A news item the other day reported the highhandedness of the so-called VIPs. The widely circulated Dainik Bhaskar had reported earlier that there was an encroachment in the Boat Club area by a party which had been allotted 600 sq.ft. for running a food joint called Food Point. The newspaper reported that instead of using 600 sq.ft. the proponent had created a facility of 4000 sq.ft.
The Mayor took prompt action. After his office verified all the related records and found that there were breaches of conditions of the lease and signs of massive encroachments by the allottee he visited the site with his anti-encroachment squad and a posse of policemen just in case the situation turned ugly. Facing no problem he cancelled the allotment. The operation to remove the encroachment, however, was halted as the Mayor was spoken to by somebody very high in the government.
Later it transpired that the allottee happened to be the son of a major builder in the city who was also close to a former minister in the government. The allottee’s father seems to have influenced the officers of the Municipal Corporation at lower levels to allow the massive illegal construction. They did so behind the back of the Mayor who was not put wise about the underhand developments. The phone call that stayed the hands of the mayor must have come from one of the powerful persons involved.
This is how the “important” or “very important” people subvert the rule of law. First they manipulate the bureaucracy and if necessary they also get the political executive to step in and help them out. The political executives are mostly beholden to them for the favours they might have received or are likely to receive from them. The VIPs – for such a person is a VIP in the current Indian context for whom rules can be thrown away to the winds – are, in fact, law-breakers who subvert normal functioning of the official agencies, bending them to work to their own (VIP’s) advantage. They are, as the saying goes, more equal than others.
Shiv Vishwanathan, a reputed social scientist, in one of his very interesting pieces has said that the 20th Century writer George Orwell understood the Indian brand of socialism very well. His book Animal Farm was taken to be a critique of Indian socialism where the pigs challenging equality asserted “some were more equal than others”. Vishwanathan says, as animal symbolism goes, “the Pig is the archetypal VIP” but some have added, even “the Pig looks restrained next to our product”. (Incidentally, Pigs Snowball and Napoleon are characters in Orwell’s Animal Farm)
Vishwanathan goes lyrical when he describes the Indian VIP. He says the VIP was the Indian Republic’s glorious contribution to the idea of “conspicuous citizenship”. The VIP did not live in the “world of entitlement or rights”. He claimed excess as his birth right. Besides, he has the constitutional right “to disturb, to interrupt and to deprive.” The VIP threatens everyone’s rights but becomes “violent” when his entitlements are threatened – and his rights include (those) “of his lackeys and his family”. No VIP is ever alone – he represents a ”retinue” of people, perpetually surrounded by relatives and friends. According to him, VIP, unlike a citizen, is not singular. Vishwanathan likens him to an epidemic who feels governance was invented for him.
Calling him an “Ugly Indian”, Vishwanathan says that the VIP is a greater threat to democracy than poverty. The affluence of the VIP feeding off a community is obscene. But that is precisely what is happening all around – from encroachments on public lands to illegal sand mining on rivers that are denuded of their sands or even in competitive examinations for admissions in professional colleges where the monstrous Vyapam scandal revealed the activities of this species.
In this particular case, whoever this “Ugly Indian” is he has done a great disservice to the citizens of Bhopal. The city’s pride, the eco-sensitive millennium-old largest man-made lake of the country, is already on its last legs. Having been subjected to myriad atrocities by the likes of this “Ugly Indian” the lake is on the verge of death. Already, the oxygen content of its waters has ebbed so low that dead fishes have appeared close to the Boat Club. Apparently, its waters may not remain fit for drinking for long even after sophisticated filtration. Its waters have never been taken care of as the custodian of the lake, Bhopal Municipal Corporation, is more interested in beautifying its surroundings than purifying its waters. This is happening when a large number of government departments and agencies are involved in its maintenance.
The saying “too many cooks spoil the broth” is in operation here on the Upper Lake if one cares to look at it. But there is one which is out to exploit the Lake’s existence for its own benefit and that is the State Tourism Development Corporation. It has secured its bottom-line by exploiting the Lake and its environs by running highly damaging motorized boats on its progressively deteriorating quality of water, running restaurants, food joints, etc at and near the Boat Club and organizing jamborees on its banks in not too distant past.
On a number of occasions attention was drawn through these columns on the ill-advised activities that were being carried out on the banks of this very vital lake for the townsfolk but there was no one to listen to them. All were probably pulverised by numerous “Ugly Indians”. Now it seems that what the chief of Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology said about a month back that the Lake would cease to be of use in another 20 years’ time was perhaps an over-statement; it is already gasping for breath and the end is not far away.
Once it is dead the “Ugly Indian” and his ilk would perhaps have no sorrow but would jump in joy with saliva dripping from their mouths on the prospects of getting the biggest piece of prime real estate available for them in the heart of the town to use it any which way. Their insatiable lust for land, however, will be somewhat sated even as the city’s denizens go water-less – deprived of their inalienable right to life.
By Proloy Bagchi