Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Mingling with the hoi polloi

I heard on the news today that the Prime Minister had lunch  in the Parliament Canteen. He sat with some BJP Members of Parliament , ordered vegetarian fare, and talked with the MPs while he ate. This made for "Breaking News" on television and for good reason, I think. What we need is a cultural revolution which breaks down the barriers which exist between the lower and higher grades of the government ( in the broadest sense, covering the bureaucracy, the political class, the legislature, the executive, the judiciary). 

Perhaps it will then get transformed into a more equal relationship between those who govern and those who are governed. 

For several years, I worked in the Ministry of Finance in different capacities and interacted with other Ministries of the Union Government as well. Not once did I see the Ministers or senior bureaucrats eat in the Ministry canteens -----  dingy spaces, over crowded, serving  food which is neither wholesome nor hygienically prepared. The mantris and officers eat in their "chambers", where food is served by peons whose duties include rinsing the tiffins and serving ware in the case of mid level bureaucrats who bring home made food. If the Ministers and afsars were to have their meals in the canteen, the places would get spruced up, better food would be served, and most importantly, the aura of infallibility and superiority which surrounds them mostly because they are inaccessible would considerably diminish. 

Nowhere is this more in evidence than the Supreme Court of India. The Supreme Court Justices inhabit a world two centuries older than ours. Their magnificent offices and the near - regal paraphernalia has to be seen to be believed. Will a learned Supreme Court Justice be accorded less respect if he had his meals with all the other Supreme Court staff and officials in a canteen? Or is he afraid that his biases and prejudices and, perhaps, ignorance will get exposed if he mingles with the hoi polloi ?

Some years ago, I suggested to a senior colleague that he have tea every month with all the junior staff and officials working in that organisation whose birthday falls in that month. It will make it possible for them to know you better, Sir, and you can get to know the people who work so hard and who you never get to see, I suggested rather naively. He did not even bother to acknowledge my suggestion with a comment. He simply raised his eye brows and dismissed it !!

Even the washrooms are segregated ----almost every sarkari building has a washroom for the aam janata and another for the officers. The Mantris , of course, are a cut above and enjoy the privilege of washrooms adjunct to their "chamber". I wonder how they cope when they visit shopping malls and cinema complexes, or go sight seeing in India or abroad. They have to drop their pretensions, don't they?

Till these barriers break down, I don't see greater empathy for citizens burgeoning in the hearts of those who govern ----- when most of THEM are treated like second class citizens, and some of them get away with treating themselves as royalty, how does one expect any of them to treat those they govern as their equals ??

1 comment:

  1. "Familiarity breeds contempt". This was a reply given to me by a bureaucrat when requested to have regular interaction with lower administrators.