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January 8, 2000
M D Riti
When Bangalore resident P N Ramesh sent chief minister S M Krishna e-mail complaining about the bad state of the city's roads in general, and those in his neighbourhood in particular, he expected little more than a Dear John kind of reply.
"The Bangalore City Corporation is now geared towards positive change," wrote Krishna to Ramesh. "People should also co-operate, refrain from digging up roads indiscriminately without obtaining permission, littering, urinating in public places, spitting, sticking posters on public property, destroying lung spaces and the like."
A delighted Ramesh responded: "Thank you for the response from the concerned departments in this regard. They have indeed filled up the potholes and taken up clearing on the 5th and 6th Main Road repair work. I expect they will complete it soon."
Somanahalli Mallayya Krishna, the newly cyber-addicted chief minister of Karnataka, opened two e-mail accounts about two months ago. Now, he gets about 250 e-mail letters on an average every day from the general public.
Surprisingly, he spends at least half an hour of his busy day replying personally to a good number of these e-mail letters.
Letter writers who try to use this as a forum to reiterate their demands for jobs, better pay or transfers, and think they have got their point across satisfactorily, usually get a nasty surprise. Some doctors from the Chikmagalur chapter of the Contract Doctors' Association of Karnataka wrote to Krishna asking him to regularise their jobs and increase their salaries. And got an unexpected admonition from him:
"The profession of a doctor is very noble," wrote an irate Krishna. "Think of the multitude of youngsters who would give anything to get where you are. It is time for you to count your blessings and help the poor and ailing: all else is secondary."
Those citizens who write long letters suggesting how administration should be restructured, corruption eradicated and taxation made more realistic, seem to get quite a patient hearing.
"It is my dream that Bangalore becomes what Singapore is today, if not better," replied Krishna to Mani Arthanari.
"I have directed the heads of (various agencies involved with city planning and administration) to work out a plan of action for the next five years. These agencies will make public this plan on January 22nd. I am also directing this message of yours to all the heads of the departments so that they can incorporate your suggestions in their plans."
Krishna actually does forward copies of the original messages and his replies to whatever departments they directly concern, all of whom now have new e-mail accounts. He also expects these departments to keep him informed on e-mail about their progress on whatever complaints they have received by these means.
Sometimes, he even waxes eloquent, like all new e-mail newbies, in his responses. "Karmanya vadi karvasya ma phaleshu," he wrote to Milind D Inamdar, who wrote to him, "We have great expectations from you." Continued Krishna: "Do your duties sincerely and leave the results to me, says Krishna in the Bhagawat Gita. I am doing my duty as the chief minister of the state very sincerely, in the best interest of all citizens of the state. I agree that this e-mail facility helps reduce barriers between the authorities and the people."
In his huge office room on the third floor of Vidhana Soudha, the state government secretariat building in Bangalore, a PC with speakers and modem occupies pride of place against a wall facing the door. Krishna's own desk, a compact, comfortable affair, is situated a few feet away.
Sometimes, you can see Krishna sitting at his own terminal, trying to read his mail. But more often, it is a small staff of three or four young people identified by him, you see sitting there, sifting through his mail.
"Whenever our chief minister is in his chambers, there are hordes of visitors, supplicants and members of the general public crowding the corridors outside waiting to see him," says a member of his secretariat.
"It is very difficult for him, in those circumstances, to either find the time or space to read his mail or work at his PC. It is mostly at his official residence, where he has installed a PC and a leased line that you can catch him actually browsing through his mail."
Usually, Krishna only sees hard copies of his mail, presented to him every evening in a cardboard file. His messages are downloaded, printed, filed and handed over to him at the end of the day. Krishna usually looks at them at night and gives them back the next morning, with his replies scribbled in his sometimes-scrawly handwriting in the margins. His staff deciphers his sometimes tired or straggly writing, keys in his words and shoots off replies to all the people who have written to him.
His staff sometimes replies to routine festival greetings or messages of goodwill. Anything more important is shown to him. Interestingly, only a couple of the messages he has ever received are nasty or uncomplimentary.
Why is Krishna devoting so much time and attention to his e-mail? Is it a continuation of the image-building binge he has been on from the day he took over? Or is he just acting like the typical new Net user, who accesses his e-mail like an addict for the first year of his introduction to the world-wide web, and only then progresses to exploring other dimensions of Internet?
"According to our studies, about 35 per cent of Bangalore is now on the Net," responds a member of his staff. "Our chief minister genuinely feels that enabling them to reach him by e-mail will help reduce the number of visitors crowding his house and office every day. He also feels that it will make it possible for people to brief him in detail about their problems.
"Had they met him in person, he could only have spared them a minute or two, which is usually most insufficient.
"If only more and more people use my e-mail accounts to reach me, it will help both them and me," Krishna told rediff.com.
"This way, they can be sure that their messages reach me directly, and they are spared the hardship of waiting in queues and anterooms."
Now that you know that, if you are in Karnataka and facing a problem, you know you can just write to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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