Strikes are still the weapon of choice for political parties to drive home their point. Yet a look under the hood of a typical strike, fails to reveal anything distinctive or hope inspiring.
The strike date is notified well in advance (so much for spontaneity). It is then publicised through all means available. Media picks up the announcement and features it prominently, giving it further publicity. At local levels threats and innuendos are used freely to forewarn everyone. On the day of the strike, hooligans and muscle power is used to force shops & offices to close down. Many though stay away on their own, fearing violence and commotion. Trains and other modes of transportation are obstructed, with least concern for those caught in the middle. Many a times those in urgent need of hospitalisation are unable to get their, those traveling for work, interview or examination are also made to suffer for no fault of theirs. The more the hardship to the public, the more successful the strike is considered to be. At the end of every strike, supporters always claim that the strike was spontaneous, voluntary & a grand success while the opponents claim it to be a flop show. No quarters gained, none lost. Net result is loss to the public exchequer and public misery.
Apart from general strikes that are ignited by occasional events, there are the ‘habitual’ strikers. Every year at the start of festive season the municipal workers strike work, the teachers & the non teaching staff go on strike during the admission season, Doctors strike work even when the ICUs are full of critical patients, bankers go on strike just before a long weekend. The intent clearly is to maximise the impact. The apparent success of the strike is again measured by the amount of public hardship.
While it is natural for us to blame the strikers for all the public hardship, the Government is equally to blame. One could understand if occasionally there was an issue that was complicated and could not be solved solved easily, leading to agitation. But strikes have become an integral part of our lives. So much so that first one agitates for constituting pay commission, then agitate if recommendations are not to one’s liking, then on to enforcing its implementation. Once the central Government implements the recommendations, as if on cue, one by one the state Government employees start seeking parity with central employees. On and on the cycle keeps repeating itself. Worst part of the process is that Government frequently goes back on the settlement reached at the end of a strike. There are strikes and agitations to simply get Government to keep its word and sometimes for payment of salary for the previous strike duration.
The frequent agitations are symptoms of a deep malaise in our system. They show that our grievance redressal mechanisms have all collapsed. While the judiciary takes ages to resolve complaints, everyone else is too busy protecting their own vested interests to spare time for problem resolution. Take for example the 3 – 4 PM slot that is normally reserved by bureaucrats to meet public for grievance resolution. Most officials make it a point to be away from office during the time period. Even meeting a public official does not lead to a solution. Things have come to such a pass that even problems referred by the Chief Minister in his Janata Durbar need multiple petitions before they get redressed by the officials down below. Even the courts have to get their judgments implemented by using the ‘contempt’ stick. Officials use every ruse for not implementing decisions that are not to their liking starting with appeals to simply delaying their implementation . Every organ of the state needs to be dragged by the scruff of their neck into doing anything. Often Government becomes the biggest law breaker when it tries to brow beat individuals and smaller groups with its size and power. All this leads to a general environment of non compliance and encourages people to agitate for their just as well as unjust demands . Things can only improve if problems are redressed at appropriate levels and judicial intervention is available in a defined time interval.
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Note: This is the first part of a multi part series on Nitish Kumar and his efforts to build a New Bihar.
When Mayawati became Chief Minster of U.P. for the first time, she shook up the entire bureaucracy and police by shifting more than 150 officers in one day. When Lalu became CM, he soon landed up at the Patna Medical College Hospital with the media in tow, to inspect whether Doctors were attending duty properly. He publicly rebuked those who were found derelict. He did the same when he became the Central Railway Minister, by ordering the office gates to be locked after the scheduled time so that the habitual late-comers could not get in. Yet, when Nitish Kumar became CM of Bihar in November 2005, after 15 long years of Lalu-Rabri rule, there was hardly a flutter.
Save one or two key bureaucratic changes, there were hardly any changes anywhere. So much so that even the official residence of Chief Minster, 1 Anne Marg, continued to adorn the outgoing Chief Minister, Rabri Devi more than two months after he was sworn in. People started to wonder what, if any, were the changes. Nitish Kumar went to work with practically the same bureaucratic and executive team as his predecessor. Sure there were reshuffles later on but the pace was unremarkable. He started off by conducting long meetings with the senior bureaucrats that routinely went on till late nights. The bureaucracy was rattled a bit but not too much thinking that the initial enthusiasm will soon run out of steam. They were, however, in for a rude shock. Nitish was digging his heels for a long seize, not a guerrilla war. Assiduously he went to work to put the state back on track, bit by bit.
One of the first challenges was to stabilize law and order situation. However here too, those who were looking for some high profile, quick fix solutions, were disappointed. In fact the first full year barely saw any change. High profile kidnappings and murders continued to rattle the state. Nitish came in for criticism for his pre-election claim that he will fix law & order within three months. Change however, started to become visible later after a few cases were cracked by the Police and the accused were charge sheeted promptly. Another significant change appeared in the form of unshackling of several upright senior Police Officers who had been completely sidelined during the Lalu Rabri era.
Another turning point was the gusto with which the state embraced the centrally sponsored Fast Track Court scheme. More and cases were transfered to the FTC especially those belonging to high profile criminal politicians ( even those from his own JDU Party) . Suddenly things started to look up after the conviction rates started to inch up. In the past two years 2006 – 2008, more than 26000 convictions have taken place. Several dreaded political criminals have been awarded capital punishment and lesser sentences. Today, even thogh the law & order situation may not be ideal, but at least it has turned a corner . A clear proof of this is that Bihar has already ceded its monopoly over prime time television news to a lot of other states. No news is indeed good news.
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Note: This is the concluding part of the three part series on Next Generation Electoral Reforms (other two – Intership for MPs & MLAs , Inner Party Democracy) .
Indian Electoral System today is at a point of inflection. What started in early ’90s as a lone struggle by a maverick (T. N. Seshan) to cleanse the cesspool of Indian Elections, has now transformed into a well oiled election machinery that has won acclaims for the successful conduct of several difficult electoral battles. Indian Elections are unique because of the number of people that vote, the varied geography it covers as well as the specter of violence that hangs around them. The real game changer has been the speedy roll out of the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). From trial runs to all EVM Elections, they have even caught the fancy of the world community. The somewhat checkered implementation of the Voter ID Cards, and the mandatory affidavits by candidates have also contributed to the credibility of Indian Elections. But where do we go from here?
To be sure, there are still problems galore. There is the problem of increased Naxalite insurgency and the violence inflicted by them during elections. Beside that the role of money power too has come in for sharp focus. Around 300 present MPs are known to be Crorepatis, giving rise to the feeling that in near future, being a millionaire might become a pre-requisite for the job. However the most serious problem of them all is the twin issue of increasing Criminalisation of Politics and the lack of good people joining politics. Both these are essentially two sides of the same coin.
For our democracy to enter the next level of maturity, we need to usher in a new generation of Electoral Reforms. It is customary in the election season to run campaigns for increased voter turnout. There have been other ideas that have come to fore such as public funding of Elections, option to reject all candidates, provisions for recall of candidates etc. However many of these ideas can only take us thus far. Increased voter turnout will only have an impact if there is a wide choice of good candidates and detailed information about their performance is available. Even though public funding is being touted as a solution to the rising influence of money power, it may end up becoming up another channel for large scale waste of public money.
The problem of the criminalisation of politics needs to be tackled head on. We have for too long, dithered on the premise that any law to debar under trial criminals before they are finally convicted by the highest court, will open the door for falsely implicating innocent persons and will be against the laws of natural justice . However such arguments have become fallacious after more and more MPs & MLAs are being convicted of serious crimes such as murder, rape & sedition. We need to bite the bullet now and make the law applicable to criminals convicted of serious crimes by any court of law. Once convicted they should not be allowed to contest even if their appeal is pending in a higher court, till the time their conviction is annulled by a competent court. Besides this ‘Fast Courts’ should be mandatory in case of MPs & MLAs being accused.
The problems facing our nation are serious and the rapid degeneration in the quality of our MPs and MLAs will reverse whatever progress we have made in the past decades. An intense debate on Next Generation Electoral Reforms is the need of the hour and the denizens of Social Media Network should take a lead in this direction. These discussions will hopefully throw up some ideas that will help shape a new dawn.