There is this fable (my recollection is a bit hazy) of a doctor who while walking by the banks of a river happened to see a man drowning. He immediately jumped in and somehow saved the drowning man. The doctor continued walking upstream and to his surprise saw two more people struggling in the water. He jumped in, saved them both and continued his journey, tired. And then he saw four people drowning. He jumped in again…the doctor kept expending his energies trying to save more and more people, whereas, if had continued his journey upstream, he would have seen the giant who was throwing people into the river waters, and might have even done something about it. I am blabbering, you say? Patience.

In Pune, Arun Bhatia is a famous man. A former IAS officer who irritated politicians to no end, he retired from the service four years back and ran for MP during the general elections of ’04. And he came in third place with 60,237 votes compared to the winner’s – Congress Party’s Suresh Kalmadi – 373,774 votes. The total Pune electorate? 1,608,614. The people who turned out to vote? 769,117 (details of every election conducted by the Election Commission of India are available here). This is how he ran his 2004 campaign. And this is how he plans to do it in 2009.

Bhatia is one among the many bureaucrats (present and former) who are known for their honesty and hence find themselves in the bad books of politicians. T. Chandrasekar (pdf), the man who changed the face of Thane and Nagpur, Bombay’s “demolition man” GR Khairnar, Pune’s Avinash Dharmadhikari, Karnataka whistle blower M.N.Vijayakumar, former CEC TN Seshan; the list is long. Not all of them join politics. But those who do, don’t fare too well. Bhatia hopes to change that, and like Shiv Khera and Jayaprakash Narayan, his plank is the “fight against corruption”.

I don’t have a problem with bureaucrats and politicians fighting corruption; I have a problem with their definition of corruption; and I have a problem with corruption being a single-point agenda. The main problem in politics and governance, everybody fails to understand – and the middle class is particularly guilty of this crime, is the gross disregard to something called “individual rights”. Respect for these rights is the foundation for a free society, and if this foundation is weak, it won’t bear the weight of the superstructure. Khera and Narayan don’t bother with such niceties, and if we look at the ideology of Bhatia’s party – Lok Rakshak (People’s Guardian), while its not as bad as the other two, there are inherent contradictions. “No need for ‘isms'”, it proclaims, and continues

Ideology is an over rated term in today’s world and in the context of India’s poverty and corruption. Any politician or political party has to be wedded to honesty and anti-poverty programmes. Also, as everyone knows, pure communism and capitalism do not exist. Adam Smith has been diluted by state intervention to create employment, regulate trade and deliver social security which props up the weak and discards the concept of unbridled competition and survival of the fittest. Marx has been modified by conceding to private entrepreneurship and the profit motive and by resort to forced labour.

So the party will stand bang in the middle – equidistant from both C’s. Its manifesto is a mixture of state intervention (employment generation, the dole, subsidized medicines) and freedom (limiting state intervention in prescription of text books, changing the law on contempt of court, religious and cultural freedom “to minorities”). The only difference between the present political parties and those like Bhatia’s is – the latter will be more efficient as far as socialism goes, because they are not corrupt. Bhatia realizes one thing though – “he cannot change India but he can change Pune.”

There is yet another party, controversial, reports of infighting being one of the reasons, Lok Paritran, which is both nationalist as well as socialist, and whose founder is described as “a man with a grandeur of vision and a depth of understanding unmatched in our nation today” and who “unlike his college fellows who went abroad for higher education” stayed back in India “to do social and political activities for the Land.” Spooky.

A fight against corruption (or transparency in governance) cannot be the ultimate end; it can be one of the aims, but not the end. And “Do something!” is not a plan of action. Any political party that really wants to help the people and create a free society needs to have a carefully crafted ideology in place – one that places the individual and his rights bang in the middle of the political process. They should be proudly willing to state that they believe in the absolute right of an individual to his life and property, and an absolute freedom of expression – no weasel words like “reasonable” allowed. And the strategies and tactics adopted by them should help meet this end, not replace them. Till that happens, while anti-corruption crusades may change the situation for the better, such a change will be a short lived one.

For the present however, Bhatia is a much better choice for MP than candidates from the two main parties – BJP and Congress. The only problem is, he might not win – 300,000 votes is simply too much to ask for, from a middle class which does not vote, a category to which I belong.

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  • Mandar K Nadgouda  On March 25, 2009 at 5:57 pm


    First of all to avoid misunderstandings I am common man amd I am for Arun Bhatia.

    I agree that corruption cannot be the sharpest weapon on the agenda. But my question to you is that don’t you think there is a difference in this guy and all other politicians who are there for nothing. Check out the long list of agenda others have and they fulfill nothing. I am damn sure that since Arun was an IAS officer he knows much more that others standing for elections. He is open to listen to the people. While others just come in to encash the vote and then they are off for 5 years doing nothing. Lets not bring out bad points in these people who are really struugling hard to change the way things are worsening day by day. Lets join the struggle and make the difference. Though I agree that you are for Arun but a slightest point against Arun can impact many peoples mind to vote against him. So lets all who wish to see better Pune just say what is good as it is 99% of Arun to each and every person we speak.

    If the middle class doest not vote lets urge them to vote. Lets all tell them that in case they need better living they don’t have a choice but to vote. We Punekards are lucky to have a candidate like Arun Bhatia whoses work can be spoken for ample time to urge the punekars (middle class) to vote.

    Spread the word thru mail, phone, friend circles however we can. Lets all come together and make a difference.

    Thanks & Regards

    • Aristotle The Geek  On March 25, 2009 at 7:24 pm

      My reply is a short one.

      I no longer support voting. But people do exist who have not come round to that view yet. Till they do, if they vote, they should do it for someone like Bhatia.

      But it still won’t change anything. Why? Read the first para of my post – the fable.

  • yet_another_hindu_infidel  On March 26, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    is the lack of a choice on ballot worthy enough to pack one’s bag and quit voting? sounds more like a broken man confession to me.

    • undercover Indian  On March 27, 2009 at 12:01 am

      Not a broken man. But constipated perhaps!!

  • yet_another_hindu_infidel  On March 27, 2009 at 12:53 am

    i think he’s hoping/or demanding for a laissez-faire type perfection in everything. but sadly, were not in a “position” where we have the choice to pick the best tasting candy from the candy store. what were here to do this election season is to pick someone who’s the lesser of two evils. that’s what the campaign is supposed to be.

    The structure is set, You can never change it with a ballot pull

  • Anonymous  On June 26, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    Arun Bhatia is the person who is well known for his honesty,efficien

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