Shivraj Singh Chouhan is trending and Madhya Pradesh is suffering
MP government has shown more care and concern for the rich than for the poor.
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For the last several years, Madhya Pradesh, the "heart of India" is seen in the news either for unfortunate calamities like floods, and the drought crisis, or for the sickening discrimination against Dalits and tribals. Of late, it has been in the news for the antics of chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and his government.
This time, in the middle of the worst floods of the decade, instead of headlines about the systemic violation of flood-prevention guidelines and the plight of the affected people, we are seeing images of the popular chief minister getting a "lift" from policemen to cross a stream of ankle-deep water.Ironically, MP has a 'Happiness Department'.
The media too is guilty of misplaced attention. However, it is not the first time that the MP government has been caught in a tragicomic moment.
This Independence Day marked the first month of the “Happiness Department” started by Madhya Pradesh government to make people "happy".
Madhya Pradesh is the only state in the country to be experimenting with such an idea, and even though it has only been one month, the state of affairs in MP has not changed at all to make people either happier or sadder. In any case, with governance limited to organising publicity events, the people couldn’t care less about a new department with a vague mission.
Laudable (or laughable) as this may seem for some who are away from ground realities, for those who have worked with people at the grassroots level, this decision is being taken with a big pinch of salt.
A government at the state level is supposed to perform functions as enshrined in the Constitution, which are quite basic: provide nutritious food, livelihoods, affordable housing, education, good quality and affordable health care for all, irrespective of caste, religion or economic status.
Therefore, before we try to emulate countries like Bhutan by starting a "Happiness Department", we have to ensure that the government has fulfilled its responsibilities in the above mentioned sectors. However, what we see in MP is just the opposite.
Education in government schools is of a terrible quality, government hospitals are overflowing with patients who always have to face unending problems with a severe shortage of doctors, corruption is rampant in programs supposed to provide houses to the rural and urban homeless, nutrition schemes for poor children and mothers have made no impact with MP as is shown by its very low rank in the ladder of performance of states.
The human development indices of the state too remain poor. According to the India Human Development Report 2011, Madhya Pradesh has the most chronically-wasted and under-weight children, with its rating falling well below the national average.
The report also found that as far as poverty, unemployment and child labour indices are concerned, Madhya Pradesh continues to lag behind and stays below the national average of 0.467.
But this doesn’t seem to deter the government from going ahead with this supercilious idea. Many people including senior retired bureaucrats have made sceptical comments on the decision of the state government to start this department.
Many of them feel it is like rubbing salt into the wounds and playing to the gallery at the cost of people who are still awaiting the promise of "achhe din aane wale hain" to come true.
In any case, happiness is a feeling which is totally individual and differs from person to person. Whereas a poor person can be perceived to be happy if he gets enough money or a sick person can be seen as happy if his or her health is regained, the truth is not so simple.
As a matter of fact, not all poor or sick persons are unhappy.
On the contrary, most of them are happy in their own ways with the government having no role to play. The domestic help, who works in our house is almost totally illiterate and very poor. She has already lost a young son, the other son is a drunkard and perhaps under depression, and her husband, who does no work and vents out his anger at her regularly is suffering from many diseases.
She has to work in six houses at least eight hours a day apart from doing chores at home. Even then, when she works in our house, she keeps humming unknown songs. I asked her what kept her happy in the midst of so many physical and mental problems. Her reply was simple: "Jo bhi pareshaniyan hain, wo to meri hi hain. Mujhe hi nipatana hai. Ishwar ki jo marzi hai wo hi to hoga.”
Coming back to MP, the state is under the siege of elements out to make money at the cost of people for about 10 years now.
There have been scores of scandals at the government level: monopolisation of government contracts, mid-day meal bungling, illegal and corrupt recruitment of thousands of employees through Vyapam scam, and irregular allotment of lands to big businessmen. The list is very long and horrifying.
The crude conclusion, which can be drawn even by a layperson, is that the government has shown more care and concern for the rich than for the poor.
Unfortunately, and this can only be called the irony of our democracy, that people, in their ignorance and because of the lack of an alternative have repeatedly voted the BJP government in MP back to power even though it has failed in its basic job of providing good and corruption free governance in sectors like health, education, housing, livelihood et al. Let it first make governance simple, hassle-free and safe.
People will find their happiness without another plethora of schemes, and budgets to be bungled to line the pockets of corrupt politicians and inefficient officials.
And, then hopefully we will have other kind of news coming out of "India’s heart".