A Border Security Force (BSF) constable early this week impetuously cast a light on what is wrong with governance in India. Inadvertently, he also showcased nationally what is the most efficient way to access government, and where to strike if you are an ordinary person with very little means and no access to the corridors of power in this unwieldy democracy.
Constable Tej Bahadur Yadav posted a series of videos on Monday about burnt rotis and watery dal served to him and his mates at the Line of Control. The videos went viral, and everyone from the Prime Minister’s Office downwards reacted almost instantly.
It is a telling story of how social media has created a happy bubble of impressive governance, where you could appeal to the Minister, grab national attention and get the creaking government machinery moving. It is where governments want to look efficient and responsible.
The constable and his video
Mr. Yadav probably has a dodgy track record of intoxication and insubordination, as is being claimed by his seniors in the BSF. He probably exaggerated the quality of food. As another senior BSF official claimed, probably the dal had settled at the bottom of the utensil that the constable showed.
Whatever may be the truth about Mr. Yadav’s character, he has ensured one thing: at least for some time to come, his comrades would be getting decent quality food, and probably even some pickle and jam which he said were missing from their diet.
For those like Mr. Yadav, social media is turning out be an Elysium, a privileged bubble of happiness and efficient governance, where Official India is extremely responsive. In this Elysium, even private corporations are unusually efficient. Airline has mishandled your baggage? Tweet and tag them, and they will respond quickly. Broadband not working? Tweet and tag the company, or write a Facebook post.
In the era before social media, the average Indian had to find a direct acquaintance or a powerful personal assistant of a leader to ensure personal attention of the ruler and efficient delivery from the government. That process, the search for intermediaries to ensure that the government responds efficiently, was also costly, and often you had to pay a bribe to get that access.
However, social media has significantly brought down that cost. You only need a smartphone and a Twitter handle to access the highest in the land for most of your requirements.
As the colonial governance structures repeatedly fail the ordinary citizens, the jawan, the migrant, the bereaved, the ailing and the angry are all turning to social media to jump the Kafkaesque labyrinth of government and access the very top with ease. Statistically, social media, which is available to just about 20 per cent of Indians, would turn out to be the most efficient means of short-circuiting governance, compared to any other form — access to elected representatives, police, middlemen or even courts.
For the ordinary folks outside the social media world, the government and most corporations are still very complex, corrupt and cruel structures. Having grown up in rural Haryana, Mr. Yadav must be aware of it. And he just proved that of all the means to get his government to act, social media is the most efficient.
BSF and government response
There is another side to the story. The response of the government and the BSF is both telling and troubling. As soon as the video emerged, though Home Minister Rajnath Singh sought a detailed report, the BSF top brass were in complete denial.
The colonial divide within the forces, between the officers and jawans, is well-known and Mr. Yadav’s complaint wouldn’t have surprised many. From accommodation to mess rooms and food, the non-officer cadres of security forces suffer serious discrimination, an issue that has regularly ignited mutinous situations.
The BSF leadership was quick to shift Mr. Yadav to the headquarters of the 29 Battalion in Poonch, and his family says he is no more accessible.
One BSF Inspector General said he was amazed how a jawan posted at the LoC uploaded the video, while a Deputy Inspector General (DIG) said Mr. Yadav had four adverse entries in his two-decade-old career.
And that tells a lot about the discipline of BSF. A jawan illegally takes a mobile phone to his post at the LoC, shoots videos, and posts it on social media. Who is responsible? Is it just the jawan? Or is it an example of the larger malice? Does it tell anything about porous borders and the flourishing smuggling rackets that operate along most Indian borders?
The DIG says Mr. Yadav was spared a court martial in 2010 because of his family situation. Is that how discipline is imposed in the security forces? He was then sent back to the LoC. That is some level of professionalism that the BSF must be proud of!
Finally, Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju, whose presence on social media is yet another reassurance for those in the Elysium, was late to realise that Mr. Yadav’s videos were not great PR for the government. The morning after the video storm hit, Mr. Rijiju assured that during his “regular visit to border posts I find high level of satisfaction among the jawans.” But as the day wore on, Mr. Rijiju changed his tone. He appealed to the media to exercise restraint, and with great condescension applied the standard technique of lazy governance: they were “sensitive matters”. The Minister of State for Home should clarify which one is more sensitive — roti or dal?