Saturday, August 28, 2010

Our petty little bureaucrats

It is strange that 5000 years of civilisation have left many of us uncivilised. Stranger still that most of the uncivilised end up as government bureaucrats. And because the bureaucrats – unseen, unobserved and always thinking small – manipulate most decisions on behalf of the country, the country is force-marched from one national shame to another.

Consider the wholly avoidable misadventure over Viswanathan Anand. It takes the crooked genius of a bureaucrat to think up ways of thwarting a doctorate being given to this wizard of chess. A man who brings glory to India many times over is insulted by a petty-minded file-pusher. The Minister apologises. Anand himself, with extraordinary grace, tells everyone to forget it and move on. That petty little bureaucrat must be enjoying the furore he has created and, lurking in his hole unseen and unobserved and always thinking small, figuring out how to shame the nation next to satisfy his petty little ego.

Do we as a race lack a sense of national pride? Look at the way we let foreigners escape after they have committed offences against our country: Ottavio Quattrochi of Bofors fame, Warren Anderson of Bhopal fame, even the British adventurers who dropped illegal arms in a Purulia forest many years ago and simply flew home. Contrast that with the US Immigration Office detaining an Indian simply because he was carrying suspicious religious literature in his baggage. Nothing has been found to nail him, but he remains nailed.

What happens at the sports level is even more humiliating to us as a nation. Will any Indian with a modicum of national pride make such a miserable mess of every detail of the Commonwealth Games? The stink rose so high that bossman Kalmadi was snubbed and disgraced with his powers taken off. But he clings to his chair becoming not just disgraced, but disgraceful too.

How different was China. That too is a country where gargantuan corruption prevails. But when the Olympics came around, every official and every citizen realised that this was something the world was watching. What followed was a national movement of a kind the world had seldom seen, from top officials to city gardeners doing their utmost to outperform themselves and achieve targets ahead of time. And what a show they mounted!

The most touching moment in the Beijing Olympics was when Liu Xiang, reigning champion of 110-metres hurdles, failed at take-off point because of leg injury. He was a superstar whose legs had been insured for $ 13 million. He was in such pain that he should not have shown up at all. But this was China and this was Liu, the hero all Chinese were looking forward to with pride. When the leg failed and Liu retired in excruciating pain, tens of thousands of Chinese left the stadium crying; they didn’t want to see the remaining events. At a press conference, Liu’s coach cried. Members of the Chinese media cried.

In India our officials, sports politicians and unseen bureaucrats take delight in putting players down. They don’t pay outstanding dues to tennis stars who win fame abroad. They send athletes from one state to another in unreserved compartments. Nutritious food is not served at training camps. Women from weightlifters to hockey stars have to face the tantrums of horny coaches.

Viswanathan Anand was checkmated by a civil servant who wanted proof of the master’s Indianness. Actually, is there any proof that that bureaucrat is an Indian? Minister Kapil Sibal did well to apologise. But why did he take refuge behind the excuse of “procedural delays”? Why did he not name the bureaucrat concerned and initiate action against him? How come even the vigilante media has not tried to find out which bureaucrat caused such a national disgrace? The failure to do this will mean that more disgraces will follow and more uncivilised civil servants will go scot free.