Sunday morning, ABP Mhaza, a Marathi news channel, telecast footage that should trigger a debate on how politicians elected to responsible positions should conduct themselves. It was shocking. Nitin Nikam, a corporator of the Kalyan–Dombivli civic body, was busy slapping an elderly man. The victim was a mukkadam of a contractor and he was being punished for an alleged bad piece of work on a broken drinking water pipeline.
It was not a mere slap but a series of nine, alternating between the left and the right cheek of the man with a mop of white hair. Later, he told the camera that he had complained to the civic authorities and that the corporator “is my son’s age”. That brought out the agony and sense of humiliation of the man identified in the newscast as DV Patil. He did not run away but even amid the slaps, tried to explain what was being done.
Later, Nikam justified his reprehensible behaviour, saying he “used the (only) language” these people understand, which is the language of the muscle. Nikam is a politician elected on the ticket of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena which had promised during election time that the party and its corporators would not be found wanting in governance practices. This is a poor example.
Such physical interventions by the MNS and the Shiv Sena is not unusual and is seen as a part of their rabid political culture where despite being in elected offices, they cannot give up on street actions.
In Thane, about a year ago, Eknath Shinde, MLA and Sena’s district chief, had led a group that manhandled the construction workers of a contractor building a flyover. They wanted the work to be faster; when the staff fled as a consequence, the work was further delayed.
While Nikam would be mistakenly nursing the impression that he has crowned himself in glory, he should actually be facing charges of battery and assault and looking out for that permission to make a single call to a lawyer to seek bail. On the other hand, his followers would be raving about how their sahib had shown exemplary speed – like Quick-gun Murugan – in instilling a sense of purpose in a contractor’s employee.
But he has also exposed the most unedifying face of politics where rules are thrown out and hooliganism is the favoured method, be it in Parliament, state assemblies or the civic bodies. Throwing of chairs and microphones could be orchestrated methods but this was a demeaning action for an elected representative. The unsavoury methods employed reveal not only impatience with the very machinery they run but a belief that everything can be sorted out by extra-legal devices.
Holding an official captive in his or her own office to secure a demand and calling it a dharna, blackening the face of an official, even school and college principals, rationing officers, et al is a part of their political repertoire. There may be something to this instant justice business because the wheels grind ever slowly and in favour of the most influential or the highest bidder. But these politicians are part of that very system which they have skewed to their venal purposes.
Nikam’s conduct is not isolated.
The best that he could have done was to have brought the alleged poor work to the notice of the appropriate official of the civic body of which he is a member. That would be expected of him. An informal word with the contractor to get things right would not been entirely wrong but it does not fit the rules of business of elected bodies. Instead, he became the prosecutor and the judge.
This presumption that being elected by fair and foul means, mostly the latter, gives them a licence to behave the way they want. This is parallel to the conduct of policemen on critical duty, who when asked to disperse a crowd using show of force prefer to literally use it with a punitive intensity. Rest of the time, they strive to gain the reputation of being corrupt; even routine functions need to be greased into action.
Wearing khakhi is their licence; rest of the government functionaries assume that the power of service can be – and is – subverted into a power of denial to extract more, the only loyalty among them being among their peers. Anyone above them has to be placated to remain in reckoning and those below are targets for rent-seeking. Nikam exemplified that model in front of a TV camera. Starched khaddar is the politicians’ passport to mischief.
This community of strong-arm politicians are never contrite; they do not even explain it away as an error but stay the ground. So much so, they even tip off reporters, mostly cameramen, of both the still and video genre so that their deeds get due publicity. It is like displaying the badges of honour, their trophies being – for arguments’ sake – the lackadaisical officials who underperform. Even if they did, such actions underline a fact: persons elected to public office have to step out of line to get things done.