Shutter down: Service to people not a photo-op
Little can be encouraging in the middle of an ongoing crisis that all governments are struggling to bring under control. But once in a while, the situation can bring to the surface a sense of proportion ignored earlier. A small example of this was the decision of the Rajasthan government that the distribution of food and other essential material to people in need should not be photographed. The chief minister, Ashok Gehlot, said that giving the destitute the rations they need is a service and not a matter of publicity and competition. People who have become completely dependent on the government in the time of crisis have the first claim to food and essential supplies; this should not be made into a publicity stunt. The episode, though small, alludes, with understated irony, to the changed nature of politics in India today.
The most important point of Mr Gehlot’s statement is the reference to service. The notion of the government serving the people has long been lost in the competitive populism that political parties across the board seize upon as a shortcut to votes. The most dangerous feature of this kind of publicity-mongering is the deliberately induced confusion between governments and parties. It is common practice among elected leaders to inaugurate, say, bridges or highways, with great fanfare, ensuring that the publicity erases from people’s memory the fact that the bridge or highway was begun by a previous government of a different political colour. This is not the graciousness of one particular government; large-scale public projects represent the cumulative efforts of years. The idea of service, however, cuts through this distracting pomp, and goes back to the principle that an elected government is meant to serve its people and, more, people have rights, or claims, to protection and security from the government. That is why the most distressed people in the state have first right to the food and support that the government can give. Thus, the people most in need are the government’s priority; those who could look after themselves should not demand a share of limited resources. In these deeply troubled and tragic times, the value of the sense of proportion, of propriety and justice in public life represented by Mr Gehlot’s remarks, cannot be exaggerated.