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Cautionary Word

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The revolt, it will be recalled, by Congress MLAs against the state government’s ‘style of functioning’ during Harish Rawat’s stint as Chief Minister was rooted in factionalism, but the excuse offered was discontent at failure to deliver. Similar discontent is brewing in the present BJP regime. The Chief Minister might be happy to say that ‘only a few are discontented’ from among the large flock of party MLAs, but it would be wise not to take things so casually. Among the symptoms of government getting disconnected from reality is the unhappiness of elected representatives. It was earlier described as ‘UP style of politics’, but there is no doubt that Uttarakhand’s ruling class is developing its own brand that carries an even greater mix of arrogance, callousness and unconcern.

Whether it is every MLA or party functionary seeking ‘ministerial status’ throwing his or her weight about – from pushing ordinary folk off the streets with their hooters and ‘lal battis’, to demanding the release of criminals from thanas, or granting oneself privileges at the cost of others, it is visible everywhere. They may call themselves public representatives, but clearly believe themselves to be feudal lords ‘fated’ to enjoy privilege and rule.

The ‘andolankaris’ cry themselves hoarse about the betrayal of the Uttarakhandi dream, but relate it more to pensions and jobs, occasionally demanding the capital be located in Gairsen. The real betrayal, however, is the rise of a political culture that takes the people for granted. Even though the electorate has, time and again, rung the warning bells by flooring the biggest reputations, the politician refuses to learn the necessary lesson. It seems even a brief stint in power, no matter how peripheral, ‘pays off’ enough to practice the politics of cynicism and self-interest.

Nobody can say, particularly in Uttarakhand, that the people are unaware of what they want. Every five years or so, they take the trouble to emphasise their preferences. Clearly, however, this is not enough. Citizens must knock on the doors of the politicians on a daily basis to demand service. If the MLAs are applying pressure on the Chief Minister in the name of the people, after the declared ultimatum expires, they should be asked what was obtained for the constituencies. Or was it just a private equation they were looking for with the Chief Minister? If people don’t ask inconvenient questions, they should not expect the politicians to deliver.

The officials, too, have a role to play. Instead of the bureaucracy and the police behaving like the stereotypes depicted in Bollywood movies – minions scurrying around ‘paan’ chomping, big-bellied ‘masters’ – they should exhibit professional pride in doing their job. Of course, this requires they know what their job is, and it certainly does not involve glowering menacingly at the common people, or overlooking their interests. Good training and intelligent mentoring by seniors should go into preparing government servants. It should not be difficult in Uttarakhand, if only inspiration is taken from the spirit displayed by the people during the statehood movement. Those who lament the betrayal of the dream should perhaps revive it in popular culture so that it impacts, positively, on the rest of society. The people may then get the ‘representatives’ they need.