outriders making up his convoy through the normal flow of traffic. The Indian prime minister also moves austerely about. A Lok Sabha member actually raised a question about the propriety of moving high profile foreign dignitaries at the peak hours of traffic through Delhi. He suggested that lean hours be preferred for such VVIP movements. Public inconvenience is that much concerning in established democracies.

The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.



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