The state of Maharashtra is now grappling with two crises — one rural and one urban — and both examples of everything that is wrong with this progressive, industrialised and wealthy state compared to most others in India. The drought in parts of Maharashtra signals bad management, lack of policy direction and callousness. The collapse of a building in the Mumbai suburb of Mumbra points to the complete lawlessness under which builders and developers operate in the state.
The irrigation scam which emerged last year was a story of neglect, connivance, corruption and callousness. What is this drought if not a result of all that? There is water enough for sugar and wine or so it seems, but not enough for farmers of other crops perhaps less politically significant. Drought in 21st century has more to do with bad water management than to do with insufficient water.
The building collapse in Mumbra reveals nothing that we did not already know. That anyone can bribe his or her way through the labyrinths of any municipality to get building permissions or pretend to get permissions. That the demand for affordable housing is so great that people will live anywhere.
That safety or quality standards or those of any other kind do not exist. And that behind every deal and every disaster in this country is a collusion of politicians, police, the private sector and public staff. Those are the real 4 Ps of India, regardless of what the Gujarat chief minister would have you believe is the panacea to your problems.
Government after government in Maharashtra has paid lip service to the idea of affordable urban housing but some actions have been excuses for more corruption — like the slum housing schemes — or have remained on paper. The few bureaucrats who care may weep but they can do nothing when politicians and most of their staff are safely coddled in the hands of builders and developers.
And to add salt to these wounds is deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar with his astoundingly insensitive remarks about whether he should urinate to fill up the dams which have no water and how load shedding leads to more sex. He may have mumbled his way through an apology but let no one be fooled by that.
The apology was squeezed out of him by the public reaction and not by any feelings of remorse. Pawar was behaving like the feudal lord he is when he made those crude remarks and his supplicant audience laughed uproariously.
Where will change come from? The Democratic Front government which has been in power since 1999 has won three elections but its mistakes have now topped its successes. Between the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party, they have managed not just to take infighting to new highs but also to consistently put self-interest before public good. But the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party combine did not achieve too many successes when it was in power either and hardly instils confidence from the way it runs the civic bodies it controls. The death of Bal Thackeray severely impacts the Sena’s popularity and the BJP’s base has been shrinking with insufficient work by party members to bolster it. The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena has only just started moving into rural Maharashtra to increase its influence.
Therefore whether any one of these parties or political combinations is better than any other is highly debatable. Unfortunately, we need one or the other to run a government. We are also blessed with a bureaucracy that cannot see beyond cash registers going ka-ching in their territories. So there is no hope to be found there. The police is demoralised and politicised to the nth degree.
So what’s new here either? Nothing I’m afraid. And what does the future hold?
“And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.”
From Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach.
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona