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How power intoxicates politicians

By Aditi Phadnis
November 12, 2019 19:57 IST
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'Vajpayee told the minister disapprovingly: "One should not fight with the tools one uses".'
Ministers in the Modi government could have done with that advice.
Aditi Phadnis reveals instances of ministerial arrogance.

IMAGE: Haryana Governor Satyadeo Narain Arya administers the oath of office to Manohar Lal Khattar as the state's chief minister. Photograph: PTI Photo

"Arrogancy, madam... bahut arrogancy aa gayi thi inme," said an Uber driver belonging to Haryana as the results of the assembly elections trickled in and it became clear that far from reaching the target of winning 75 seats out of 90 in the assembly elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party would have to seek an alliance partner to form a government in the state.

'Their arrogance will come before a fall,' predicted Narendra Damodardas Modi at a public meeting ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha election, about the Congress.

He was right.

People don't forgive public humiliation and slights easily, more so if they have placed their leaders on a pedestal by empowering them via an election.

They see, they note, they file away in their mind.

Here are some incidents that may have contributed, at different times, to a collective perception that the powerful are getting above themselves and need to be taken down a peg or two.

The Congress was in power and an external affairs minister, highly regarded by the party but famed for his short temper, was preparing to address a press conference.

As is customary, a background brief was ready for circulation among reporters.

The minister started speaking and his director (who had reached where he was by dint of getting in the top five percentile of an extremely tough examination and gruelling interview, not via rhetoric, intrigue and politicking) began circulating the brief.

The rustle of the paper and the movement distracted the minister.

"Who asked you to do that? You b****y fool!" he raged.

The officer went white.

The reporters watched: Some with interests, but most with sympathy as the officer moved as if to take back the papers and then just left the room.

The stories are a legion.

In the last BJP government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a minister came to the prime minister, asking him to change his portfolio because his officers were not 'cooperating'.

Vajpayee told the minister disapprovingly: 'One should not fight with the tools one uses.'

A minister in the Modi government's first tenure could have done with that advice.

In the presence of guests, she peeked out of her fourth floor office window, looked at the secretary of her department -- a highly experienced but extremely stubborn IAS officer with whom she was engaged in an incessant war of attrition, and said, half playfully: 'What do you think will happen if I eject you out of the window? Will it make news?' The officer struggled to stay courteous and murmured something.

She then put the same question to her guests: 'What do you say? Shall I throw him out?' They shifted uncomfortably and changed the subject as the officer left the room.

The current government has its share of such stories too.

A minister took charge of his new assignment and summoned a meeting with officials, who filed in eager to make the acquaintance of their new boss.

He began by saying: 'If I say I think imports are really bad for India and should not be permitted, is there anyone who will disagree with this?'

One misguided individual felt he needed to make his position clear and raised his hand to explain how all imports were not bad and you could value-add and make money for India etc, etc.

The minister fixed a gimlet eye on him and asked him his name and designation.

Then he told him: 'My frank opinion is, you've been working here too long. You need to go on a long, long leave. Take a holiday or something... and try not to come back here.'

He then carried on as others present winced.

Many more such stories are available for those who want to hear them.

The video of Haryana Chief Minister M L Khattar that went viral midway through the assembly election may have had something to do with the BJP's sub-par performance.

Khattar is known for his incorruptibility, but not necessarily his accessibility.

In the video, a BJP supporter, who was also a member of the outgoing government's staff selection board, is seen trying to place a silver crown on Khattar's head as he stands before a crowd of people, waving a farsa (axe) gifted to him.

Khattar is clearly audible on the microphones as he twists to tell the supporter: 'What are you doing? I'm going to slit your throat with this axe if you don't stop.'

Later, Khattar explained, somewhat sheepishly, that he reacted because silver crowns belonged to the Congress culture of politics and the worker had served the BJP for years, so he would not mind Khattar's reprimand.

All that the worker was trying to do was raise Khattar's prestige.

At the end of the day, an election is an election is an election.

Sometimes, it pays to hear early warning signals.

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Aditi Phadnis
Source: source