System Depends On Who Mans It

Veeresh Malik

Apr 20, 2015, 12:15 PM | Updated Feb 11, 2016, 09:09 AM IST

This RTI and PIL activist could turn the course of a trial in favour of the people only after the minister concerned changed.

One of the lessons that many of us repeatedly fail to learn or appreciate is that all arms and pillars of governance, despite working on different agendas and often on cross-purposes within their own silos, are united when it comes to fighting a common enemy. Which, would be good if governance and the people had the same enemy. Preferably external. Sadly, however, this common enemy is not an external entity and nor is it from amongst the social enemies one sees governance addressing in other countries where basics like drinking water, meritocracy, law and order, health-care, and similar are givens.

This common enemy within Indian governance is, simply, the Indian citizen who is not part of the elected or selected representatives euphemistically called ‘public servants’. Why we as ‘ordinary’, unprivileged citizens are enemies of the State and not its inconsiderable machinery is a subject of great debate. The longer the debate, the better for those surviving on taxpayers’ money for just this reason. But the largest elephant in the room is the State — designed solely to harass the unprivileged citizen.

One big weapon of governance in this situation is total lack of transparency, which, in turn, means there is a total absence of accountability. That, further in turn, means an open season of loot and scoot.

This may at one time not have impacted the educated middle class a lot because (a) there weren’t too many of them around in India and (b) the educated middle class was brilliantly interlinked with the privileged, elected and selected representative lot. All this changed in and around the 1970s and ‘80s due to a mix of everything from ultra-radical, ultra-left, ultra-liberal to ultra-right and all points in between as India evolved further. The ‘thinking middle class’, bane of governance in India in all its form, is now a fact of life. The class is giving not just election astrologers sleepless nights, but also writing articles based on personal experiences like this one.

Here’s one from the archives that I like the most. To start with, do speed-read this citation decision by the Delhi High Court.

In brief, this is the document that, in the first case, defines what or who a public authority is. In as much as this is required to enable the first point of transparency, which is, the Right to Information of a citizen of a country. No definition to start with and no accountability! And what I like is my name in the title.

How did this come about? I had sent a routine Right to Information query to the Indian Olympics Association, on some expenses in Melbourne incurred on film actors and dancers, by hand, and with a Rs 10 currency note. The person up the chain of command who finally declined to even accept the application did something very nasty with the currency note. I therefore sent the application by registered post along with a Postal Order, which they received, but ignored. I then sent a First Appeal, again by registered post, which also they ignored. Then I sent a Second Appeal to the Central Information Commission, where, to my intense joy and considerable surprise, I got this decision.

The respondents, who by that time had tried other methods of attempting to persuade me (especially since I had business interests in Pune those days), went in appeal to the Delhi High Court. Meanwhile, strange things happened like head-on and side collisions to my cars, direct approaches using every method and emotion possible and, finally, when all else failed, an internal combined effort between the Indian Olympic Association and the Ministry.

The timeline here is important, the Commonwealth Games were being organised, and expensive toilet paper had to be bought, one may recall. Moreover, every other scam in context with the Games, all of which would have continued without accountability or accounts being audited by the people of India, if this pesky RTI Application from Veeresh Malik had not put a spanner in the works.

This is the period in life and time when I really learnt how every arm of governance works together to try and fix the citizen who dares to ask a question. There was not a single pillar of democracy or arm of the government that did not stand to benefit from what is now called “CWG Scam” till — credit be given where it is due — the minister in charge of things changed. A dysfunctional Sports Ministry pulled its socks up under MS Gill. I sent a short, two-page note on the issue to the new minister through a family friend. It was handed over quietly at a golf course (of all places). It took just a few weeks after that for the ministry concerned to change its stance. Suddenly, the ministry was all in favour of full transparency from the association, and this in turn reflected on the way the documents submitted in court sounded. That, in turn, eventually became the citation judgement presented above.

Just one man came in to fix things, and that gave us the judgement — in an organic sort of way.

Which is why while the strength of the rot in governance is deep, like all rotten things everywhere, it just needs one man with a shovel to throw the rot away and turn things into fresh and fertile soil again where everything and everybody can prosper.

Veeresh Malik is an Ordinary Citizen of India who has done many different things involving the JDS and will now start taking the mickey out of the JDS of India, no holds are barred, no benches are not scorned.

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