This is something I've been wanting to say for a long time.
To quote Sad Old Bong, I too "take issue with the general trashing of everything associated with the government."
I'll admit that government-bashing is often well-deserved, but I resent the attitude that accuses everything the government owns/runs of being sub-standard, or the assumption that it would automatically be thrice as good, if it were in private hands.
I beg to differ.
A very ordinary example:
Whenever I travel (and have a reserved ticket for an AC dabba) on our country's railways, I find that they serve me well. The sheets are clean - sometimes even starched! - and the blankets dust-free. The food is edible. The attendants are polite, in general. The rajdhani and shatabdi trains - though not my favourites on account of personal boredom - almost go overboard, trying to fill the journey with food and service (I usually tip the attendants willingly, though I don't need to; they do a fair job).
The railways are government owned.
On the other hand:
I often stay at hotels in small towns. Considering the small town's rates for accomodation, these are not very cheap hotels. But even the better ones leave a whole lot to be desired.
The sheets are invariably dirty. I have to supervise the making of the beds myself (if I ask for fresh sheets, they bring fresh sheets, but don't bother to change the pillow-slips, until I call them back and request fresh pillow slips... and often, the fresh sheets are only marginally cleaner). The blankets are ragged and dusty. The telephones don't work. The food kills all appetite and the waiters often forget to knock, or wait for an answer.
Even though internet facilities are available in the town, most of these hotels have not bothered to set up a communication centre for guests (some don't even offer STD facilities, for god's sake!).
These hotels are all privately owned.
If private ownership and competition could take care of all ills, then there is no reason why these hotels should be sub-standard. They should be falling over their shoe-laces trying to provide the best possible, at competitive prices, right?
They seem to be competing, to maintain more or less the same level of sub-standardization.
[And ooh, speaking of hotels and competitions, surely, you've all heard about the lovely little cartel in Paris?]
The problem is not the government or government-run institutions.
The problem is that WE take crappy services from any given institution, because WE don't have the guts to stop, fight and demand better services. WE claim that we don't have the time, or the energy to fight with employees who aren't going to get fired anyway.
It is almost as if, we just want to see somebody punished because we're unhappy with them.
If we really wanted - as customers, as consumers, as clients - to see things change, we'd kick up a row, and keep at it, until they did change.
Let me give you another example.
At home, we have a private internet service provider. The service fails us - time and time again. In fact, the service doesn't exist. We've already paid up for the year and the cable dude (a private entreprenuer) refuses to reimburse our money.
Do we rave and rant against private cable services?
Do we sue the guy?
We bite our lips, swallow our anger and make fist-shaking-type statements about switching to another cable dude.
This dude shrugs and says "fine, switch."
Have we switched yet?
No, because we've already paid up for the year, and there's no guarantee the next dude will be any better.
On the other hand:
MNTL broadband services are not spectacularly fast. But they're there. They exist!
Our old MTNL dial-up was not very fast either, but it worked, in its own fashion. Did we rave and rant against the government and MTNL?
Did we hop mad, and switch to another service?
Is MTNL improving, offering better services, more competetive rates, faster connections?
Will we go back to MTNL?
The decision is not mine to take. But if it was, I would.
Let me tell you about last year, when my aunt was flying out of the country with her family. (No, it was NOT Air India, but a private airline from the Middle-east).
My aunt had a two-and-a-half year old kid in her arms, two daughters and an old mother-in-law. The baby started squalling, and refused to be strapped down in his seat. My aunt tried to shush him; he would not stop crying. The air hostess (a snooty Brit blonde, my aunt later told us) came up to say that the captain refused to take off until the baby stopped howling and was strapped into his seat.
So, my aunt took the baby in her lap and put the seat-belt in place.
But no, the airline staff wasn't happy. They insisted the baby be strapped into HIS own seat.
My aunt tried to force the baby down into the other seat, but he was kicking and crying. The pilot still refused to take off.
Finally, my aunt threw up her hands and handed the baby over to the airline staff. She said, "Okay, YOU handle this. I can't help."
The air hostess SLAPPED the baby.
She yelled at the baby, scolded, held him down.... and all to no avail. So, finally, she stomped off. After which, the baby fell asleep. And AFTER THAT, the captain ordered my aunt AND her whole family to get off the plane.
My aunt pleaded, explained that the baby was now asleep; she even offered to let them punish the kid if they liked. But the captain was now adamant. He refused to fly until the whole family was off-loaded.
Eventually, the whole family was off-loaded.
Did my aunt go back to the airline office and complain? Yes.
Did they apologize? No.
Did the captain lose his job? No.
Was the air-hostess punished for slapping the child? No.
Was the family compensated? No.
Did we go to the media with the story? No.
Despite my being a journalist, despite my uncle being a government servant and in close contact with several airport officials... we kept shut.
Because my aunt was just relieved to have made it home, a day later. Despite the fact that her mother-in-law's visa required her to fly out that day, and a day late was too late; so she did not see her son, that year. Despite the fact that my aunt still cannot forgive the captain (she remembers his face and name) or that blonde air hostess. Despite all the anger and resentment.
I have a feeling - irrational and inexplicable - that something like this would not happen in a government airline. But we did not complain. We did not sue. We did not say "If this was a government airline, this would never happen."
What about the time when you and I find certain edible products with fungus on them much BEFORE the expiry date?
It happens! Somebody I know was even offered money by the company for keeping quiet about it, and not complaining... not just rotten, but filthy as well, eh? (Don't have permission to talk about this incident, so I'm not naming any names). Do we talk about this sort of corruption?
What about when the whole Cadbury keeda controversy happened?
Did we say "Let's throw out all private chocolate-making firms?"
When a private firm goes into the red - many of them do - do we say "Let's just not have any more private enterprise."?
In front of my office building, there is a nice, wide pavement.
Guess what's on it?
No, not hawkers and beggars.
Cars. Ours (well, not mine, but in general, many of these cars belong to those who work in the building).
Do we blame private 'enterprise' for taking over a public space?
We blame the government and/or state institutions like the MCD (Municipal Corporation of Delhi).
"Why don't they keep an eye on these things?"
"Why don't they stop these illegal car parkings?"
"Why don't they raid and catch and fine and tow away and bulldoze and arrest?"
"Where are the traffic cops? Where are the MCD officials?"
And best of all -
"Why can't the government have more free car parking spots?"
But then, we have our cars and we need parking and so we avail of a little illegal private enterprise. And without so much as a choo.n, we pay up.
I seriously suspect, the problem is us.