Status quoist Delhiites receive a culture shock

Status quoist Delhiites receive a culture shock

Status quoist Delhiites receive a culture shock

A flurry of changes by Narendra Modi has irked status quoists, who are crying foul. The changes that prime minister Narendra Modi has effected has unsettled a bunch of no-change proponents in Delhi.

They have begun to find fault with the prime minister’s decisions, and vision. The culture of complacency that has almost become integral to the idiom of Indian society has given birth to a new set of cynics. The cynics dislike and desist even an iota of change. The fact is these changes bring about a new paradigm in Indian polity, and a whiff of freshness. 

When he spoke of basic discipline issues like punctuality and cleaning the bureaucratic corridors which stink of old papers and files, this too caused heartburns. Even though it was akin to defending the indefensible, the cynics argued that by imposing rigidity of timeliness and cleanliness, the PM ‘diktat’ may lead to a demotivated workforce which in turn could affect quality output.

The fact is, Indian bureaucracy is mired with problems like of inefficiency and apathy and one of the reasons this has persisted is that no one at the top ever questioned this. Modi confronted the comfort zones of babus and even if we see a minor shift in attitude, our work culture and government connect with people will substantially improve.

While many hailed his maiden Independence Day speech as a classical example of a head of state talking directly with his people, the cynics termed references to toilets and litter as too simplistic and not worthy of proclamations from Red Fort.

It is ironical. Close to seven decades after Independence a vast majority of Indians still defecate in the open – becoming victims of drudgery and diseases – and yet when a prime minister thrusts the attention of a napping nation to this basic issue of human dignity, it is jeered and booed. The status quoists are too used to hearing lofty and hollow ideals being sold by its leaders relentlessly and an aversion to some basic, pressing issues does not come as a surprise.

The idea of abolishing Planning Commission too is taunted as an attempt by the prime minister to “destroy” institutions. So gung ho are the cynics with preserving the legacy of the old institutions that they do not see any merit in doing away with one such agency which has far outlived its utility. After Independence, at the instance of Jawaharlal Nehru and other leaders, we had embraced socialism as the defining doctrine under which state was supreme and closely monitored the economy.

Six decades and years later, with the global economy having undergone a metamorphosis and Indian economy migrating into a mixed economy mode where free market and forces of demand and supply determine what is produced and in what quantity, the utility of Planning Commission has been rightly questioned.

In fact, the credibility of this institution has always been on decline especially after the 1991 policy overhaul, which among other made the quantitative targeting of domestic production irrelevant with the delicensing of production and trade.

Unnecessary squandering

The irrelevance of this white elephant in Planning Commission became more glaring when few years ago the agency came under sharp criticism for its lavish spend on toilets and estimates of poverty line. Symptomatic of the inappropriateness of its focus, the Commission had spent a colossal Rs 35 lakh on reconstructing two toilets and before that had come up with a rather bizarre estimate that those spending above Rs 32 in cities are above the poverty line.

The Commission naturally was stuck in a time warp and it was appropriate it got pushed into the annals of history, for the cynics to moan.

A burst of subdued anguish flashed among status quoists when Narendra Modi called off the secretary level talks with Pakistan after its foreign secretary Abdul Basit ignored New Delhi’s warning on not meeting the Hurriyat leaders.

The argument ran that India has historically supported this ongoing talk between Pakistan and Hurriyat as this helps the civilian government there buy peace with the Army. It is, they said, a way to convey to the people of Pakistan that the Kashmiri aspirations are being factored in into the bilateral dialogues between the two countries. This was a standard response, or justification for the static position of the Indian government for many decades.

The shift in style, and diplomacy, became visible soon after Modi took over, and it was naïve to believe that the NDA government would pursue the same old policy of continued dialogues with the separatists Kashmiri leaders, who have brazenly spoken against India.

The Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson made this amply clear when he said on August 20, “There are only two stakeholders on the issue of Jammu & Kashmir — the Union of India and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. None else.” India has made it clear that there would be no talks if Pakistan did not disengage with the separatists.

Also, many said why should the Indian government be worried about ensuring the comfort of the civilian government in Pakistan. In one stroke, Modi challenged a decades old policy, challenged it, overruled it and in the process shook all to revisit the Pakistan script. While majority cheered, the cynics sulked.

In the last phase of his election campaign, Modi had said in an interview that Delhi was controlled by a cabal that had vested interests in the status quo and he would break this. While this may have been dubbed by the status quoists as fancy hyperbole then, seeing Modi walk the talk would have made them nervous. India is changing. RIP status quoists!

(The writer is part of Fijeeha, a development communication forum)

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