Train journey with Narendra Modi

A Facebook friend shared “A train journey and two names to remember“, which had appeared in The Hindu on June 1, 2014.

The writer, Ms. Leena Sarma, General Manager of the Centre for Railway Information System, Indian Railways, New Delhi, has written about a train journey in 1990 from Delhi to Ahmedabad, in which she and another female colleague were co-passengers with Shankersinh Vaghela and Narendra Modi, both BJP members at that time.

I strongly suggest you read the entire article, but for those who are short of time, here’s the summary:
Ms. Sarma and her female colleague, then Indian Railway (Traffic) Service probationers, had wait-listed First Class tickets to travel from Delhi to Ahmedabad. The train was heavily booked. The TTE (Travel Ticket Examiner) asked them to sit in a particular coupe, and assured them that he would try to get their tickets confirmed. The two persons who had confirmed tickets for that coupe were both politicians, as could be discerned from their white khadi attire. The TTE assured the two women that, “They’re decent people, regular travellers on this route, nothing to worry.” The politicians readily made space for their co-passengers by almost squeezing themselves to one corner.

After initial introductions, the 4 co-passengers started discussing various topics, particularly in the areas of History and the Polity. Eventually, the discussion veered around to the formation of the Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League.

After the food, four vegetarian meals, arrived, the four ate in silence. When the pantry-car manager came to take the payment, the younger man (Narendra Modi) paid for all four meals.

Soon, the TTE came and informed the two women that the train was packed and he couldn’t arrange berths for them. Both men immediately stood up and said: “It’s okay, we’ll manage.” They swiftly spread a cloth on the floor and went to sleep, while the two women with wait-listed tickets occupied the berths.

As the train was nearing Ahmedabad, the politicians asked the two women about their lodging arrangements in the city. Vaghela told them that in case of any problem, the doors of his house were open for them. There was some kind of genuine concern in the voice or the facial contours of the otherwise apparently inscrutable younger one (Narendra Modi), and he told them: “I’m like a nomad, I don’t have a proper home to invite you but you can accept his offer of safe shelter in this new place.” The women thanked the politicians for that invitation and assured them that accommodation was not going to be a problem for them.

I leave it to readers to draw their own conclusions about the politicians involved in this episode.

My observations:

1.The entire episode took place far away from media scrutiny. The manner in which Shankersinh Vaghela and Narendra Modi conducted themselves speaks volumes about their character.

2.Since Ms. Sarma first wrote about this train journey in an Assamese newspaper in 1995, when neither Shankersinh Vaghela nor Narendra Modi was a minister or a famous person, it can be safely assumed that she had nothing to gain by writing an article praising them. As Ms. Sarma herself says, “It was a tribute to two unknown politicians from Gujarat for giving up their comfort ungrudgingly for the sake of two bens (sisters) from Assam.”

Please share your observations on this episode.


No ‘Shehzade’ or ‘baba log’ among BJP Ministers!

During the long election campaign this year and even before that, Narendra Modi, now India’s Prime Minister, had strongly opposed dynastic politics.

The BJP’s candidates’ list contained a few, but not too many, political dynasts. I had touched on this in my post The arrogance of inheritance? Of course, the presence of these candidates could be due to various factors governing realpolitik.

After the BJP’s victory in the elections, I, like many other Indians, was curious to see if Narendra Modi would walk his talk about dynastic politics while appointing ministers in his new government.

The first sign of things to come appeared on, which said, “Narendra Modi enforces a new rule that no children of BJP leaders will get cabinet berths.”

After the names of all the ministers were known, I checked whether this ‘new rule’ had actually been followed. I found that almost all the ministers from the BJP are first-generation politicians. Some of them are children of BJP workers, but none of these parents were senior leaders in the BJP. Only 6 ministers could be said to have had the advantage of family background while entering politics, but each of them has a long track record that could have earned them ministerial positions even without the benefit of family background.

Najma Heptulla: grand-niece of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Dr. Heptulla was a Congress member of the Rajya Sabha from 1980 to 2004. In 2004, she joined the BJP.

Maneka Gandhi: wife of Late Sanjay Gandhi (son of Late Indira Gandhi). According to Wikipedia, “In March 1983, after falling out with her mother-in-law, Maneka founded her own political party, the Rashtriya Sanjay Manch …. In 1988, Maneka merged the Rashtriya Sanjay Manch with the main opposition party, the Janata Dal and became its General Secretary. … In 2004, Maneka joined the BJP. … She has won 5 out of the 6 times she has contested from Pilibhit.”

Ravi Shankar Prasad: According to Wikipedia, “His father Thakur Prasad was a senior advocate at the Patna High Court and one of the founders of the Jan Sangh, which is now the BJP.” However, Wikipedia also states, “Prasad began his political career as a student leader in the 1970s organising protests against Indira Gandhi’s government. He worked in the student movement in Bihar under the leadership of Jayaprakash Narayan and was imprisoned during the Emergency. He was associated with RSS & Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad for many years and held various posts in the organisations.”

Rao Inderjit Singh: According to Wikipedia, “…son of Late Rao Birendra Singh the scion of the Rewari dynasty who served as a second chief minister of Haryana.” From 1977 to 2013, Singh was a member of the Congress party. He was an MLA for 4 terms, an MP for 3 terms, and held various ministerial positions. In September 2013, he resigned from the Congress and joined the BJP.

Piyush Goyal: (son of BJP leaders Chandrakanta Goyal and Late Shri Vedprakash Goyal):According to Wikipedia, “ He has had a strong academic record – all-India second rank holder Chartered Accountant and second rank holder in Law in Mumbai University. He has participated in Leadership Programs at Yale University (2011), Oxford University (2012) and Princeton University (2013) and is currently pursuing the Owner / President Management (OPM) Program at Harvard Business School…. During his 27 year long political career, he has served on the National Executive and held several important positions in the BJP. He was also nominated by the Government of India to the Task Force for Interlinking of Rivers.”

GM Siddeshwara: According to Wikipedia, “His father Late Shri G. Mallikarjunappa was also an M.P. for two terms: 1996-1998 and 1999-2003. Shri G. Mallikarjunappa was affiliated to the RSS before joining the BJP electoral politics…. Shri G. M. Siddeshwara is one of the top unquestionable Lingayat leaders in Karnataka and a mass based leader in Central Karnataka. Shri G. M. Siddeshwara has been rated as one of the best MPs in the 15th Lok Sabha by various independent organizations based on his performance both in the Parliament as well as his efficiency in the constituency.”

It is refreshing to see no ‘Shehzade’ or ‘baba log’ among BJP Ministers! This is a good beginning to replace dynasty with meritocracy.

What about the Indian National Congress? Read The Hindu’s editorial Putting dynasty before party


Generally late for meetings?
The ‘not-so-important’ person is unpunctual.
The ‘important’ person is punctual, but she/he gets delayed due to factors beyond her/his control.

Doesn’t work hard enough?
The ‘not-so-important’ person is a lazy bum.
The ‘important’ person is ‘not in the rat race’.

Doesn’t speak up?
The ‘not-so-important’ person doesn’t have courage.
The ‘important’ person is soft-spoken.

Didn’t achieve the desired result?
The ‘not-so-important’ person didn’t put in enough effort.
The ‘important’ person was unlucky.

The ‘not-so-important’ person is drunk.
The ‘important’ person is mildly intoxicated.

Drinks too much?
The ‘not-so-important’ person is a drunkard.
The ‘important’ person is fond of drinks.

Eats too much?
The ‘not-so-important’ person is a glutton.
The ‘important’ person is a gourmand.

Generally gets work done by bribing?
The ‘not-so-important’ person is corrupt.
The ‘important’ person is ‘street smart’.

Plans carefully?
The ‘not-so-important’ person is finicky.
The ‘important’ person is methodical.

Election results?
The winning party wins because of their ‘important’ persons.
The losing party loses because of their ‘not-so-important’ persons.

How come most situations are interpreted in almost diametrically opposite ways for the ‘not-so-important’ person and the ‘important’ person?

Is it ‘different strokes for different folks’? No!

Is it because we believe that “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”? No way!


This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda. (Prompt: Your post has to revolve around the word Magic! What does it mean to you?)


ADR, Electoral and Political Reforms

A search for some information on electoral reforms led me to a document
Recommendations for Electoral & Political Reforms (Summary)
on the website of Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR)

Since the 2014 election campaign is on in full swing, I thought readers of my blog would be interested in reading the document and going through the ADR website.

Please make it a point to read the document and go through the extremely informative website.

If you want to get involved in ADR’s mission of improving governance and strengthening democracy, or to communicate your suggestions or ideas, contact information is available on the website.

The arrogance of inheritance?

The Hindu reported that Poonam Mahajan, BJP candidate for Mumbai North-Central, has said, “It’s not fair to say I benefited from dynasty. I have worked for the party for the last eight years. It has tried and tested me.”

As far as I could remember, other than occasionally appearing on Page 3, Poonam Mahajan has done hardly any work for the BJP or for the country. However, the Wikipedia page on her says that she “joined the BJP as a normal member of the party, with the encouragement of her uncle Gopinath Munde, himself an ex-Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra state. Now she’s national secretary of Bharatiya Janata Party.”

I asked a few people who generally follow politics, a question:
In your opinion, how much did dynasty (Pramod Mahajan’s daughter, Gopinath Munde’s niece) matter in BJP giving Poonam Mahajan a ticket?

Of the 15 persons who replied, 14 said dynasty was the ONLY factor in her party giving her a ticket. 1 person said, “No idea”. Please note that 11 of these persons live in Mumbai North-Central or have been living there till recently. At least 2 of them are staunch BJP supporters.

While this is not a large enough sample, it gives sufficient indication of the public perception that Poonam Mahajan got her party ticket mainly, perhaps only, because of dynasty.

Poonam Mahajan is not the only ‘young’ politician who has been air-dropped into politics by dynasty. All political parties have such persons in large numbers. One is also a Prime Ministerial aspirant.

After being given some position in their respective parties, most of these persons have done some work for their parties. However, very few have done sufficient work and achieved results that would enable them to claim that they have reached their present positions mainly on the basis of merit. If the ticket had been given only on the basis of merit, somebody else would have been given the ticket. To be blunt, the candidate’s ‘winnability’ is not really a factor in Lok Sabha elections. For example, even if Poonam Mahajan defeats sitting Congress MP Priya Dutt, it will be because of a combination of the anti-Congress/UPA wave and the Modi wave.

When Poonam Mahajan and others like her have clearly benefited from dynasty, why do they claim that it is their ‘work’ that has brought them to their present high positions? Are they in denial? Or is it merely their sense of entitlement or, in other words, the arrogance of inheritance?