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  Opinion   Edit  23 Jun 2024  Pavan Varma | Our politics must change to tackle citizens’ basic issues

Pavan Varma | Our politics must change to tackle citizens’ basic issues

The writer, an author, former diplomat and is in politics.
Published : Jun 23, 2024, 3:29 am IST
Updated : Jun 23, 2024, 10:52 am IST

Amid recurring crises like water scarcity and pollution, political blame games overshadow solutions in India's governance.

Residents collect drinking water from a tanker amid ongoing Delhi water crisis at Vivekananda Camp, Chanakyapuri, in New Delhi, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (PTI Photo/Shahbaz Khan)
 Residents collect drinking water from a tanker amid ongoing Delhi water crisis at Vivekananda Camp, Chanakyapuri, in New Delhi, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (PTI Photo/Shahbaz Khan)

I am a firm believer in democracy, but has the manner of its functioning in our country become antithetical to good governance? Given the frequency of elections, and the near unbridgeable bitterness between the ruling NDA and the Opposition, can we expect united action to resolve the real needs of the common person? Constant blame game, and the priority of winning the next state election, is making this a remote possibility. 

A democracy, in spite of internal acrimony, must govern. Even as political parties continue their mutual recrimination after the national elections, and the impending parliamentary session is likely to be paralyzed by the unedifying confrontation between a weakened BJP and a stronger Opposition, millions of ordinary people in the capital of the country, that boasts of being the world’s fastest growing economy, are struggling to get a drop of something as basic as water. Horrifying visuals of hordes running after a water tanker in this sweltering heat continue, as politicians are busy discussing whether Rahul Gandhi should have kept Wayanad or Rae Bareli, and what is the real import of the speech given by Mohan Bhagwat. 

Any solution is evaded by the endlessly nauseating charade of blame-games. The BJP is seeking to make political capital of the water shortage by accusing the Delhi government run by AAP. And the AAP is accusing the BJP for deliberately accentuating this crisis. Nor is this crisis restricted only to the national capital. In Maharashtra there is the looming threat of drought due to water scarcity. The hapless farmer, and rural communities, have scraped the bottom of every well. But the politicians of the state are busy planning for the upcoming Assembly elections. In fact, the shortage of water has become one of our biggest future challenges, not only for rural areas where ground water levels have fallen precipitately and the irrigation grid is far from optimum, but also for our chaotic and creaking urban infrastructure. Solutions to significantly ameliorate this crisis exist, but they require planning, a long-term vision, and painstaking ground work, which may not show headline grabbing results immediately. But do those who govern us have the patience or the inclination to invest in such longer gestation efforts? Our political masters need quick solutions, which they can tout as an “achievement” before the next Assembly elections, to preempt an equally opportunist Opposition ever ready to dub as a failure anything that does not show instant results. Sometimes, in my moments of radical desperation, I feel that the only way to jolt our politicians to find a systemic solution to the recurring misery of ordinary people, is to cut off water supply to the big bungalows of Lutyens Delhi for 48 hours every week. You can bet a solution will become a matter of the most urgent priority, but there is the always the fear that it may be only be for their own comfort zone. 

Sterile name calling dominates every issue. If there is a train accident, as there was one recently in West Bengal, the Opposition was is up in arms cornering the BJP, and vice-versa. But none of those who govern will jointly deliberate on the overall condition of railway safety, the replacement of old equipment at a faster pace, or what can be done about the abysmal conditions of trains other than the elite Vande Bharat Express, in which ordinary people don’t travel. 

Revanna, grandson of Deve Gowda, and his alleged sexual predations, or PM Modi’s diminished victory margin in his Lok Sabha seat in Varanasi, occupy headline space. But are our politicians really concerned about the increasing frequency and length of power-cuts across the country, including in the national capital? Major cities still get electricity for much longer, but just travel beyond a fifty kilometres radius outside the metropolises, and power is visible more in its absence than its presence, with huge voltage fluctuations.  Which world of democratic promise are we living in?

Given election priorities, the promise of freebies is the order of the day, whether actually implemented or not. Some 80-crore people are surviving on a monthly dole of rations by the central government, supposedly a temporary measure after Covid. But no political party seems to have a vision beyond continuing freebies, to find a sustainable resolution of the underlying foundational problems that necessitate them. How do we deal with rampant rural distress and low agricultural productivity?  How do we create more jobs? How do we skill our youth better? How do we improve primary health, and the quality of our education system? How do we bridge unacceptable economic inequality, and rising prices of basic commodities? What do we do with lakhs of young people whose future is in jeopardy because of recurring paper leaks and inadequate testing systems? 

Round the corner are the monsoons, and the country will, inevitably, witness flooding causing widespread misery. As always, this will hardly affect Lutyens Delhi where policy makers reside. But some issues affect even them. Later this year, we will again face the problem of pollution. Delhi — and large parts of northern India — will be unbreathable, leaving millions gasping. Every year when this happens there is much consternation, with political parties busy blaming each other. The solutions are known. Planning to deal with the crisis that will surely be upon us next year too needs to be taken up on a war-footing immediately after Diwali. An inter-state committee involving the affected states, including Punjab, Haryana and UP, with specialised experts of proven domain experience, working to a fixed deadline, has to be set up by the central government. But such an effort towards a systemic solution is lethally short-circuited by the fact that Delhi and Punjab are ruled by Opposition parties, while a BJP government is at the Centre. All that happens then is the familiar cacophony of political blame game, while citizens remain helpless victims of this callous, myopic politics. 

Something needs to change drastically. We cannot live in a euphoric bubble on the one hand, and an unworkable policy system on the other. The truth is that the practice of our politics has today become an impediment to the quality of governance. The people’s patience is running out. Ultimately, they must decide when to say: Enough is enough. 

Tags: water crises, aa edit, pollution