Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Guide book for politicians - elementary grade

Here is an easy-to-follow, simple-to-understand guide book for politicians. It is meant for general use, but it has been primarily written to help hapless politicians during the tumultuous period of elections and their aftermath.
Who can use this guide - Any politician who is thick-skinned. Ok, ok, I KNOW that this is a tautology of sorts, but its mandatory to write this on the 1st page of the Guide.

Eligibility criteria - None.

-work required - Not even expected.

Skill level needed - Very basic mathematics. (User should be able to identify 3-digit numbers. If person can answer que like "which number is bigger, 88 or 146 ?" - then he can use this guide effectively.)
Knowledge level needed - should be able to identify whether he is in ruling party or opposition party. That's enough.

Chapter 1 - What to say before elections
20 days before
For ruling party (RP) - We will come back to power. We have served the people for 5 years and they will give us their mandate.
For opposition party (OP) - The people are frustrated with the incompetent government. We will sweep the polls this time.

10 days before
For RP - We do not wish to politicize every little matter. Our fight is ideology-based.
For OP - You will see a miracle in the polls.

3 days before
For RP - Of course, I have no ambition to become Chief Minister. The High Command will decide.
For OP - Of course, I have no ambition to become Chief Minister. But if that is the wish of people....

Chapter 2 - On election day
For RP - Say nothing
For OP- Say nothing

Chapter 3 - On counting day
At 8.30 If you are in Winning Party (WP) - I was always confident of winning. The people have appreciated our work.
If you are in Losing Party (LP) - We will get absolute majority.

At 10.30

WP - (Say anything that will upset the LP. It doesn't matter what you say!)

LP - We will surely get absolute majority. These are only early trends. We are sure to see a change in the actual results.

At noon
WP - We thank the people for their support. It is the victory of democracy.
LP - We will surely get simple majority. I don't know where you have got these number from. I am in constant touch with my sources andmy information is different.

At 2 pm

WP - No, it is not for me to say who will be the Chief Minister. The party high command will decide.

LP - We will surely be the single largest party. There are several independents and also some like-minded parties who will support us.

At 4 pm
WP - (It REALLY does not matter what you say now. People don't care!)

LP - (Hey, what the heck, people don't care what you say either!) But in case you want to hog some footage on TV during the dying minutes of the program, then you can say things like "We will introspect the reasons for this failure." Note - if you are speaking to Hindi channels, then you say Chintan-baithak!

Next day at 10 am
WP - There is no dissidence on our party. The decision about Chief Minister will be unanimous.

LP - Our vote share has increased bu 0.01 % in 3 out of 290 constituencies, and that is a positive sign. We will sit in the opposition.

Next day at 4 pm
WP - I will be going to Delhi tonight.
Next day at 4 pm
LP (See below. Caution - for advance level only)

Option 1 - If you have lost - Ruling party adopted vote bank politics. We fought for our ideology.
Option 2 - If all your candidates have lost - No. There was no in-fighting in our party.
Option 3 - If you have lost your deposit - There is a conspiracy. Some Foreign hand is involved in this. I will declare the names at a suitable time.
Option 4 - If all your candidates have lost their deposits - Electronic voting machines are known to go wrong. We will take up the matter with election commission.

I wish the readers will help me in making this Guide Book popular. Please distribute free copies to all politicians. Hope they will find it nice. Unless, the person you are dealing with is Uddhav Thackeray, that is. The least he could have done is learn something from the Late Pramod Mahajan in what he did after the 2004 poll debacle. Long before other BJP bigwigs had accepted defeat, Mahajan candidly accepted not just defeat, but also owned up his share of responsibility as in-charge of the polls by saying it was his failure, and that his India Shining campaign had backfired. What does Uddhav have to say after the resounding defeat in the recent assembly polls? "This is not a defeat for Shiv Sena, and I am not at fault."

Some people insist on not using Guide Books and attending extra classes. What to do? Maybe in 2014.....

Monday, October 19, 2009

Why BSNL is where it is.

I have been wanting to write this post for quite some days, but have been dithering. And there must be a reason for it. Having pondered over it for some time, I think the only reason why I have NOT posted this so far is because in spite of all that I write in this post, I have an implicit faith in Govt. machinery. People may disgaree with me, but still.
The other day, I went to BSNL office to surrender a Post-Paid connection. The lady at the desk nonchalantly pulled a paper out of the drawer and said,"OK, fill up this form, and submit it with your SIM card and a copy of the last paid bill."
Wow, is it that easy? I know that telecom companies pay handsome salaries to people for retaining customers. A churn (in cell phone company's parlance it means a customer intending to quit) is treated as serious business and efforts are made to retain the client. And here this lady seemed only too pleased to let me go. Nevertheless, I went a couple of days later with the form duly filled.
And the dialogue that followed went something like this -
BSNL - You will get another bill, for the period between this last paid bill and the date of termination. You will have to pay that.
I - But? I am terminating the service now, right? So why should I pay for a service which I am not going to use for the few days?
BSNL - You have to pay.
I - Well, OK. Here's the SIM card....
BSNL - (Keeps the SIM carefully inside a little ziplock bag) - Why are you terminating?
I - Because I don't want this service anymore.
I- So how many days will it take to actually terminate the connection, so that I can stop paying?
BSNL - Silence.
I - Ummmm....? 1 Week?
BSNL - Silence.
I - More than one week!!!
BSNL - We send the papers from here to Karve Road office, then they do the rest.
(Karve road office, incidentally, is ONE km. from where this dialogue transpired.)
I - So when will you send the papers to them? Today itself?
BSNL - (Looks at the watch) No. Maybe tomorrow.
I - And then? After you have sent the papers, how long do they take?
BSNL - Silence.
I - How long?
BSNL - Silence.
I - Does it take about a week? Or more?
BSNL - Yes. A week. Or maybe more.
I - OK. Two weeks?
BSNL - Yes. Two weeks. Maybe more.
(First round bell. I feel I am losing on points. At least I can avoid a knockout?)
I - OK, fine. What about deposit? Do I get some money back for the deposit I must have paid?
BSNL - Did you pay any deposit?
I - OH! I won't remember. It was really long ago.
BSNL - You will have to find out if you had paid any deposit.
I - And if there IS deposit, how do I get it?
BSNL - You will have to make an application, with a copy of the original receipt that we must have issued.
I - ORIGINAL RECEIPT? I am sure I cant find it now. There are too many papers.
BSNL - Without original receipt, we cannot give you anything.
I - I will try looking for it at home. But can't YOU tell me if there is any deposit pending?
BSNL - If you had paid 500 rs. then there is no deposit. If you paid more, then there is.
I - What does that mean? I said I don't remember how much I had paid. It was so long ago.
BSNL - It will be there in your original receipt.
I - And what if I cannot find the original?
BSNL - Silence
I - Can't you check in your system here?
BSNL - Silence.
I - I mean, I am sure you can just check the status of this SIM connection. Your system should tell you how much deposit has been paid - right?
BSNL - We can't check from here.

Checkmate. I give up.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The perils of being Sir

My work as an organizational consultant often puts me in front of people as a trainer. I have been conducting developmental workshops for the field sales managers of my client for some time. For the participants there, I am 'Sir' who has come all the way from Head Office to impart them with some knowledge. In spite of all the informality that I try to bring inside and outside the class, I still remain 'Sir' for them.
It is all satisfying to the ego and all that, but it has a downside to it. I often want to eat the local food, no matter if it is at a roadside joint. But these guys insist that Sir should eat at a nice place, preferably in the comfort of the hotel room itself.
Finally, yesterday night in Lucknow, I managed to convince one of them that I was perfectly OK eating at a 'Sir-but-it-is-not-a-nice-place' kind of eatery. So well past midnight, he took me to Charbagh area (near Lucknow station) and voila! The place was teeming with people as if it was evening and not 1 in the night.
The joint was not what you would call exactly 'hygienic', food was being cooked in a gigantic tandoor and two equally gigantic kadhais right outside on the footpath, waiters wiped the tables with an effortless swipe of a cloth that had seen better days, the source of 'Mineral Water' was definitely suspect, but hey, what the heck - the kheema and paratha tasted absolutely superb!

After I had licked my fingers clean and even procured myself a paan to my liking, my benefactor was convinced that I was not a stickler for sanitized nutrition. Then it became a matter of pride for him, and he promised to take me to eat some 'really good mughlai food' the next day. His argument was, "Sir (yes, that doesn't go away) this was OK, but Ameenabad is the best place to eat." Today late afternoon, after the workshop was over, I was glad that I had some hours at hand before catching the flight. So Sir was escorted to Ameenabad to - where else, but the ORIGINAL Tunday kabab place.

Once again, all matter of hygiene were put at rest the moment I put the first morsel of Galouti Kabab in my mouth and feel it simply melt.

Delicious stuff. This was followed by some equally nice kulfi falooda at another place snd then we headed to the airport (not before I had punched a big hole in my pocket by waiting at a shop selling the famous Lucknow Chikan material). As I was walking out of Tunday, I saw the portrait of the original Tunday Kababi, and the inscription below proudly proclaimed "suppliers to the Royal family of Avadh since 1791."

I may be getting the date wrong, but it was something more than two centuries old. Brilliant. I have always wondered at how proudly the suppliers of the Western world keep a track of their heritage and proclaim the same. Scotch Whisky, Cigars, Pipe tobacco, everything. And how no Indian supplier maintained such records and spoke about it. I am happy to be proved wrong by the Tundays. Long live Tunday Kababs! After Diwali, Sir will again be traveling to South India, then to East, then to Central. I hope Sir has sent the right message and gets to eat more of the local stuff.
Some months back, I had written about Tunday kabab and Lucknow food. Then, I had eaten at a more posh, upmarket outlet of Tunday (in Sahara mall at Hazratganj.) That was good, no doubt. But the rustic old world ambience of Ameenabad made the difference today.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Where does the money go?

I just heard an interview of Montek Singh Ahluwalia (Dy. Chairman of the Planning Commission currently) on NDTV. I was startled on hearing something. Montek informed the viewers that we are not borrowing from the World Bank anymore. Good. We are also not borrowing from IMF either. VERY good, you would say?
On the contrary, we have actually LENT 10 billion dollars to the IMF. On first glance, this seems like something we Indians should be mighty proud of. After all, when the first reform budget of 1991 was announced, our reserves had dropped to an alarming 1 billion dollars, while today our reserves stand at 270 billion dollars. (Figures quoted by Montek himself.) So the reform budget and the ensuing 18 years have probably pulled India out of the economic doldrums . We all should be justifiably proud of it, right.
The question is, who is 'WE'? A minuscule population of urban Indians who can afford a car, an AC, a Blackberry and an iPod?
If we as a country can lend 10 billion dollars to the IMF, then the questions that haunt me are

- Why do millions of Indians still have to starve?
- Why do millions of Indian do not have access to basic medical services?
- Why does one farmer in Vidarbha have to commit suicide every day?
- It seems there is foodgrain surplus now. Then why are food prices going up all the time?
- Why are there frustrating power cuts? (In Pune, there is power cut from 9 to 5 on all Thursdays.)

I hasten to add that my rant is not against Montek at all. I have huge regard for him. I am sure he is bothered by the same questions himself. I wish someday I hear him give possible answers to them.
The money that we have lent to IMF surely has come from the taxpayers. (If it came from the black money that is generated, we could possibly lend 10 Trillion dollars. Not billion.) Is that why we pay taxes? So that the development in India can wait, while we lend money to the IMF?
I am not an economist by any stretch of imagination. I hope someone from the readers who are more enlightened on these matters can provide me the answers to these questions. Till then, I will keep hoping that Montek and Co. are taking India on the right path ahead.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Justice is blind. What does that mean, then?

The character of Mr. Bumble in Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist says "The law is an ass." I don't know what prompted Dickens to write this strong-worded denouncement of what is considered to be higher than everything else, but the recent happening seem to prove him right.
Just a few days ago, I was chatting with my friend Prem Ayyathurai. He has just got into the Law School in Bangalore. (In case you think I have gone into a time warp, I have not. Prem is my daughter's classmate. But that does not stop him from being friend)
I was asking him how he is finding the subject, how are the classes etc. My curiosity stemmed more from my ever-present wonderment about this whole business called LAW. I mean, how does one 'learn' law? Thankfully, Prem assured me that they are not required to mug up the whole IPC.

Prem went on to tell me that the one thing he was beginning to come to terms with was - it is not so much about what the law says, but it is more about how the judge interprets it.
Which makes it really dangerous. I mean, in that case, it all depends on what the judge had for breakfast, whether s/he had a fight with his spouse in the morning, whether s/he encountered a traffic jam on way to the court, and whether his/her daughter has threatened to elope with the driver's son. If it is finally about how the judge interprets the law, then does that not make the whole thing rather subjective. And dangerously subjective, actually.
Ironically enough, in the past 24 hours, there are three court cases where strange events have unfolded, the kind which will make Mr. Dickens smile from ear to ear (I told you so! he will say)

1. Shiny Ahuja has been granted bail.
2. A maniac father who kept his two daughters chained in inhuman condition inside the house for years has been granted a bail for a paltry Rs.15000.

OK, both these cases are of bail and the final verdict is still weeks, months or more likely years away. But the third case is different.

3. A mother-daughter pair who were charged with kidnap and murder of a doctor in Pune and were sentenced to death by the lower court have been let off by the High Court. The HC has changed their death sentence of life imprisonment. Further, the HC did penalize them for kidnap and fined them Rs.50000.

The background is like this - The two women (allegedly) kidnapped Dr. Deepak Mahajan and demanded 25 lakhs as ransom from his family. When that didn't work, the two (allegedly) killed him by injecting him with a sedative. Further, they are (alleged) to have cut up his body into pieces and thrown them over a long distance on the highway.

Now, the sessions court had sentenced them both to death. Obviously, they appealed in High Court. Amazingly, the HC upheld the charges of kidnap, but not of murder. So what did the HC want to suggest? That Dr. Mahajan cut himself into small pieces? Or that Dr. Mahajan was simply lying down on the footpath of the highway and some butcher who was walking past simply wanted to test his chopper on him?

I am sure that the family of the deceased will appeal in Supreme Court and the case there will drag on for many more years. But - what if the SC decides to hang them? Will that put egg on the face of the HC judges? Or - will it simply prove what Mr. Dickens said - THE LAW IS SURELY AN ASS.