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Friday 3 April 2020

Delhi Is Now Bombagarh

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Sugato Hazra
Public policy analyst based in Delhi

In India

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n the land of Lord Shiva, the rules and imposition of rules follow a dangerous pattern, observed Sukumar Ray, Bengal’s Edward Lear and father of filmmaker Satyajit Ray. If somebody there slips and falls down, the police comes, arrests him and the judge imposes a penalty of Rs 21 on him. If you snore in the middle of the night, every chance you will be arrested, cow dung paste will be rubbed on your head and then the guilty will be kept suspended in the air for 21 hours. In the peaceful land of Shib Thakur (Lord Shiva), the rules are rather stiff.

Sukumar Ray did not have the privilege of watching any functional democracy then. In any case, this was part of his Abol-tabol (nonsense rhyme) meant for children. Nothing serious unless someone decides to file a contempt suit against the late Sukumar Ray and call his grandson film maker Sandip Ray to defend him! It may seem farfetched that Ray in 1923 could have foreseen the present day standards and made fun of the same. Forget Ray, the modern world is more complex than one may like to think. Did anyone ever think that Facebook would go after Copenhagen’s iconic statue of the Little Mermaid for showing “too much bare skin or sexual undertones”? Yes, the world truly is the land of Shib Thakur now, a land that even Shiva could not have imagined.

The limerick in Bengali
The limerick in Bengali

Kings and judges are expected to be idiosyncratic in order to see the thin line between what is wrong or right in a complex issue. No wonder, therefore, choice of kings/judges must be left with equally competent idiosyncratic persons. Only a jewel can identify another jewel, not a job of any Tom, Dick or Harry. Democracy, therefore, is not the right form of governance. It cannot appoint Muhammad bin Tughlaq through an election. This may be proved wrong if Donald Trump wins.

The point is that in the history of free election rarely did we see an elected leader willing to think out of the box or live completely out of the straitjacket called the rule book. Only such a rare leader can bring in creative thinking in governance. A case in point is the odd-even rule on four wheelers by the Delhi government.

Creative thinking, unfortunately, in a democratic set up where roles of every institution is clearly demarcated cannot be imposed always. This needs support from other institutions willing to also use their creative wisdom. Media is an important tool in creating public opinion. Then there is judiciary to adjudicate in the case of disputes. In a democracy, dissenting voices are expected to seek wise judgments. Call it the land of Shiva or kingdom of Bombagarh, you need creative brains to govern your life.

The question is how to decide what is sane and what is insane. Take the case of the ban on four wheelers in Delhi. It indeed is insane to drive a vehicle which is polluting the atmosphere. The polluting vehicles must get removed from the road. But that creates hardship for a certain category of the population and, thus, a loss of popular support. Here creative thinking comes into play.

The decision taker must carefully select the group that is less in number. Take two wheelers for instance. The bottom of the economic pyramid always outnumber those in the middle. What if two-wheelers are more polluting than say a four wheeler? At least to demonstrate the success of the creative faculty available with the leadership, the convenient course of action is to create a hurdle for the four wheelers to ply on Delhi roads. The decision of the Delhi government is prudent — it displayed the leadership’s concern over reducing pollution; at the same time, it did keep its core support base unimpaired. Those who cannot follow the clear thinking of Lord Shiva will grumble, but who cares!

More so when there are many cheerleaders of the creative thinkers. Media for instance. The tool used for creating public opinion has emerged as arguably bigger than the opinion the tool likes to espouse. More so in the age of televised drama. Many an innocent Joe finds his image sullied due to error, mischievous or innocent, committed in reporting. A creative thinker, therefore, plans carefully to win the media over. This was not a problem in Ray’s Bombagarh or the Land of Shib Thakur. There was no media then. But today the first task is to sell the idea to such opinion traders. Once the media is won over, nobody can dislodge the creative thinker’s creative thoughts.

The judge in the Land of Shib Thakur was answerable to the King, his appointment authority. In present-day India since there is no issue of any such extraneous appointing authority, the judges are not unduly tethered. Yet they must be careful to public opinion — opinion as reflected in the media. Diesel is pollutant; therefore, convert all vehicles to run on CNG. If the number of CNG stations is inadequate to refill so many vehicles, the government can easily be instructed to set up more CNG stations. If the third party fails to execute the order, they can be hauled up later. Meanwhile, public opinion can by assuaged.

Either in Bombagarh or in the Land of Shib Thakur, issues must be addressed so that people at large accept the good intention behind the steps initiated — for example, in Delhi whether the rules enforced address the problem of pollution or not the justification of rules lie on the good intention displayed. Should you even think of challenging the same with logic, it would be advisable to read Sukumar Ray to know what happens in Bombagarh:

The King’s old aunt — an autocrat —
Hits pumpkins with her cricket bat
While Uncle loves to dance Mazurkas
Wearing garlands strung with hookaha.
All of this, though mighty queer,
Is natural in Bombagarh.


Featured image: Inspired by another character created by Sukumar Ray and sketched by Satyajit Ray; morphed by Surajit Dasgupta.

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