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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One of the most redeeming qualities of Nitish Kumar is persistence. Most politicians have a tendency of launching something with much fanfare, only to fade away in a whimper once the public gaze shifts. Nitish on the other hand has an inclination for following up on his initiatives. One of the best examples of his persistence is the ‘Janta Durbar’ program. Every Monday morning, he along with his key ministers and top bureaucrats meets complainants who approach him.
Such programs had been in fashion with earlier administrations too, but then they were primarily used for either dispensing favours to select groups, patronizing sycophants (ala ‘Lalu Chalisa’), or most importantly for earning useful publicity news bites . However, more often than not they quickly lost their utility and were slowly relegated to the back burner. One of the first significant changes that Nitish made to this program was to change its name from ‘Janta Durbar of Chief Minister’ to ‘Chief Minister in Janta Durbar’. The change though symbolic, epitomizes Nitish’s approach to governance. Another important improvement that he brought in was to connect all the complaints to an online tracking system. This online system assigns a ‘ticket number’ to every complaint that is logged in. The complaint is then followed up through the maze of bureaucracy till its resolution. He also experimented with ‘Janta Durbar’ on specific topics such as cases related to Police or to other departments and schemes. After assuming Office, Nitish Kumar has meticulously stuck to his ‘Monday morning’ schedule of ‘Janta Durbar’. The only time he makes an exception is when he is unwell, away for some important business or any other extenuating circumstances ( like the period of mourning after his Wife’s demise). Another time when he changed his schedule was when he took the program to the electorate’s door steps during his ‘Vikas Yatra’ while campaigning for the Parliamentary Elections.
This is not to suggest that all the complaints that land up in the ‘Janta Durbar’ get redressed. While many complaints are frivolous in nature, many seek personal favours and some are even antagonistic and require investigation of the contrarian point of view also. However still many genuine problems too face bureaucratic resistance in spite of the direct intervention of Chief Minister. Moreover one of the unfortunate offshoots of persistence has been that that those whose problems get redressed are less likely to return for expressing their thankfulness than those whose problems do not get redressed. This has led to several publicity disasters with complainants turning to the Janta Durbar multiple times unable to get redressal even after repeated attempts. Anyone else would have given up on this program if not for anything else, then for the bad publicity it generates when complainants recount their horror story of bureaucratic apathy and expose the inability of even the CM to cut through the red tape. Yet he has steadfastly stuck to his guns and refused to shut the program down. Four years down the line, different people may have different take on the efficacy of the program, still its regular continuance is an achievement in itself. That people continue to flock his Monday morning sessions and are allowed to approach repeatedly if their problems are not resolved, is no mean achievement at all.
In conclusion, Nitish Kumar has turned out to be an honest politician who has sincerely worked hard to put the state back on rails. He however, does not just bring good intentions and hard work to the table but also actively engages in realpolitik to ensure his political survival. He may not be a perfect politician, but his persistence scores well over his lack of perfection. Yet it may not be desirable to have him at the helm in perpetuity. On the contrary, we need many more such politicians so that we can rotate power among them and be sure that one takes off from where the other left. Only then, the people’s work can finally get done .
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