TALE OF TWO DEMOCRACIES


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  True Democracy in Action

                                                   JOGISHWAR SINGH 

As a Swiss citizen born in India, I am many times brought to think about my 
experiences of the democratic systems prevalent in the two countries.

Before Indian ‘patriots’ start screaming murder at what I am going to say, I 

should point out that I am fully aware that I am talking about two different 
historical realities.

Switzerland has been independent for over 800 years while India is a newly 

created entity, now a mere 66 years old.

Switzerland has a population of only 8 million while India has the second 

highest population of any country in the world at over 1.2 billion (give or 
take a few million). And expected, in the near future, to even outstrip 
China, and become the world’s most populous. 

The trigger for this set of reflections was what I saw on the 7.30 pm eve. 
news on Swiss TV a couple of weeks ago.
The Swiss President, Mr Ueli Maurer,  
was leaving on a five day state visit to 
China. The news showed him arriving  at Zürich airport in an ordinary private 
vehicle. The President got out of the  car by opening the car door himself. 
He walked to the nearby baggage trolley stand outside the airport entrance. 
He took a baggage trolley out, rolled it  towards the car, lifted his suitcase and 
travel bag himself, put these on the trolley which he then rolled towards the 
entrance like any passenger lambda like you or me. He walked up to the check 
in counter with just two other persons  walking behind him. He checked his 
luggage in for a commercial flight without  any special treatment being meted 
out to him.

For any Indians (or others) who might  
find it difficult to believe what I have 
described above, you can CLICK on  the link provided hereunder, at the 
end of this article, to view a TV news  clip from the evening prime time 
news for July 16, 2013..

This clip is really worth watching.
Conditioned by my personal experiences of dealing with politicians and 
government ministers in India while serving as an IAS (Indian Administrative 
Service) officer, I was so struck by the contrast between what I had experienced 
in India and what I was seeing on the TV screen that I told my wife that this 
represented one of the finest examples of democracy for me, certainly of the 
Swiss variety. It made me proud to be the citizen of a country where the serving 
President behaves like an ordinary citizen and does not feel the need to consider  
special privileged treatment as his divine birthright. 
I remembered the countless times when I had seen the fury of Indian politicians, 
much below the level of the President of a country, at what they considered as 
a slight because they had not been treated as demi-gods.
I am not a psychologist. I do not know whether centuries of slavery have 
generated this distorted VIP culture in India but I remember that we all did curse 
the politicians there for causing so much inconvenience to the general public 
by expecting, demanding and getting privileged treatment. 
Who in India, except maybe some politicians or bureaucrats, has not been 
inconvenienced by VIP visits for which miles of roads and highways, even entire neighbourhoods, are blocked off to traffic, and flights are delayed, awaiting the 
arrival of some VIP or even his/her flunkies/family members? 
Any such inconvenience would cause an uproar in Switzerland
In India, it does not generate even a whimper.
In this context, an incident from the not very distant past strongly lingers in my 
memory. A few years ago, a former IAS batch-mate of mine (1976 batch) had 
visited Switzerland. 
I have noticed that Switzerland becomes a prize destination of choice for a lot 
of Indian ministers and bureaucrats during their hot summer for attending all 
kinds of useless conferences which are essentially talking shops organised 
by the United Nations, an organisation which is a hotbed of nepotism and 
inefficiency.
This IAS officer wanted to see Switzerland, so I acted as his local tourist 
guide. 
While we were going around the Swiss federal capital, Bern, it was lunch 
time so we decided to have lunch at a restaurant very close to the Swiss 
parliament building. 
As we took our seats at a table, a Swiss gentleman sitting at the next table, 
reading his newspaper while sipping his coffee, greeted us in English. 
While we ordered our meal and waited, he finished reading his newspaper, 
drank his coffee and called for his bill which he paid before leaving. While 
going out, he again politely wished us goodbye, even saying, “I hope you 
enjoy your stay in Switzerland” in English.
After he had left, I asked my visitor if he knew who the man had been. 
Obviously, my visitor did not know the answer. I informed him that we had 
just been greeted by the then serving Swiss President, Mr René Felber. 

My guest thought I was making fun of him. He would not believe me so I 
called the restaurant manager to confirm the veracity of what I had told him. 
The manager duly confirmed what I had said. 
My Indian visitor was flabbergasted. He said, “How can this be possible? 
He actually paid his bill before leaving”. 

So, what struck my visitor the most had been the fact that a VIP had 

actually paid his bill! I wonder what he would say if he saw our current 
President, Mr Ueli Maurer, personally loading his bags on to a baggage 
trolley and wheeling it to a check-in counter just like any ordinary citizen. 
His disbelief could only be countered by visual evidence on the TV!
My visitor’s reaction brought back memories of when, as a serving sub-
divisional or district level official, I had been called upon to organise lunches 
and dinners for numerous collections of freeloaders travelling with ministers 
or bureaucrats in India. 
I seldom remember any politician or bureaucrat actually paying or even 
offering to pay for the bonanza laid out for them. Those who did offer to pay, 
did so at the ridiculously low official daily fare of eleven rupees (today, a 
mere 20 cents US) per person or something like that. 
Nobody ever asked how it had been possible to lay out a lavish meal 
comprising several dishes, accompanied by expensive alcoholic beverages, 
for such a petty sum. I never found out myself who used to pay for all this 
extravaganza at the end of the line. 
Like a good Indian bureaucrat, I just used to pass the buck down the line to 
my junior magistrates and revenue officials. To this day, I am unable to clarify 
which poor victim — read, citizen! — who got stuck with paying for all the 
freebies on offer.
While working as chief of staff to the President of the Swiss Commission for 
the Presence of Switzerland in Foreign Countries many years ago, I had the 
chance of accompanying him to Strasbourg for meetings of the Council of 
Europe. I also had the privilege of close interaction with several Swiss 
members of parliament over an extended period of 12 to 14 months. 
The contrast to the behavioural pattern of what I had experienced in India 
with politicians was so stark that it has stayed seared in my mind even 
till today. 
I am by no means suggesting that Swiss politicians are angels, but the 
kind of behaviour that Indian politicians or bureaucrats get away with as 
a matter of routine in India would torpedo their careers in Switzerland 
in a jiffy.
Each such incident deepens my gratitude to Waheguru Almighty for having 
made me settle down in a country like Switzerland where the President 
carries his own bags to the check-in counter. 
Where no roads are blocked for hours so that some VIP can, in the name 
of security, be whisked around in convoys of official vehicles. 
Where politicians and bureaucrats pay their bills in restaurants. 
Where grossly sycophantic behaviour is not the general and accepted 
norm. 
Where no red-light beacons or screaming sirens signal the passage of 
VIP vehicles. Indeed, the red-light-beacon culture of officialdom in India 
merits a full story in itself.

I might accept India as a true democracy the day I see its President or 

Prime Minister behaving like the Swiss President before his departure 
on an official visit abroad.
I don’t think I will ever see such a sight in India during my lifetime. 
You think, maybe, my grandchildren will?
 
To view the TV news-clip, please CLICK here.
 
August 15, 2013
———————–
 

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