The government that can not meet the people at India Gate

The two interviews, one with the home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and the other with the Delhi police commissioner Neeraj Kumar, both conducted by Rajdeep Sardesai on the CNN-IBN channel (24 December 2012) left no one in doubt about the archaic, even medieval mindset of the higher echelons of the Indian government and its police machinery and threw into relief their conception of democratic functioning of the government. From the newspaper and media reports it appears that Shinde (and probably Neeraj Kumar as well) reiterated the same arguments on several channels (Times Now, ND TV etc) and justified the government’s and police version of the handling of the spontaneous student/youth protests and agitations in Delhi near India Gate, Rajpath, Raisina Hills (indeed, the very seat of government) over last one week following the brutal sexual assault on a young girl and the merciless beating her friend received in a city bus.

Thus spake the His Majesty (HM) the Home Minister

– “It is very easy to say that home minister should go to India Gate and talk. Tomorrow, if any other parties engage in demonstration, why shouldn’t the home minister go there, why only with this? You answer me, tomorrow if Congress party people will demonstrate or tomorrow BJP will demonstrate. Tomorrow, Maoists will come here and demonstrate, why should the home minister go there?”

– On being queried about the fairness of comparing the protesters with Maoists, he said, “You don’t separate law and order. I had already, right from day one, met them in my house, I met them in my office and I met their representatives. They should have been satisfied, but went on chanting ‘we want justice, we want justice’, what kind of justice are you expecting? There are some limits. We accepted all the demands.”

– That the Congress chief had agreed to meet them at midnight was clearly a big deal for him. “A person like Sonia Gandhi met the delegation of the students at midnight. They should have responded to that”, he said.

– According to him congress leaders like Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh or Rahul Gandhi couldn’t come and meet these protestors because, “I told you that if we come once, they will expect us to come every time.”

It would have been perhaps unrealistic to expect any better or clearer articulation of the arrogant position of a callous government that is thoroughly alienated from any public sentiment agitating the minds of a large section of people at any time. The keynote of Shinde’s rambling tirade is that : the ‘government’, that is Manmohan Singh or any of his important cabinet colleagues that include himself, the Home Minister, can not be seen as weak-kneed and go to India Gate to meet the sea of protesters. He can meet a handful of student representatives in the privacy of his office or home where he can sympathise with the victim, show his magnanimous support for the students’ cause, utter usual platitudes and make pious promises ! And with Olympian disconnect he expects that his promises for action be considered as good as actions taken.

That this is no longer a popular government by a long shot becomes clear from his wariness typical of bureaucrats (completely lacking in the basic political skills) in creating precedents by meeting an aggrieved group of people on a very serious and urgent issue. Like his police chief he believes that these agitations are mere law and order problems and can and should best be handled with tear gas, water cannons and, unfortunately if required, by unavoidably brutal lathicharge (as Neeraj Kumar says “There is always collateral damage in a crackdown”). Last but not the least, Shinde the HM showed himself primarily as the congress party faithful when he could not fathom why, like his obsequious self, the agitating students could not consider personal meeting with Sonia Gandhi at midnight hour at her residence as the mana from heaven and give up the agitation on hearing some more expression of shock and dismay.

One can’t help noticing the uncanny similarity of this government’s reactions and responses to those spelt out during the anti-corruption agitation last year. Defending Indian democracy against the attack from people squatting in Jantar Mantar, thronging Ramlila Maidan, taking out processions in streets of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Chidambaram, the then HM, and his worthy colleagues in cabinet thundered that laws can not be made in the streets ! Lawmaking is the exclusive business and the privilege of the parliament and such august institutions. One would have liked to agree with them but for the fact that the sanctity of the parliament has been called into question by the behaviour of the members of parliament themselves and lawmaking process has been shown to be subjected to worst lobbying by crony capitalism, partisan one-upmanship by politicians and lacks transparency and foresight (see a previous blog entitled Sanctity of the parliament and the democratic process). Anti-corruption oversight authority (call it Lokpal or by any other name) could not be brought into being for over forty years, nor the women reservation bill or the land-acquisition bill could be enacted, just to name some of the most important legislative tasks hanging fire for years. 

In this scenario of trust deficit between the government and the people (admittedly, at the moment mainly students and youth, professionals, women, generally middle class city dwellers, but sizable enough in number to cause discomfort and panic in the government) is it surprising that the protesters keep up the vigil of discontent and their aspiration for justice, which the HM is hard put to understand.

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