Good governance be Dabang-ed

I saw Dabang – a Bollywood movie last Sunday (4th Dec) on television. The name means brazen individual to the best of my knowledge. I am not the one to watch much of Bollywood movies partly because of the content which cannot be very appealing and more because of a strong ideological position where an interest in good governance makes me of the firm opinion that Bollywood presents some of the worse culprits of bad governance in an unhealthy coalition. And any dollar votes and eye balls to them automatically makes one a partner in crime.

Within Bollywood I am particularly not for Salman Khan who to me represents a particularly brazen (Dabang) symbol of getting away with all kinds of wrong. I cannot watch most such Bollywood movies without continuously reading into the underlying  nuances of social and political commentary that the movie represents and Dabang presents a lot of those, in spite of people telling me that I should chill and just be entertained.

Dabang is a celebration of this brazen wild west type of lawlessness which is increasingly becoming prevalent in India.  The Dabang trigger happy Robin Hood cop who goes about robbing robbers and filling his cupboard and benevolently shooting his lower staff to enable his promotion is in many ways a glorification of the profuse crop of such ‘Dabang’ bureaucrats, cops, politicians, industrialists and even unlikely candidates like news anchors and other media personalities that this country has by now produced and keeps producing. Even as I was watching the movie I could imagine how a number of these film stars spend cozy evenings with a lot of real life Dabangs and the kind of entertaining parties that they must be having dancing to the theme song of the movie, laughing at how easily they get away in such a badly governed country as India.

These Dabangs and their families and friends themselves present a good market for the film, in terms of people enjoying a celebration and validation of their own selves on the big screen. The other big market of course is the millions of naïve, very good, sincere, hard working, god fearing and worshipping public who have to necessarily keep themselves entertained and happy. To a lot of this public the intricacies and nuances of sushasan (good governance in Hindi which I heard a village woman in Bihar commenting in the context of Nitish victory), is really not connected to an evening spent at the multiplex.

The movie’s message as far restoring equilibrium in a misgoverned state is clear – that only equally brazen people can possibly hope to bring to task the Cheedi Singhs – the ‘key villain’ – of the world. And they can do it with panache and ease. And again mind you it has nothing to do with upholding the law and booking the culprits. Having a decade’s experience with intervention in issues and knowing a number of fellow activists I know that the real difficulty in cleaning up matters is not in dealing with the other side as much as the complete absence of a society which understands, demands or even involves itself in absolutely harmless small interventions towards good governance.

During the week  I couldn’t get worried a bit when in bizarre coincidence I happened to speak with a dear friend after long. This friend’s father operates a manufacturing unit in Jharkhand supplying a crucial material for the processes to the various iron and steel mills in India’s hinterland. He was holed up in Ranchi and informed me of his fire fighting operations there which sounded very familiar. My friend’s father had purchased the land (away from Ranchi) where their unit operates in 1974 from a private party. A decade or more hence a local Public Sector Unit (PSU) wished to acquire their land and initiated proceedings for the same. The matters reached the courts and the courts ruled in favour of my friend two times. In one instance the PSU did not file their rejoinder for nine years and the court automatically ruled in favour of my friend.

Now suddenly a ‘Dabang’ Deputy General Manager decided that he will acquire the land one way or the other. And so it came as a shock to me to hear that this DGM had for the past two months surrounded their manufacturing unit with two hundred security guards – some of them armed – and had completely stopped the inflow or outflow of any goods. Even a week of such a scenario can prove too costly; two months can make it life threatening -and two hundred men is far too intimidating.

The DGM has complete support of a ‘Dabang’ head local cop. The anguish in my friend’s voice was palpable. He got caustic in his remarks of my interest in good governance. He and I were in the University Masters course in economics together and he would make me cynicaly present to the reality of a lot of issues around then, even as he appreciated my own brazen ‘Dabang’ interludes with various environmental and governance issues in the city. He would take a dig at a lot of these seminars we like to attend and the reports and papers we love to gloss over.

This was the reality of the country he said. The area where the unit is situated has its share of Maoists, Naxilites and the mafia but none of them have ever troubled this much – being satisfied with their regular cut – but to stop production completely for two months was unheard of.

Not only the perimeter closure, the DGM in collusion with the cop has also issued a non-bailable arrest warrant in what is essentially a civil suit. The result being that my friend’s father is currently underground. So we have an interesting situation – the state which is meant to be the forerunner for good governance and ensure justice has become the worst culprit, worse than the ‘officially recognized’ culprits whose behavior seems more principled in comparison.

And these are not isolated instances. In a country aiming for 8 percent growth and aiming to become the next trillion dollar economy there are instances replete of dabang tax officials and license inspectors harassing businesses.

India has now become a land of Dabangs. An A Raja with clear implications of wrong doing in the 2 G scam can go back to his constituency in Chennai and be given a rousing welcome, a Suresh Kalmadi can be admonished but nothing more in CWG, Adarsh here, Adarsh there.

But it is not the Dabangs who are interesting. What is really interesting is the comprehensive and all pervasive inability of the average well educated and economically well of Indian to engage in small and medium governance matters.

Not to leave without some suggestions I would say that if people were to just get to know their neighbourhood administration as well as their movies then a lot of good would come about. Who is the local municipal councilor, the local cop, the local member of the legislature, what are public services which I use and how well are they maintained. Just this week BMC is going to be budgeting Rs. 1000 crores towards some new roads and minor roads repair and how many would be scrutinising that?

I regularly speak at schools and colleges on environmental issues and the flavour of the season clearly is climate change and I have to exhort people to not be so knowledgeable about the big issues without having any clue on their own city and neighbourhoods. People don’t know their municipal councilors or how big their city is and what are the administrative units, the budgets, taxes and spends but will be following Copenhagen!

Another friend recently sent me a nice quote by Gandhi:

“ Today it is certain that the millions cannot have high living and we the few who profess to do the thinking for the masses run the risk, in a vain search after high living, of missing high thinking.”

( just to add thoughts to the quote I would like to say that today it seems certain that the millions cannot have high thinking)

And this really is the key challenge I think for good governance. The few of us (who also runs into hundreds of thousands) who have enjoyed the high living and would also like to think that we are better off than the poor in giving direction to the country will necessarily have to demonstrate effectiveness more than anything else. A very large number of people have the right information and read the right reports and attend meetings and conferences but are still not able to demonstrate effective intervention – discussing good governance has in a some ways also become a great career for a good number of people.

Unless that doesn’t happen it’s the Dabangs who will be in control and good governance be Dabang-ed.

One thought on “Good governance be Dabang-ed

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