No Minister

For obvious reasons I cannot disclose his name. But the lessons of life that he has taught me will remain embedded forever, and will be my guiding lights to tackle any situation. Let us call him Babu Anna.

He was barely out of his teens when he took up a government job. He continued his studies and worked his way up the hard path. He had become known for his efficiency, his presence of mind, and his ability to handle people. And that is when a politician eyed him. This politician ( whose name, alas, I must again keep confidential), was an illiterate man of the masses, a champion of the workers, and a sincere person who had the well being of everyone at heart. His problem was his lack of education, and he needed someone to supplement it. Initially in an informal capacity, and then subsequently as his official assistant, Babu Anna became his crutch and his right hand man.

The politician rose up to become a minister,and Babu Anna became the Private Secretary to the Minister. Any lesser mortal would have become drunk with power. It is open secret that Private Secretaries are more powerful than the Ministers themselves, and this case was no exception. Even more so since the minister was completely dependent on Babu Anna for all matters concerning the written word. The gentle minister trusted his worthy assistant and would promptly put his scrawling indecipherable signature whenever the latter would thrust a file under his nose. In many ways the secretary was more a minister than the minister himself.

There were occasions when the minister, being a man of the masses, would like to dole out largesse to the masses. There would be a throng of applicants, each wanting some favour of the other. The minister, having seen poverty and deprivation himself, was more than keen to oblige them. The only hitch was that the minister would promise more than what he could deliver. For after all the minister was a cog in the giant government machinery whose wheels do not move to the whims of one person, however high a position he may hold. And that is where, day after day, Babu Anna had to step in to save the situation.

In almost two decades of loyal service, Babu Anna probably never uttered the words "No, Minister". And yet every time he deftly managed to save the situation, and keep up the image of the honourable Minister.

His technique, when I look back at it, was quite simple, and yet ingenuous. He would immediately show his agreement, however unreasonable or impractical the minister's order was.And he would go on agreeing with the order, praising the applicant, lauding the minister's concern, and in fact suggesting that the person deserved even more. The "even more" in fact would turn out to be something completely different from what the minister had so generously "granted", and much within the framework of bureaucratic rules and regulations. And before anyone could realize the drastic change that has been brought about by the secretary's suggestion, the applicant would be whisked away into the other room to complete the paperwork!

Babu Anna has retired. The minister is no more. Today a new breed of politicians and bureaucrats have taken over the government. The innocence, the simplicity, and the sincerity does not exist any more. The loser is the common man.

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