My column in Today’s DNA
The 1976 Hollywood film Network gave the world one of the most fascinating characters in celluloid. Howard Beale, an Oscar winning role for actor Peter Finch, is a news anchor for a national news programme. Fired because his ratings are tumbling, Beale manages to pull back and raise ratings by not presenting the news but becoming it. He launches into diatribe after diatribe sending ratings sky-high. In one of the most remembered and quoted scenes in cinema, he tells his audience to do one thing “…go to the window, open it, stick your head out and yell: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.” And marvel of marvels, in typical filmy style, people across America do just that. They open their windows, stick out their heads and shout “I am mad as hell, and I am not going to take this anymore”.
2011 has been a Howard Beale kind of a year. A year where people across the world, stood up to say that they were mad as hell, they didn’t want to take this anymore. The nature of the protests has been different, but protest has been a vital part of the year. So much so that Time Magazine has declared that “The Protester” to be the person of the year.
While protest is good, and protest is a fundamental right that citizens have in Democratic countries, it is important to see beyond the protest and look at the cause of protest. People are not irrational to protest about everything under the sun. Most people in most parts of the world take discomfort and mismanagement in their stride. They do not, as a rule, take to the streets to protest on a daily basis. They become vocal about their protests only when the systemic malady is so deep rooted that unless they raise their voice, things will not change. Protests are a cry for change. The response of Government’s, especially in democratic countries, is a stated intention to change. . But mere intention alone cannot bring about change. . It is only when intention is converted into sustained action that allows for systemic change, that protest will not descend into anarchy.
In India, the protest has been against corruption. On the face of it revelations of large scale fraud by ministers at the centre, various states brought people onto the street. But, scratch the surface and it is something deeper. The humiliation of having to pay a bribe, the anger of having to go over and over again to get basic paper work passed, the frustration of living with inadequate infrastructure, the hopelessness of not having aspirations met, all culminated into the anti corruption movement. The anger has been festering for a long time. The revelation of the scale of corruption in CWG, 2G, various mining scams, was merely a catalyst. The demand for an agency that ends corruption was the simplistic response to a complex problem. Should corruption end – obviously. But, would the Jan Lok Pal deliver a corruption free society – No. That can only happen when the intention to end corruption is systemic. And action is taken to ensure that every part of the system is geared towards delivering whatever it is supposed to, to the intended recipient in a transparent manner.
The Government of India has some excellent schemes that if implemented well, would have transformed India.. But the schemes have remained at the intention level. For example, the Public Distribution System (PDS) – popularly called the ration shop – is intended to deliver food grains and kerosene at subsidized rates to whoever is entitled to it. Unfortunately, there are so many leakages that a fraction of those eligible end up getting the food. Also, the quality of the grains is so poor that those eligible for it, buy food from elsewhere. The intention is that no one goes hungry. Unfortunately, the application is that those running the system get rich, those who are supposed to receive benefits remain hungry. A simpler method would be direct cash transfers to the intended recipient. Similarly the Right to Education mandates that every child over the age of six goes to school. But in most government run schools – especially in rural India there is a severe shortage of teachers. Monies are allocated, children are herded into school. But, there is no outcome.
So for 2012 the wish for the Government is simple. Move beyond intention. Work out sustainable action. Action is not what you think conforms to some ideological construct. Action is what delivers the intention. When that happens you will deliver Governance.