Middle-class governance

We live in an age of action for,of,and by the people

Written by Surjit S Bhalla | Published: October 20, 2012 2:23:43 am

We live in an age of action for,of,and by the people

It is a zoo out there. Allegations,counters,damp squibs,blood money,clan against clan,people against the powerful,wannabe politicians against entrenched feudal lords,and anchors involved in gladiatorial contests across channels. It is “news as entertainment” for us,the middle class. It is a sad-happy moment. Sad that it is this way,and happy that the cleansing of the system has begun in earnest.

What is common across the angst is a clamour for better governance — whether it is in the delivery of subsidies meant for the poor,agricultural items like irrigation water,the cleaning up of black coal residues or hi-tech allocations of spectrum. The anger of the middle class has been fuelled by the fear and belief,in equal measure,that the citizen has been ripped off. By the politicians who run the government.

Surely,the most important buzzword is “governance”. But who is interested in governance? Surely not those involved in misgovernance,which would likely include large sections of the political class,and the associated tribesmen. Let us call them the exploiters. The very poor are not interested because they are too poor and too involved in eking out survival. Which leaves us with a large swathe of the middle class,the class that pays taxes,the class that aspires to a better tomorrow and realises that a better future for it can only come about from a better future for all. In stark contrast,the mindset of the exploiters still belongs to an old age,one in which its own betterment can only come about at the expense of others,that is,a zero sum game.

Let us recount what has been achieved by “civil society” and its middle-class representatives over the last few years. Most importantly,in future,any stealing from the people’s cookie jars will require an out-of-the-ballpark arrogance and audacity. Phrased differently,it would require a stupidity of the highest order,something even our politicians are not capable of. Previously,only corporate insiders went to jail,like Ramalinga Raju of Satyam. Now,politicians do go to jail for white-collar crimes or crimes associated with misgovernance. Tragically,criminal indictments are still difficult for serious crimes like rape and murder,but this is also in the process of being corrected.

The second major achievement of civil society is that,most emphatically,no one is Teflon anymore,and no one is untouchable. Representing the oldest feudal order,Congress party leader Digvijaya Singh spoke truly and informatively when he confessed that it was not in the Congress’s DNA to identify faults in the families of fellow politicians,even when there is concrete evidence — a practice followed by the erstwhile mafia dons. That this was not a coincidental reference to the mafia was confirmed by Salman Khurshid’s “blood”-curdling comments.

Somewhat unconsciously,Digvijaya Singh confirmed the very nexus that India Against Corruption and virtually every aam aadmi on the street has believed in for a long time. The politicians,regardless of party affiliations,are in bed together,especially when it comes to loot. How much of that is true is not clear; the fact remains that the speculation is that it is true.

So that is another contribution of middle class angst. No politician is not under suspicion; no politician cannot not be directly questioned. We are all equal now — what more can the middle class want?

That our politicians no longer claim that they are “serving” the country. Just a few months ago,Robert Vadra had opined that he wanted to enter politics in order to “serve” his country. That statement has now been proved to be hollow,but to be fair,the statement is hollow no matter from whom it emanates. When an individual says that he is entering politics to serve his country,are we to believe that in his existing profession he is not serving the country? Is a teacher not serving to impart knowledge and therefore serving the country? Is a police officer maintaining law and order not serving the country? Is a doctor saving lives not engaged in a noble pursuit?

Even an athlete running for gold or playing in the Champions League claims he is serving the nation. Is he,or is he just a mere mortal,like the rest of us,trying to make life better for himself and his family? There is absolutely nothing wrong with that,and we all do it,but we don’t go around pretending that we are “sacrificing” ourselves in the cause of the nation. So what is so extraordinarily special about a politician who works for maybe 20 days a year (if we,the citizens are lucky) and,even on those days,is involved in some form of shouting match? What the politicians do in the other 345 days is slowly being brought to light by the middle class.

Is it not the case that most enter political life in India for the money and the glitter and the power? Actually,even in well governed Western nations,individuals enter political life because they like the power,the adrenaline,the excitement of being involved in the highest levels of decision making. I envy many individuals in political life,both in India and abroad — but not for one moment do I envy them because they have the opportunity to “serve” the nation and I do not.

The recent scams highlight another reality — that the political class just does not get it. The most striking feature about globalisation and the associated technology is that there just isn’t any place to hide anymore. For anyone,anywhere. Don’t believe me,but do believe all those caught unawares,like “47 per cent” Romney. If there is no place to hide,there is even less space to bury one’s ill-begotten gains.

Which means that the age of middle-class governance has arrived.

The writer is chairman of Oxus Investments,an emerging market advisory firm

express@expressindia.com

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