Populist Vigilantism

Populist Vigilantism

Populist Vigilantism, Gollapudi Musings, Gollapudi Maruti Rao. A few years ago, a friend of mine narrated an interesting incident.

A few years ago, a friend of mine narrated an interesting incident. A guest house had been built in a garden in our city. The building was furnished and the electrician had completed the wiring and was over-zealous to connect the main source of power to this guest house even before the sanction was given.
The permission for power was pending with the electricity office. In the meantime, an electrical engineer visited the garden in the owner’s absence, photographed the house, including the connection to the power source and promptly called the owner. He said in a very cool, professional voice that the law had been breached and that the owner was liable to be arrested and more importantly the criminal’s photo would be published in newspapers for the indulgence.
There were two options for the official. Check his intentions or educate the ignorant. He did neither. He exploited the embarrassment of a sensitive situation of a reputed citizen, who panicked. This officer could not have succeeded better to instill fear in him. Imagine a reputed citizen’s photo appearing in papers for the theft of power and then the arrest. This citizen explained to him on the phone that whatever has been done was not at his instance. But the officer wouldn’t relent and instead gave him 24 hours to take a decision.
Decision for what? To avert the crisis? To look the other way, while removing the connection to the power mains? In 5 hours flat, the victim was at his house and gave the officer a packet of twenty five thousand rupees. And he was courtesy personified, called his wife and children, introduced them and pleasantries were exchanged The stake of reputation outbalanced the indiscretion – which of course was not intentional - and the victim paid the price, all the while thanking God, that a comfortable escape was facilitated.
Populist Vigilantism
What else could have been done, I wondered, to avert the crisis? Inform the vigilance official, set up a trap to catch him while he was taking the bribe and make an arrest of the corrupt official for a change. And then the rigmarole would start. He would be suspended. The case would go to court. And there would be many stages of corruption before the judicial process came to a conclusion.
In the meantime, the victim would have to make numerous trips to the city. The newspapers would have a field day with a reputed person standing in the cour, helplessly trying to prove his innocence. And eventually, God knows how the court would take cognizance of this entire sordid affair. Apparently none of this happened and the man took the easy way out and settled for a compromise. How about a common man in the street? The other day I was travelling in a car. While passing a toll gate, the driver gave the toll clerk a 50 rupee note.
The toll was Rs28. The clerk gave him only 20. What happened to the 2 rupees? The driver smiled and pushed ahead. If he insisted on the payment of 2 rupees, the clerk would insist on paying 28, with the excuse of not having change. And there were 10 cars behind us as it was a rush hour. The clerk knew that it was an easy catch.
The driver was resigned to the loss. Years ago, it was Haji Mastan, the under-world Don of Bombay mafia, who had said that one could dream to cleanse the system provided the last custodian standing on the road representing it - the policeman - gets a salary that can sustain him and his family with dignity. And it was common knowledge that many police officials were on his pay roll on a regular basis. The commonest of common man does not have the ingenuity, know-how or even the time to fight the system as it is his struggle to make both ends meet each day. And more importantly, the corrupt hawk knows it.
The Aam Admi Party stood by its promise to open a ‘Help Line’ the other day. The first day, the telephones started ringing continuously and 3,500 people registered their grievances. Elated by the response, more lines were installed with more staff roping in and on the second day 23,000 people responded. It is not a complaints cell. It was a help line to alert the man in the street, guide him to circumvent the unsavory situation and alert him to start a sting operation against the corrupt. Lakhs of ‘stings’ will take place in this vast country at different levels.
The common man cannot match the ingenuity or the finesse of a crime investigator nor does he have the wherewithal to go about it. Not all can run a Tehelka or become a Tarun Tejpal in their busy day-to-day struggle. The “helpline’’ is a luxury. Though the intentions of AAP are laudable, one wonders whether the process is the right one. Perhaps, a few people, who have a bit of “Kejriwal’’ in them, might throw their towel in the ring. However, the fact of the matter is that one has to start the cleansing somewhere. And rightly so.
AAP claims that this act will scare the wrongdoer because a thousand eyes are watching him. But, the corrupt, who specialise his methods to catch the fish would tune their ways to the changed scenario. Each time the ever vigilant customer is up with a new method to catch him, the ever vigilant corrupt will become equally crafty to change his method. It is a question of the corrupt out-maneuvering the customer with a new route. In the long run- the comment of Haji Mastan is a valid and realistic solution. Make the common man earn his daily bread with dignity and peace.
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