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Smriti the empress and a 'dear' word

By Prem Chandran How mean and self-imposing can we become? Or, do we have a dearth of such people in .....




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06-15-2016
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Thumbs up Smriti the empress and a 'dear' word


By Prem Chandran

How mean and self-imposing can we become? Or, do we have a dearth of such people in politics? If proof is needed, turn to august houses where so-called discussions take place; discussions sans substance, and of course with lots of hot air as in a hot air balloon. Stretching it further, take a look at their attitudes. Smriti Irani, Union Minister for Human Resources, for one. The woman minister whose name had been floated around a month ago as the BJP’s choice for Uttar Pradesh’s CM post – possibly another of Amit Shah & Co’s funny ideas – has in one sweet go exposed herself to her bones. Her anger over a tweet by Bihar’s education minister Ashok Choudhary -- who addressed her as ‘dear@smritiiraniji’ along with a query as to when he and the nation could expect the new education policy of the Centre -- goes miles and miles to show what stock is this former TV debater made of. Beyond the chiselled convent English, how much has she grown with the wider world?

When one speaks or writes in English, what goes with it is also the styles that are essentially integral to the use of that language. Would a British woman minister have objected to she being addressed as Dear Minister, or Dear so-and-so? And, Smriti Irani, with her rustic mindset, is presiding over India’s exclusive elitist club, the English-speaking academic crowd, the number of which runs into millions. When she was provided with the ministry, not many were enthused at her intellectual competence to handle India’s large breed of students, teachers and professors. Several of her actions had the typical RSS stamp to it. Feelings strengthened that she was missing the woods for the trees; and that she was into micro managing things and was not macro-minded. One needed to give a minister time to shape himself or herself up. After the two-year-run of the Modi government, it might be time to make an assessment of how his ministers have functioned. Smriti Irani should also come under such a scanner. If she is doing a good job, well, who does not want her to carry on. However, with the rant she did via Twitter on her way to Bhagalpur the other day, not many might now be enthused at singing praise for this minister. She stands exposed and she needs to grow.

It is quite likely that what provoked her, per se, was not simply the literal meaning of the word ‘dear’. She has, in one retort, reminded the Bihar minister that whenever she addressed him or other ministers, she used the word mananeey (respected)... and (hence) she expected of him too to address her the same way. Well, her ego of Himalayan proportions was punctured. There are matters of etiquette, protocol, and much else especially when governmental functionaries deal with each other. Understandable. Much of the colonial vestiges of the British era have not been done away with by the native Sahibs who ruled the country after Independence. Rather, they virtually added to the paraphernalia of facilities and ornamentations to their best advantage. Political families have sprung up, thanks to the way shown by Jawaharlal Nehru himself to foist his family on the power turf. The Sheikh Abdullahs, Bal Thackerays, Lalu Yadavs, Mulayam Singh Yadavs, the Lals of Haryana, the Badals of Punjab, the down-and-out Pawars of Maharashtra, the KCR family that has tightened its grip over Telangana with lightning speed, the planned son-rise in Andhra Pradesh in the form of Nara Lokesh, and much more....

All these only go to show we have driven ourselves back in history, crossed the colonial past and plunged down to the days of royal overlordship. All rants about democracy is just for show. And, America took lessons from Nehru too. Every state today, with a few exceptions of course, has political families tightening their grip on democracy, on regions, and the hapless people. This is corruption of a different kind, corruption of the system, much worse than the loot of the exchequer to which we as a society have already gotten used to. So much so, today, if there is no corruption, that’s news. Under the circumstances, if a Smriti Irani puts herself in the shoes of an empress, and cannot stand to see someone addressing her as ‘dear’, that is simply another sad day in the steadily worsening political life of this nation.

There is no need to state again and again that the well-laid systems of governance in this country – left behind by the British -- are subverted with a rare frenzy, and for the worse. However, with a man with a wide chest arriving at the helm of affairs of this nation, expectations were that things would change; that he has the guts to stem the drift past the awkward Sonia-Manmohan era where, for some, loot was a one-point programme (2G, Coal Blocks, CWG being the only open manifestations of the rot that had set in deep). Expectations were also that he would shake up the administrative machinery and inject some order to it. But, when Modi took over as PM, he started with a serious handicap, as we all know. The outsider became the insider. He was new to Lutyens’ Delhi, or its hallowed halls of administration. As an RSS pracharak, he had seen only its exteriors – and from the outside. All the same, he has by now established himself, and his experience as Gujarat CM for three terms helped him hold himself well in Delhi. With rare courage, he reached out to the world from Day One, held the world in thrall by his Madison Square moment and direct dealings with the world’s high and mighty. It looks like, on the domestic front where no major change is seen yet, he has controlled corruption at the level of the central government ministries. We can only make a guess from a distance, and what can be said with certainty is that the Modi show so far has not left any scar on him or his government. Also, the steps like the announcement of a substantially improved, perhaps revolutionary, new aviation policy on June 15, showed here is a government that works.

The opinion poll surveys have been giving the PM and his team good marks, for the reason that there have been no perceptible goof-ups so far. What must, however, be said is that the people’s expectations from Narendra Modi were much higher. They saw in him a superman by virtue of his good governance of Gujarat, his perceived no-nonsense approach, the distance he kept from his family members as CM, the feelings that he has a supreme sense of commitment to the nation and its causes; a feeling that he is man enough to be depended upon in the event of a challenge to the nation in the form of a war or the like; that he would sooner or later discipline the wayward, corrupt bureaucracy in this country, and above all ensure justice to one and all. However, problems persist. For one, he could hardly do anything on reining in the evil of corruption across the country, a nation governed also by individual states and their leaders. What has come as a big dampener was the Vyapam scam from Modi’s own BJP backyard, Madhya Pradesh. It showed that the BJP is not all that fair in its approaches. But, what has Modi done to change the scenario? From the point of view of the man in the street, those like us, he did not move even his little finger in such matters.

What could he have done, with all the power at his hand? Well, if he is serious about fighting corruption and corruption of the systems, he could have activated the anti-corruption machinery at all levels of governance. Some steps that were initiated, like review of performance of officials and taking the bad apples out, lacked seriousness. The devil was in the details. What is happening now is that the outfits like the Anti Corruption Bureau are the epitomes of corruption. No case is taken forward with any seriousness. Even when someone is caught, files are set to gather dust. In the end, he would be reinducted with all the back wages for the period he was made to cool his heels at home. The system is laughing at the people. The Vigilance Department keeps no vigil other than fixing individuals at the behest of the political bosses. When these entities act, occasionally against misdeeds, it is just for show. Farce of the worst kind. A constable who took a few currency notes as bribe might be arrested and paraded before the media; the big fish remains untouched. In Telangana, several crores were set apart some time ago for organising public toilets in Hyderabad and adjoining areas. Of this, one third of the money went in for the junkets undertaken by ministers, politicians and bureaucrats for a visit of London and some other cities, to study the community toilet systems there. In India itself, there are good examples in Delhi and Chennai. But, the state of Telangana thought sending some worthies to Europe and wasting a few crores on their indulgences in luxury would be the way forward. Chief Minister Chandrasekhar Rao’s way of governance is to keep everyone happy. In the end, the public toilet system is still ailing in Hyderabad. Has the arrival of a Narendra Modi on India’s political scene made any difference to such indulgences in this country?

Or, take the case of his exhortation to the nation on Republic Day in January last, do away with interviews for junior level government appointments, and recruit staff on the basis of written-test results alone. Wonderful. That would have ended a lot of racketeering in recruitments, though it might not altogether have eliminated scope for the Vyapam kind of scams. Young educated people with no one to influence the high and mighty or even the local politician, might have stood a chance to get a government job. Modi tried to take the bull by its horns. The rackets in the job field has flourished to such an extent that there hardly are any public advertisements for jobs both for private and public sector appointments. Those who are working in various establishments are facilitating intake of their family members or their near and dear ones, so why recruitment? Corruption of a different kind! Established conventions in the matter of recruitments have been thrown to the winds. Modi’s exhortation remains as an exhortation as no state seems to have taken note, though the central government appears to have issued instructions to that effect to its offices down the line. State governments are behaving as if they have not heard the PM, or are looking the other way, or are citing one or the other excuses. If the Prime Minister makes an exhortation – and prominently from the ramparts of the Red Fort in an address of the nation, and if things do not happen that way, can we still claim that we have a functioning Prime Minister and a functioning system around here? Or what has he done to change India other than the schemes like Swachh Bharat, that too made little change to life so far?

Question is, irrespective of whether Modi gets one more term or not, should he not take courage in his hands and restore health to India’s largely weakened and sabotaged systems? Likely, if he shows the guts to better the people’s lives in this country, everyone would back him – the large segment of the middle class, included. It is a myth that people are expecting favours from the government to back it; especially the middle class. A feel-good factor via-a-vis good governance is the key to any government’s success. Where leaders falter, as did Manmohan Singh, governments fall. The feel-good factor is evident in Tamil Nadu, and that is the feeling among the masses in West Bengal as well, as the assembly poll results showed. People were not willing to buy the Communists’ or the Congress’ rant that democracy was in peril in West Bengal. The common man did not look at things that way.

For people to have a feel-good factor, certainly, the mindset of Modi’s ministers who run this country should change too. They are not emperors or empresses; rather, their job is to govern the country in the best possible ways. The likes of Smriti Irani are yet to learn this basic lesson, though fact is also that both the BJP and the RSS breeds are more tolerable for the people at large, than the Congress breed of absolutely characterless, hand-in-the-honeypot politicians. premcee@gmail.com; www.indiahereandnow.com

Last edited by Premchandran; 08-15-2016 at 08:12 PM
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