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Who will guard the guardians?

V. Ramani's blog

Let me tell you a true story. The protagonist and the locale do not matter; this happens to the poor every day in Bharat that is India. However, to make storytelling easier, let us call our main character Sunil, a name one could encounter anywhere in India. Sunil is a migrant who runs a very small shop, polishing the meagre gold jewellery owned by the poor residents of his locality. Since this is scarcely enough to keep body and soul together, he takes on the occasional, temporary job of driving private cars and auto rickshaws — very much a member of the huge unorganised sector in India.

It all started one fine winter morning when four hefty men barged into Sunil’s small shop and forcibly bundled Sunil into a private vehicle parked outside the shop. No one knew who had taken him away or where he had been taken. His…

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Reconstructing the bureaucracy

V. Ramani's blog

Anyone familiar with the “Yes Minister” and “Yes Prime Minister” television series that highlighted how the British government bureaucracy ran rings around their political “masters” would have realised that its Indian counterpart is no laggard when it comes to teaching its political bosses some of the tricks of the trade (and more). It was only after forty years of mutual coexistence of the babu and the neta that the political class, in a crisis situation in 1991, started to tinker with the apparatus of controls that had placed the babu in an all-powerful position. But there was a flaw in this approach: while the license-permit raj was dismantled, the babu raj was left to flourish merrily. Successive governments in the past twenty years have blithely ignored the recommendations of the Fifth Central Pay Commission (FCPC) (1997) on downsizing the bureaucracy as well as the weighty (literally!) reports of…

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Token of gratitude

For a moment, I was transported back in time. To a time when I fought with a book shop owner in Gandhi Bazaar. He had chosen to put a stamp of his bookshop on a photograph of a miniature painting in the book I had just purchased, to forcibly advertise the fact that I had purchased the book from his store. I made him replace it and give me a copy without his customary stamp! He did mutter that no one other than me had a problem with his shop’s stamp on the first page of their books. In true Bangalorean spirit (when it still existed), all mutual cursing n cussing was done silently, under the respective breaths taken through inflated nostrils!

The letter below is what took me back to that event of a decade ago.

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While cleaning up old snail mail, I found this letter from the Chief General Manager, Circulation for The Week magazine.

I had recently renewed my subscription for the next 5 years and as a token of gratitude, here he was…offering me the unique privilege of pasting a sticker to my car that read “I read The Week. Do you?”.

Thanks Mr. Nair, but I just cannot accept this magnanimous honour that you have bestowed upon me. I am overwhelmed! How can my small, little car, carry the huge responsibility of advertising freely for your esteemed magazine?

Sarcasm apart, I do wonder whose brainwave this “gratitude=car sticker” idea was? Going by Peter’s principle, he or she needs no further promotion…they have already arrived at their level of incompetence.

Meanwhile, I eagerly await the next “Dear valued subscriber” letter from them …a long wait… 5 years from now… if i subscribe once again. Maybe by then, they will send me a new car instead of just a “sticker”! 😀

Uncommon Wisdom

Yes, it is the name of the famous book by Fritjof Capra. But, you will find this one is more interesting.

We were there together….cant tell you where. Rahul Dravid and me. Watching Times Now. Sunny Gavaskar was on it. And he was very angry. About the present state of Indian Cricket. About coach Duncan Fletcher. He rated him 1.5 out of 10 as a coach. Dismiss him was Sunny’s call.

The next part is where it got a lot more interesting. Sunny was asked as to who should replace Duncan. First, he said he did not want to take names. Then he did. Rahul Dravid could coach India he said. He said it.

Our jaws fell down. Dravid’s more than mine. Yup. I saw it. Poor chap. He could not believe it. “Abbey teri!” he said. “What this Sunny bhai is doing? Why is he saying this on national TV now? Mujhe nahin banna coach voach yaar. I am happy as is.”

“I know why. He does not like competition” were the words of wisdom that came out of my mouth. “He and Ravi Shastri, both. See, Rahul (yeah first name…we are close na…)…they both have been the preferred two on the commentary team for donkey’s years. You toh recently retired shetired and decided to get on the same band-baja-hua-wagon. And you have dressing room stories to share also. You are too good only na? In the Asia Cup, son Rohan also joined him. Father and son commentary jugalbandi just started. So…like any good father, he decided to protect his family interests. With you off as coach of the cricket team, it is full balle balle (autocorrect did try to say balls balls instead) for the Gavaskars. Yes. Shastri too. Samjha kya?”

I wish I could have captured Dravid’s expression. Full of admiration for my intellect and my wisdom. And for sharing it so freely with him.

(With due apologies to the fans of the Gavaskars, Shastri and Dravid)

Charged with sedition

“Kashmiri students charged with sedition” says the headline. These students studying in Meerut, apparently celebrated the win of Pakistan over India in the Asia cup 3-4 days back. Some of them broke a few window panes and caused some other damage in the college. But charging them with sedition? Because you support the Pakistani cricket team while you are an Indian citizen?

The Kashmiri student’s behaviour is not new. Way back in the 1970’s my dad used to travel there to approve or supervise projects funded by the Central Government in the area of water supply and sanitation. In Srinagar, he would be introduced as Mr. Parthasarathy from India. Or at best Indian Govt. At a personal level, he would be treated very well, and Kashmiri hospitality was always excellent.

What I struggled to understand then – and this was way before the militancy set in there – were the reasons behind this hostility towards India. There was not yet a pro-Pakistan sentiment expressed. Not openly at least. Later I read about the historical blunders made and how our botched-up political establishment managed to alienate our fellow citizens over time. Of course, it is not all one sided, but I am no longer surprised how the common man has let down again and again over the last 66 years, while those “connected” get away with murder.

Let us get back to cricket, and Kashmir.  One of the incidents worth recounting took place before the Indo-Pak cricket matches became a craze in the mid 80’s. This was in a one-day India-WI match that was played in Srinagar. This was a “revenge” series in 83/84 for the WI, who we had beaten in the World Cup final earlier in the year. This was probably the last ever series in which more number of tests were played – 6 – than the ODI’s – 5. While they thrashed India in India 5-0 in the ODI’s, the support that the WI team got in Srinagar – the first ODI – had them puzzled and smiling. It was a low scoring match, that was won in bad light. Lloyd thanked the crowd for making them feel at home. Seditious behaviour, right?

If you said “right!”, then you may want to think again.  When India plays abroad, and we see all those fans supporting India, do we expect them to be charged with sedition too if they are citizens of those countries? We seem to gladly accept the support. Of course a few of them must be folks who are there on an Indian passport, whose support is most welcome.

Pakistan is not really a friend of India. They have shown it time and again. They have a lot to do before we can trust them again as a nation. However, by no stretch of imagination, can supporting the Pakistan cricket team be construed as sedition. It is sad that most, if not all, of these students were on a PM scholarship program, and some of them, still harbour anti-India sentiments.

My point is that charging these youngsters with sedition will not help change that. I hope better sense prevails.

Overcoming one’s fears

I had a huge smile on my face as I entered home. Dad says.. “See, no problem”. Errrr… there was, but yeah, I managed. As a 12 year old, I managed to go out into the big bad world and come back home after a 15 km round trip.  So what if it was a lazy Sunday afternoon? 🙂

So here is the background to it. My dad had revived his stamp collection hobby in 1974.  He had decided that he would collect only Indian stamps.  Preferably new issues. So, he subscribed to a philately newsletter and started getting information about new stamp releases. I used to accompany him on his quest to collect First Day Covers and Stamps from the General Post Office, New Delhi.

Not sure why, but the stamps would be issued on Sundays, and my dad used to take me along on his scooter. Those of you who have seen this grand building – the GPO – will know that it is on Parliament Street, quite close to the Parliament building, and is right next to the Reserve Bank of India and close to All India Radio…all on the same street. My dad pointed them out to me, more than once. He would take a different route every now and then. I used to keenly follow his commentary on the various routes to get an understanding of which road led where, and try and remember the landmarks at the seemingly innumerable circles/junctions we passed through. I did manage to get the idea that there were a number of parallel roads cutting across Rajpath, by observing that the Rashtrapathi Bhavan and the India Gate seemed to be closer or farther, depending on the road we took. The last part of the journey to the GPO always used to be on the Parliament Street.

Once at the GPO, I had observed and picked up the process:

1. Stand in a line to buy the stamps and the First Day cover. Either give the exact change, or ensure that the proper change was returned.

2. Get the First Day cover cancelled – special stamping – by standing in another line

3. Put this safely into a pouch. The pouch into the shoulder bag

4. Check out what the stamp sellers had at the bottom of the steps of the GPO. Negotiate and buy anything of interest.

One Sunday in 1977, he asked me get to get ready to go to the GPO. Once I was ready, he asked me to go to the GPO alone and get the stamps and the First Day cover.  By bus. I protested. I had no idea which bus to take. I had always gone with him by scooter. He asked me whether I knew Parliament Street. I did. So, he gave me the bus number to take, and Rs. 5/- more than what was enough for the stamp and the first day cover.  That was more than sufficient for the return fare by bus.

I managed to board the correct bus at the Lajpat Nagar terminus. Now the bus route was not the same as my dad’s! I remember getting jittery when it got to India Gate. Started pestering the conductor about the GPO stop. Naturally, he got irritated and walked away. First, we went past Nirman Bhavan, where my dad worked. Then Udyog Bhavan, next Krishi Bhavan. I knew we had crossed Rajpath, but was no longer sure that the bus would really take the turn towards Parliament Street. I could not wait, and got down in front of Rail Bhavan. I asked someone for the GPO. Was told that it was 2-3 stops further. I was not sure of the fare, and whether I would have sufficient money to get back home. It was an irrational fear, given that Rs. 5 went a long way back then.

Anyway…I decided to walk to the GPO instead. Asked someone and the got the direction. This road did not go towards Parliament street. It was instead parallel to it. I was in unfamiliar territory now. So I asked again. And again. Finally, I approached the GPO from behind. Turned onto a street and came on to Parliament Street. Turned and saw the familiar GPO. Experienced immense relief. The rest was a breeze. On the way back, I knew that I had to walk towards RBI. The bus stand was close by. I waited for a long time to take the exact same bus back to Lajpat Nagar. Back home, I must have talked about my journey for quite some time.

Thanks to this episode, I lost my fear for traveling alone. In 1978, I changed school and with that the commute mode. I used to walk to school earlier.  Now I had to take the bus. Public Transport. The rough and tough DTC at peak hours! 🙂

Today, when I try to protect my kids, I wonder whether it is the right thing to do? Had my dad observed my fear of travelling alone, and forced that journey on me, to help overcome my fear? He succeeded. But, what if I had got lost? What if the strangers who helped me reach my destination had not done so? What if …and Buts ….Well. I will never know.  Now, if only I could overcome my fear and send my kids out on a journey like this one… 🙂

Can we regain their trust?

I was struggling to understand why there is only one answer to my question. Well, dear reader, let me ask the question too. Are you in favour of creating Telengana?

I may have posed this question to 9 or 10 of my friends over the past few months, most times knowing that they are Andhra-ites. The answer has been a very emphatic “NO WAY”.

Naturally I have asked the reason(s) for this. The responses I have heard so far indicate a deep seated fear about Telengana, and most importantly Hyderabad, becoming out of bounds for people from the rest of Andhra, or Seemandhra, or coastal Andhra plus Rayalseema. There is a good reason for this. Telengana political leaders keep saying that Seemandhra folks will have no place in the Telengana Govt. jobs. OK. But, what of the private sector, organised or otherwise? Would they not be the bigger employers? Do they also share this view? Perhaps they do. So while an Andhra-ite feels comfortable working and living in most parts of India, and to a fairly large extent in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, the Seemandhra folks do not have the same feeling about Telengana.

I have a some more fundamental questions.

1. Would the Seemandhra folks agree that the districts of Andhra that comprise the Telengana region are amongst the poorest in Andhra Pradesh?
2. If the Seemandhra folks introspect, would they agree that the politicians and the administrators, as well as the people themselves, have let down the Telengana region, and the folks from there?
3. What should the politicians and people from Seemandhra do now to regain the trust of the people from Telengana?

It applies to all similar situations that are festering all over the country.

I would not at all be surprised that if Telengana becomes a reality, then some of the taluks of districts of Karnataka like Raichur, Gulbarga, Bidar may want to join up with them. Proximity of culture apart, they are so far off from the minds of the “rulers” (though they are supposed to be servants) of the state. Folks from Vidarbha often feel the same way.

I do not expect politicians from the Congress or the BJP to ask themselves the forward looking question – What do we need to do to regain their trust? Nor do I expect them to be take the steps to make it happen.

However, I do want my friends to introspect. We all need to find a way to be more giving and more inclusive to those who have less than us. Or those who feel alienated. For a fellow Indian. For another human.

Maybe you will tell me that I am wrong in this case. That Andhra govt. has done a lot for those districts. And this is just because a politician or two offered “Govt. jobs” to all students of Osmania University. Right!

Lastly, my own view – I am not in favour of another state being created as a potential vote bank. For now. If on the other hand, Andhra Pradesh, is unable to, in a time bound program, say 5 years, improve the state of administration and other standards in the Telengana region, we should seriously consider the statehood option as a big option. As a check, one has to ensure that the Andhra Govt. does not end up bleeding revenue from the region, as a spiteful act instead. Other states should have a time bound program too for improving their poorest districts. Else, be prepared to demands for even more statehoods.