Monday, April 14, 2014

Aam Aadmi Stories

Picked up the image from somewhere on the Web. I know not whom to credit but the legendary R. K. Laxman

Last Friday, in Yeshwantpur Railway Station, I encountered two instances of the abysmal moral standards of the common man. Here are the accounts:

Pay and Use Toilet

Like in many other Pay-and-Use Toilets in the city, this had no board stating how much we should pay for using it. I am sure that this disappearance is by no means incidental or an act of God. The attendant, sitting and reading the newspaper, said without even looking at me, three rupees. I knew he was overcharging, but gave the money nevertheless, thinking I would save my energy to fight corruption at some other occasion. However, I lost my patience when I found no water in the tap. I informed him about it. He said, 'Yes, probably the tap's not working. Why don't you take water from the bathroom.' I asked him why he wasn't sure if the tap was working or not. And how was it appropriate of him to expect me to take water from bathroom. Wasn't it his responsibility to get the tap repaired?

I continued bombarding him with lecture: 'One, you are overcharging. You are getting your salary, and are also pocketing this money which should go to the government. Two, you are sitting here and reading the newspaper. Even if you are looting the public, at least you should carry out your responsibility properly, shouldn't you?'

To this he retorted, 'OK. You come and sit here.' To which, I told him that I have another place where I sit, and there each penny I earn has my sweat on it.

 My little son was with me. And I can't bear the discomfort he feels on seeing this other side of me, to which mostly he and his Mom are occasional witnesses. So, I left, fuming and frustrated. My 3 rupees donated at the alter of Aam Aadmi's corruption!

Parking Lot

When I was entering the parking lot in the morning, I had noticed that the parking ticket didn't mention the amount, and had foreseen trouble.

While leaving, I asked the attendant how much. He said 20. I said, it's 10. He said 20. I said, I don't think so, show me where it is written. Suddenly, the person forgot Hindi, and started off in Kannada. This time I was better prepared, and already in fury due to my above experience. So, I said, half-Hindi, half-Kannada. 'Why is it not written anywhere. It used to be 10 rupees earlier. Why should I give you 20?' and kept repeating this mechanically without raising my voice or visibly losing my cool. In the end, the guy gave up and said in the very Kannada villain/hero style, 'E! Hog ri!' with a rude wave of his hand. I left after giving him 10 rupees.


Just an Outlier. Out of the above two incidents, I lost money in one, and saved in another. But in both, I know well enough that things would proceed just the way they had before my being there. I could fight corruption in neither case, and felt equally frustrated in both the occasions. If you protest against an act of corruption, the corrupt service-person will fight you, intimidate you. He'll do everything in his means to defeat you, to break your stand. But his most effective weapon is to ignore you, to let you have your way this one time. Because, as things stand today, a customer demanding honest service is merely an irritant, an anomaly, an outlier in a statistical distribution for him. An outlier hardly changes the overall distribution which anyway is heavily biased toward hopeless resignation that we all have submitted to through years of defeat and subjugation. It costs them nothing to let you go if you are merely one outlying point against a million points which have meekly and hopelessly fallen in line.

Power to Aam Aadmi. I have asked this question earlier. I ask it again. What excites us so much about the Aam Aadmi getting the power to rule? Do we really think that this Aam Aadmi and our politicians are two different creatures? They are both products of their respective circumstances, and fundamentally behave in an identical manner: opportunistically.

Vote for AAP. Am I asking you not to vote for AAP? No! I still feel they are a viable alternative to an already devastated governance. We don't lose anything by bringing them in.

I also feel that one of the most valuable contributions of AAP to the Indian society has been to bring in a wave of hope in the middle class in particular. Though, some of their moves have disillusioned people, and have surely marred their chances as a political party, the waking-up effect they have had on us is for real and undeniable. I anticipate that this year, a distinctly larger portion of Indian population will exercise their voting rights. Not all, or even most, of these additional votes will go to AAP. But whoever people may vote for, they will. That, more than anything else, is a fundamental change, and a ray of hope for all of us. I would give a part of the credit for this to AAP.


JR said...

Totally connect with your experience.
Unfortunately Aam admi created his own system for survival.

The taxpayers money instead of going down from the government as benefits to aam admi, lands in the pockets of high profile corrupted politicians/officials. As a result, Aam admi runs his own system to deal with inflation and to feed his family by robbing the taxpayer off his entitled take home. The poor taxpayer pays double tax – both accountable and unaccountable (this depends on his interaction with the society).

The root problem might be that the way we treat others has changed. The way we react when told we are wrong has changed. And this culture has now spread into the mass of the population. If aam admi had woken up a few years ago when he himself was clean, there would have been some hope.
Anyways, hoping people in aam aadmi party are different from the aam aadmi we r talking about and things will change for good.

Sambaran said...

Corruption is not the cause. Corruption is an effect of bad governance. Trying to eradicate corruption without focusing on governance will do more harm.

I will NOT vote for AAP this time.

Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti said...


I am not an out-n-out AAP supporter though I do feel partial towards them. I fully appreciate it if you don't lean towards their method. I won't argue.

The reason for adding that section to the article was to clarify that the article wasn't meant to dissuade people from voting for AAP should they wish to.

Having said that I don't see the precise point in your saying that trying to eradicate corruption without focusing on governance will do more harm. It can be argued that corruption is both a cause and an effect of bad governance. Both, in fact, are independent issues in their own right, even though they form a vicious cycle too. While effective governance is definitely an effective instrument in shackling corruption, I see corruption also as a problem at a personal level. There's a lot of corruption around us. We all indulge in it, unwillingly though. Good governance can help in protecting us from falling prey to corruption. However, corruption is also done by many, willingly. Good governance is helpful in incapacitating such people. But this won't convert them. Probably, as a society, that's all we can hope for. But this will not get anywhere close to rooting out corruption either.

Corruption is not like a polluted air that we all have to breathe. It's like germ that infects each of us. It isn't in the environment. It's within us. Each one of us has to answer for himself.

I am not talking about governance. I am talking about how people are, or have become.

Sambaran said...

Sujit, You are right in saying that I did not make any precise point in my post. I wrote something already at my personal blog:
My blog and my earlier comment here do look contradictory. Reconciling it through writing has limitations but I will try:
1. We Indians are not uniquely corrupt with respect to rest of the world.
2. We still fare badly because of bad governance issues. When I talk about good governance, I do not mean a super cop (a.k.a lokpal). That will exacerbate the problem. By good governance I mean good systems (like railway ticketing corruption has been minimized a lot by technology).
3. As said in my blog and as you wrote in your post, we SHOULD NOT blame politicians for their personal corruption. They are as corrupt as we (the aam aadmi) are. I will blame them for their incompetence though which opens up more avenues/compulsion for aam-aadmi-corruption.

I will love to discuss this face-to-face as I have so much to talk about this issue. I like that Anna-Hazare/AAP has brought the corruption issue to fore-front. But the way they want to solve it is wrong.

Shipra Agrawal said...

I do not believe that Indians are or have become inherently more corrupt "morally" than any other country's citizens. All people are selfish by nature, and they exercise corruption as much as the system will allow them and their needs would make them. Just take this example, why do you think that Indians in the US do not pay bribes, is it that they suddenly get back their moral fiber when they move to the US? No, it is because the system does not allow them, there are huge penalties for exercising corruption, and law is implemented well. On the other hand, I agree that since we are in this state where the entire society and system is allowing corruption, we need moral awakening as a catalyst to draw us out of this status quo.

Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti said...

Shipra. Nice addition.

Your point is partially aligned to Sambaran's comment where he says that good governance is necessary to root out corruption. I agree, but partially.

Philosophically, corruption isn't a property of the system. 'We' do corruption. It's within us. I agree that when the deterrents aren't strong enough, this property finds broader openings to show itself up.

I agree that there's no reason to believe that Indians are more or less corrupt than others. I also agree that systemic deterrents are a prime reason for Indians going abroad saying changing their habit. I however don't agree that systemic deterrents (threats of arrest and imprisonment, that is) are the prime deterrents for everyone. A widespread education, and social rejection of corrupt practices is also an important (and more sustainable) factor in curbing corruption. I would say that it would an injustice to more corruption free societies if we say that the only reason for lower corruption levels there is a widespread fear of punishment. 'Moral awakening' is an important ingredient to this state of affairs.