WITH EYES WIDE OPEN
D. N. Bezboruah
There is something that one must always keep in mind when thinking of democracies. Turning a country into a democratic state is virtually an irreversible process. There is no turning back from it. After all, what do you turn back to? If the new democracy was formed out of a morchy, it is going to be virtually impossible to go looking for a king or a queen in order to reverse the process. And a deposed morch is unlikely to be thankful for being reinstated. So what normally happens to a democracy that has failed is that it soon turns into a political structure that has the mere trappings of a democratic state but has degenerated into something much worse. There are countless examples of such failed democracies continuing to call themselves democracies in Africa and other parts of the world. Their number does not change what happens to failed democracies. Democracies fail most often because the rulers have no real respect for the people who elect them to power. They make a song and dance about what they insist on calling “peoples’ rule”. Their notion of “people” and the common man’s notion of “people” are poles apart. For the common man, the word people, in the context of democracy, is everybody. This is not so with the rulers. For them people means their own people—those who will stand by them at all times. They are the government employees, thousands of young students who have been presented laptops for having done well in examitions and foreign tiols who have been permitted to invade our land illegally merely because they have ensured the rulers their illegal votes. But while they reserve all the benefits of a democratic state for their own selected people, they continue to spread the myth that they represent all the people. This is done with grossly misleading slogans like “Raaizor podulit raaizor sarkaar” (the people’s government at the people’s doorstep). But let us take just a few examples of how much the rulers really care for the people. In Assam, there are hundreds of school teachers who have not received their salaries for the last 39 months—three years and three months. Such gross injustice befalls only people like school teachers who are not “people” for our arrogant rulers. One very pertinent question turally comes to mind: Would the rulers who pretend that the exchequer is short of funds ever dream of setting an example and saying that they will take their own salaries only when they are able to pay the salaries of everyone for whom the government is liable? Will the bureaucrats who have to be accountable for such poor budgeting of resources ever forego their own salaries even for a month? You have only to mention something so bizarre at the State secretariat and our babus will laugh their guts out. The simple unstated rule for depriving employees of their due salaries is that the government must pick on the most vulnerable groups and carefully leave out those groups that can not only protest but do much worse to anyone depriving them of even a month’s salary. So the entire equation boils down to hitting those who cannot hit back—the weakest of the weak and the most vulnerable of mankind that can be identified in the State. What our rulers forget is that such an attitude turns them into bullies in the eyes of the people who elect them to power. It is only bullies who hit the weak and the vulnerable, never taking on their equals.
It is such democracies, teeming with uneducated but arrogant rulers, that generally fail as democracies because the rulers pretend to care for the people as a whole only once in five years—at the time of the elections. At other times, they do not care a straw about what the aspirations of the people are or what they would like the rulers to do for the people. This disrespect for the people is all-pervasive. There is evidence of it every single day in some form or the other. A minister of state has to travel by air to some remote location on a flight that is fully booked. What does the airlines do? It offloads three passengers (including a child) with valid tickets who have checked in so that the minister can be accommodated. In the kind of VVIP racism that is prevalent in our country, any other minister would have claimed such unfair treatment of citizens as a minister’s birthright and just laughed at someone making an issue out of it. But Kiren Rijiju from Aruchal Pradesh is a better educated minister than many other arrogant leaders of mainland India. He had the grace and humility to apologize for the inconvenience caused to the three persons who had to be offloaded because of him. Not so Devendra Fadvis, Chief Minister of Maharashtra, who delayed a flight by 57 minutes and later claimed he was not responsible for it. Nor another minister who slapped a passenger on board an aircraft without rhyme or reason. Later on, in an attempt to undo the damage he had inflicted on himself (and not out of any sense of remorse) he claimed that the passenger concerned had stepped on a lady’s feet, and so he had intervened. We do not expect our ministers to be either Galahads or custodians of the law. On an aircraft, there are stewards to handle such situations. In any case, is that the only way of handling such a situation known to the minister? What is indeed unfortute is that the person who was slapped did not react at all. He could not have been hanged for protesting or at least shouting at the minister. And every such misdemeanour by VVIPs that goes unchallenged strengthens the VVIP’s illusion that such behaviour is his birthright.
But it is what our lawmakers think that they are entitled to do collectively that takes the country a step closer to becoming a ba republic. We have just had our MPs deciding to double their salaries and allowances on their own. In our country, the lawmakers are the only group of people who determine their salaries, allowances and perquisites. All other groups of human beings in the country have to entrust this task to someone outside their group. So our lawmakers can decide on increasing their salaries, allowances and perquisites from time to time without any references to any norms in other services. Lawmakers have doubled their salaries and allowances in the past and got away with it. So they are now emboldened to do so again without caring a whit about what the people might say or think. The very thought that the people had not articulated their feelings on such matters with any degree of vehemence in the past, emboldens our lawmakers to take the people for granted time and again.
What is it that emboldens our lawmakers to treat the people who vote them to positions of power (or remove them from power) with such total disrespect? It is their awareness that the people are unlikely to react with courage to such acts of disrespect. And this syndrome of racist VVIP behaviour is typical of failed or failing democracies that have turned democracy to a farce. It is typical of democracies that are on the way to becoming ba republics because of the lack of education and arrogance of their lawmakers, the lack of respect among lawmakers for the people and a corrupt system that makes it possible for such a bizarre system to be sustained. When democracy begins to fail the people in this manner, we have countries that pretend to have remained democratic without actually succeeding in the means of doing so. That is when we are on the road to becoming ba republics. We already have Haiti and Pakistan that have become ba republics along with a few more in Africa. These countries can go on pretending to be democracies regardless of what they really are. The same thing can happen to India. The country can be a ba republic before we know what has happened to it. This is inevitable when we have the familiar combition of uneducated and arrogant political leaders who regard themselves as kings or potentates, a total lack of respect for the people and a very high level of corruption that creates a race of VVIPs who think they own the place. When this happens, we are just a few short steps away from becoming a ba republic even though we call our country the world’s largest democracy. And let us not forget what Germany was obliged to do when its parliament even had to sanctify the act of Hitler having become a dictator. That was a bit of poetic justice at its worst just because the people failed democracy out of fear of Hitler’s youth brigade.