Sadashiv Das is a former medical Superintendent of SCB Medical College in Cuttack, Odisha. He retired last month. His sixtieth birthday was just a couple of days ago. The years have however not been very kind to him. Arthritis has completely immobilized him. He hobbles now using a crutch. So, the idea of finally resting is not entirely unwelcome.
Das has been visiting the secretariat in Bhubaneswar every single day for the past 18 days. He wishes to get his service papers in order so that he can start receiving his pension. But eighteen days of patiently standing in queues has not yielded anything. He is directed from table to table. No one seems to be responsible for anything.
Das suffers from diabetes and hypertension too. His condition requires visiting the wash room from time to time. However the latter in the secretariat is a festering Inferno of stench, stains and flies. The closest place is his niece’s house, seven kilometers away. He cannot possibly go there leaving his place in the line. The eighteen days have been a torture to him. He has already paid Rs. 2000 in cash, five packets of Wills and two packets of Jalaram laddoos as bribe. The inertia is however unaffected.
This too is the story of India. Beyond the dazzling growth. Beyond the dark poverty.
Whether it’s Bhubaneswar or Pune or Delhi, the story is the same. What has stopped administrations and Governments across towns and tehsils from working is something beyond corruption. It is a total refusal to get things moving. It is almost a sadistic pleasure in seeing people squirm, despair, cajole and still get snubbed. Reason can no longer apply to explain this behavior. The poor are no longer the only sufferers in India. Constant harassment and humiliation can rival the pangs of hunger too. As middle class India groans in misery, there is no Lochinvar who rides into television studios in righteous anger. As everyone, from the anchors to the activists, discusses and bemoans the fate of the other India that comprises the poor, everyone forgets that India is not just of the rich and the poor but also of the 200 million strong middle class whose angst is overshadowed by the excesses against the poor.
The Jan Lokpal movement has churned out opinions galore. The ones against the same have sneered that most of the agitators did not even know the concept of an (anti corruption) ombudsman. Prajikta Kakatar, a resident of Pune stopped her twenty two year old son from going to a rally in support of Hazare in Pune. Her logic was, “When you don’t even know what the Jan Lokpal Bill is, who made it, how many versions there are, what are you agitating for?”
“India has indeed had a skewed story”, says sociologist Kalindi Jena. “However the problem is that a proper identification of victims has not been made. The poor in India are not the only ones suffering. Middle class India is too. The poor at least have the competing attention of the political class these days. But who fights for the middle classes?”
The Anna Hazare movement was criticized for not including Dalits and minorities. It was criticized for being an upper caste middle class agitation. The truth of the matter, however, is that in a country of competing appeasements, the middle class, especially upper caste Hindu, is an Indian who has a story of untold grievances. He enjoys no quotas, no subsidies, no reliefs and no bailouts. This even after it is his money, his taxes that go to pay for most of the aforementioned goodies. The pursuit of a welfare state has created a Robin Hood government that robs not the rich but the middle class to pay for the poor. One of after the other, the grandiose schemes of a welfare state waives away Rs. 60,000 crores worth of farm loans and spends Rs, 45,000 crores for a rural employment guarantee scheme. Little do governments realize that the pockets that they rob to pay for rice at Rs 2 a kilo are empty because the same pocket pays Rs 40-50 for the same amount.
“Hence the resentment”, says Darpan Chowdhury, political science professor at Jadavpur University. “There is no doubt that middle class India has also been suffering. It may not be an active suffering like someone taking their lands or raping their women. Decades of being ignored by the governing class can also be frustrating. But facts are facts and it also is partly their own fault. Voting percentage in Gadchiroli is 68% when it is 42 % in Mumbai. Middle class India hardly votes. And even when they do, it is not en masse like the poor whose numbers are their strength. Middle class India has stayed away from active political participation and it is what is costing them dearly today.”
The indictment is indisputable. But if the middle classes have sinned, they have also paid for it. The Lokpal movement is now a hope that this inertia is finally broken.
And as they gather their powers to make their voices heard all one can hope for is that the story of this third India does not fall behind the other two.