India must be wary of turning into a republic of noise
For the last one week, you must have seen images of people sobbing and complaining in newspapers and on television. The loved ones of the infants who perished in the Gorakhpur tragedy, middle-class victims of builders such as Jaypee and Amrapali in Noida, farmers driven to kill themselves despite loan waivers, family members of the victims of political killings in Kerala… Is this the sum total of our earnings over the last 70 years?
This is a time when the merchants of sorrow and outrage are out to make a killing. But one must not lose hope in an evolving democracy. Keeping this logic in mind let me share a personal experience with you.
This tragic incident took place 25 years ago. I was sitting at my newspaper office in Agra. I heard that the health of the residents of Khatik Pada was deteriorating because they had drunk contaminated water. By the time I could comprehend what was happening, 21 people had lost their lives. The sick were taken to the local medical college but within a week another 11 had died. An investigation revealed that the tank near Sanjay Place from where people drank water contained carcasses of dogs and other animals. Since the tank was not cleaned regularly, the water had turned poisonous. This departmental lapse had claimed the lives of more than two dozen people. Most of the victims were Dalits.
On reaching the spot I saw one district official and a few police personnel consoling the people. The collector at that time was an extremely capable officer. On the evening of the tragedy, I asked him with a certain amount of outrage where he was when the children were dying. “Should I have got my picture clicked by reaching the spot or stayed in my office to activate the government machinery to make necessary arrangements?” was his reply. He was correct. God forbid, if such an incident were to happen today, some people will term it a conspiracy against Dalits, others will call the entire government inefficient and those who were rooting for war with China and Pakistan until recently will be quick to brand our entire system dysfunctional.
That is why the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh had to drop all other business and spend two days in Gorakhpur and Union health minister J.P. Nadda changed prior engagements to reach the spot. Groups of ministers and senior bureaucrats are converging at Gorakhpur. Why don’t they understand that to prevent such incidents from happening in the future, people will have to sit in their offices, evolve a strategy and implement it on the ground? Panic and anxiety have fostered a culture of showing off rather than actual work. This is dangerous for the common man.
Those beating their chest over not getting a flat in Noida have fallen victim to this tendency. Those builders who were helping politicians dispose of their black money and benami property have now begun to rob common people. Those politicians who brought out advertisements boasting of good administration were their partners in crime. The case is similar with farmers. Governments may waive loans to remain popular but that leaves the coffers empty and they are left with nothing for development projects and making other arrangements.
There are numerous other examples which prove that for name and fame the actual work has been put on the backburner. Our democracy had turned into a mobocracy long ago. Why are we bent upon turning into a republic of noise?
I know that a number of questions will be raised in response to my question but where does this leave the average citizen? Consider these two examples. When a nuclear power station was water-logged during the Tsunami in Japan in 2011, power supply to a large section of the country was cut off. Trains were cancelled and life came to a standstill in mega-cities such as Tokyo. In a place where you have 60-70 storey buildings and people commute to work for 50-60km, you can imagine the plight of those without public transport and elevators. The citizens were feeling shackled without fetters. Even during such an awkward phase nobody cursed the government. Let them work for now, we’ll ask them questions later, was the sentiment. That is how the people of Britain reacted after the London bomb explosions.
Asking questions and giving a verdict on politicians during the elections is our right, but creating a clamour to disrupt their work can be suicidal. We need to understand this basic difference.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan.
His Twitter handle is @shekharkahin.