Witty, or obnoxious, elitist and arrogant?

In ‘All the president’s cooks‘ on dnaindia.com, Venkatesan Vembu writes, “My all-time favourite story involving Indian politicians and food relates to Mani Shankar Aiyar’s dare, while campaigning for an election in 1991, to his opponent who was baiting him with anti-Brahmin rhetoric. Aiyar projected himself as a “meat-eating Brahmin” and even challenged his rival to a contest in the village square to see who could eat more chicken biryani. His campaign’s masala recipe went down well, and he won the election.” When I had read about this incident in 1991, I had wished that more people in public life should be as witty as Aiyar!

Today, I’m not so sure. IBNLive reports that, on January 17, 2014, the same Mani Shankar Aiyar, referring to Narendra Modi’s humble origins as the son of a tea stall owner, said at the AICC meet, “He can never be the Prime Minister of our nation, he can never be. However, if he wants, we could arrange a tea stall for him here.” He later claimed that he had been misquoted, but despite his longwinded explanation, it was clear he had displayed elitism and arrogance. The Congress has said that, “The party does not approve of the statement.”

Later that day, according to this report in The Times of India, Aiyar made a condescending statement against Delhi’s Hans Raj College. Earlier, in 2011, referring to a letter written by then Sports Minister Ajay Maken, Aiyar had, according to this report in The Times of India, said that he could not believe that a BA-Pass student from Hans Raj College could use words like ‘dichotomous’ in a letter. A few days later, Aiyar told a group of Hans Raj students that, “He (Maken) is a decent boy from a decent background with his only handicap being the college he went to.” He asked them to bring together BA-Pass students from Hans Raj and St Stephen’s and make them pronounce ‘dichotomous’. “I do not believe the student from Hans Raj will be able to do it,” he said. Aiyar also poked fun at Kirori Mal College by declaring that actor Amitabh Bachchan was the “sole achievement” of KMC.

All these remarks by Aiyar appear innocent when compared to a remark that, according to the report, ‘Don’t invite the likes of Mani. If you must, limit them to two pegs‘, Amar Singh claims Aiyar made in 2000: “We belong to the Oxford and Cambridge set… your leader can’t even articulate himself in English… Oh that bloody Mulayam — he looks just like me. It could be because my father visited UP at some point. Why don’t you check with Mulayam’s mother?”

After reading these reports, would you consider Aiyar witty, or would you consider him obnoxious, elitist and arrogant?

Unfortunately, he is not alone. Please read the second paragraph of the report ‘Kumar Vishwas jibe at Kerala nurses caught on YouTube’ about a comment made by AAP leader Kumar Viswas on nurses from Kerala. This comment was made by Kumar Vishwas some years back, before he entered politics and before the AAP was formed, and he did apologise on January 22, 2014, but the apology appeared half-hearted and certainly not unconditional.

ET reports that, at a public meeting on Sunday, Delhi’s Law Minister Somnath Bharti said, “I want to spit on the faces of BJP leader Arun Jaitley and senior lawyer Harish Salve to tell them to mend their ways… I warn you, the public is going to hound you and beat you.” AAP has reportedly warned Bharti to mind his language in future.

Many of us believe that the politics will become cleaner if educated people join politics. But, these 3 gentlemen are well-educated.

Does politics have a greater influence than education on a person’s character?

Or does education have little or no influence on a person’s character?

Ex-MP gets six months jail sentence for Rs. 13 lakh expenses fraud

An ex-MP has been sentenced to six months in jail for ‘false accounting by putting in fake receipts … of “research and translation” services.’

Sounds too fantastic? Well, it’s true, but it happened in Britain.

BBC reports that “Former MP Denis MacShane has been jailed for six months for expenses fraud after admitting submitting 19 fake receipts amounting to £12,900. He is the fifth MP to get a prison sentence after 2009’s expenses scandal.”

Reuters reports that “MacShane claimed bogus expenses to pay for research and translation work supposedly done by an organisation called the European Policy Institute (EPI), a research body he had set up in 1992. In fact, the EPI had not done any work and the money went straight to MacShane.
However, the court heard that MacShane had paid other third parties to do some work to help in his role as an MP, but that he had not kept the receipts.
Instead, MacShane tried to estimate the cost of the genuine work and then reclaimed the expenses through the EPI.
Prosecutors said they accepted MacShane’s argument that he had submitted false invoices to recoup expenses he genuinely incurred as an MP. They also accepted that he had not intended to profit personally and said his “chaotic” record-keeping had contributed to the confusion. The money was paid back.
The judge said MacShane’s case was different from those of the other four MPs jailed for false expenses claims.”

MacShane did not intend to personally profit from the fraud.

He did not personally profit from the fraud.

He committed the fraud to recover other official expenses that he had incurred, but for which he did not have receipts.

Yet, he was convicted and jailed.

False invoices, inflated invoices, inflated expense statements, ‘voucher payments’, etc. are common in India. One or more of these practices are indulged in commonly by politicians, businessmen, executives, etc. In some cases, these practices are resorted to for personal gain. In other cases, they are done to cover expenses for which receipts are not available.

If all such practices are treated as crimes, how many Indians would be eligible to be treated as criminals?

AAP’s broom will clean up Delhi, but only if …

The President of a marketing company had appointed a committee of 3 persons, a HR Manager, an Accounts Manager and a Sales Manager, to recommend ways to reduce the company’s travelling expenses by 10% without adversely affecting the company’s operations.

At the annual Budget Meeting, the Committee was making a presentation about their initial findings and the further course of action. The Service Manager realised that the Committee had focussed almost completely on the travelling expenses incurred by Sales Engineers and Service Engineers. He pointed out that, while the number of engineers was 5 times the number of managers, the total travelling expenses incurred by the managers was double the total travelling expenses incurred by the engineers. Hence the focus should be on the travelling expenses incurred by the managers. He suggested that the company’s travelling expenses could be reduced by over 15% if all managers flew Economy Class instead of Executive/Business Class and stayed at 4 Star hotels instead of 5 Star hotels. The suggestion was shouted down by all the managers present. Not even one person was willing to consider the Service Manager’s suggestion!

This incident illustrates exactly what happens in our country. Everybody wants change. But most people expect change to happen! Very few people are willing to change themselves.

Now that the AAP will form the Government in Delhi, many, if not most of those who voted for the AAP will assume that they have finished doing their bit by voting for the AAP, and that all the ills that have been plaguing Delhi will be removed by the AAP Government in no time.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Let us consider corruption. We all know that bribes are taken by policemen/officials/bureaucrats/politicians. But we conveniently forget that the same bribes are given by us. We have got used to getting work done by paying ‘speed money’ or having our misdemeanours overlooked by paying bribes. For corruption to be eradicated, both the bribe-takers and the bribe-givers have to change for the better.

The same holds for all other issues. While steps must be taken to prevent wrongdoing by officials and contractors, the general public also has to behave responsibly.

AAP’s broom will clean up Delhi, but it’s not a magical broom. It won’t work on its own. It will work only if most people in Delhi pick it up and use it for the common good.

Best wishes to the AAP Government and to the people of Delhi!

Do we walk the talk?

After receiving offers of outside support from the Congress and the BJP to form the state government in Delhi, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) sent letters to both parties, asking them for their stand on 18 issues. Click here to read the 18 issues.

While the Congress accepted all 18 issues, the BJP did not reply to AAP’s letter.

There are varying opinions about the motives behind AAP’s letter and behind the apparently meek acceptance by the Congress. I am more interested in asking whether the people who strongly support the AAP actually walk the talk about these issues. Let’s take a look at some of them.

1/18. The VIP culture should be stopped in Delhi. No MLA, minister or Delhi official will use a red beacon on their cars. Neither will they live in big bungalows nor take any special security.
This is probably supported by all people. However, how many of us can honestly state that we have never arranged train tickets or attended cricket matches or functions or even special ‘darshans’ at temples by using ‘VIP quotas’ or ‘Special quotas’ or by pulling strings?

3/18. People will take decision directly in ‘mohalla sabhas’, which will be held in every locality and colony.
Forget all other bodies, how many of us actually participate actively in the housing society that we belong to? In most housing societies, 5% people are active participants, 10% are passive participants, 15% are passive spectators, and 67% are neither participants nor spectators, while the remaining 3% are active fault-finders.

5/18. The party also demanded a special audit of all electricity companies in the national capital from the time these were privatized. The companies that refuse to participate, their licenses should be cancelled.
How many of us can claim that we do not willingly indulge in malpractices in our business, professional and personal lives?

6/18. Electricity meters should be checked.
If our electricity meters show unusually high readings, we complain to the electricity board. How many of us report the matter to the electricity board if we find our electricity meters showing unusually low readings?

7/18. There is 220 litres of water available for every person daily. Where is it?
We are concerned about the unreliability of water supply, but do we sincerely try to consume water sensibly and avoid waste?

10/18. It also sought their support to give regular jobs to those working on contractual basis.
Are we willing to give regular jobs with all benefits to our domestic help?

Many of us talk. How many of us walk the talk? How many of us are genuinely willing to walk the talk?

Punished for being poor?

At around 5.00 am one morning in 1989, I was travelling by an auto-rickshaw from the railway station to my house. I was upset that the auto-rickshaw driver had demanded Rs. 20 more than the night fare, and I was releasing my frustration by muttering to myself. All of a sudden, the driver asked, “Sir, many people say Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi has taken a bribe of Rs. 64 crores from a foreign weapons manufacturer called Bofors to give them a huge order from the Indian Army. See what our nation has come to!”

I replied, “I’m not an admirer of Rajiv Gandhi’s. But, I don’t think he has taken the bribe.”

The auto-rickshaw driver persisted, “Sir, some highly respected newspapers have published documents which show that Bofors has definitely paid this bribe, and that this bribe is meant for Rajiv Gandhi.”

I replied, “Maybe a bribe has been paid. But I don’t think Rajiv Gandhi has taken the bribe. Some other people may have taken the bribe by misusing his name.”

At this point, the auto-rickshaw driver said something I’ve never forgotten: “Sir, even after reading the reports in highly respected newspapers, you are not willing to say that Rajiv Gandhi MAY have taken the bribe. On the other hand, a few minutes back, you were condemning me for asking only for Rs. 20 extra fare. Why this difference, sir? Isn’t it because he is an upper caste, fair-skinned, English-speaking man belonging to a wealthy and powerful family and, most importantly, the Prime Minister of the country, but I am a lower caste, dark-skinned, non-English-speaking, poor auto-rickshaw driver? Let me tell you, sir, the policemen at the railway station harass me because I drive the auto-rickshaw in the night shift. I can get away from them only by bribing them. I charge extra fare only to compensate for those bribes. Powerful politicians make money by cheating our motherland, but people like you respect them. You will shake their hands, maybe fall at their feet! I am trying to earn a living by working honestly, but you treat me as if I’m a criminal. Sir, I’m not a criminal. The bitter truth is, my poverty is my crime!” I had no reply.

I remembered this incident after reading this report in The Times of India about Umakant Mishra, which was sent to me by a blogger friend.

In July 1984, Umakant Mishra, who worked as a postman in Kanpur, was accused by his seniors of stealing Rs. 57.60. He was suspended from his job, and a criminal case was filed against him. After over 300 hearings over 29 years, he was declared innocent in November 2013. In the meanwhile, he remained suspended from his job for almost 26 years till his retirement in 2010. He and his family suffered financial problems and social stigma. They think that their future is destroyed.

Umakant Mishra and his family have suffered immensely, for no fault of theirs, for Rs. 57.60, which was not a big sum even in 1984. Even if he was guilty, this punishment is unfair.

Compare Umakant Mishra’s case with people who get away with massive corruption, sexual crimes and worse only because they are wealthy and/or powerful enough to influence the police investigation in addition to having the means to hire highly paid lawyers who can get them proved innocent in a court of law.

Was Umakant Mishra punished for being a humble postman, not a powerful and wealthy politician or businessman?