The news that cricket star and MP Sachin Tendulkar lobbied with Defence minister Manohar Parrikar to settle a dispute between his friend’s retreat in Landour and a defence institute over an ‘illegal’ construction is symptomatic of Indian psyche that believes that rules are flexible and can be tweaked if only the powers-that-be are spoken to by someone high and mighty. This syndrome typifies our national collective unconscious which believes rules are for the aam aadmi – for whom the arm’s length system is inviolate – not so for the well-placed, the well-connected and the networked.
It is a different matter that the Raksha Mantri Manohar Parrikar declined to intervene, which is indeed commendable, given the way things get done – as exception – by dubbing it as a one-off (and not to be quoted as a precedent!) with some vague reason thrown in as justification and for future record. But what’s disturbing is: why do icons like Sachin Tendulkar, a Bharat Ratna awardee, stick their necks out to invite opprobrium from their countless fans? Is it worth it when it’s ex facie wrong?
Around the time when we joined the civil service in late-1970s, the oft-heard remark was Show me the Man and I’ll show you the rule! In no time, this changed to Show me the Man and I’ll rewrite the rule! Such was – still is – the fungibility of rules! Far from being ashamed with the nature of nepotism, apologists of this model bemoan that today’s India resembles the Gilded Age of US – alluding to the second half of 19th century when, although the economy grew at the fastest, it paradoxically was the high noon of scandal and corruption with rich industrialists like Rockefeller, Carnegie, Mellon, and Vanderbilt dubbed ‘robber barons’ – an inevitability in a nation’s life, which with passage of time and maturing of democracy would be a thing of the past.
Little do we realize that history does not repeat itself in entirety but mostly in profile; and another nation needn’t go through the same processes since the inexorable forces of history throw up not only a dialectic of change based on lessons learnt but also simultaneous dialectic of change brought forth by technological changes, which in times now has leaped phenomenally. Playing catch-up is a lot faster in today’s world, and given the willingness, lessons learnt can be cloned literally in a nano-second – so connected the world is thanks to the world-wide-web! This, coupled with the fact that citizens have wised up with relentless real-time information hitherto denied them much as the increasingly strident media have, issues of nepotism, favouritism and crony-capitalism occupy public domain as never before. As citizens take up cudgels on perceived wrongs and with the rule of law resonating more and more, what we see today is a new dialectic: conventional, nepotistic norms of biradiri inclined to selective circumvention of rule versus uniform application of rule of law for all citizens.
While the old order refuses to accept the change, the new social order emboldened with hope of a better tomorrow via openness and technology refuses to go the beaten path. What we witness today is a battle of these two. The old order/mindset won’t give in easily, the new order having glimpsed the benefits they realize is rightfully theirs, won’t give up either. What’s inevitable is a battle of attrition – a seething, lacerating battle – where wrongs join hands and indulge in Orwellian shibboleth to paint the right as wrong and the wrong right and where the pot calls the snowflakes black! Yet, in today’s democracies, neither can the spoils system (read nepotism) nor the robber barons (read corruption) make a comeback without citizens raising their voice of disapproval. No right thinking government can risk such misadventure.
Yet in the interstices of this dialectic are efforts made with some getting reported. Thankfully, we’ve none of the compulsions of the American Gilded Age or the long shadows of Tammanyism that were born when the world was decidedly opaque. What though stays is human pathological greed and possessive acquisitiveness. The lack of transparency in body politic and administration in implementation of rules and regulations is a cause of concern. How else is one to explain the proclivity of an icon to make a request to bend the rule? In today’s time when with burgeoning urbanization the pressure on land is staggeringly high (remember Sukhna & Adarsh land scams!) and with the Ministry of Defence with 17.54 lakh acres under its charge the largest land bank, the need for an inviolate land policy and execution cannot be overstated.
Not just that. From time to time there have been alleged irregularities in gross mismanagement of defence land and government buildings built on them, such as Services’ messes in sundry cantonments, which far from being located in the periphery of cities they once were, are upscale today in rapidly growing urban megalopolises. To compound the issue, far from leveraging Government dues from commercial exploitation of defence lands/buildings, even legitimate government receipts are siphoned off to non-governmental funds. The haemorrhaging of such revenues is humongous and doubtless the nation cannot afford this, when it can be used for developmental activities such as Smart Cantonments, an appurtenant of Swachh Bharat, and sustainable development of Smart Green Cities. It is intriguing that such illegalities on specious grounds have persisted. How else is one to countenance diversion of rightful government receipts as license fee to Non-Public/Regimental Funds that clearly belongs to Caesar? The loss can easily tot up to hundreds of crore of rupees annually.
This, despite, the fact that the issue of irregular diversion of Government revenue to non-public funds had come under scathing criticism from Parliamentary Committees; as per media report, in 2013-14 the Public Accounts Committee had severely criticized and directed the Ministry to formulate a policy for realization of Government dues from commercial utilization of defence lands.
The motivations are reprehensible. Such depravity must stop and the Tendulkar syndrome granted burial through robust policies and cast-iron execution, even strong declamation by the government that such impulses shall not be tolerated. Time it is to remember the words of Thomas Fuller, the 17th century English historian – Be you ever so high, still the Law is above you!