Suspending Uber’s Services is Politically a Good Decision

by Ritwik on December 8, 2014

The decision of the Government of Delhi (currently administered by the Central Government) to suspend the services of taxi aggregator Uber, in light of one of the company’s drivers allegedly raping a passenger, notwithstanding the company’s declaration of providing ‘the safest ride on the road’, has been heavily criticized on sections of the social media. The decision has been called knee-jerk, we have been informed how it doesn’t deal with the ‘real’ issues connected to rape, and one well known writer went to the extent of saying that banning Uber is analogous to banning elevators after the Tarun Tejpal molestation case.

A prominent right-wing columnist believes suspension of Uber’s services is on the same logical plane as suspending all cars … buses … women stepping out … police … army … men and women.

It is interesting to note that those calling for ‘real action’ on this matter, loudly proclaiming that suspending Uber won’t help, cut across the political (but not economic and social) spectrum.

The fact that Uber’s defense consists of saying “we are technically not a taxi company so the rules don’t apply to us”, or that its control room for the entire city is manned by three people, and that it had no verification mechanisms in place  for checking the antecedents of its drivers, seems to carry no weight with the social media elite. They seem similarly deaf to its bad safety and corporate record worldwide (if nothing else one hopes the ‘extreme’ nature of the government’s action will cause Uber to shed some of its legendary arrogance and listen, or risk losing a potentially huge market).

Irrespective of the administrative and legal merits of the ban/suspension (which seem to be fairly persuasive), I want to focus on the political implications of this decision.

Everybody with even a passing familiarity with my past writing knows that I can hardly be called a fan of PM Narendra Modi and his government. My ideological differences with the BJP/RSS run deep, but it doesn’t stop me from acknowledging that the Government has handled a potentially very embarrassing situation (and in the midst of poll season) very well. Strong action has been seen to be taken, not only against the driver who was responsible but a big, multi billion dollar MNC headquartered in Silicon Valley. The government has effectively sent out the message that it means business on women’s security , and simultaneously sought to counter the rising perception that its priorities unduly benefit crony capitalists and global capital (eg: Make in India campaign, SBI loan to Adani coal, see this article for more)

Strictly in terms of ‘good governance’, where governance is understood in a purely technocratic sense (eg: Manmohan Singh’s regime), the outright ban (even if temporary) on Uber is perhaps excessive. Even if not, it follows that similar restrictions be placed on other taxi aggregators, IF their practices are as odious as Uber’s.

But politics is not only about strictly observing ‘good governance’. That is the job of the  bureaucracy. A political government’s response should not be the same as a typical bureaucratic or technocratic response. Perceptions are vital. And as far as perceptions are concerned, women in India are fed up with the general lack of safety all around.

When a woman takes a premium cab, operated by a multi-billion dollar company which loudly toots its horn on safety, she believes she is cordoning herself off from the generally unsafe conditions which prevail in society. That is the implicit and explicit promise made by the company, which causes that woman to take a fancy and expensive cab, and not a public bus or an auto.

When that company is caught sleeping at the wheel, not having performed preliminary checks, then people do want to see it punished. Tooting ‘good governance’, meaningless and exaggerated analogies (banning elevators, banning husbands, banning men) and the like only shows just how disconnected the elite of social media are from every day concerns.

Troublingly, these analysts seem dangerously cut off from political actions and the art of creating winning political perceptions.

For the last few years, one has seen the Congress party, due to its incompetent Vice President, become increasingly dependent upon the opinions of this particular caste of people, who are loud, authoritative, articulate but quite isolated from not only the reality on the ground but any kind of political thought process. Such worthies have increasingly got air time as Congress spokespersons, and their ‘input’ has come to dominate much of decision making in the top echeleons of the party.

The results are there for all to see.

2 comments

I was just wondering, what would have happened if in 1984, Union Carbide was an Indian company and Bhopal an American city….
Also, I am touched by the loyalty of some left-liberal academics to the land of their Alma Maters……

by purushottam agrawal on December 9, 2014 at 6:13 am. #

Very relevant , and precise ! balanced analysis !

by jagdeep s sindhu on December 9, 2014 at 7:12 pm. #

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