-By Seema Mustafa
Over six decades later the poor are engulfed in a sea of emotion---resentment, anger, frustration, resignation, unhappiness, sorrow, fear. Security has emerged as a major issue with communal forces gaining ground. Terrorism is the new mantra for the ruling elite that uses this to arm the security forces with extra constitutional powers, and justify every act of violation.
Its strange how the government does not know anything until some one or the other at the top "experiences" it. And if he does not then the people have to continue facing the hardship, as those who move in VIP corridors just do not care. So the gods smiled for the thousands and millions of commuters when Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia actually rubbed shoulders with the unimportant common man when he went to leave someone at the international airport in Delhi. It was then that he realized that ordinary mortals, traveling in cars without the famous 'red battis' (red lights) often do not even manage to reach the international terminal in time to catch their flights. They are stuck outside in the jam of cars and crowds and by the time they reach the terminal and fight their way inside,the international flight has left. Ahluwalia has asked for an explanation but its unlikely he will be able to proceed much further on this. More so as there are many in the government who do not find any need for a Planning Commission and are keen to wind it up altogether.
In fact peoples woes are hardly the issue within the Congress party, where individuals spend days and nights wondering how to keep themselves in power. It was not a surprise then to find many Congress leaders coming out of the woodwork to attack HRD Minister Arjun Singh for daring to criticize the party (read Sonia Gandhi) by attacking the environment of sycophancy. Of course, the very next day he announced his 'sycophantic' credentials by speaking of his loyalty to the Nehru-Gandhi family and letting it be known that he would serve the members for as long as he lived. However, its unlikely that Sonia Gandhi will accept the second thoughts, and this is what the others seeking to revive themselves in the party are talking about. Jairam Ramesh is never behind in taking on the cudgels on behalf of the Congress president, and this time he has been joined by friend Salman Khursheed who has been left cooling his heels on the sidelines by both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. He just might make it back to favour on this issue, provided he keeps the criticism of Arjun Singh muted and yet loud enough for all to hear.
No one knows in this government what is happening to the people. For instance, hundreds of innocent people have been killed through the Salwa Judum 'brainwave' in Chhatisgarh where the government armed villagers to fight the Maoists. It has been a complete fiasco that could have been laughed off as yet another government blunder had the repercussions not been so tragic. But some one is quoted somewhere in the newspapers as admitting that salwa judum did not work, but at the same time no one at the center has done anything about calling it off. Farmers continue to die of agrarian distress all over the country, but after his one visit to Vidarbha where dole was given, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has had little to say on the subject. Stories of caste violence, of communal discrimination, of police atrocities do not even elicit a blink of the eye, as those in power at the center and the states remain immune to the plight of the people. Of course, there is immediate action if someone defiles a statue of Ms Mayawati, or dares question the rule of Sonia Gandhi, or comes in the way of a VIP cavalcade, however, innocently.
The rules have all changed. There was a time----and not so long ago either, perhaps just a decade ago---when people squirmed at the charge of communalism or corruption. The ruling elite took on a shifty look, did not meet your eye as they too strongly denounced communalism and those who indulged in dirty corruption. Today both are justified. In fact, those who live on their salaries are regarded as "fools", the "clever" space being occupied by the men who know how to twist the laws and rake in the black money. Every other government servant has his or her children studying in the most prestigious institutions abroad, mostly the US. How? Every other politician suffering from some undisclosed disorder, is treated abroad. Again the preferred destination being the US. How? No wonder then Washington is able to dictate policy, and pull us up for our relations with Iran, for eating too much and for consuming more oil than we should.
In most urban cities across the country, development is an euphemism for selling real estate at contrived prices. Huge hotels, shopping malls for instance are mushrooming all over Delhi and its satellite towns Noida, Gurgaon but not even an acre of land has been reserved by the government for a public hospital, or an educational institution serving the poorer sections of society. Industrialists, it now seems, are also being sold Waqf land for a penny. Unofficially the penny probably was converted into crores. Villagers have been thrown out of their land with meager compensation, all in the name of growth and development. Government rehabilitation policies remain in a sorry mess for obvious reasons. Land fetches a good price, people are just a liability. Many are paid just a fraction of the money promised, and told to find themselves new homes and new land. The Hyderabad airport - state of the art - displaced 12 villages with the residents having disappeared from sight. The poor are not on any governments map, least of all the Congress led UPA's, with even the supposed messiahs of the poor like Lalu Prasad Yadav finding the air conditioned comfort of Delhi infinitely preferable to the backwaters of Bihar.
And for good reason. Delhi is growth visible in the traffic jams, the big malls, the five star luxury, the black money, the pollution. In a Bihar village nothing has changed. There are no schools, no hospitals, no cars, no roads, no drinking water, no growth. Children run around half naked, with swollen bellies. Their mothers die for want of health care. The ruling elite does not speak of this because it does not have to experience this, and like the three monkeys shuts off all senses when confronted with grim reality. Elections after elections, the same promises. Year after year, the same lies. Over six decades later the poor are engulfed in a sea of emotion---resentment, anger, frustration, resignation, unhappiness, sorrow, fear. Security has emerged as a major issue with communal forces gaining ground. Terrorism is the new mantra for the ruling elite that uses this to arm the security forces with extra constitutional powers, and justify every act of violation.
But then if those in power do not see, they need not act. The other day a group of editors were returning from a junket to Europe. The immigration line was long, and eventually it took over an hour to clear. One editor , prompted by the others, called the minister of civil aviation to inform him of the mess at the airport pointing out that most of the immigration booths were unmanned. Within a few minutes an official came looking for the editors to get them out of the line ahead of the queue. That was the ministers response to the telephone call. Save the VIP's (if editors can be called that), the rest be damned.