We can sing hallelujahs for democracy all our lives, but democracy will remain a system where some people are more equal than others. We don't have to look at the magical life of Lalit Modi to see this reality. Look at Pappu Yadav. On a flight from Patna to Delhi, he refused to switch off his mobile phone, refused to put his seat upright for landing, threw food in the aisle and threatened the cabin crew with his chappal. Can any of us get away with such behaviour? Pappu Yadav did. The airline took no action other than issuing a guarded statement. The security force said nobody filed any complaint.
Forget Pappu Yadav's criminal background and jail terms. He is an MP which makes him more equal than mere taxpayers.
MPs cutting across party lines have passed laws giving themselves all kinds of special privileges. Now we learn that they get a masala dosa in Parliament canteen for six rupees when any self-respecting Udupi restaurant will charge at least 20. When we pay ten rupees for a bowl of curds, remember we are subsiding Pappu Yadav to get his curds for three rupees.
Law makers in our country are the ones who are more equal than all others -- even when they misuse laws for their own benefit. Karnataka recently passed bills to raise ministers' salaries from Rs 25,000 to Rs 40,000 and MLAs' from Rs 20,000 to Rs 25,000. Don't be misled by the modesty of the latter figure. MLAs had their constituency allowance raised from Rs 15,000 to Rs 40,000. There are also sumptuary allowance, travel reimbursement, per diem payment, hotel allowance (with no limit on the number of days allowed), transport allowance, house rent allowance, house maintenance allowance, conveyance allowance to cover petrol expenses and a jump in pension from Rs 15,000 to Rs 40,000 per month.
These increases were voted into law without debate, unanimously. This was at a time when garbage was piling up in many streets in Bangalore because the Government had no money to pay the cleaning staff, when teachers had not been appointed in government schools for lack of funds. The opposition parties attacked the Government for defaulting on these payments, but when the salaries and allowances bill came up, they joined happily with the ruling party members to enrich themselves. Those of us who pay taxes to make all this possible can never be their equals, democracy or no democracy.
The selfish and unprincipled action of Karnataka legislators pales before the selfish and unprincipled action of Maharashtra legislators. Remember, Maharashtra Assembly has a record that puts it on par with UP. Who can forget a police officer stopping an overspeeding MLA on the Bandra-Worli sealink and the MLA later getting the officer to the Assembly premises and thrashing him there? The diligent officer was found guilty, the guilty MLA pronounced innocent.
This time the initiative has come from the Maharashtra Government itself. It has amended the Criminal Procedure Code in such a way that the police can no longer take action against a legislator, or start an investigation, without the Assembly Speaker's consent. This is an open and unashamed declaration that legislators are above the law. It is like a law that says you cannot question Pappu Yadav's actions without Pappu Yadav's consent.
If this is the stage we have reached after 68 years of democracy under a constitution that gives power to the people, is it any wonder that a journalist was set on fire purportedly under ministerial auspices in Shahjanpur, UP, and the forensic report said that it was self-immolation? Don't be surprised if the police inquiry now reveals that the journalist had tried to set fire to the minister. Is it any wonder that a senior minister in Jammu & Kashmir encouraged his security guards to assault a journalist? The man had protested against the guards passing nasty comments about his wife. The police took the predictable position that "we are getting complaints from both sides" and the matter would be investigated.
Nothing will be investigated. Because the guilty are more equal than the victims. Whether it is CBI or Vigilance or the police, they catch only politicians like Aam Aadmi Party's Jitender Singh Tomar. It's not the offence -- flaunting a fake degree -- that matters, but who commits the offence. Swami Ranganathananda once said, "all normal evils proceed from the primary evil of lust". He could have added that all primary evils proceed from politicians' greed.