Our politicians hide in plain sight

By Lindsay Pereira | Mumbai

Published: Sep 08, 2018, 07:15 IST

Democracy is about transparency, because those in power represent the rest of us. When was the last time they explained their actions though?

Taxes collected from all of us are routinely and blatantly diverted towards causes that make no sense whatsoever. Representation pic

Challenges for open debates are currently in fashion, the way open letters appeared to be a few years ago. They pop up every other day, from strange corners of the country, with all kinds of people daring each other to answer questions in public. Politicians issue these challenges on television while campaigning, spokespersons of political parties laugh them off during televised debates, and other assorted groups respond with their own challenges because they recognise the value of publicity this garners them almost immediately. Unfortunately, for the rest of us, it never moves beyond that publicity.

I don't remember the last time a politician accepted a challenge of this sort, nor do I remember the last time anyone in power cared to explain his or her actions to the public. These are men and women supposedly elected to represent us, to be our voices in Parliament and speak on our behalf. It's interesting how the only things that matter are their own voices though, the minute their names appear on embossed nameplates outside large government offices. Those who scream the loudest during an election, retreat into cocoons of silence after election results are announced.

When was the last time someone representing you cared to explain why he or she had made a decision that affected your life? Think of your local corporator, if you can remember the person's name after the last election, or a ward representative who has used government funds to do something that doesn't make sense to anyone but himself. Are there paver blocks used on your street? When was the last time you were given an explanation for their use, despite experts screaming themselves hoarse about their inappropriateness for the streets of Mumbai?

What about potholes? Do you have any idea who the person responsible for fixing your street is? You ought to, at least on paper, because a few thousand crores of our money are diverted annually towards the upkeep of these uneven death traps. When was the last time someone was held accountable for the state in which they are in? What do you know about companies that win contracts to fix them? How are they chosen? What are the criteria that allow blacklisted firms to mysteriously reappear every time a new tender is announced? Has anyone bothered to explain?

Transparency and good governance are terms thrown about with earnestness the minute news cameras are switched on, by people who have no interest in telling any of us why they choose to behave the way they do. This is why we know as much about what happens to funds allocated for our roads as we do about defence deals that cost billions. All of these things are simply reduced to figures that cease to mean anything for a majority of us.

Technology ought to have changed that by now, considering how easy it is for any government representative to speak up about things that affect all our lives on a daily basis. Unfortunately, the only thing these platforms are used for is mud-slinging, scoring political brownie points or issuing proclamations about achievements without any explanations about who decides what those achievements are supposed to be.

If anything, all we now have is more proof of the disdain with which politicians treat the rest of us, more examples of shocking behaviour shown by those privileged to be in power, and more YouTube videos of antics that belong on Animal Planet, rather than Lok Sabha Television. It's why crores can be spent on statues instead of public toilets, schools, amenities for the disabled, better roads or better public transport. Money collected from all of us, including those who simply cannot afford to give more, are routinely and blatantly diverted towards causes that make no sense whatsoever, to make a few men and women happy. Questions about why we need more statues instead of better roads are ignored, shot down or waved away.

Our politicians all believe they are above transparency and accountability, because history has encouraged them to behave like our rulers instead of our representatives. It's why we now have scripted interviews instead of open press conferences, and leaders running away from journalists instead of bothering to respond to their questions. This won't always be the case though, because those who come after us may not be as patient as we or our parents have been. Young Indians will soon issue open challenges of their own, and I, for one, can't wait for that to happen.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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