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Column: Cosmetic Changes Mean Nothing

By Sandeep Sahu

“A rose”, Shakespeare had said, “by any other name would smell as sweet.” To paraphrase the bard, “A rotten egg by any other name would smell as foul.” So what exactly is expected to change after the renaming of Sachivalaya Marg as Lok Seva Marg? Will the traffic cops along the way suddenly become less officious and more courteous to the people? Will the cops on duty become less high-handed while dealing with the ‘Lok’? Will the Chief Minister’s convoy of 20+ vehicles wait at the traffic signals for the light to turn green from now on? Will the people in Bhubaneswar, at the very least, start calling it Lok Seva Marg from now on?

For that matter, what has changed since the renaming of what we still call the sachivalaya (secretariat) as Lok Seva Bhavan in July this year? Have the imposing gates of the building been thrown wide open for the people? Does a man with a grievance now have a greater chance of getting an audience with the secretary or a senior official of a department and having his grievance redressed or, at the very least, heard? Have the policies of the government made by babus in the Lok Seva Bhavan become more people-friendly?

Ask any common man who has been to the Lok Seva Bhavan since its renaming and there is little doubt that his answer to all these rhetorical questions would be an emphatic ‘No’. So, what’s the point, after all?

It has to be admitted that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with a change of name per se, whether of the secretariat, the road connecting it or anything else. The idea behind the renaming of the sachivalaya, therefore, is unexceptionable. But if it was intended to usher in a fundamental change in the mindset of the babus, then the government has grossly underestimated the enormity of the problem and the determination of the babus to resist any such move. If all it needed for those who see them as ‘masters’ to become ‘servants’ overnight was a mere change of name if the building they operate from, it would have been done a long time ago. Meera Mohanty, the Odisha correspondent of The Economic Times, was at her sarcastic best when she responded to a tweet on the renaming of the Sachivalaya Marg thus; “That’s what prevented those at the Sachivalaya from doing lok seva?”

Ironically, this change of focus from the ‘sachiva’ (secretary) to the ‘Lok’ (common man) is being attempted by a government that has made the ‘sachivas’ all-powerful. Forget the common man, these officers don’t give a damn to their own ministers. The only plausible explanation for the change, therefore, is that the government has no intention of changing the bureaucratic work culture and is merely indulging in gimmickry.

A few years ago, the government renamed the road starting from Convent Square in Bhubaneswar, passing through Satya Nagar and ending at the flyover, previously known as Abhimanyua Samantasinghar Road after the famous Odia poet of the 18th century, as Mother Teresa Road. Writers, intellectuals and proud Odias in general protested. But the government stood firm. So much for lok seva.

Not all changes of names, however, are unnecessary. The change of the state’s name from Orissa to Odisha – and Oriya to Odia – was badly required and the Naveen Patnaik government deserves all praise for it. [It is another matter though the Chief Minister still pronounces the name of the state he has been ruling for nearly two decades as ‘Udisha’!] There was no reason for this historical wrong to continue. After all, no one in the state has pronounced it as anything other than Odisha. Sometimes, names are changed to respect local sentiments. There is thus no problem in renaming of Phulbani as Kandhamal by the Biju Patnaik government in the 1990s either. But a change for the heck of it achieves nothing.

To be fair to the Naveen Patnaik government though, it is not alone in changing names of roads or buildings. Politicians of all hues do it knowing full well that it isn’t going to change a damn thing on the ground. And yet they do it. The Modi government has been on a renaming spree since it came to power in 2014, renaming Allahabad as Prayag, Mughalsarai station as Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya station, Aurangzeb Road as Abdul Kalam Road and so on. Have all these changes achieved anything on the ground except erasing some historical Muslim names from the public space?

If the state government is really serious about the spirit behind the renaming of Sachivalaya as Lok Seva Bhavan, here is what it must do for a start. It should allow the ‘Lok’ orderly access to the Lok Seva Bhavan premises, ask all babus to fix a particular time in the day to listen to the people’s grievances and ensure that their grievances are addressed within a fixed time limit.

In the absence of such measures, cosmetic changes like the change of a name means nothing.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

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