Monday, 21 March 2016


     Those joining the IAS come form all religious faiths and creeds, excluding possibly the Mormons and born-again Adventists . But for any IAS probationer training in a district there is only one God- the Deputy Commissioner. The DC( as he is generally known) has all the attributes of divinity, is to be obeyed without question, can make no mistake, is the acme of success, represents the majesty of the state, and his every word is etched in stone. That was the prevailing general wisdom in the spring of 1976 when I was informed at Mussoorie that I had to do my district training in Mandi district in Himachal: the DC, I learnt, was one Mr. C.D.Parsheera of the 1967 batch.
    Mr. Parsheera was precisely 5 feet 3 inches tall and it took me some time to spot him behind the huge table ( mounted on a two foot high platform) from where generations of DCs had dispensed justice. He handed me a folder and said, with an impish gleam in his eye that was his hallmark:         "Shukla, here's your training schedule in various offices. But your real training will be at my residence, from 7.00 PM to 10.00 PM every evening. Don't even think of missing it!"
   And that's how it was for the next six months. During the day I learnt the hardware of government- rules, procedures, processes, programmes- and in the evenings the vital software and OS, without which the former was useless. Mr. Parsheera was fond of the Hippocrene and used to boast that he could do what even Jesus could not: whereas Jesus converted water into wine, he could convert wine into water!- and he did, prodigious quantities of it. But I'm getting ahead of my tale.
   On my first visit to the DC residence that evening I was shown into an empty sitting room; I was as nervous as a patient in a dentist's chair. I straightened my tie. combed back my hair ( I had plenty of it back then), polished my shoes with my hankie and sat back, as if reclining on an egg souffle . Presently, a little wire haired terrier ambled into the room with a swagger that indicated it was aware of its exalted position as the DC's dog. It saw me, gave a magisterial bark as if asking me to identify myself. I sat still, unaware of the social status of a DC's dog. The little horror walked over to me and started sniffing around my ankles. Suddenly, it raised one leg and piddled all over my polished shoes! I instinctively kicked out, landing a satisfying blow on its ribs: the pooch howled and made for the door- through which in walked the DC. His practiced eye took in everything in an instant.
" Shukla," he asked in a menacing voice, " did you just kick my dog?"
" Yes, sir, " I blurted, " he piddled all over my shoes."
" Consider yourself privileged, young man- he usually ignores all probationers. But don't EVER kick my dog again."
" But...but..sir," I tried to explain, sticking one foot out," my shoes..."
" Irrelevant!" ruled Mr. Parsheera. " Take this as your first lesson: A DC's dog ranks above an IAS probationer at all times, and you will not raise your voice, let alone your foot, against him ever again." So that was my first lesson in service, and a good one too, for in the IAS your batch and seniority determine the rest of your life. In fact, there's nothing more interesting than watching two IAS officers, strangers to each other, meeting for the first time: they will circle around each other like two wolves in a wolf pack, sniffing tentatively, trying to determine each other's batch; once that is figured out and the pecking order established, normal social behaviour is restored.
   The evenings at Mr. Parsheera'a house, with the whiskey flowing like a perennial mountain stream, taught me more about government than the year I spent in the Academy. His core team, hardened Bacchanalians all of them, comprised ( if I remember correctly) Mohar Singh the G.A, T.R. Sharma the SDM( Sadar), Captain Hiralal the LAO, and Dr. Pandeya the C.M.O. Listening to this merry band of Revenue Officers I was exposed to the entire gamut of survival techniques needed to progress in the bureaucracy: how to handle the ego ( and more important, the personal staff) of a visiting Chief Minister or Governor, how to keep an MLA on your side without doing his work, how to extract a new car from a stingy Finance Department, how to reply to an Assembly Question without giving any  worthwhile information, how to control an unruly mob when the police have all run away, how to show the same water-harvesting structure from four different angles in order to quadruple the performance statistics! Invaluable strategies that stood me in good stead and later enabled me to rise even higher than my generally acknowledged level of incompetence.
   Mr. Parsheera was only about 32 years old at the time but looked like he was 22 or so, as all Lahaulas do till the day they are buried. but he was mature and seasoned far beyond his years and watching him deal with the public and politicians was a treat. He was also instinctively smart and savvy far beyond his humble beginnings in a small Lahaul village. To cite just one example: he hardly ever went to the District Club even though he was its President, though he would tipple at home every night. I once asked him about this and his reply was: " To avoid rubbing shoulders with people who have have some work with me. Always remember, Shukla, its very difficult to say NO to a person with whom you've had a drink the previous night,"
   On one occasion he asked me to accompany him to Shimla for a meeting, just to prove to me what a waste of time Secretariat meetings were. In those simpler days DCs had no cars, just Willy's Jeeps. Mr. Parsheera insisted on driving himself, his boyish head barely visible above the steering wheel. We drove into Shimla at full speed , the black flag of the DC fluttering imposingly from the bonnet. At the bus stand we were stopped by a police constable, an unusual occurrence for a DC's car. The constable walked over to Mr. Parsheera's window, looked meaningfully at the flag, patted the DC on his right cheek and said: " Beta, jab Papa gadi me nahi hote hain to jhandi utar diya karo." ( Son, when your dad is not in the car then you should remove the flag). Completely unabashed, Mr. Parsheera pointed at me, said " Yeh mere papa hain !" ( He is my Dad!) and drove on. There was nothing officious about him ( as a tribal boy who had made it to the IAS there was nothing left for him to prove) and he could always see the funny side of things- another survival technique, by the way!).
   Mr. Parsheera was keen that I should marry a beautiful Mandi girl. In those days Mandi was known as the Paris of north India and its girls were pretty, fashionable and educated. I was advised by the DC that I should hang out at Gandhi Chowk every evening and in no time at all my plight would be trothed with some hill beauty. Now, for those not acquainted with Mandi town, Gandhi Chowk is to Mandi what Connaught Place used to be to Delhi or Oxford Street to London- the fashionable hub for the young and trendy. Gandhi Chowk is the offline equivalent of where couples suss out each other, meet, date and eventually tie the knot till debt do them part. For a probationer, " advice" from a DC is actually an Order, so I took to hanging out at Gandhi Chowk every evening, circumambulating around the statue in the middle more times than the Orbiter has gone around Mars. It was, however, to no avail: the maidens of Mandi were not only beautiful, they were also smart and obviously detected in me the fatal flaw which in later years prevented me from becoming Chief Secretary! They stayed away, and I had to go back to Kanpur to find a wife- in UP you can be a lump of Kryptonite, but if you are in the IAS, your marriage prospects are bright. For Mr. Parsheera, however, it was an abiding regret that he could not succeed in this venture.
  One never forgets one's first DC, just as one never forgets one's first love. My DC died young. Mr. Parsheera suffered a massive heart attack while crossing the Rohtang pass in 1983 and was dead by the time they brought him to Manali. I attended his wake the next day at Manali: it was the last evening I spent with him and got thoroughly drunk. I know he would have approved.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016


     Most readers would recollect the stirring conclusion of Mr. Narender Modi's speech at Madison Square Gardens last year. " May the Force be with you!" he thundered to a delirious audience of NRIs, and we the resident Indians thought: here is the strong leader we have been waiting for, now for the Good Times.
    What we have got instead is a farce starring a con-man and a God -man, though I must admit it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish one from the other. The responses to my last post on the subject( SIZE DOES MATTER OR THE ART OF LIVING ARROGANTLY- 10th march 2016) and subsequent developments have thrown up a whole list of questions, issues and suggestions that need to be shared with the readers so that we can better understand the ramifications of a burlesque which would have been funny if it did not involve the collapse of all our institutions. A farce is a comedy with a ludicrously improbable plot- it is not supposed to happen in real life. But in India it IS happening, and given below are some of the disturbing questions and interesting observations that the Mallya/ Sri Sri Ravishankar affairs have raised:

[1] Does it behove a Prime Minister to inaugurate a function which has been held by two superior courts to be in gross violation of laws and a " natural disaster"? An event which, according to two court appointed expert committees, has caused " irreversible damage" to the ecology of the Yamuna flood-plain ? Mr. Modi, through his Minister Mr. Javadekar, has proved time and again that the natural environment is not a priority with him notwithstanding the posturing at COP15 in Paris, but should he not have respected the laws of the land at least? The Courts? The Constitution, which he swore to protect and which enjoins upon him to uphold the legal covenents of our country? The President displayed this sensitivity when he withdrew from the valedictory function and he must be commended for this. By not acting similarly Mr. Modi has once again demonstrated the contempt he has for public opinion when it does not conform to his own. Even more dangerous, he has also shown his disdain for the law. Is this a precursor of things to come ?

[2]  This has not been a good month for the judiciary, and I am not referring to the lack of action against the thuggish Patiala House lawyers, or to the judgement of Justice Pratibha Kumari , or even to Justice Karnan of the Madras High Court threatening to lodge an FIR against two Supreme Court judges for partially stripping him of his powers! I am referring to the inexplicable surrender by the NGT ( National Green Tribunal) to Sri Sri Ravishankar in giving him the green signal for his dubious function ( discussed in my last piece). This unusual restraint has now been further compounded by once again seeming to give in to the God man's defiance and allowing him to pay the compensatory fine of Rs. 5 crores in INSTALMENTS ! What shall we have next- EMI's ? Cash back coupons if you pay through PAYTM ? Reward points if you pay through credit cards ? And shall this corporate approach also be extended to imprisonments- serve your time in instalments, interrupted by conjugal breaks a-la- Sanjay Dutt  ? ( Of course, parole and furloughs on specious grounds shall be additional benefits).

[3]  Both the Supreme Court and the NGT have unjustly castigated the petitioner ( who filed the PIL against the AOL event on the Yamuna flood-plain) for approaching the courts  late, and also ruled that since all preparations for the function had been completed it could not be disallowed even though it was violative of environmental regulations. I find this position puzzling. Was it not the duty of govt. agencies ( of whom Delhi already has a surfeit) to have taken AOL to court, rather than that of the petitioner? Why castigate the one responsible citizen among Delhi's teeming millions who had the social conscience to protest?  And is there a limitation for reporting an illegal activity ?
The Court's second objection- that it was too late in the day to stop the function- is even more intriguing. I am not a lawyer with a law degree ( not even a forged one from Ghaziabad) and far be it for me to catechize their honourable lordships, but I do have a nagging doubt/ question--if a murder is about to be committed and all arrangements made for knocking off some poor benighted soul, should the police/ courts refuse to stop the killing on the ground that it would inconvenience the murderer ( and the chief guest at the carnage)? Okay, Okay, Sri Sri was just knocking off a river, not a homo sapiens, but isn't the logic and principle the same- viz. that if a crime is about to be committed the govt. HAS TO STOP IT , notwithstanding when it is brought to their notice ?

[4]  I wonder what Baba Ramdev, the other poster boy for Indian culture and all things spiritual, makes of the government's extraordinary endorsement of Sri Sri ? Is he just a trifle worried and feeling threatened? It does appear that the two are slugging it out for the position of BJP's Guru Number One. If Ramdev got Z category security Sri Sri got the Indian army to build him a pontoon bridge. While Ramdev demonstrated his clout by making the Khadi Board sell his Patanjali products, Sri Sri showed he was no mean pushover by ensuring all Indian missions in 155 countries hawked his World Cultural Festival through govt. channels! The battle for Supreme Spiritual Leader is hotting up. My guess is that the Baba will now be compelled to organise a similar jamboree as that of Sri Sri, and not to be found wanting, knock off the Ganga at Rishikesh . Will it now be open season for all God-men, with Baba Ram Rahim doing his bit for the Ghaggar in Haryana too ?

[5]  Some of my readers have posed an interesting question: India has a practically unblemished record in letting major scamsters flee the country ( Dawood, Quattarochi, Lalit Modi, and now Mallya); the one blot on our escutcheon has been the imprisonment of the Sahara Shri, Subroto Roy. Should we not remove this taint on our otherwise spotless record by giving him a chance to leave the country too ? I feel we should otherwise, this amounts to discrimination: in fact, I am surprised that MS Mayawati and Mulayam Singh have not spoken out in his favour yet; even Mr. Deve Gowda has roused himself from his slumber to announce that Mallya should be given a chance ( to do what?) and that he is after all a son of Karnataka. I guess he should know- after all he nominated Mallya( with support from the BJP) to the Rajya Sabha.

[6]   Which brings me to another question/ observation from a second reader viz. How much of the bank loans was paid to secure the Rajya Sabha nomination, and shouldn't the party/ parties that nominated him be held equally accountable for the default ? A tricky legal question, I admit, but does this explain the govt's muted response to his flight ( if not the tip-off that enabled the flight) and to Mr. Gowda's wake up call ? Maybe the Election Commission should add a column to this effect in the nomination forms for the Rajya Sabha,

[7]  The BJP has lost the moral high ground to the Congress: if the latter( actually, there's no "if" about it) allowed Quattorochi to leave, the former has done a similar favour to Mallya. I have no doubt about it at all, notwithstanding the govt's limp defense of not being in possession of a court order to stop his departure. Pure Goebellsian humbug and prevarication. In the first place, this same govt. didn't need a court order to stop the Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai from flying to London last year to meet British MPs. She didn't have a single legal charge against her. What made them so coy about using the same power against a person who was in fact a criminal on the day ? Secondly, Section 10 of the Indian Passport Act empowers the revoke a person's passport if he has a criminal case registered against him, or if doing so is in the public interest. Both could have been used against Mallya; the CBI had registered a PE against him as far back as 2014 for diversion of the Rs. 900 crore loan taken from IDBI, he had been declared a wilful defaulter by at least one bank in 2012, and he had committed serious crimes by embezzling the Provident fund of employees, misappropriating hundreds of crores of govt. funds by collecting TDS and Service Tax from passengers/ employees  but not depositing it with the govt. Had both the past and present govts. done their job, Mallya should have been in jail long before he fled. The least Mr. Arun Jaitley and his merry men should have done, therefore, was to prevent him from flying the coop.

[8]  Mr. Mallya is not coming back: he would be stupid to do so ( even if Arnab Goswami were to suddenly lose his voice), and stupid he isn't. The govt. will go through yoga-like motions to get him back, but unlike what is prescribed in Baba Ramdev's manual, the govt. will not be holding its breath. These amazing contortions will, like Sri Sri's festival, be for your benefit only and intended to shroud the stink that emanates from the corridors of power( not the Yamuna, as is made out). Because the simple fact is that nobody of any consequence wants Mallya back- not the politicians who recommended his loans, not the bankers who happily gave them away, not the enforcement agencies who looked the other way, not the bureaucrats who partied on his yachts, not the Parliamentarians who owe similar, if not more, money to the banks. Because Mallya knows too much, and if he starts singing like Enrique Eglesias ( who sang his swan song at his birthday bash in Goa recently) the roof will come down on the worthies mentioned above.

   Much better to let him go like a bad wet dream that has served its purpose. After all , we're growing at 7.5%, aren't we ? Any economist will tell you that corruption grows at twice the rate of GDP growth. The farce continues according to the dictum of George Burns:
" You've got to be honest-- if you can fake that, you've got it made."

Thursday, 10 March 2016


    We are a strange country: our leaders and the elite are small minded in just about everything they do but  think BIG when it comes to breaking the law. As no doubt befits a country which is almost a continent and will be the world's most populous country in ten years, size does matter in India as the two individuals hogging the headlines this past week demonstrate so effectively- Vijay Mallya and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
   The two, at first impression, could not be more removed from each other: one is a connoisseur  of the willing flesh, the other a shepherd of the lost soul. But look more closely and you'll discover that the two are more alike than different. They are both shadowy entrepreneurs par excellence, net- working artistes, possessors of outsized egos, both have been selling dreams for years to gullible investors-Mallya to those who invest in the stock market and Ravi Shankar to those who invest in the futures market of a divine afterlife! But what DOES unite them is the sheer size of their respective scams and their belief that their size alone makes them immune from any accountability or responsibility to society.
  This is perfectly in consonance with India's prevailing cultural, administrative and legal ethos which postulates that a small crime is punishable but a big crime is exempt from the consequences of law. Big is beautiful. If you were to kill one person, chances are that you would get caught and punished. But if you kill fifty or sixty people in a communal riot or mob violence you won't even be mentioned in an FIR- there is a long list of such carnages, Muzzafarnagar being the latest one in which a judicial commission, no less, has absolved everyone of responsibility and blamed instead a nebulous "intelligence failure". If you rape one woman you're dead meat, but if you rape a dozen as reportedly happened in the Jat violence near Murthal last month, you'll probably get the ruling party ticket for the next Assembly elections- any number of " mahabalis" in ALL parties testify to this.
   If you tweet that Shiv Sainiks have no right to gridlock traffic just because Bal Thackeray has passed away you will be booked for sedition( as two young Pune girls were), but if you advise all Muslims to go to Pakistan if they wish to eat beef( as many current Union Ministers have done vociferously) you will be felicitated at public functions.
  If you default on even one EMI on your car loan your car will be " repossessed" forcibly by the Bank goons, but if you refuse to pay up an outstanding loan of a billion US dollars you will be nominated to the Rajya Sabha and have Bank CEOs, Ministers, star journalists and officers lining up at your Bacchanalian orgies.
    Cheating individually at a Medical entrance exam may be a big mistake but if you do so in an organised manner a-la-Vyapam along with a few thousand others in a multi- crore swindle you are likely to get your MBBS degree in due course, because no one will even investigate the scam which has the blessings of just about everyone in the system. The bigger the scam the more immune it is from any scrutiny.
  If you burn a few leaves in Delhi to warm yourself in the biting cold you will be slapped with a fine of five thousand rupees. But if you devastate and rape 1000 acres of the Yamuna plains and waterfront you will have the President and the Prime Minister attending your jamboree.
   Both Mr. Mallya and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar are exceptionally intelligent persons and have quickly grasped this essential truth of the Indian psyche and legal system. The former milked it for all it was worth for years, taking more than 7000 crores of money from banks( money that belonged to you and me). He paid dues to no one- not the government, banks, employees, oil companies- while those who should have been ensuring that he paid up either looked the other way or got drunk at his parties. After all, they reasoned, someone who has just robbed the country of more than a billion dollars is not a man to be trifled with. And so he strutted about the central hall of Parliament like an aging rooster, mingling effortlessly with others of his kind, and when things got too hot he just upped and left the country. We will see no more of Mr. Mallya, notwithstanding the mumblings of a Finance Minister, because you see, our legal fishing net is an inverted one- it catches the small fry but lets the big fish escape!
   The case of Art of Living ( AOL) and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is even more intriguing: Mallya at least made no bones about his being the sensual man, but the reverend Sri Sri claims to be a spiritual and holy man, a votary of nature, custodian of culture, a humble savant of the divine. It is now clear he is nothing of the sort- he is just another Mallya in sheep's clothing, more intent on extracting crores from donors, in making an international splash and getting his name into the Guinness Book of Records. Why else would he insist on destroying a thousand acres of a river's precious wetland that has the capacity to supply 1 million cubic meters of water every year to a parched Delhi? Why else would he bulldoze, flatten, defoliate and devegetate the floodplains of the Yamuna inspite of a public outcry? His avaricious ambition is bad enough; even worse is his blatant and insensitive defence that he is bringing international attention to the Yamuna and to the methane gases that it extrudes !
   But he has got away with it, just as Vijay Mallya got away with it , and before him Lalit Modi. He  even has the world's fifth largest army helping him to destroy the river, and has demanded that the government give him another Rs. 53 lakhs to clear the muck that HE AND HIS DISCIPLES WILL GENERATE OVER THREE DAYS!
   He got away because of the sheer size of his operation-- 1000 acres, 35000 musicians, a 7 acre stage, 3.50 million participants. He got away because the entire system caved in. We are not surprised that all political parties have connived at this monstrous violation and obscenity, that the termite infested DDA, Central Pollution Control Board and MOEF silently watched this rape of a dead river ( necromancy?). What has outraged most right thinking people, however, is the manner in which the NGT ( National Green Tribunal) has endorsed and permitted this blatant wrongdoing. Instead of immediately issuing an injunction to stop all work when the matter was brought to its notice, it dithered over it and allowed the pillaging of nature  to continue unabated. It maintained this cerebral paralysis even when its own expert committee reported that " irreversible" damage( quantified at Rs. 120 crores or US $ 20 million) had already been caused. The NGT noted that its own order of 15th January 2015 that no work of any kind is permitted on the Yamuna flood plains had been violated by AOL. It found that no permission for the function had been accorded by either the MOEF or the Pollution Control Board, and that DDA had exceeded its authority in granting permission. Pretty conclusive, you would think ? More than enough to finally deny approval for the event?
   Not at all. By a logic that surpasses all understanding the NGT has actually ALLOWED THE FUNCTION TO GO AHEAD. It has imposed a paltry Rs. 5 crore fine on AOL which will never be paid and a Rs. 500.000 penalty which will have to be paid by the tax-payer. In any case its not the mandate of the NGT to garner revenues for the government: its job is to protect the environment and implement environmental laws- it has clearly failed to do so in this case. It has let down the citizens of Delhi and reaffirmed Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's faith in his megalomania.
   If the venerated Sri Sri and Vijay Mallya exemplify the art of living all one can say is:
" Death, where is thy sting?"