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Give credit where it's due - Outside View by Sidharth Bhatia

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Give credit where it's due
Mar 4, 2011

On a recent television news show, soon after a news clip on how the Embassy in Cairo was helping Indian workers escaping from Libya, the anchor asked me, "Don't you think that often the Indian government does well in crisis and we as citizens tend to be over-critical of it most times?"

A simple but extremely valid question indeed. It has become almost second nature to us to find fault with official agencies. Rarely if ever is there a kind word for the police, the municipality, the passport office and departments all the way up to the very top. And for good reason too. Anyone who has had to deal with them knows the problems-inefficiency, rigid bureaucratic practices, corruption, the list of travails is endless. Getting a simple job done can be a chore and if you refuse to bend the rules or grease a few palms, be prepared to waste a full day.

And yet, as we are seeing, the Indian government's representatives in troubled Egypt have been working round the clock to accommodate and provide safe passage to hundreds of Indians who have poured in from across the border from Libya. Food and shelter was given to each of them and assistance was provided to get in touch with families back home.

The Indian mission's efforts become double creditable when one considers that it has to deal with Indians in its own territory too, that is Egypt, which is still in turmoil. It must have been a tough few months for the team which cannot be a big one since Egypt is a relative small country. Yet, the staff has risen to the occasion and barring a report or two on television channels, this will remain unheralded for ever.

Now back to the basic question-are we over-critical of our government departments and agencies and ignore all the good they do?

An easy answer to that is, Yes, we are very critical. And this is because of our own daily personal experience. It is not as if we are not aware of their good work. We do come across polite policemen, efficient civic staff, incorruptible officers in various departments. I know of many people who have refused to pay bribes and yet managed to get their work done without any hassles. The system, when it wants to, works very well.

But we want the system to work all the time, not merely as an exception, not only in crisis. Why cannot we walk into a government office, present our case and get the job done without any problems each and every time? Indians living abroad will regale you with stories of their run-ins with embassies, even for getting simple enquiries answered. Why should that be so? Take the customs department, which is still living in the past. Why are rules not clear or at least clearly shown and implemented? Try walking in with a camera or a laptop which you had taken from here; inevitably some customs officer will ask you where you bought it, though it may be obvious that the piece is old and despite the fact that you are allowed to bring in one laptop without duty and everything is available at home any way. Indians also like to crib because we can. It should be seen as a blessing, not a curse. Freedom of speech is a valuable asset which we have; countries like Egypt and Libya do not have it and ultimately the people get frustrated and revolt. The noise of democracy can be cacophonic, but that is also the joy of democracy; discussion, debate and argument, as long as it is done and taken in the right spirit.

So while we all admire what the Indian mission is doing, there is no guarantee this will stop us from complaining. Our daily experiences are not about to change dramatically. Hats off to our embassy in Egypt but one can only say to other officials-follow their example and we will sing your praises too.

This article is written by Sidharth Bhatia. Sidharth is a senior Indian journalist who has worked in print, broadcast and online media. He is a columnist and regular commentator on current affairs for several leading publications and on national television. This article was first posted on Personalfn.

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