Neta is the worst four-letter word. If you are an irresponsible journalist you can misquote,infer,carry anonymous sources of information,even blackmail. But you will get the benefit of the doubt because journalist is not a four-letter word.
If you are a devious businessman,you can cheat,bribe,etc,but you will get the benefit of the doubt because businessman is an eleven-letter word. If you are a quack doctor,you can misdiagnose,overcharge,conduct unnecessary operations at high costs,give the wrong medicine with disastrous consequences,but doctor is not a four-letter word either. I have spent over 22 years as a journalist. But now,unfortunately,I am a neta,and so everything I do is automatically suspect.
Among the things I am proud of,though,is the work we do in the districts of Uttar Pradesh under the aegis of the Dr Zakir Husain Memorial Trust,an NGO formed in memory of the late president of India,who was from my erstwhile MLA constituency,Kaimganj,and was also,I am proud to say,my grandfather-in-law.
We sponsor over 30 girls a year for higher education. We focus on agricultural extension,including aloe vera as a replacement for tobacco farming,potatoes,chicory and have,less successfully,experimented with bamboo. Farrukhabad being a crafts hub,we work closely with zardozi workers,trying to get them better terms of work. We organise medical help,including plastic surgery for children with cleft lips,we conduct diagnostic camps,with reputed doctors from Delhi. The Trust has begged for funds to work for flood relief,for the thousands afflicted by the flooding of the Ganga and Ram Ganga rivers that flank Farrukhabad. Our work for the handicapped is only a fraction of the Trusts work,but it is what I am proudest of. Some years ago,the ministry of social justice and empowerment,which gives grants to conduct camps for the handicapped ,appointed various organisations to monitor NGOs in the sector. Our Trust was scanned and cleared by Action Aid.
Of course,it would be wrong to claim we have not encountered any problems with the Trust. For instance,at one of our diagnostic camps,the doctors were befuddled when over 10,000 people showed up for an exercise planned for 3,000. Then one of them recalled how an American doctor had solved the same dilemma at an eye-camp,when thousands of people who didnt even need spectacles showed up to get their free pair. And so,their prescriptions,written out by the efficient doctors,just said ADT any damn thing.
We started using the same tactic,but with a difference. We distributed free medicines after the checkups,medicines begged from pharmaceutical companies through their CSR account. While those who needed them got the medication they needed,others got the equivalent of ADT vitamins,calcium and iron. This is not an experiment that works all the time. When we hold an assessment camp for the handicapped,thousands of persons turn up with the expectation of being helped. But we dont have a magic wand. We work under constraints,like government orders that a person can get aid only once in three years. People do get angry with us. Others may not have the requisite certification. There would go another group of very angry people. Can we afford to get upset when they complain,or if they fall prey to an unscrupulous sting operation?
It hurts when a person purporting to stand up for the rights of the disabled puts me and Arvind Kejriwal at par as persons who have tried to stand on the shoulders of persons with disabilities to do our politics. I dont know what provisions Arvind Kejriwal may have made in his new political party,but the Dr Zakir Husain Memorial Trust is trying to ensure the dignity of the handicapped in a different way. Besides the 10 per cent reservation for handicapped persons in our training programmes,we also reserve 10 per cent for any person from a family supporting a handicapped person.
It hurts when Rahul Cherian,in his article entitled Just a tool in their hands (IE,October 18) hits out at me for sitting Rafiq Bhai by my side in a television programme. Rafiq Bhai is one of our success stories,a story he wanted to relate on television but was not given the opportunity. He has formed many of the self-help groups for the handicrafts project I earlier mentioned. He has been paid well,and has set up an office. It is not a be-kind-to-the-handicapped project. It is a project to bring dignity to those who are handicapped by poverty,ill health and lack of education,and Rafiq Bhai is going to be one of the integral pillars of this project.
We have never sought publicity for our effort. It seemed in bad taste to do politics from the shoulders of the afflicted,as Arvind Kejriwal does so happily. And,therefore,it hurts when persons who have never volunteered to make a difference,who have rarely gone beyond pontificating at international conferences,who have rarely held the hand of the hurt and underprivileged,who have rarely left the capital city to see how tough life is in the gullies of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar,are so quick to point a finger. So quick to call us to account without offering accountability themselves. So quick to condemn,but abruptly calling off press conferences at the first hint of an uncomfortable question.
As the saying goes,when you point a finger at your neighbour,there are three fingers pointing back at you. Now some outraged journalist or social crusader may say: Dont tar all of us with the same brush. Only a few are bad apples. Well,not all netas are bad apples. In fact,most of them are struggling to keep their necks above the crooked aspirations of a whole body of persons who,unfortunately,pass as the aam aadmi.
Be a fly on the wall of a netas office/ janta darbar and hear the kind of requests they get. Get my child admission in a school or college even if he scores at the bottom of the class. You say,the young person must surely pass the test? They retort: If he can pass the test himself then why am I coming to you? Then there are the constant demands for out-of-turn transfers and undeserved postings. You dare not question the rationale for the request. What have you been voted into office for?
You try to say: To build roads and install hand pumps through the MP Local Area Development (MPLAD) fund. To push for Indira Awas houses and electricity connections to villages. To try to persuade the railway ministry to connect your area to the rest of the world. To conduct job melas and get deserving children into schools. They look at you with incredulity. If you cant get the child of the person they are supplying zardozi work to in Delhi a DPS admission,then you are good for nothing!
Should one give up? Should one just sit back and pay out money at the right time to the right people to secure votes or should one battle it out in the trenches,regardless of the naysayers?
For me,the verdict is reserved.
The writer is former MLA,Kaimganj,Uttar Pradesh,and project director,Dr Zakir Husain Memorial Trust