With karmic equanimity, we Indians endure man-made disasters and insults without a whisper. Even when they becomeunbearable to the collective psyche, being assured “ yada yada dharmasya glanir bhavathi… ”, we are certain that sometime, if not instantly, redemption is our due.

So we go about alternately paralysing and rejuvenating Parliament, and participating in candle light vigils, arguments and debates in the media with a sense of duty. We occupy our maidans and sit on fasts (spiritually uplifting for many) to underline the gravity of the cause taken up.

Power of non-violence

These types of protests taken up by citizens during the colonial era were labelled as ‘civil disobedience' and the imperialists did not have a ready strategy to handle the moral authority they commanded. The Arab Spring or the Occupy Wall Street are roughly similar civil disobedience.

The ahimsa or the non-violent character is their appeal and strength. That gives them the reckoning advantage which gun-toting and blood spilling revolutionaries cannot gain, albeit decades of struggle.

It is important to note that these unbearable-sense of-outrage-quietly-occupying-public-squares are calling for reform of the systems. They are removing leaders who are themselves removed from reality. They are questioning policies and welfare measures which are alien to them. These spectacles happening in over 80 cities from Taipei to New York are captured by the globalised media.

As props, if Indians printed imitation currency notes with face value of Rs 1,76,000 crore, those occupying Wall Street held up placards “No bulls, No bears, just pigs.” European protesters thought “Bankers are the Looters,” we, wearing the Gandhi topi , widened the list of villains to include the politicians, the realtors and the bureaucrats.

The outrage everywhere broadly had one comparable trigger: the rich were getting visibly (vulgarly, for some) richer, while the poor were getting poorer; and as if suddenly, more were waiting to join the league of the poor! Like the soot which covers the red hot embersis the fear covering the outrage about the big projects, big corporates, big scandals, big kickbacks, big bickering men.

Poverty measure

If in the West, people responsible for the recession were being rewarded with massive bonuses, in India people responsible for massive loss to the exchequer were being shielded from law. In this environment, as in Bollywood movies, we had our melodramatic moments too.

The affidavit filed in the Supreme Court by the Planning Commission recently was mocking at the karmic equanimity (indifference due to helplessness, as cynics would describe it) of those in abject poverty in India. Spend more than Rs 32 in cities or Rs 28 in the villages, you are no longer poor, said the Planning Commission.

One wonders if the Supreme Court was engaging in an arm-chair dialogue with the Commission which apportions more than 70 per cent of all our welfare expenditure! The Commission itself has justified its affidavit saying it is part of a dynamic poverty line analysis; it further suggested that the figures do not work as cut-off criteria for most welfare projects as they are made available to all! They indicated that the ongoing Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) which is expected to give its report in 2012 will provide the cut-off criteria.

As though the confusion the Commission created is not enough, the Minister for Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation (HUPA) has raised the red flag warning that the SECC may not reflect the true picture owing to procedural drawbacks. The mockery continues!

NREGS reality

When policies are removed from reality, they make little difference to the lives of people. Earlier in this narrative, we traced it as one of the causes for the prevailing outrage in common man. Here an attempt is made to understand the government's approach in handling wage to labourer and dole to the unemployed. Reports from the ground on how and what kind of payment is being made in the UPA's flagship NREGS reveals that the content of the affidavit was spot on! This implies that even if there are no cut-off criteria the wage/dole paid to those covered under the NREGS leaves them in the Rs 28-32/day band only.

In Rajasthan, the best payment yet received during this year happens to be Rs 119, but the total number of days for which work is guaranteed is not likely to exceed 35 in the year. In 2008-09, they were given work for 76 days, if not the promised 100 days. But the wage then was only Rs 89. In Andhra Pradesh, where the state's declared minimum wage rate is Rs 121/day, the NREGS, on an average, actually pays only Rs 103/day. Based on the value of the work and the quality of work accomplished by the unskilled worker who demanded work, the wage is evened out among the number of workmen engaged to complete the project. The average number of days when work is taken up is only 58-60 days in a year. It is expected that the rest of the days in the year, work is available with private rural small entrepreneurs or big landlords. Kerala provides a gloomier picture. During 2010-'11 while Rs 150/day is the wage given, work is available only for about 39 days. 2009-10 saw 42 working days, but wages were only Rs 125/day.

Justifiably, the government has gone over the details of how work gets allotted and who and how many get employed. After all, they are dealing with public money! Rules and regulations have to be laid and followed to the last detail . Households only, and not working hands, should be counted! Pre-set eligibility should be honoured and rightly so.

While this is true in Bharat, the complete opposite is happening in the corridors of power in Delhi! Rules and regulations were trampled upon. Pre-set eligibility criteria were ridiculed. Approvals were given to favour those who within a few months sold off their licences for spectacular gains!

And even after this rip-off was committed, the government could only speak of its compulsions in the name of coalition dharma! Not able to bear the double standards, the karmic equanimity got channelled into maidans and freedom parks all over the country. There is no sign of it ebbing in the near future!

(The author is a spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The views are personal. >blfeedback@thehindu.co.in )