By Tony Joseph
The state that gave India its national emblem, which carries the words Satyameva Jayate, has now come up with a more modern and practical motto: “Chori Karo, Dakaiti Nahin” (Steal, but don’t loot).
The national emblem is an adaptation of a pillar built by Emperor Asoka in Sarnath in 250 BC, and the new motto was given by Shivpal Yadav, the Uttar Pradesh PWD minister, during an official meeting of the district programme committee in Etah, only about eight hours by car from Sarnath.
This is what Shivpal, who also happens to be the brother of Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh and, therefore, the uncle of Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, told the assembled bureaucrats on Thursday last week: “Agar mehnat karoge to thodi bahut chori kar sakte ho, dakaiti nahin daloge.” (If you work hard, you can steal a bit, but don’t loot.”
It is not clear from media reports whether the honorable bureaucrats gave a standing ovation to Shivpal at the unveiling of this grand new moral principle or merely listened in silent awe, but there were clear signs of excitement in newsrooms and television channels across the country. “Will Shivpal Yadav spell the end of Akhilesh?” was the question raised by the anchor of one news channel.
For a moment, I thought Akhilesh was in trouble because his uncle - and rival - had upstaged him with a clear articulation of a new golden rule of moderation that could capture the hearts and minds of the people of Uttar Pradesh and, may be, all of India even, in a time of greed and excess.
And why not? Chori Karo, Dakaiti Nahin may not have quite the ring of Satyameva Jayate, but it does give ordinary citizens – and extraordinary ones as well - a practical way to live and let live in 21st century India with a reasonably clean conscience. The constable who takes a bribe, the engineer who gets a cut, the joint secretary who gets a plot, the minister who makes a fortune, can all point at someone else who is making even more money than them and say, quite honestly, “mein chori kar raha hoon, dakaiti nahin”.
What a wonderful way to live this would be - where no one is guilty and everyone is rich beyond his means! One can almost imagine a future generation building statues of Shivpal Yadav, surrounded by all his family members in the Uttar Pradesh ruling clan, with an inscription below that says: “Chori Karo, Dakaiti nahin: the golden rule that liberated a nation from the tyranny of the extremist slogan, Satyameva Jayate!” Perhaps, Akhilesh Yadav should follow in the footsteps of his predecessor Mayawati and start building the statues right away - why wait?
But I was wrong on all of this, of course. The news channels were not celebrating the proclamation of a new morality, but were shocked – or at least pretending to be shocked - that the government of Akhilesh Yadav, whom they had proclaimed was the great white hope of Uttar Pradesh, was proving to be not much different from earlier governments.
To understand the media’s build-up of Akhilesh Yadav during the assembly elections in March this year, sample this Bollywood-style script taken from a national news channel: “What makes Akhilesh what he is, and how does he remain grounded despite the hysterical crowds, the feet touching, and the flattery that is bound to come his way?”
The story went on to describe the hero’s exploits : “He pedalled his cycle of hope, campaigning around in style in his souped-up Audi and even making sorties in a chopper, melting into the crowds, backslapping party workers using humour and unassuming smile.” The only thing lacking was a halo around Akhilesh’s thick mop of hair!
The media adulation, flattery and feet-touching was so surprising for Akhilesh himself, that he told an interviewer: “It is true that the media has found me now.”
It is not that the channels were making an exception for Akhilesh. Every time the son or a daughter of an old-style politician enters the family business, the mainstream media get all excited talking about a “brave new generation” raring to shake it down and clean it up! They did it with Kanimozhi, daughter of DMK leader Karunanidhi, until “the poet” - as the media described her - was caught up in the 2G scandal; they did it with Supriya Sule, daughter of Sharad Pawar, until she turned out to be a chip of the old block as well. And, of course, they continue to do it with Rahul Gandhi and all the other scions of sundry Congress heavyweights.
The bursting of the Akhilesh myth might prove to be the quickest yet, because this is the fourth time in five months that his government is getting into hot water with the media for behaving in ways not in line with its portrayal of the 39-year-old politician. The first time was when Akhilesh gave Raja Bhaiyya, an independent legislator involved in many serious court cases, the responsibility for Prisons and Civil Supplies. The second occasion came soon after he assumed office, when there was a sudden spurt in crime. The third was at Akhilesh’s announcement of the government’s intention of giving Rs 20 lakh to all legislators so that they could each buy the car of their dreams!
The media might be naïve in expecting second or third-generation politicians getting into their family business to be white knights in shining armour. Or it could be building up and tearing down leaders to keep up the excitement and attract readers and viewers.
Either way, the reality may be that change is not going to come from the new generation leaders. No one puts it better than Akhilesh himself. “My entire family is part of the political arena. I did not have any other option but to join politics.”
Akhilesh might introduce computers into the business of political management, he might even ask the criminals to lie low because goonda-raj tends to put voters off. In other words, one might expect him to be good enough to do what it takes to stay in power, but nothing more. Change, when it comes, will have to come from the bottom up.
(The Hindi version of this piece appeared in Dainik Bhaskar)