You haven't heard of Leeladhar Borikar, nor had I until two days ago. He is a Superintending Engineer at the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company (MSEDCL) in Nagpur. He is in the news because he dared snip off the power connection to Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh's official residence in Nagpur. Why ? Because the CM's department forgot to pay up some Rs 1.5 lakh worth of dues.
You might have heard of Yakoob Qureshi, the Uttar Pradesh minister for Haj (imagine, you can have a minister for the Haj when maybe a good travel agent would do) who put a price on the head of the Dutch cartoonist for his drawings of the Prophet. Well, he is in the news again, this time for threatening to kill (yes kill unless there is dire misreporting here) Indian Railway officials for catching him while traveling ticketless on a train to Lucknow. To compund matters, the railway officials made him pay a fine of Rs 14,000.
What's common to both cases ? Both incidents took place in the last few days. And both smack of incredible arrogance and utter shamelessness. On the part of politicians, bureaucrats and their collective ilk. In both cases, the persons concerned or their side kicks (of which they are always so many) were furious that they were hauled up by a government authority. And both reacted in a manner that can only be termed feudal.
"I Will Get Your Whole Family Killed"
In the Nagpur power cut case, `Senior IAS officer' Jayraj Phatak, labelled as a Government spokesman, went on to say that position of Chief Minister called for special treatment. "It (the treatment) cannot be the same for the tehsil office and the CM". So, the action of suspending Borikar was justified.
The Haj minister went a step further. "Tumko jaan pyari nahi hai kya. Poorey parivaar ko jaan se marva daloonga...pata bhi nahi chalega." Yes, the translation of this reported utterance, "Are you not afraid for your life ? I will get your whole family killed. You won't even know." Given the methods used to settle differences of opinion in some parts of our great country, I am inclined to believe the Haj minister may well have intended to carry out his threat.
Deshmukh whose boundless administrative incompetence needs no introduction, responded as any infuriated politician and feudal lord would. He ordered a `thorough' investigation into the cutting off electric supply and as to why the Public Works Department (PWD) did not pay the bills, though apparently it had adequate provisions for the same. Possible, but Mr Deshmukh, when did you last speak to your state finance minister. Last I did, your state government's debt stood at Rs 100,000 crore ($22 bn) and rising. Despite all the announced, fresh investment intentions.
"Don't You Know Who I Am ?"
While he tries to do that, I would like to know the result of the thorough investigations that his Government has conducted into:
1. The July 26 floods in Mumbai and the Mithi river disaster. And what is the status report on work done ?
2. The Vidharbha starvation deaths which show no sign of stopping.
3. The Mumbai bomb blasts two months ago. What has changed in law and order staffing and structure that can make me the citizen feel more safe ?
4. State of Mumbai itself. Even something as simple as potholes cant be fixed.
Would like to add to the list but really would not want to strain our overburdened administrations. Moving on, Qureshi apparently asked the Ticket Collectors (TCs) how dare they enter his compartment and ask for a ticket ? And then the immortal line, "Don't you know who I am ?" Qureshi did have some form of documentation, but predictably, not in order. One was a fax copy of a ticket for two people from Hapur to Lucknow and the other a ministerial requisition form - neither were valid travel documents.
There is nothing new in what either minister did. Just that the brazenness with they flout every basic tenet of behaviour expected of an elected representative baffles me. And this is despite a hungry media, a more open society et al. And as always, we have an amazing knack of being straddled with wannabe fedual lords for politicians. For whom democracy is a joke and their reign in political power, an extension of their fedual reigns in their ghettos, hamlets or villages or wherever they come from. And the unfortunate truth is that we allow them to rule over us.
Owning Up A Mistake
A good politician, gentleman and a good citizen would have owned up a mistake immediately and paid up. Or, if he or his department was bankrupt, would have requested a small moratorium. And demonstrated to the citizenry that he was indeed serious about this apology, serious about not commiting this offence again and how he would cut back on costs. It would have been a great opportunity to show some basic courtesy and decency if nothing else. And maybe got some votes.
Obviously, such phrases or actions are alien to our fine politicians and their men who did what comes best to them. Cajole and threaten. So, Deshmukh's men suspended the righteous engineer and Qureshi warned that blood would be shed if the Railway officials persisted in doing their job. After all, the honour of a politician lies above all laws of the land and blood of its citizens.
The good news it there was a huge outcry and Borikar has been reinstated. The technical line is that the suspension did not follow the normal procedure. Which means Borikar has difficult days ahead. Deshmukh and/or his cohorts will not rest till they have run him and his family to the ground.
I am pretty sure both he and the Haj minister, or their loyal followers, will set out to finish off these `ordinary' citizens and `public servants' who came in their way - and tried to do their job. Not knowing their job is only to catch people like you and me. Not them, particularly whilst in power. Unless of course you and I can help it. And take these guys on where we can.