March 31, 2020
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Feeling Full

Feeling Full
Old soldiers never die, they only fade away, and so do journalists, I am coming to realise. When no longer required for active duty, we splutter on attending seminars and giving lectures. I certainly felt so when my old bbc colleague Satish Jacob, reincarnated as a correspondent for Worldview India on DD, was reporting the travails of Baghdad and I was setting off at an ungodly hour to lecture in one of the remoter parts of India. But this wasn’t travel for travel’s sake, just an excuse to keep moving, but it didn’t turn out like that.

It was appropriately enough Chhattisgarh’s director of public relations, Shailesh Pathak, who first explained how the state, until two years ago considered one of the most backward parts of Madhya Pradesh, was being put on the map of India. All the way from the airport to the chief minister’s bungalow, he reeled off a list of Chhattisgarh’s achievements, its progress down the road to ‘good governance, good infrastructure’, which is the state’s mantra if not its motto. The number of ministries has been slashed, the state-owned corporations dismantled, that redundant relic of the Raj—the commissioner—has been sent packing, the tehsildar’s powers of obfuscation have been taken from him, the serried ranks of government employees have been slashed....

I expected that a CM who had been busy achieving all that would only have time for a hurried breakfast with me. Not at all. After south Indian idlis, we came to British Indian omelettes and chicken cutlets, and when we reached north Indian paranthas, I had to say "no, thank you". Much of the breakfast was occupied by Ajit Jogi—who, in spite of keeping his boyish good looks, will be 57 this year—telling me how he went from a tribal village into the ips. When he realised the ias was considered superior, he passed that exam. He recalled how uncertain he’d been about giving up his secure life for the insecurities of politics when Rajiv Gandhi offered him a seat in the Rajya Sabha and a prominent position in the Congress. But he now clearly feels he has mastered the art of politics too. He didn’t seem the least concerned about the threat of a revolt led by my old sparring partner in the Emergency days, Vidya Charan Shukla. When I asked how he had taken so many measures which reduced the power, perks, and privileges of his partymen and the bureaucrats without whose cooperation no government can function, he replied, "I acted in the first flush of enthusiasm for the new state. Now I have to face the consequences with an election this year. When I win that, there’ll be more reforms." There will be, I am sure, if his confidence in the electoral outcome is justified.

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