A news item, dated June 5, 2013 said: “Wall pulled down to alter minister’s chambers.” A partition wall connecting two rooms allotted to Forest Minister Ramanath Rai was demolished in order to make the minister’s chambers bigger.
Minister Sir, it was not just the wall that was demolished, it was the wall of hope that the people had erected, about better governance, when they elected your party to govern the state last month. Just last year, the then chief minister’s political secretary had ordered demolition of walls in his office to make it bigger – and this same Congress that is now in power, had “opposed this waste of public money.” So, what’s changed, except the colours of the flag of the party in power?
When Karnataka is acquiring a dubious reputation as one of the most corrupt in the country, when hundreds of anganwadis don’t have toilets or drinking water, potholes make the roads danger zones, rains quickly disrupt normal life in the metropolis due to slack maintenance of drains and lack of preparedness, people are dying of dengue, ministers are eating cake – spending public money on enlarging office rooms, ordering new posh cars.
You don’t need a report card – people judge the governance through their own parameters, and if these get worse in spite of hundreds of crores being spent, they make their own report cards. They did exactly that, for the previous government, and now, within four weeks of taking charge the new ministers have betrayed the voters by following the same rapacious self-aggrandisement and callous disregard of the public mandate. A guest house in Mysore is readied quickly, at public expense, for the CM’s use “though there is no official word about his visit to that city.” Just in case he comes visiting, you see. Never mind that hundreds of poor families evicted many months ago are still without a roof over their heads. And a Bellary mining “baron” reportedly spent Rs 15,000 on each fancy invitation card printed for his son’s wedding last month. From that same mining region of the state, I have reports of entire villages suffering from serious respiratory illnesses due to the rapacious mining activity.
In olden days, Maharajas used to go round the city incognito, to gather comments from people about what they think of his governance. And those comments were heeded. A king even banished his wedded wife to the forest, because of the comments by a washerman. Today, the media gives voice to people’s comments, to bring them to the notice of our democratic ‘rulers.’
Here are some comments culled over recently:
- Cobbler, 43, sitting by the roadside, with a bandage on his arm after an accident: “I was told that if I exercise my vote, things will improve for poor people like me. I voted. But I don’t think anything is going to change. I had to spend lot of money for my treatment yesterday. I was told the sarkar has special schemes for our medical needs. (clucks disgustedly)”
- Maid servant, 52, whose daughter, a deserted wife with a child, needs dialysis thrice a week: “Amma, I have cleaned houses for 28 years. Day in and day out. Without respite. Now I am tired. Whether it is Congress or BJP, they are all the same, only intent on enriching their own pockets…”
- Construction labourer, 44: “I know how these parties win elections, I have seen them operating in the slums around where I live. I have to slog all day to earn my daily wages, I can’t take a day off, but what are you educated people doing, to demand better governance? You told me that I should become literate, it will improve my life. I am now literate. Does that empower me against selfish politicians?”
- Ramu, 72, senior citizen: “My pension is six times more than what my salary used to be during my working days, but even to pay my bills at various offices, I am harassed. Disgusting...”
- Ramya, 17, roadside flower seller in south Bengaluru: “I wanted to study, get some office job, but no one is interested in pulling people like us out of poverty. The school I went to, did not care, teachers were not interested, we learned nothing. Not even to multiply, after six years of schooling. Government school of course. And I can’t afford private school. My life will go like this, sitting by the dusty roadside, whatever party is in power…”
Strong words all, and an indictment, a quick and pervasive disillusionment within a month of the Congress party winning the elections, that I am passing on through the media.
Ramya says that six people in her family sleep in a small, cramped, one room rented place (“We cannot even stretch our legs, amma.”) And here are ministers extending their office rooms at public expense, grabbing new cars, ordering new wall-to-wall carpeting in the corridors of power.
Is the problem in our country, that we have a peaceful population of the poor who are resigned to their fate, while the VIPs grab outrageously princely lifestyles?