Outspoken Arvind Kejriwal’s fate in Qatar

Being in Qatar for almost five days and seeing how climate change protests were quashed with disdain, I wondered what would have happened to Arvind Kejriwal, if he would had raised the issue of corruption in this country.

If you speak to anyone in Qatar, corruption seems to be an alien word. Not only in context, but even in reality, in this part of the world which is ruled by oil rich Qataris, who constitute just 12% of the country’s 1.9 million people. Others are mostly migrants from Asian countries like India, Nepal and Philippines.

The few Qataris manage the country well but there appears to be an unspoken ban on protests and processions against the ruler, Emir, of Qatar or his government, since it became independent in 1971.

The country known for its strong Islamic bonding is in an era of transition. 2013 could witness for the first time, in its short history, a legislative election to elect 30 members and appointment of another 15 by the King, called Emir. Till then a consultative committee, as the named suggests, would continue to provide its vital inputs to the government.

This is where the apparent democratic part of the government ends and authoritative starts.

Journalists are not as free as we are in India and are not allowed to write a word against the government. The morning newspapers have three to four column pictures of Qatari ministers in their national dress- a long white thobe, a gutra and agal. The text of the stories have their quotes and good words about them. Even mild criticism has no place.

Qatar, unlike a country like ours, does not have any civil society either, who can challenge the government. For the first time the Qatari government allowed a protest- termed procession- of about 100 people seeking more action on climate change outside the Qatar National Convention Centre, venue for a UN conference of around 200 nations. That too, after much cajoling by the United Nations, the conference organisers.

A few days later two civil society activists were deported immediately for putting up a banner accusing the Qatar government for not doing enough to achieve an ambitious climate package. The banner only said “Qatar take up leadership”. Armed guards caught hold of 22 year old Libyan, Raied Gheblawi, and 19 year old Algerian, Mohammad Aniz, for their decent courageous act. Their UN badges were taken away and they were given three hours to leave the country or else they would’ve had to face action.

Elsewhere in the world, such a mild protest would have been taken in a stride resulting in engagement with the civil society groups. The government in India, in recent years, has democratically set aside allegations of corruption by Arvind Kejriwal, convener of Aam Aadmi Party, who spoke against senior UPA government ministers and Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. And, Kejriwal’s language in many of his press conferences had been outrightly outrageous. But, he still continues to live an independent and free life.

That would not have been the case, had Kejriwal been in Qatar. He would have been sent to jail long back and would’ve had to suffer for daring to speak against the government of the day in full public view. Thankfully, he is in India.
You can call it beauty of the Indian system of having a big heart and true democratic values. It also raises a pertinent question- why people in Qatar don’t raise their voice against the government? It’s because satisfying everyone is just impossible.

It is probably because of the sound social security system the Qatar government provides to its citizens.
Health and education at all levels to citizens is free. They don’t have to pay electricity or water bills for the first home and for subsequent ones, the rates are damn cheap. Petrol is even cheaper than mineral water, therefore providing easy access to the luxury of a car. And, the wages people earn are handsome enough for one to live in an apartment. Only rising inflation of food items is an issue of concern.

“Nobody complains because life is very comfortable for them,” explained a local journalist, who hails from Kerala in India and understands the everyday survival fight for common citizens in India. “Corruption may be taking place but it does not affect us”.

This is one lesson the UPA government can learn from Qatar- provide a better life to citizens, rather than worry about economic growth numbers for corporates, who fill their pockets rather than that of the aam aadmi.

Like Qatar, India does not have oil money to bring change. Unlike Qatar, India does not have will power to bring change either.

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