Tuesday, November 6, 2007

8.COMMENTARY. Security Lapse. Is it?

In a recent outburst the Delhi High Court echoed the subdued sentiment of the millions. No wonder, one of the rarest judicial indictment of the state was flashed on front pages of newspapers, with a majority giving the judiciary a `thumps up'. Arguing that politicians were not a `national asset' to be protected by so many security personnel Justice T S Thakur had told the counsel of the central government."You should not let these men (politicians) come out. Their presence in public places itself threatens the common man."

While the judgement on the matter should be some hearings away, the harsh observations are nevertheless significant on two accounts. One, the court shows them (politicians) their limited worth and two, that protecting them denies security to the common man. Though it may sound painfully amusing on one account, it unfolds a glaring anomaly of democratic polity in the world's largest democracy. Should peoples' representatives be (over)valued above the general public they seem to serve?

So, it seems. As a Z+ security cover guarantees no less than 75 police personnel with a fleet of vehicles including a bullet proof car. Remove the plus and the Z security translates to 39 persons in uniform with a medium fleet of jeeps. At the third tier, there is Y category that engages some 13 police personnel round the clock. Multiply it three times to get the actual number of men in uniform engaged in VIP security in three daily shifts.

Undoubtedly, security of important persons in the capital of the country is worth Rs 20 crores each day, with thousands of police personnel on duty. Not satisfied with the counsel's contention that these people need security the court painfully pointed out the irony that "People are being murdered but it does not bother you. You are failing to provide proper security to them but you deploy a contingent of security personnel with lethal weapons for the politicians."

Out of total available police force available in Delhi, 55 per cent are engaged in VIP's security, 3.6 per cent are involved in managing traffic and merely 32 per cent are in active policing for a population in excess of 100 million people. It must however be noted that a significant proportion of the force in active policing is engaged in regular investigations. If this is the state of affairs in Delhi, peoples' security in other cities and small towns can be easily inferred.

The police to people ratio is clear reflection on how indeed common man's security has been systematically undervalued. The police to people ratio is a pathetic 10 to 10,000 persons in India while countries like Hong Kong, Malaysia & Thailand have a ratio of 47, 34 & 33 respectively. Unless this skewed ratio gets addressed the police jeeps plying on the roads with the inscription `with you, for you always' will remain a mere statement of intent.

With the criminalisation of politics and politicisation of criminals having grown hands-in-glove, the degeneration of democracy in the last six decades has reached an all time low. About half the members of the parliament hold criminal records against them and letting them out in the public places, as the court rightly observed, may amount to threatening the security of the common man.

In its defense, the government informed the court that it was revising the policy pertaining to personal security provided to important people and submitted a document in a sealed envelope, understood to be containing such details.The court was scathing in its attack:`There is nothing secret in these documents. You have got a habit of putting everything under cover. Can the security of these men be protected by putting these papers in sealed cover?' It couldn't have been more embarrassing!

Whether this judicial tirade transform the situation on the ground is a matter of deep conjecture! But the fact that the issue of grave social concern has been raised to expose the self-serving nature of peoples' representatives should be indicative of the process of degeneration that the governing structure has gone through. That the judiciary has to reprimand the government on matters like these reflect an abject failure of its self-corrective mechanism.

Watching a heavily protected politician passing by during one such traffic diversions, my five-year son was wondering whom the police was protecting? Before I could articulate my considered response to match his nascent thinking he quipped: `isn't there a criminal being escorted by the police'? It reminded me of one such moment several years ago when as a young child I was witness to the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru moving about in an open car waving to the roadside crowd on a visit to Hyderabad!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

7.ANALYSIS. Is it worth an idea?

This new 60-second television advertisement has the potential to undo what the politicians of all hues have successfully accomplished in the the last 60 years - to divide the country along caste and religion. The imaginative advertisement, also released as half-page print ad, features Abhishek Bachchan as a young sarpanch who takes a bold decision to settle the ongoing feud between two warring factions in his village by replacing peoples' names with their mobile numbers instead. The sarpanch makes a profound statement: `neither any cast and creed, nor any disparity and discrimination.'

Obliterating the inevitability of caste by skipping second names from identity plates in favor of mobile numbers, the ad sends a strong message to the democratic polity of the country. Haven't unsuspecting masses been long exploited for narrow political gains? The ad takes a step further by dedicating roads to mobile numbers at the cost of names that smell of political appeasement. The suggestion is not to re-invent mobile number for the greats like Gandhi but to avoid unnecessary politicization of inaugural ceremonies at the cost of public exchequer.

Without doubt, politicians will discount such far-fetched implications of a commercial. But for an overheated democracy that sustains itself on caste and religion divides and remains in perpetual election mode therefore, the advertisement comes with a whiff of fresh air. Says the ad agency's creative director: ''the question was to position the brand as a better idea when it struck us that if everybody had a number and not a name, it should put to rest a lot of our problems.'' Pitching its message around social harmony, the mobile telephony route to social change may seem a bargain by any standard.

In a country where a million new subscribers become mobile phone owners every week, dismissing the inherent power of this handy gadget to spur a new social order may seem somewhat perilous. Haven't there been umpteen stories of mobile surprises - from fishermen in Kerala earning more money and wasting less fish by phoning different coastal markets to the use of mobiles in improving relief planning in the wake of recent Peruvian earthquake, and to the poor women in Bangladesh who surprised the world by making a new living through activities like re-selling airtime and prepay cards..

More surprises should be on offer once mobile phone makes inroads into far flung areas. Undoubtedly, technology is an empowering tool that brings about social equity and provides equal opportunities to the poor to gain access to services and to support livelihoods. It may have surprised E F Schumacher, the celebrated author of the Small is Beautiful, who was of the view that new technologies widen the gap between the rich and the poor. The fact that of the half of the world's 6.5 billion people who now use mobiles more than twice as many mobile owners are found in developing countries suggests that mobile phones are as much a pro-poor gadget.

Mobile phones growth has been unprecedented. In less than a decade since its launch, over 200 million users are hooked to mobile phones in the country and the number is growing relentlessly. Though it is half the number of users in China, the fact that owning a mobile goes beyond the notion of social status augers well for its rapid expansion into unchartered terrain. The challenge however remains as over a third of the country's population, an estimated 350 million, survives on less than a dollar a day. Achieving social harmony without economic emancipation will remain a far cry!

However, the advertisement seems to have taken a good measure of reality before proclaiming mobile phone as the ultimate change agent. If caste discrimination was akin to racism in regarding discriminated groups as `biologically inferior and socially dangerous, the idea of a mobile phone decimating such social disorder can best be described revolutionary. While the overriding intent is clear, the means to deliver the content may need social awakening. Without doubt, it is worth an idea!