Jul 5, 2010

Freebie Junkies: on SOPs

So we celebrated a bharat bandh today. From the look of it, it’s been a spectacular success. Going by the reasons behind the protest, it seems we are a nation of freebie junkies. We frequent restaurants during happy hours and haggle about the free samples to be given when we buy expensive perfume at duty free shops. Hell, Indians even ask for freebies when they attend garage sales in the U.S.

We think we own the country by paying taxes and are entitled to an endless range of services and commodities in lieu of that. Such things as fiscal deficit, fuel subsidy and price rationalization mean very little to the average Indian. Which is why I wasn’t at all surprised when Khetia aunty mourned the hike in fuel prices and spoke in support of the bandh. They are small-time traders and have been hit bad. Her angst, though misplaced, is understandable. Those I cannot quite fathom are the educated, left leaning liberals. I had the opportunity to lock horns with such a character during my recent visit to Lucknow.

Bhaskar Chaterjee is an IAS officer and a distant relative; one of those hitherto-unknown influential people who you bump into at social gatherings and immediately note everybody paying obeisance to. I was in a spot of trouble with my return tickets and my uncle was kind enough to approach him for assistance which he dutifully offered. I was introduced to him and we kinda took to each other. On my part it was pure desperation as I saw him as a refuge from the endless introductions and hugs I was being subjected to. He had it even worse, poor guy. Also, without really being immodest or a snob about it, I don’t think apart from me and my uncle, there were too many people at the venue there who the poor soul could really talk to. So, anyway, there we were, strangers in a blind, two ships faffing by and all that.

We were chitchatting about this and that when the question of subsidies arose. I don’t recall exactly how but the question of free water to the Punjab farmers arose and predictably enough, I started to rant and rave. This has been a burning issue with me for a while and with media reports about the debilitating ground water levels, the ire has simply increased. He started off by defending the cause of the agriculturists as an exploited minority, but backtracked fast when I jumped at his neck with some Green Revolution facts. Point is, only an imbecile can uphold the Punjab farmer as a prototype of the Indian peasant. Bhaskar had conveniently overlooked the fact that the maximum number of Mercedes and Audis are sold in Punjab.

After arguing for a considerable period of time (we debated things like socialism and welfare state and Marx but that’s another story), the great IAS divulged that as a mark of his professional excellence, he had been given some land near Ambala which he’d leased out to a sugar major. So much for neutral perspective. But the encounter with Bhaskar has stayed on in my mind. If educated, prosperous, privileged Indians think they are entitled to freebies, why blame the poor?

1 comment:

Shoumitro said...

and these ppl formulate/administer our country's policies!