Saturday 23 January 2021

Direct Benefit of Experience can create good policy ( Sunday Guardian)



A day of DBE every month needs to be brought into the calendar of VVIPs holding positions that involve financial remuneration from the exchequer.

The Father of the Nation, Mahatma Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, was a saint who refused comfort in his lifestyle or any special benefits to his family caused through his prominence in the struggle against British rule. Far from any special benefits, his family members often did not get any benefits at all, an example that few politicians have followed since his time. Narendra Modi is among that few, with his family not in the slightest taking advantage of the PM’s celebrity and authority. It has been correctly said that Direct Benefit Transfer, the transmission of financial benefits from the state to needy citizens without any intermediation, has been a boon. It has been, as much would be the boon of Direct Benefit of Experience (DBE) of our VVIPs in the lives of ordinary people. There have been occasions when political leaders have stayed for a night in the spartan homes of the less privileged. They have almost without exception brought their own mineral water supplies, food, air purifiers and portable toilets besides diesel generators, all of which of course remain hidden from curiously incurious television cameras. Such play acting is why such performances do not bring with it any resonance among the public. Such actions are not DBE but DBI, Direct Benefit (of) Illusion. The nation keeps its elected leaders in style. Those in office are given furnished and equipped houses to stay in, as well as staff, transportation and vehicles, besides a small salary. Once an individual enters into the lifestyles linked to high public office, she or he often changes into a different type of person. Carrying one’s own bag becomes difficult if not impossible. Going on foot from appointment to nearby appointment is torture, avoided by the fleet of vehicles at the command of the VVIP. Somehow a financial alchemy appears to be at work, which ensures that stints out of positions of authority are almost as comfortable as the period spent in office. The family and friends of the politician (by a process that has yet remained indistinct) become financial wizards, although not always does the formal record bear out the full benefits of such advances in learning.

It would be unjust perhaps to subject the sensitive nature of the VVIP to experiencing a Direct Benefit of Experience (DBE) for a day every week, when she or he must move into the home of a citizen of straitened means for 24 hours. This temporary sacrifice of comfort should be recorded for posterity through being streamed live on the internet. Of course, rather than further bankrupt an individual of less than what is normally defined as lesser means, compensation on a generous scale ought to be given for the experience of sharing the same roof as a VVIP for some hours. In fact, supporters of the VVIP should ensure that such individuals be given sufficient means to move into better accommodation or substantially improve their existing quarters. Such VVIP visits ought to be a life changing experience, and not in any other than a pleasant way. It is among the features of a democracy that those elected to office often carry out acts of generosity to those already well endowed with the means to lead lives as comfortable as those of their benefactor. Ensuring a benefit to the needy would naturally be on a much smaller scale than the “ask and get ” of a billionaire. This itself would be different from that of a small farmer, although the latter needs to be treated with the same standard of generosity shown to the former by the political class across the world. It is after all the votes of the poor more than the money billionaires that ensures the continued success of a politician at the hustings. Not weekly but certainly monthly, a day of DBE needs to be brought into the calendar of VVIPs holding positions that involve financial remuneration from the exchequer. Indeed, such DBEs should ideally be for three days at the end of every six months, and last a week once every year. The Mahatma is often remembered in word. Such a move would ensure that the Father of the Nation gets remembered in deed.

Despite their voluble concern for the poor, especially the very poor, VVIPs almost entirely confine their social interactions with family members (who in almost all cases would have jumped miraculously up the income chain) or friends who are even more well heeled. They need to understand at first hand the experiences of less privileged citizens, such as the fall in income and effect on lifestyles on tens of millions (including many in the middle class) as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic. Tens of thousands of families have had their entire savings wiped out because of the cost of private treatment in a hospital of a member of a family coming down with a severe case of Covid-19. Others in the middle class have been forced to delay the purchase even of necessities, so as to have a reserve available in case of illness. This in a situation where the cost of private insurance is rising in a manner so severe as to call for the implementation of the insurance aspects of Obamacare in the world’s most populous democracy. A healthy society needs to have its middle class steadily growing out of upward mobility by those lower down, and whose members are in sizeable numbers migrating to the upper economic strata. Policies that privilege large insurers over their customers need a relook, as do dilutions of the restrictions that foreign drug companies have faced in India. This is to ensure that the price gouging carried out by Big Pharma in the US and in the EU remains toned down in India. Contact of those in high position with everyday people need to be personal and direct, not just through rallies or television appearances. Hence the need for VVIPs to adopt Direct Benefit of Experience (DBE), an innovation which builds on the example of Mahatma Gandhi.

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