Ban flowers, end sycophancy
The other day I met Jyoti Mirdha in the Central Hall in Parliament. Jyoti Mirdha is a first term MP with an attitude of a six termer.
Elected from Nagaur constituency in Rajasthan, her claim to fame is her grandfather Nathuram Mirdha who was a Congress leader. Her father-in-law Krishna Gehlaut is also a Congressman but from Haryana. In all probability, Jyoti was handpicked to contest this election on grounds that her grandfather’s legacy would see her through. It did and doctor turned MP Jyoti found herself in the Lok Sabha.
All through the ten days that Parliament was in session, I saw Jyoti in the Central Hall chatting away with colleagues from the Congress. Fair enough and legitimate. Even at the outset she appeared distant: not lost but aloof. What, however, surprised me was when she refused to talk to the media. She told me: “Since I have been elected all that I am doing is giving interviews. For sometime I will not. I have other things to attend to”. And she went back to hobnobbing.
My problem is not with Jyoti or others not talking to the media. Neither is it with the fact that she spent most of her time in the Central Hall instead of Lok Sabha.
For those who are unfamiliar, the Central Hall of Parliament House is used by members of Parliament as a common lobby for informal discussions among themselves. Many make a beeline for it because of its air-conditioning and the fact that the food there is very cheap. You can eat as much and feed as many but the cost will never exceed the double digit. In fact, you can never find change for a hundred-rupee note and if you pull out a five hundred rupee one, chances are the waiter will die of shock.
More seriously, it was in the Central Hall that India began its tryst with Destiny on the midnight of August 14-15 1947. The Constituent Assembly, which framed the Constitution of India, met here. The President of India addresses members of both House of Parliament in the Central Hall. Its dome, some 98 feet high, is among the most magnificent in the world.
Anyway back to Jyoti and others. My problem with people like her is one of attitude. Or the airs, once in power. Or their sense of self-importance. It is this attitude which ultimately leads to a disconnect with people and in turn reality.
This is not a new phenomenon. It is typical of many politicians who have been in public life for decades. But younger MPs are down to earth and have no airs. Be it Supriya Sule, Priya Dutt, Jitin Prasada or Milind Deora. It is not that they are not busy. Each nurses his or her constituency as best as they should and are doing good work. But they have no airs or attitude. Sadly, many ministers or MPs forget that the formula to stay in power is humility and accessibility.
While on ministers, I came across something very interesting; actually appalling. During my rounds of ministries last week, I found special signboards placed outside the elevators.
In the Health Ministry, for instance, there are two elevators. During peak hours, both go up full to their capacity. The offices of both the ministers, Cabinet and minister of state, are on the first floor while others work on higher floors. Unavoidable because that is how the offices are demarcated. Of the two elevators, one is only for use of the minister and his deputy, with a signboard: “Lift reserved for Honorable Health Minister”.
Till recently, they were braving the heat and dust and seeking votes from an electorate who now cannot share a lift with them. It is this segregation, which is the undoing of most politicians and political parties: their inability to rub shoulders with the common man. People in public life disconnected with the public? Defies all logic.
This brings me to yet another point: of the trend of carrying bouquets and garlands to felicitate the new MPs and ministers. Dozens of bouquets of flowers wrapped in cellophane, lying around to be thrown in the trashcan at the end of the day. Often there are garlands some two feet or even longer; in marigold and sometimes sandalwood. What use are these except to flatter those in power?
Or the pictures on the office walls which change with every government. When the BJP was in power and Atal Behari Vajpayee was Prime Minister, every government office had his picture put up. In the last round it was Manmohan Singh. Thank God he was re elected Prime Minister otherwise another mug shot of yet another Prime Minister, more photographs in the trashcan and public money down the drain.
Isn’t it much simpler to put up pictures, which do not get outdated? Like the Constitution of India or the national flag? This would be the right thing to do with a two fold advantage: one it would be economical and two it would send a message that people holding high office are subservient to the Constitution of India rather than their respective leaders. A beginning must be made and this the ministers need to do: Put a stop to wasting public money and perhaps reword the signboard near the lift: “Ban flowers; end sycophancy”