On a flight last week, I glanced at my watch and realised we would soon be descending into Mumbai, and perhaps earlier than scheduled. Which, as any traveller would attest, is a wonderful thing. The public address system crackled and I assumed the mandatory destination weather and goodbye announcement was coming. But to our collective disappointment, an obviously irritated pilot informed us that there was a sudden technical issue with the Instrument Landing System (ILS) on Mumbai's main runway and we would have to hold, with the wait stretching to perhaps an hour. And if the problem wasn't fixed by then, we'd have to divert to Aurangabad for refuelling.
An audible sigh of irritation went up from the passengers. But what came next amazed me. The pilot went on to cynically moan about the state of things in India, epitomised by the ILS glitch. When he came back on the system some time later to announce we would most likely make it just a few minutes short of an extra hour, he surprised me even more--he said if such situations had to change, we should all vote for the Aam Aadmi Party, the cynosure of the metropolis-dwelling Indian's eyes for having notched up a refreshingly surprising number of wins in the recently concluded Delhi Assembly elections. And many passengers clapped.
I was left racking my brains wondering what an Instrument Landing System (ILS) glitch has to do with the AAP--the new party whose primary goal is to rid India of corruption? For instance, the dust speck inside the screen of my brand new Apple iPad isn't a result of corruption, but just poor quality control at Apple. Search Google for IT failure in airports and you'll see news of such occurrences almost every day in some airport worldwide. Considering the terrible landing he performed in Mumbai a few minutes later, I consoled myself that perhaps my pilot's political acumen was worse than his flying skills.
But is this an extreme scenario? Are we setting up the AAP for definite failure by considering the AAP as the panacea to all of India's woes? India's very own silver 'jhadoo', perhaps?
I remember during the heyday of Anna Hazare's agitation in 2011 when Arvind Kejriwal and he still seemed to be fellow travellers on the same road, Facebook was full of friends emphatically stating Lokpal was the answer and how corruption in India was just a step away from extinction. I wondered aloud what the Lokpal would achieve that anti-corruption legislation, agencies and the like hadn't achieved in the 60+ years since Independence and I got an earful from many for my 'cynicism,' lack of 'patriotism' and the like. And when one morning when I noticed that most drivers wouldn't stop for a red light unless a traffic cop was around on one of Mumbai busiest and widest arterial roads in the suburbs, I asked how we would defeat corruption when we couldn't follow the most basic of traffic rules. I was the recipient of more ire.
Yesterday, at a busy Delhi junction, the irony was bought home again. Doing a story on how the Delhi Traffic Police is using technology for e-challans, which also gives the cops instant access to past violations (so repeat offenders can be prosecuted immediately) as well as helps monitor what the cops themselves are up to, I spent some time at the extremely busy Minto Road signal at Connaught Place's outer circle where traffic ranges from cycle rickshaws to Mercedes AMG convertibles and everything in between. There were nearly 10-15 traffic cops on duty and traffic violators were walking into the waiting arms of the law like moths to a flame. But the interesting fact I noticed was that while autorickshaw drivers gently pleaded with the cops but finally accepted the challan, people like us were a different matter altogether.
Many people like us, driving cars, and who looked educated, simply sped away, and the cops literally had to jump aside to avoid being hit. Did you know that the Delhi Traffic Police has lost 8 men this year alone in traffic accidents? Not once did I see an autorickshaw try and speed away. And as for the others who couldn't get away, and were caught red-handed, with their pants at their ankles, there were immediate loud arguments saying they had done no wrong despite cameras being around and the cops patiently explaining traffic rules that even my four-year-old is aware of. When that didn't work, names were dropped. Then calls were made. Threats were issued. Among all the cars driven by people like us who were caught for starkly clear traffic violations, only one gentleman smilingly accepted the challan and admitted his error. And I was there for more than two hours.
I didn't check if all those who sped away narrowly missing the policemen or those who argued, threatened and dropped names were Congress and BJP voters. I'm willing to bet my shirt though that most of them voted for the AAP. Why? Because they are people like me. People who admire Arvind Kejriwal and what he and the AAP have managed to achieve, and who believe strongly the AAP will cleanse India's rotten system, but who don't see the rot within ourselves to realise that it is not someone else's problem but our own. People who don't realise that a deliberate traffic violation and trying to escape without paying for it is a symptom of the same disease of corruption that we so hate and we moan about. People who set up good leaders for inevitable failure with ridiculously tall expectations. As the world's best known carpenter described so well 2000 years ago, people who see a speck in someone else's eye but don't see the log in our own eye.
Coming back to my pilot, his appeal to vote for the AAP also brought home another truth from the unrealistic expectations bag. If you read the AAP manifesto for the Delhi Assembly polls, you'll discover the AAP is far left of centre and when they enter the fray in Mumbai, rather than support the removal of illegal slums to make away for Mumbai's first international standard terminal that people like us will appreciate, the AAP may well support the illegal slum dwellers, which is exactly what the existing political establishment in Mumbai is doing. To be fair, perhaps the motives are different--the existing establishment merely wants a vote bank while the AAP may tout nobler ideals, but the fact remains that the end result for us and our pilot may be the same. Infrastructure for people like us may not improve under the AAP but actually go the socialist way of bringing everyone down to the same dreary level. That's certainly what will happen to Delhi's power and water if the AAP finally decides to take the hot seat in Delhi and implements promises in its manifesto made without an understanding of ground realities and the true cost of governance and public services.
I also remember VP Singh, who in the late 80s was seen as a messiah against corruption. I was in my teens, but remember a cousin in his twenties attending VP Singh's rallies and promising how Singh would transform India and free us from the clutches of an allegedly corrupt Rajiv Gandhi. Singh did beat Rajiv Gandhi's Congress but history may judge him far more harshly for the India he left behind in the wake of his government that lasted under a year.
Perhaps India's only hope is that Arvind Kejriwal is a smart man. In interview after interview, he has smoothly transferred the onus back to you and me and has said that unless we get involved, nothing will change. Not just halfway but all the way. Kejriwal surely knows people like us in India have the patience of an infant crying for milk and have the same self-cantered thinking--all we care about is ourselves and our needs. And the only way Kejriwal can walk away unscathed from the bonfire of lofty expectations from people like us is by pointing the finger right back at us.
But will we give him that opportunity or shut that door too in the face of our unrealistic expectations without the willingness to shoulder the burden? Or will the gentleman who commanded my flight simply find someone else to conveniently blame the next time a technical glitch wrecks his plans?
Published Date: Dec 19, 2013 03:49 pm | Updated Date: Dec 19, 2013 03:49 pm