THE party has a new president and a new national executive. I am, of course, referring to Bharatiya Janata Party. But what about its policies?
For instance, we still do not know much about its economic policies. It is all very well to say that the party is keen on development, but so is everybody else. There is no organisation in the world which says it is against development. So development in itself cannot be much of a policy. You need a policy that favours the common man directly and improves his or her lot during a measurable time period. For instance, the Democrats in the US have passed a new health reform bill that benefits or is supposed to benefit 45 million Americans from the word go. This is a revolutionary achievement, whatever its eventual cost, which is precisely why the Republicans do not know how to react to it.
Take inflation. It is not enough to stage demonstrations against rising prices. The common man wishes to know how the opposition parties will bring them down, and, at the same time, avoid making a dent into growth.
Then there is unemployment. Despite a hefty GDP growth rate, one of the highest in the world, there has been no break in unemployment. Overall jobless rate is around 10 per cent, but is as high as 20 to 25 per cent among the youth. In Pune, young men are committing suicide because, despite good degrees like engineering, they cannot get jobs. Any party that comes out with a clear blueprint for jobs will win hands down.
There are a number of other issues. The delivery system of the government is simply not up to the mark. Partly this is due to insensitive bureaucracy which has developed vested interests in the existing system and will not allow anyone to improve it. It is not much use cranking out new policies if you cannot implement them. And as long as the bureaucracy continues in its ancient ways, there can be no improvement.
Walk into any government office and the first thing that hits you is the squalor of the place. I am not talking about the ministries in Delhi which function fairly smoothly, though not very efficiently. But you go to districts or even in state capitals, and the squalor and the dirt hit you in the eye. You and I are able to get our work done, because we know our way around, or we know the right people, or we know people who know the right people. Often, money changes hands and the work is done, even simple work like getting a copy of some document or your birth certificate. But not everybody knows the right people. For them, government work is a nightmare.
I am not saying that things have not improved or are not improving, but as far as the common man is concerned, things are still a nightmare. These people come from hundreds of miles away, spend a lot of money and end up in the clutches of city slickers who exploit them. Our ministers sit in their air-conditioned cabins and watch the fun. They can get their work done in a jiffy, but what about the aam aadmi?
We have completed sixty years of Independence but remain totally indifferent to the woes of the common man. How many times have we written to some official in the secretariat and waited for a reply that never came? The secretaries are busy with ministers or in meetings that never end. And your letters, even simple letters, are never answered.
At the end of the last world war, I was among the first group of students to go to England for higher studies. This was in 1945. it was a chaotic year and everything was upside down. Some Congress leaders were still in jail or were being released gradually one by one. There was a new Viceroy in Delhi, a military commander called Lord Wavell, who had been transferred from Cairo. The air was thick with rumours that the British were leaving India, but nobody knew when.
I had everything, or nearly everything, ready for the voyage to England, a big thing in those days. I had my passport and some money, but for some reason, I had still not been able to get my passage booked. Scores of ships passed through Bombay, but they were meant for troops going home from the East. I had put down my name for a berth it cost only Rs 500 at the time-but the sanction had to come from Delhi.
I didn’t know anybody in Delhi. In fact, I had not even seen Delhi. I had a friend in Bombay, an Irani, who ran a restaurant. His name was Yazdani. One day, I told him about my passage difficulties and how difficult it was to wangle a reservation.
“Why don’t you write to Delhi?” he said, as if Delhi was next door and all I had to do was send a postcard.
“I don’t know anybody in Delhi,” I told him. My Irani friend scratched his beard-he had a red beard like some mullah and said, “Why don’t you write to the Viceroy? He should help you.”
I thought he was joking. Write to the Viceroy? It was almost like writing to God. But there was a logic to his suggestion. After all, the Viceroy was supposed to look after everybody in India and it was his duty to help.
So I sat down and wrote to the Viceroy and told him about my difficulty in getting a berth. It was a short letter, written by hand, on a special light grey paper I got from the Irani friend.
Ten days later, I saw our postman running after me with an envelope that looked as if it had come from a mamlatdar’s office. It was dark yellow, like most envelopes used during the war and carried a signature in left hand corner.
It was not from the Viceroy, not even from his ADC, a secretary, but from a deputy secretary, a colonel, who wrote that my letter had been passed on to the director-general of shipping in Bombay and I should hear from him shortly. And he ended, “Your Most Obedient Servant.”
A week later, I was sitting in the verandah of our chawl, sipping tea, when a big car stopped on the road below. A man in white uniform stepped out of the car and asked an urchin for directions. Then he climbed the 40-odd steps to my one-room tenement, and asked for me by name.
When I got up, he saluted smartly and said he had come from the office of the director-general of shipping. Then he handed over a white envelope containing my reservation slip on SS Orion-I still remember the name-and saluted me again.
I couldn’t ask him to sit, because there was no chair in my room. I used to sit on the bedroll and do all my work. I couldn’t offer tea either as there was no crockery. But I did salute him back and went down with him to his car, clutching the precious envelope, to see him off.
The British may have been a nasty lot, but they did know how to deal with the aam aadmi!
(The writer can be contacted at 301, Mani Kanchan Apts, Kanchan Galli, Law College Road, Pune-411004)