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'Sometimes I feel ashamed to be the prime minister of the country'

Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral could weep. And would, if it could help matters.

But, you see, the good Gujral knows it can't help matters. So he keeps smiling.

Occasionally, however, the calm front cracks. And the ex-diplomat comes out with an undiplomatic statement. Like it happened on Friday morning.

"It is most distressing," Gujral said with a weary shake of his head. "Sometimes, I feel ashamed to be the prime minister of the country." The admission came after his Friday ritual of meeting the general public.

For the uninitiated, Gujral's Friday mornings are reserved for the general public. That is when he listens to hundreds of long-standing grievances.

This Friday, the prime minister met more than 300 people, most of whom pleaded for jobs. A large number peasants, mostly from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, complained of land-grabbing and police inaction.

Thirty-year-old Suresh, who came all the way from Karnataka, is handicapped. Gujral, he said, was his lost hope.

Motiram Paswan, a labourer from Aurangabad in Bihar, was another who touched Gujral's heart. With folded hands, he told the prime minister that his four-year-old son had been killed and his land grabbed by anti-social elements. His complaints to the police had evoked no response. Not even a promise to investigate.

Darshana Devi, a widow from the capital's Uttam Nagar, wanted a house to live in. She said her husband had been in jail with the prime minister years ago.

And so it went for two hours. At the end of which Gujral rose, shook his head and exclaimed: "It is distressing, most distressing...."


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