We were recently served up the utterly crass and crude rant by Tej Pratap Yadav, till recently a Cabinet Minister of the Bihar Government and, more notably, a scion of the eponymous Lalu Prasad Yadav clan, that he would have the Prime Minister of the country skinned. The apparent trigger for this most despicable unquotable quote was the withdrawal of Z-plus category security cover for the paterfamilias and RJD Big Boss. Some media outlets were so stunned they simply muffled the news.

Unsurprisingly, Lalu came out guns blazing in support of the justified concern and outrage of his son who had apparently divined dark sinister elimination-motives of the Government in the move. Expectedly, his party echoed him loudly. Statements were tossed around thick and fast to those who cared to listen, underlining the imminent danger this posed and the grave consequences it may provoke.

Unfortunately for our democracy the main actors in this sickening drama are elected representatives and had been accorded huge mandates in the 2015 State Elections. That the Mahasangrama of Bihar would throw up such characters, merely because of their blood line, was not something that had been predicted by many pundits of the day. Now that they are firmly ensconced, ordinary people have no choice but to endure them for the next three years. They asked for it, the cynics would scorn.

What is particularly galling – and goes against the core tenets of a democracy – is the perverse and   deeply engrained sense of entitlement these politicians breeze into governance structures with. The gross trappings of raw power are grabbed without much ado and flaunted with obscenity. The security cover, with armed black cat commandos, is among the most prized of these entitlements. Nothing is more supremely ironical than to have tax-payers’ hard-earned money squandered on those who are, by any definition, plainly undeserving and at times criminally tainted.

Another tragedy that we are living with is that no legal notice is taken of such incendiary utterances.  All we had in Bihar were mild, politically-neutered noises by the JD (U) spokesperson and the Deputy Chief  Minister. It was the same Deputy Chief Minister – no less – who could muster nothing other than a meek and abject kowtowing to the brazen  threat by the same leader to disrupt his son’s wedding celebrations, by shifting the venue to some supposedly safe haven. And again, the paterfamilias had found it all vastly amusing and endearing.

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar loves to play the self-righteous role. Bihar above all else is his constant chant. Notwithstanding such tireless protestations, he jumped headlong into the Mahagatbandhan in 2015 with his long-time bete noire, strenuously denying that he had ever raised the savage spectre of Jungle Raj in the State. By mid-2017, the bete noire would openly ridicule him as Paltu Kumar and enjoy it hugely.

By opting to turn a deaf ear to the rant of Tej Pratap Yadav, Nitish Kumar is proving yet again that survival matters most in his scheme of things. It may be argued that this is too minor and insignificant a matter to be deserving the attention of the highest office in the State.  But that is missing the point. If all that is politically inconvenient is continuously ignored, where is transformation in the political culture going to come from?

An opportunity has been missed.  And it is almost guaranteed that more such opportunities will be allowed to slip in future too.

Even if Nitish wants to avoid a direct confrontation he should, along with other great missions of social reform that he has undertaken with unprecedented gusto – like prohibition, ending ills of dowry and child marriage – add another radical one of swachch raajneeti (clean politics). It is doubtful if he has the stomach for it, given that his own survival may be at stake, but the optics may not be that bad.

Like Nitish no other party leader ever wants to rein in the foul-mouthed or criminally inclined in the ranks. The spectacular failing is manifest across the political

spectrum. There are no innocents here.  Hence no kettle seriously calls a pot black or vice versa. If at all the game is indulged in, it is only for a few petty brownie points, soon forgotten.

What is strange and curious in the present context, however, is that the liberal-intellectual  brigade which is so quick to froth and foam at instances that are adjudged as right-wing misstatements and misdemeanors, did not find  anything even remotely objectionable in Tej Pratap  Yadav’s open threat to the Prime Minister of the country. If they at all did, they did an excellent job of keeping it very close to their chests. It makes one wonder about their multiple standards and what their tolerance levels are like. Is this the tolerance that they endorse?

But as concerned citizens, it is incumbent on us to sound the bugle of protest at this steep degeneration around us. We have the Election Commission of India to conduct free and fair elections, which admittedly are the sine qua non in a vibrant democracy. But once the undesirables can scrape through, smartly skirting all the sandbags of propriety, where is the protection for the hapless “governed”? The Judiciary cannot be the port of call for the misgoverned, creaking as it is under its unmanageable burden of problems.

Judicial activism, as we see it unfolding, is not the solution. The best recourse is for citizens to turn regulators, post elections and enforce, among other penalties, the right to recall elected representatives found transgressing a prescribed Code of Conduct. Like the unanimously accepted Code of Conduct prior to elections, there must be one post elections as well. The time to draw it up has come and should not be postponed any more. In this will figure blackballing the likes of Taj Pratap Yadav for their vile shenanigans. He has many in our country to keep him unpleasant company and should harbour no fears of being unfairly targeted or singled out.

The Prime Minister’s dream of a brave New India, 75 years into Independence, will fall flat on its face if the rot within bloats.  One of his favourite exhortations is to transform or perish. If we don’t watch out and take the right steps, we may well be headed to the latter pit. Enough is enough.

 

(The writer is a retired IAS officer and comments on governance issues.)