Monday, June 28, 2010

India: Toll Road Exemptions and Allure of Power

Why does the average Indian love to see leaders abuse power? Abuse of power is a virtue in power drunk India. In fact if an MLA or a SP's car stops for traffic he/she is seen as "effete". This is not only true of semi-literate Indians. Supposedly well educated Indians in USA swear by "Kalaignar" or "Naidu" or "Modi" etc irrespective of their blatant abuses of power. What is worse these NRI's would abhor many such abuses by politicians in their adopted land.

When travelling from Trichy to Madurai on a nicely laid toll road I was surprised to see a huge board listing people who are exempted from paying tolls. The list included President, Prime minister, chief justice, CM etc. Think for a moment, the poor farmer taking his goods from Trichy to Madurai has to pay Rs 50 but the chief Justice need not. In USA probably only the President zips past a toll road, if he ever travels by one, that too only for security reasons. Our NJ governor pays tolls. Can we imagine Jaya or MK paying tolls even when not exempted by law????

Throughout the Indian citizen's life he/she is constantly reminded that the elected representatives are not 'representatives' but 'rulers'. If the common man accepts a bribe he can be investigated but to investigate a CM you need governor's approval. God help you if they both are of same party. Constitutionally and otherwise the Indian citizen is constantly reminded that the "ruling class" , politicians and bureaucrats, is entitled to different set of rules.

America's founding fathers were adamant in treating the would-be elected rulers on par with citizenry in fact the elected representatives are, by custom, held to a higher standard. The average American expects his governor or President to be judged by a higher bar than he applies to himself. The average Indian does the exact opposite. A politicians peccadilloes would disgust an American, for an Indian it is "macho". Bill Clinton paid a very heavy price for his Lewinsky fiasco.

Indians hate abuse of power only when it is not by their beloved leader. For a Dalit Mayawati's abuse of power is just "giving back to the upper caste". Jaya, Indira, Mayawati and Mamata proved that women are equally capable of being unscrupulous, corrupt, mean and venal like any man.

An American understands that a senator being frisked at the airport is no big deal. For an Indian its sacrilege that his matinee idol was questioned (not harassed as its done by Indian officials). Barack Obama and Bill Clinton would pay up from their pocket when they buy a burger or a book. A famous incident was when Bill Clinton was told by a bookshop assistant that Clinton's credit card had expired and Clinton borrowed money to buy the books. How many Indian politicians would buy a book about a country they are about to visit let alone pay for it?

The Tamil conference is the most shameful exhibit of the craven nature of Tamils. This is the state that supposedly was recast in the crucible of "self respect movement". No aspect of a Tamilian's life is devoid of sycophancy. Long back I was watching Tom Hanks receive a "lifetime achievement". Many of his co-stars who spoke poked fun at him and Tom was grinning from ear to ear. American politicians rub shoulders with the citizenry as equals. One of the signal moments after 9/11 was when Bush took the bull horn from a fire fighter and spoke to the world with his hand resting on the fire fighter's shoulder. The fire fighters standing next to the US President stood relaxed, deferential yes but not a bit obsequious. If it had been anybody but the President even that bit of deference would not have been there.

I was traveling by car in a very crowded street. Vehicles could barely move. Horns blared. Suddenly a jeep pulled along side us and the driver, apparently a policeman driving his superior, glared at our driver. He felt his authority was undermined by having had to yield to a citizen's car.

What is tragic is all this show of "power" is enshrined constitutionally and "THEREFORE" otherwise too. Paula Jones was a non-descript woman who sued a US president and caused his downfall. The US President is often rhetorically referred to as 'most powerful man on earth'. I'd say the MLA in any Indian assembly has more power than any US President. Of course that depends on how "power" is defined.


Kumar Srinivasan said...

Aravindan, while you are entitled to your views, it would be great to see your remove your tinted glasses and see the world in real colour. Every country, region and society has his ills, issues and no matter how stinking it seems they try to mend it and have a better life in their own little way.
India has all these issues and it would have been great if all those kids like us who studied, worked and found our way out have the guts to try to fix it with all this new found wisdom. Unfortunately we decide to stay in our ivory towers in western cities and use our time to rub it on people who are gracious enough to absorb the cost of our up bringing and education and still working hard to make it better for themselves and their kids.
In India anyone, including a cinema writer, actor and actress were able to make it into politics due to their passion to do something. While they too ended up being typical politicians over the years looking after their own and kin, it was a change which happened because of common people's vote. In US a typical presidential candidate needs to be so and so with enough money before even he can think about contesting.
Yes, India has this stupid concept of hierarchy and anyone in a position of trust like a teacher, doctor, godmen, politician, etc are treated with so much respect and people bend on their back, while they are just doing their job in society and nothing more. This translates to so many problems when these people in position of trust start misusing this misplaced respect. This issue is not there in western culture for sure.
That doesn’t mean that these western politicians are any different to their Indian counterparts in the way they treat their electorate. They both are in politics for power. In India they are also able to get away with things because of this misplaced respect.
My words are not an argument to say India is better but to say that your view is skewed and coloured; very similar to what some western tourists used to do, taking pictures of India’s filth. Filth is there everywhere Aravindan, just that people like us were lucky enough to be kids of well to do parents who helped us get to where we are today and we are lucky enough to be in a position to choose to live were we live and not have to slog like the less well in our respective western so called progressive societies.

Athenaeum said...

@Kumar SRinivasan:

"rub it on people who are gracious enough to absorb the cost of our up bringing and education"...Only my dad absorbed the other indian did.

"In US a typical presidential candidate needs to be so and so with enough money before even he can think about contesting"...Very false. Barack Obama was a penniless freshman senator who demolished a dynasty and created history. actually the role of money in elections is exaggerated.
"we are lucky enough to be in a position" being in USA is out of choice and hard work not just luck.

You basically agreed with what I said but think that I have some glasses on. I have drawn attention to the ills ONLY because I 've no tinted glasses.