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Saturday, June 22, 2002

The press reported that Ms Humpy Koneru was in tears because she was not given the due recognition by the state government and the sports authorities for her recent accomplishment in becoming the youngest Indian grand master in chess. (Surely Humpy and her parents must have been aware that here even Nobel Prize winners are rarely given the media space they deserve - unless they happen to be controversial personalities. Only politicians, filmstars, and occasionally cricketers hog all the lime light in our society!) This set me thinking. Why is it that we as a people are constantly craving for some recognition from the government? Why haven’t we learned to treat government as our servant to fulfill our collective needs, not a colonial master to grace us with its blessings?

The state should have a responsibility to play a facilitating role in enabling citizens to live up to their fullest potential in various fields. The state should do all it can to provide an environment and the infrastructure to nurture the talents of its citizens and then step back.

If the state did what it should to help fulfill the potential of our children, maybe we would have more Koneru Humpys amidst our billion population and we would have been qualifying for the soccer World Cup!

Instead of heaping these accolades on youngsters for their isolated successes and then setting them up for failure later on , the state should provide an institutional infrastructure which will identify, nurture, encourage and support talented youth in various fields. That’s exactly what China does. Recognition and rewards should come from society in an institutionalized manner. If we all wait for state patronage as the only source of inspiration, the wellsprings of our talents will surely dry up in the mindless bureaucratic desert.

This psychological over-reliance on the state is evident in many other spheres too. We often fail to recognize that the state is a service provider, and not our master. For instance, the distinction between officials and non-officials is often mentioned. It is almost as if those who are employed by the state to serve are sanctified by public appointment, and all of us, the citizens who pay for their upkeep, are an irrelevant excrescence! Similarly, many citizens’ groups and voluntary organizations call themselves as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as if their identity is established only in relation to government.

This obsession with the primacy of government should stop. Governance certainly is critical, but not those in government. They are merely public functionaries elected, or appointed to serve us, and at enormous expense met from our tax money. A senior official or a minister should be treated like any other citizens, and not with the exaggerated respect and deference we often show. Mere mortals cannot be deified because of their temporary occupation of public office on our behalf. A nation that prides itself of a glorious civilization and spiritual heritage should learn to treat the state as a utilitarian organ of society, and not as the presiding deity.

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