Monday, April 25, 2016

70-lakh watch, 1-crore car, 125 feet vs 125 feet; the greater the power, the bigger the abuse

Lord Acton was constrained by Anglo-Saxon sensibilities when he coined the world's most quoted quote: Power corrupts etcetera. That truism does not do justice to Bharatiya political samskruti to which constraints are alien. In our system, irrespective of whether the rulers are saints or sinners, power doesn't just corrupt. It releases primal emotions that spin in every impossible direction. Even pretensions of propriety have no relevance.

Recent headlines show how luridly delightful primal emotions can get. Karnataka's Chief Minister Siddaramaiah is an old-school socialist who always wears simple white kurta and veshti. But he was found wearing also a diamond-studded wrist watch costing 70 lakh rupees. It then transpired that he had a collection that included Rolex and Andemars Piguet watches, one-lakh-rupee sunglasses and Hermes/Louis Vuitton shoes. Impeccable taste.

That is the magic of power. It produces visions of stylishness and sophistication in the minds of men who are neither stylish nor sophisticated by nature. They do things because they can. Ideologies and party colours make no difference. The man who believes he is going to be the next chief minister of Karnataka did exactly what the ruling chief minister did. B.S.Yeddyurappa was only appointed president of the state BJP -- and the first thing he did was to acquire a one-crore-rupee car. He had to drive long distances to inspect the drought areas, he said. Ditto with Siddaramaiah who too had to inspect the drought areas. Municipal lorries used scarce water to wet the roads so that the neta wouldn't have to breathe the dust citizens lived with.

Such is the impact of power that even sons, daughters and sundry relatives suddenly feel that the world is at their disposal. Mamata Bannerjee's nephew threatened policemen -- and policemen kowtowed before him. A minister's son was caught speeding in a fabulous Porsche in Hyderabad a week ago. It took some effort for the police to seize the car. The VIP son went his way, probably to drive a Lamborgini. A police chief's minor son was photographed driving a car in Kerala recently. Nothing happened to the son or the father or the holy car.

The flaunting of power can sometimes take on farcical hues. Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu recently announced plans to put up a 125-foot Ambedkar statue on the banks of the Krishna river. In no time Telengana Chief Minister K.Chandrasekhar Rao laid the foundation stone of what he called "the tallest Ambedkar statue" in the country. But this too was to be 125 feet high, just as Chandrababu's. How then could it be the tallest? Perhaps Rao will make it, as a last minute surprise, 125 feet and one inch. Or may be Telengana will develop a new measuring system with 13 inches to a foot. Power can achieve anything.

Maybe all of us will let primal emotions flow if we get the power to spend other people's money. After all, what is it that makes Lalit Modi and Vijay Mallya so successful in life? For a half-hour programme, Lalit Modi once went to Nagpur. He wanted a particular model limousine to ride from the airport to his programme spot and back. That model was not available in Nagpur. So one was hired in Hyderabad and driven to Nagpur to serve Lalit Modi for his half-hour engagement. Vijay Mallya borrowed money from banks and used it to buy mansions for him in foreign lands. These are wealthy men who keep their own money safe, and play with your money and mine. That is power.

Corruption is a privilege of power. Those who exercise it, from police constables to ministers, are genuinely convinced that they have the right to do what seizes their fancy. Municipal authorities in Bangalore once stopped collecting garbage from the city's cricket ground because the cricket authorities did not give them as many free passes to the season's matches as they wanted. A security guard in the Bangalore Club was beaten up because he asked for the entry pass of a police officer's car.

Power rides in a world where ego is the ruling deity. Money is just a means to massage the ego. Lalit Modi, a fugitive from his country's law, threatens legal action if his writ is defied in Rajasthan's cricket stadium. That is what power does to people. It blinds them to reality. It justifies itself. The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse. No passion robs the human mind as completely as power does. Pity 'tis 'tis true.