Politics of Entitlement: By Philip Mudartha

By Philip Mudartha, Qatar
Udupi Today Media Network

 

Philip Mudartha, Qatar

 

Thursday, 18 April 2012: The politics of water is a mere scene in the play that is politics of entitlement. What is this entitlement?

 

Ask and you shall be given.

 

So the Scriptures say. But in an electoral democracy, you shall be given; you do not have to ask. Giving is a moral obligation for our political leaders. They give away always, especially and only when what they give away is not their own; when it belongs to someone else, like us, you and me.

 

What am I saying? Am I crazy? When and how did our political leaders give us anything? We always give them: votes, taxes, and above all, fruits and garlands! Of course, they promise us the skies, and disappear till next election.

 

Really, do the politicians disappear?

 

I wish they did. But they do not. They go to New Delhi, Bangalore, Udupi, etc. They are entitled to free travel from their constituencies and back. They are entitled to free accommodation, free phone calls, and nearly free food in canteens. They are entitled to body-guards and other servants without paying for them. We gave them these entitlements as their right for pleading our causes within the government. They have a moral duty to return the favor.

 

And how honorable they are!

 

They legislate for us: Right to Work, Right to Education, and Right to Food. We are entitled to all these rights. These are extensions to constitutionally guaranteed fundamental right to life! Let me elaborate on each of these entitlements.

 

Right to food: Because I am born as a child, I cannot gather my own food. But, I need to eat to survive and live. So, I have a right for my food. Our social morality requires government to ensure that I am fed, nourished and grow into an adult. Aren’t these duties belonging to my parents? Should the government be my parents? Yes, because, my parents are poor. They have no work. They have no income to provide my food. They are incapable to take the responsibility. Society must take care of me. By vote, society appoints the government of its choice to be my parent! In this kind of democratic system of government, my parents can continue to give birth to as many children as God decides to give me as brothers and sisters.

 

Right to work: When I grow up, I want a home, a wife and everything that goes in acquiring them. I make kids. My parents get old, weak, and sick. I need help. I have no skills that the job markets want. But I have to earn at least to pay for covering and bathing our bodies, buy my entitled food rations at fair price government shops, and buy my liquor at licensed shops or in black market. I am entitled to work. MGNREGA and similar schemes will hire me to build dirt roads, pave dirt roads, clean sewages, dig gutters, lay pipes and cables etc. Our social morality requires that no able bodied man and woman go without the share of nation-building work at entitled wages for prescribed days. Society has appointed government to ensure that. Never mind, nation-building is real or imaginary. Work as entitlement is given and wages received. Were assets created, value added, and new wealth generated? Not my worries!

 

Right to Education: I am entitled to free basic education and subsidized vocational, professional and higher education. After my education, I am entitled to different types of work: I will not be a manual laborer. I must be eligible to my entitlement to government service. The government must do it by reservations, quotas and sub-quotas both in government jobs. It has to cajole the private sector by law to hire me, even if I do not meet job requirements. But, a government job is secure; once hired, I will not be fired, ever. Even if I do not turn up for work, do not work, and work only if bribed. I am entitled to bribes. I am entitled to pensions at my retirement. I am entitled for periodic revisions of my pensions including DA linked to retail price index.

 

And there are some essential goods and services that I am entitled either free or at controlled prices. These entitlements are not my rights too. I vote into power only those political leaders who promise to pass laws granting my entitlements. Let me name these as Right to Travel, Right to Energy, Right to Water, Right to Health, and Right to Safe Sex etc in addition to all rights discussed before.

 

Right to travel: National Airlines, Railways, Waterways and Roadways owned by State Public Transport Corporations shall not raise fares. They shall not make profits. They shall hire and maintain a high level of grumpy workforce and make losses in the interest of common man. Never mind, the super rich, rich, middle class and the affording common man avail cheap but poor quality travel services. Because our social morality requires that poor man must have the right to travel. Travel to where, why and how many times? Never mind. Think entitlement!

 

Right to Energy: I need kerosene, diesel, LPG, cooking coal and electric power at fair prices. For agriculture pumps and all electric rural homes, I need electricity for free or at a fixed monthly tariff. I do not want to pay by metered consumption. Never mind, I am a rich landlord and middle class farmer. I am entitled in the name of the subsistence farmer and rural poor. Actually, the rural poor man uses firewood to cook and heat and not the government subsidized energy. Okay, he does use kerosene lamps; but bulk of kerosene and diesel is gobbled up by the rich in their SUVs, automobiles, pumps, tractors and other agro-industrial machinery. The low tariff electricity is powering color TVs, fridges, air-conditioners, cooling fans, water geysers and bore well pumps in rich and middle class homes who can afford to pay market rates for energy. But they get the benefits of cheaper energy at poor service quality as a right in the name of the real poor, the 32/26 kind of Montek Singh Ahluwalia fame, who do not have electricity connections to their huts.

 

Right to water: This series is about politics of water. Though not formally enshrined as a right, dozens of laws, ministries and government agencies are working towards our entitlement to water either free or at crazily low prices. Let me quote a speech of one of our illustrious leaders in Parliament: “My government will spare no effort to ensure that potable drinking water is available to all villages in the next five years”, thundered Atal Bihari Vajpaee, ” Water can also catch fire. The problem of water is going to become even more complicated. The problem of water is not limited only to India. This has become a world problem. It is possible that the next major source of tension in the world will be water, not petrol. The pollution of water is increasing. The quantity of water is getting reduced. The water-table is falling. We all see this in our constituencies. We feel disturbed by the problems people are facing. We have not given the assurance that we will do everything in five years. Only in the case of water, we would like to give the assurance that in five years there should be good drinking water everywhere. And this is our commitment”.

 

Need I say more? Since independence, we have always voted and elected those political parties and their leaders who promised to take care of us with entitlements in return for our vote. The comical farce is we are entitled for free condoms also, in order that we can have safe sex. I am entitled to philander; only, avoid catching the deadly AIDS or HIV. The morality is preservation of public health by prevention of communicable diseases. It has nothing to do with individual responsibility towards a moral, ethical and dignified family life.

 

Since independence and birth of our nation, generations of entitlement have looked forward to government sops, leaching on public money, while avoiding paying taxes. These generations have enjoyed and are continuing to enjoy worldly goods and services, without paying for them at market rates. They are not keen on producing goods and services in abundance, with individual responsibility, initiative, passion and innovative ways so that costs are kept low, and therefore, market prices remain low and affordable. They are not keen on controlling costs by eliminating waste, misuse and abuse. They are not focused on living modestly, consuming fairly, and letting the needy to have access to their share of resources at affordable rates and volumes. The poor and needy must be entitled to their fair chance to make a living with dignity. This is possible only if the super rich, rich, middle class and everyone who can afford to pay will buy their needs at market prices and refrain from draining the public treasury to feed greed. Until change in the mindset of entitlement as a right is brought about, the politician will make election promises of entitlements and win the votes in the name of common man. Once the government is formed in poor man’s name, it will not exist for him, but for the creamy layers who skims the cream and more.

 

Where is the money to pay for all this coming from? There is a printing press the government owns. Rupees are printed and circulated like Xeroxed paper. Money is plenty. Goods and Services are not. Result: Inflation!  Prices Rise. Then we yell: government does not control prices. Government makes laws to control prices and introduces rationing. We are familiar with the effects of controls and rationing due to the vicious circle of entitlement. But, we are incapable of escaping the trap.

 

Is a savior in sight? What do you think?

 

 

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Comments

Rajesh Prabhu, Bangalore

 With the reservation system the SC and ST get most of the benefits of the rights of entitlement. Whereas non-SC/STís spend their entire life searching and fighting for their rights and entitlement unless they compromise.

Dinesh Suvarna, Shirva

 Nice article, gives a broader view of politics

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