An unedifying spectacle

Published - July 26, 2014 01:10 am IST

The sight of Shiv Sena MP Rajan Vichare forcing Arshad, a catering supervisor at the IRCTC canteen in Delhi’s New Maharashtra Sadan, to eat a chapati during his Ramzan fasting period last week, marks a new low in the conduct of elected representatives. Whatever post-incident gloss might be put on it, the country saw clearly the high-handed approach of Mr. Vichare and his colleagues from the Shiv Sena, who thought they were highlighting the problems they faced while staying at the Sadan. The Shiv Sena, which specialises in using strong-arm tactics to silence those who disagree with it, has long been a prime culprit in taking resort to extreme and unacceptable behaviour. Whether it is in attacking newspaper editors or television channels critical of it, or others who come in its way, the Sena has violated the law of the land with impunity time and again. In this case, Mr. Arshad’s complaint to his supervisors said he was in uniform, displaying his name badge. Even then, the aggressive MP, as clearly seen in television footage, tried to force a chapati into his mouth in the face of his protestations that he was fasting. Interestingly, though the incident happened last week, television channels ran the video footage of the coarse behaviour of the Member of Parliament only after the matter was reported in print on Wednesday.

India has changed for the better in so many ways, with greater public scrutiny of and accountability in public life, but we know that the powerful still enjoy impunity. Even if it would be too much to expect elected representatives to set an example for people by their behaviour, the level of boorishness to which they descended in Maharashtra Sadan is alarming. Accommodation and food that were not to their liking may be legitimate complaints. But forcing food into the mouth of an employee is not the way to improve the situation. If Maharashtra government officials were not being responsive enough, the Sena MPs could have addressed their problems in other ways. In the past, too, there have been instances of some MPs making a ridiculous spectacle of themselves. The display of arrogance of power cuts across political lines, and one Congress MP, who is now in the BJP, brandished a gun at a toll plaza in Gujarat not so long ago. The distress caused to a Muslim employee by the callous, even if not deliberate, disregard of his religious sensibilities is apparent. Good governance in India must be premised on equal respect for all individuals. Any sense that some religions are less equal than others can only be exploited by extremist elements. The Narendra Modi government would do well to distance itself from such actions by MPs who are allied to it. A positive agenda for governance can work only if every citizen feels that the state and its representatives are sensitive to his or her way of life.

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