Archive for July, 2011

Maximum city, minimum value

Thursday, July 28th, 2011 July 28th, 2011 Kalpana PathakKalpana Pathak

I am always told that Mumbai’s real estate market behaves differently than other real estate markets in the country. But despite several explanations, I fail to understand why.

And the difference is so great that even if you have a budget of Rs 50 lakh, you will not be able to buy a decent house. That kind of money will fetch you a bungalow in some northern states.

And it isnt just the asking price of the flat that you have to deal with. Add to that registration and other charges, and you will most likely end up in debt for the  better part of your productive years in order to garner finance for your ‘dream’ house.

What hurts is that even a distant suburb like Kharghar, in Navi Mumbai, commands a per-square-foot rate of over Rs 5,500-6,000! This, when there is no decent hospital in the vicinity, no decent public transport, no recreation centre, nothing. And the roads there are as bad as you would get anywhere else in Mumbai with over flowing dustbins.

In the past four years, the per-square-foot rate in Kharghar has jumped over 83 per cent while the infrastructure has not improved one bit.

The officials of City Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO), the nodal agency responsible for Navi Mumbai’s development, do not even bother tending to daily municipal jobs.

Flats in a locality where even a drizzle turns the road into a muddy track are going for as much as Rs 60 lakh. And if you don’t have your own vehicle, you could end up spending a good 30-45 minutes just commuting from the station to your house instead of the 10 minutes it should actually take.

In fact, infrastructure in Mumbai is always in an (never) improving mode. Wherever you go, Bandra or Andheri or Vashi, some nook and corner is always under construction.

Infrastructure and public transport is so pathetic that you can go to Igatpuri and come back, but you still cannot get your way through Andheri!

Added to this, the monsoon season. A thick sheet of rain and the city becomes the most difficult to live in. The trains will be late forever. Cabbies will abandon their vehicles. And you are stranded!

Flyovers and skywalks are always under construction. Roads are always dug up. staircases that were repaired six months ago will be again under repair. (I had once heard a contractor, on the radio, saying if they don’t re-repair the staircases and roads, how will they earn?)

And then, the train compartments never expand despite the burgeoning passenger capacity— the system carries more than 6.9 million commuters on a daily basis and constitutes more than half the total daily passenger capacity of the Indian Railways itself, says Wikipedia. Many people I know stay back late in office to avoid rush hour…and despite all this, Mumbai’s real estate market is always northbound.

Brainwashed

Thursday, July 28th, 2011 July 28th, 2011 Rrishi Raote

A washing machine ad from 1910A friend visiting from Singapore told me a story from real life that sounds to me like far-out escapist fiction. Here it is. One morning a few days after she — let’s call her Shobha — landed in this comically tiny island capitalist paradise, the washing machine in her house stopped working. Being Indian, Shobha girded her loins as she called the maintenance line, expecting the usual tussle with customer service. “Are you home?” said the man on the line. “Yes,” said Shobha, “but in half an hour I have to go to work.” “No problem, I’ll come now.” And he was there in eight minutes.

Maintenance Man checked the machine quickly and carefully, decided it would have to be changed, and phoned an associate. Fifteen minutes later the new machine had been delivered, installed, checked and explained, and the malfunctioning one taken away. A brief thank-you not involving cash, and Maintenance Man and his crew were gone. Shobha left home on time, but mildly discombobulated at the ease and pace of service.

True story!

I was gritting my teeth and thinking of lucky Shobha as my own family in Delhi struggled with the AC company that made and is supposed to maintain our home ACs, and its idiotic, rude and venal employees. At different times, this split unit has leaked, rattled, banged, stunk, disagreed with its own remote control and, most recently, the rotating fan on its indoor unit has fallen off. (Really.) Like a fool I allowed the repairmen, who arrived days later and at the wrong time, to take away the old fan to compare for a new part — and now it’s gone and the company claims nobody took any part and that anyway spare parts are no longer made for that AC, which was bought only in 2005. Yuck!

But Shobha, having lived now in Singapore for a while, has become pessimistic about the many conveniences of living in that authoritarian nation-state. New flats, she tells me, are often built without kitchens — because eating out is so cheap, wholesome and easy. Public transport is ridiculously easy — though to board a bus you must have exact change, as no change will be given you. The weather hardly ever changes — it is always warm and sweaty — but when there is rain then the TV and radio airwaves come alive not with monsoonal thrill but with complaints from Singaporeans about interrupted shopping.

Are they mad? Is all that convenience and cleanliness and rule-following mentally juvenilising?

Poor Singaporeans. They will need their unusually far-sighted and cynically ruthless leaders, because those leaders haven’t left them anything real to complain about. Singaporeans’ political instincts must have gone totally blunt.

Lucky us in India. Here, things are either terribly imperfect or lavishly paid for. So our political senses are in rude health. Our stupid rulers haven’t yet realised that the less their citizens have to complain about, the safer and more indispensable they can make themselves.

With one exception: the rulers of the city-state of Delhi, who are slowly, slowly, doing a Singapore on their middle-class citizens. No wonder Sheila Dikshit has the safest chief ministerial seat in the country.

The deserted village

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011 July 26th, 2011 Sreelatha Menon

Why are women from rural Bengal migrating so rapidly?  Recently Minister of Rural Development Jairam Ramesh was talking about states which deserve a lot of attention in terms of development funds and he left out Bengal, which prompted a  journalist to ask why it was left out from the group of other eastern states.  The matter ended in banter. But it doesn’t seem like an issue that should not be discussed any further,  especially when women are vying with men to flee the state in a migration rush, which is unprecedented.

Migration is today the magic wand for the poorest women and men in any part of the country. It most often improves their lot but the failures never come to light.  What it  also underlines is the failure of rural development programmes to keep at least poverty stricken and helpless women from almost forced migration.

Spending Rs 40,000 crore on national rural employment guarantee scheme for instance every year has not meant a thing for a divorcee like Jyotsna, a woman who has been rejected by her thrice-married husband for being unable to bear children.  She has never even heard of the programme that promises 100 days of employment.

Women don’t go and work in fields in our villages, not to speak of manual labour, says Saraswati her neighbour in the village of Jalangi from Murshidabad.  We may go to the extent of plucking chillies or working on ‘pat’ jute. But we won’t go dig by the road side, she says. NREGA offers no choice in terms of work, to the extent of making it anti women in states where there are cultural constraints for women to do manual labour.

The only work it offers is manual labour.

Another programme grandly called rural livelihood mission which offers assistance to take up income earning activity has not taken off yet in most villages in the country.

Jyoysna came to Delhi ten days ago in the hope of standing on her feet after the ignominious deal she got from her husband and the rejection by her parents. She is a waif, homeless and weak, without the strength to even shut a door.

I want to make money and get myself treated, she says. Though her husband has given her a divorce, she still wears her traditional white and red bangles, a red mark in the parting in her hair…My husband says that I should continue to do this as he is still alive. She is too timid and simple to defy such logic..

Now in Delhi she finds herself unable to find a foothold in any home as she cannot understand Hindi, cannot read or write , has not seen any modern gadget not even a knife, used only to peeling potatoes and cutting vegetables and fish with a `boti’ a curved  iron implement .

She is an instance of how totally untouched she is by the millions of rupees the government spends on development. There is no literacy programme, no livelihood programme, no food programme, no shelter programme….that has reached her.

There is no identifiable centre in the country where such people can just walk in and get help.

She was part of the consignment of women   from Murshidabad brought by a domestic workers agency in Delhi last fortnight.

Now with no training facilities, Jyotsna’s fate is to stumble from one house to another till she finally learns to survive, or returns home with broken dreams.

Meanwhile in her village of Jalangi in Murshidabad, the job cards of villagers show hardly any work done this year, and very little in the previous years.

Wasn’t NREGA supposed to stop migration?

India is poor, Indians are not

Monday, July 25th, 2011 July 25th, 2011 Tarun Chaturvedi

Sometime ago, the Swiss Banking Association came out with a report that contained a list with details of bank deposits in the territory of Switzerland by nationals of different countries. And yes, the guess is right, nationals belonging to our own motherland, India, topped the list.  Indians topped the list with $1,456 billion black money in Swiss banks, followed by Russia ($470 billion), UK ($390 billion), Ukraine ($100 billion) and China ($96 billion). In fact, the combined deposits of the next four nationalities was still less by around $300 billion when compared to India. It is embarrassing for any country to top the list of black money holders and more so for India where nearly 500 million people are surviving on less than $2 a day.

The above clearly points out to the growing amount of income disparity in India. A handful of Indians are the owners of deposits which exceed the GDP of the country, whereas the mass is still struggling with basic survival issues like housing, hunger, potable drinking water etc.

A recent Global Financial Integrity (GFI) report suggests that in India, the underground economy is closely tied to illicit financial outflows. The total value of illicit assets held abroad represents about 72% of the size of India’s underground economy which has been estimated at 50% of India’s GDP. Clearly, the fact of corruption is undeniable.

In the run-up to the 2009 general elections when the political controversy erupted relating to ‘back money’ stashed away in foreign banking havens most of us thought that the incumbent regime would crack the whip. However, little did we realise that in the heat of that political juncture, the issue had degenerated into a blame game. More than two years have gone by and the UPA –II has done precious little to tackle an issue that is of the highest importance to the socio-economic well-being of the country.

If adequate steps are not taken to address the issue black money and to tackle the issue of growing income disparity within the Indian society, our country would fast be recognised as a “POOR COUNTRY INHABITED BY RICH PEOPLE”.

In the wrong spirit

Friday, July 22nd, 2011 July 22nd, 2011 Veenu Sandhu

What is it about the United Spirits spoof on the Seagram Royal Stag advertisement featuring a Harbhajan lookalike that really pushes the boundaries of decency? After all, by now we are all used to brands taking potshots at their competitors. And we’ve quite enjoyed some of the creative strategies that have played out in these ad wars. It’s been fun to watch Coca-Cola and Pepsi, Nestlé and Cadbury, Sprite and Mountain Dew, Set Wet Zatak and Axe, and several others trying to pull the rug from below each other’s feet. But what Vijay Mallya’s United Spirits has done in its commercial for McDowell’s No. 1 Platinum is different and calls for some serious thinking.

For one, in all the above examples it was one brand pitched against the other. The joke was on the product, never on a person or, worse, his background. A quick recap of the two ads: The Royal Stag advertisement shows Harbhajan Singh opting for cricket instead of working in his father’s ball bearing manufacturing unit in Jalandhar and finally thinking aloud, “Have I made it large?” The spoof shows a Harbhajan lookalike making giant ball bearings, the size of gym balls, on his first day at his father’s factory and then asking, “Have I made it large?” In walks his father and gives him one slap across his cheek and says, “You were supposed to make ball bearings, not cannon balls.” The next shot shows Team India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who’s sitting in a swanky restaurant, saying, “Forget large, do something different.” The spoof might have been funny had Harbhajan’s story not been the story of his life.

I got to speak with Harbhajan Singh briefly soon after he scored two centuries in the India-New Zealand Test series in November 2010. The bowler had made history by becoming the first batsman at number 8 position to score consecutive Test centuries. During the interview conducted over the phone from an airport while he was waiting for his flight, Harbhajan said it was his father who had encouraged him to chase his dream of becoming a cricketer. Harbhajan has five sisters and comes from a modest family. Yet, his said, his father gave him the courage to follow his passion rather than take over an established family business which was small, but assured security. He also spoke of the dilemma he faced between cricket and the family business at the young age of 20 when his father died.

Should any brand be allowed to mock all this in its attempt to take on a rival? Is all fair, really, in love, war and advertising? I hope not. The ad ends up making fun not just of Harbhajan but also of his dead father.

Coming from where he does, Harbhajan has “made it large”. And so has Dhoni. The Indian cricket team captain who is listed by Time  magazine among the world’s 100 most influential people was also born into a modest family in Jharkhand where his father had shifted to from Uttarakhand in search of a job. The two great cricketers who have been pitched against each other in the advertisement chose to “do something different” and “made it large”. The taglines of both the brands in the surrogate ads apply to them both. So it’s really unfortunate that Dhoni should be part of this. Though he has said that he wasn’t aware of the line the advertisement was taking, that’s a bit difficult to believe. But if he really didn’t, then that is highly irresponsible for a person who comes across as a well-rounded, conscientious and clear-thinking individual. The Rs 26-crore, three-year deal that Dhoni has signed with United Spirits Ltd does not compel him to give the company the right to compromise on that image.

We shouldn’t need rules or guidelines to keep a check on something like this. A little bit of sensitivity from the advertisers would do. And the realisation that between the two, making it large carries more weight than doing something different, especially if the difference is at someone’s expense.

The longest 90 minutes of my life

Friday, July 22nd, 2011 July 22nd, 2011 J Jagannath

There used to be beatniks, peaceniks and these days there are coolniks. Everything that anyone does has to and is supposed to be cool. Be it the words they utter or the phone they brandish or their Facebook timeline, the underlining theme is, yes, ‘cool’. Being cool is passé as well, now it’s all about being uber-cool. This is just the sort of affliction Abhinay Deo has. He’s the man who made Delhi Belly with some able production support from the supposedly sole arbiter of sensible cinema in this part of the world, Aamir Khan.

Right off the bat let me make it clear that this isn’t a review where I’ll throw around intensifiers followed by the synonyms of either brilliant or horrible. And neither do I intend to piss on anyone’s parade. What really gets my goat about this egregiously execrable movie is its hollowness that’s being showed off as ‘boldness’. I didn’t know that mouthing the F-word (that too in the most effete manner possible) would make a movie ‘shocking’. For the last six weeks, I was addicted to this brilliant American series called Wire and, trust me; the variants of F- and S-words in it will leave you gobsmacked a.k.a ‘shocked’. Since we are so cool, female infanticide or farmers’ deaths or massive corruption is just sad, if ever they fall in our social radar. An erection on screen or blown up display of human feces or sonic variants of farts is what is, well, shocking.

I don’t mean to sound like an idealistic savant here. When a movie claims to have “broken new ground” in terms of “shock value”, I obviously would draw comparisons with the clitoral circumcision in Anti-Christ or the abandoned fetus scene in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days or the butter scene in Last Tango in Paris and so on.

New York Times was on its money in its review of the film,” Your average American sitcom, let alone summer comedy, outdoes “Delhi Belly” in rudeness and crudeness, though its graphic language and sexual candor are unusual for an Indian movie.” The point to be underlined is the “unusual for an Indian movie” part. Post-Internet, we shouldn’t be at the mercy of Indian film-makers to teach us what is profane or sacred. If a cerebral film-maker in Senegal has something to say, we should be all ears as well. A car boot load of non-funny gags passing off as ‘bold cinema’ cannot be construed as the zeitgeist of any generation. As long as we the audience demand such shoddy supply, movies like Delhi Belly will continue to be dumped on us.

In a nutshell, I wanted to chew my arm off than watch something as putrid as Delhi Belly.

The Afghan enigma

Thursday, July 21st, 2011 July 21st, 2011 Aditi PhadnisAditi Phadnis

Within days of the visit of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the Afghan religious leader who heads the High Council for Peace, US Secretary of state Hillary Clinton is in India. So business, but also Afghanistan and Pakistan are very much on the agenda as the first set of troops from the multi-national military force to keep Afghanistan stable, exit from the country.

What exactly is happening in Afghanistan? The Afghans say they are victims of foreign forces as well as sitting ducks in the feuds between the Taliban and anti-Taliban groups. The principal one among the latter is Hikmatyar group. But on his last meeting with Hamid Karzai, Qutbuddin Hilal, deputy in the Hikmatyar group put new demands: fresh elections and withdrawal of all foreign forces. This is impossible for any regime in Kabul to accept at this point.

There is little clarity about the aims and motivations of the Taliban itself.  It is most definitely not homogenous and does not have the support of all or most Afghans. The problem of course is, there are so many forces in Afghanistan - the Taliban, Mullah Omar, Hikmatyar, Wahabis, Pakistan Taliban, the drug mafia, Al Qaeda, ISI … Whom should the world negotiate with? Moreover, when dealing with Taliban how does anyone know they are negotiating with the right set of people and not imposters?

The US’s view of Taliban is – it is an extension of Al Qaeda. But those who live in South Asia know this is not the only Taliban.

from their point of view the Taliban are in a sweet spot. When they are in the ascendance, why should they talk to anybody? They already know that the military conditions will start changing now, as first set of western troops begin their departure from July 2011.

Reintegration of the Taliban is possible. Many have reintegrated. But two things have to be borne in mind: one - most of the suicide attacks have been carried out by reintegrated Taliban; and a US report says Taliban come from training, join the police force, get a gun, sell it and buy more weapons. The rate of desertion in the Army – which is one avenue for reintegrated Taliban – is very high.

The Taliban is disciplined and well organized. Diversity of opinion cannot lead to a split in their ranks. Mullah Omar’s personal prestige remains unchallenged. In Afghanistan, Al Qaeda is irrelevant. It is the Taliban and the Haqqani network which are central. Taliban can neither be defeated nor reconciled and only marginally integrated.

In the circumstances, what should the strategy in Afghanistan be?

First there is no unanimity about what the war is about and what the Western powers want to achieve. Some say it is a civil war. Some say tribal warfare. Other descriptions are that it is a global war against terror, that it is an energy related conflict, that it is a clash of two sets of Islamic fundamentalists and there is even a suggestion that it is an India-Pak war by proxy.

As long as there is no consensus on the definition, the conflict will continue.

Of all the global players in Afghanistan, the US and its allies are currently the most important. But the US is inconsistent about who its friends and enemies are in this region. One day, Pakistan is a strategic partner. The next day, it is a failing state.

And then, there are signs that management of Afghanistan could become a domestic political issue in the US with the forthcoming elections. This is worrying for although there is bipartisan support for the Afghan strategy, domestic politics could influences choices being made in Afghanistan.

There is also lack of clarity on US exit strategy. They are going out from Afghanistan but not leaving.Will they have permanent bases in Afghanistan or withdraw totally? All this not clear.

Post-exit also there are many questions: are they for reconciliation or not? What is their vision of a political solution? Currently there is a disconnect between the present government in Afghanistan and the US, especially on reconciliation.

Unfortunately even Pakistan doesn’t have too much faith in the US any more.The US is unable to put a stop to Arab nations’ funding of the Taliban.

But one thing is clear: There is cautious optimism in the Afghan military that the surge is working. The military surge has been successful in some places including North East, North and the North West. But it has been most successful in the Northern Areas. There was a time when it was not possible to travel in the Northern Areas because the Taliban were everywhere. Now things are better.
Obviously the US and others will not be in  Afghanistan forever. How can Afghanistan be trained to look after itself?

Two thirds of Afghan national police does not have a roof over its head. What is the incentive for it to fight? This represents an unbelievable failure on part of international community. Large sums of money were allocated to give equipment and create infrastructure for the Afghan security forces. Where has that money gone?

Not enough thought has been given to the kind of training in policing Afghanistan needs. Does it need normal police or a counterinsurgency force? What about the ethnic composition of the security forces?

All these are questions on the worrying Af-Pak discussions that Clinton and Krishna should focus attention on.

So what’s on TV tonight?

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011 July 19th, 2011 Aabhas Sharma

People often get shocked when I tell them that I don’t watch much television. “But you surely must be watching it on Sundays?” they ask. My standard reply is that I only watch sports on television. My weekends during the football season are spent in front of the TV but the rest of the days I hardly ever switch it on. My wife is the exact opposite of me when it comes to watching television. Her daily dose of television includes Modern Family, Family Guy and on weekends I think it is Glee or Desperate Housewives.

There’s no such thing as appointment viewing in my life anymore. The last show which I religiously watched was Kaun Banega Crorepati in its first avatar. I am a  big fan of quiz shows – I still wish they would show BBC Mastermind — and there was a novelty factor attached to it, so I watched KBC with a lot of interest.

Nowadays when I do find myself flipping channels I see that television has been invaded by the reality genre or the song and dance talent hunts which are as boring as the saas-bahu soaps that come out from the Ekta Kapoor factory. I have never understood why would people watch an unknown guy dancing or singing on stage and have three or four people judge him.

Back in my childhood days, TV was something the family bonded over. Nobody went out on Sundays and shows like Ramayana, Mahabharata, He-Man and the much awaited movie in the evening was the Sunday menu. There were no malls or multiplexes to go to and entertainment was restricted to television. Maybe that’s why the shows were good as the audience expectations were high. The quality of programming was good and not that there weren’t awful shows during those days as well but the good ones outnumbered the bad.

When cable and satellite television came to our homes in the early 90s, we were ushered into a new world of entertainment. Some of it was good, some of it was mediocre and some was absolutely terrible. But the last decade or so has been downright atrocious, thanks to reality TV. The audience numbers are huge and that’s why we are seeing a reality show about almost everything. The worst of it is the Swayamwar series on one of the channels. The Emotional Atyachar brand of reality TV is another which I find cringe worthy.

Sometimes I wonder what the current generation will talk about 20 years down the line when talking about TV. My generation still bonds over Mind Your Language, Yes Minister or Nukkad. Will there be a common bonding factor? Or someone would have been watching Indian Idol and someone Sa Re Ga Ma Challenge?

Standards have fallen in terms of the programming and the viewers will lap up whatever is dished out to them. Such is the power of television. Even in a world where there are so many forms of entertainment, people still turn to their TV sets. In school exams, we used to be handed out a topic to write an essay on – “Television, a boon or bane”? I wonder what that topic has become now given the kind of TV shows that I often hear people talking about.

BOMBbay!!!

Friday, July 15th, 2011 July 15th, 2011 Palak Shah

Priety Zinta is missing. So are John Abraham and Bipasha Basu. We have not heard from Aamir Khan and for that matter anyone else in Bollywood. There are no talks of cancelling film shoots.

Top corporates are not going all out to condemn the recent bomb blasts. There is no noise from civil right activists demanding resignation of head of states. Nor are any public relation agencies planning to arrange candle light vigil, which led to the resignation of deputy chief minister R R Patil and chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh in 2008.

Cleary, the anger, frustration and the show of solidarity seen post the 2008 terror attacks on five-star joints Taj Mahal and Trident, are missing after Wednesday’s blast in busy market place.

Are the three serial bomb blasts at Zaveri Bazar, Dadar and Opera House, not a lapse of security? The blasts have killed 18 people, injured over 100. Is this not serious?
Should the responsibility for security, intelligence and thereby policy failure not be fixed on anyone? Why is there no clamour from anyone and why are we not on roads now, if we were on roads in 2008.

We are being repeatedly targeted, killed, in a manner most heartless. Should we display resilience till someone from our own family is actually a victim of the blast? Are we so callous? What is happening here and why this hypocrisy?

Mumbai was attacked on March 1993, January 1998, December 2 and 6 2002, January 2003, March 2003, July 2003, August 2003, July 2006, November 2008 and yet again now.

We were killed at Gateway, Nariman Point, Masjid Bunder, Zaveri Bazar, Dadar, Bandra, Mahim, Santa Cruz, Vile Parle, Juhu, Jogeshwari, Borivali, Ghatkopar, Kanjurmarg and Mulund. We were killed on streets, crowded market place, theaters, bus and trains.
What more will it take for this city to understand that we all are victims? We all are not safe.

More, the politicians are making statements that all blasts cannot be prevented. What do they mean?

There is evidence of a support system for terrorists with in the city and entire country. Such orchestrated attacks cannot be carried without logistics, funding and manpower support. Some one has to point out the targets, arrange for stay of terrorists and escape after the blast.

Of course, we can stop the blasts if this support system, which is in our reach and not across the boarder, is crumpled.

In 2008 after the sea-borne attack, the show of solidarity was unprecedented. Following their Bollywood demigods, fans gathered on streets not only in Mumbai but in Jantar Mantar in Delhi, near Cubbon park in Bangalore, War Memorial in Secunderabad and at the Maidan and College street in Kolkata, Lucknow and Chennai.

Posters and placards vividly captured the anger and concern as young and old, women and children thronged the red sandstone Gateway to India opposite the Taj Mahal hotel. Where are they now?

Forget the government and PM. Opposition parties are lame ducks. L K Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Nitin Gadkari have not raised the issue of internal support system to terrorists, without which no big terror operation can be executed. There is no seriousness and will among politicians to pursue the matter. They are not under attack and they just don’t care.

We cannot wait for Bollywood to do our bidding. They were all on streets, when the places where they wine and dine were attacked … but not now.

A reluctant politician

Friday, July 15th, 2011 July 15th, 2011 Aditi PhadnisAditi Phadnis

When Prithviraj Chavan learnt that it was he who had been chosen to succeed Ashok Chavan as Chief Minister of Maharashtra, his voice reflected dismay rather than joy.

“Oh no” he told this reporter. “Can you check again? Are you sure?”

Certainly not the ecstatic response of a man with ambition.

When he returned to Delhi to consult the high command on his cabinet, he looked tired and depressed. Soon after landing in Mumbai, before getting out of the VIP lounge to face reporters and TV cameras, he thought he would comb his hair. Immediately one dozen flash bulbs went off and his picture, comb in his hand, disconcerted smile on his face, appeared in the papers the next day with clever captions like ‘Combing Operation’, etc.

“It’s like living in a fishbowl. You are under scrutiny all the time, innocent remarks are twisted and the vested interests….!’ he had sighed.

Now, Chavan mild-mannered and polite no matter how much pressure he was under, has had to show his teeth when the BJP clamour for his resignation has begun in the wake of the bomb blasts in Mumbai. “I was under pressure in Delhi also, when I was Minister of State. But this is pressure of an entirely different quantum” he confided.

In Delhi, Chavan had a very different profile. His job was being an underling to a man he admires deeply. But the nature of the job is such that that no MoS (PMO) has ever lasted his (or her) full term with the exception of Bhuvanesh Chaturvedi in P V Narasimha Rao’s PMO.

Sheila Dikshit found herself jobless within a year of Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure and Vasundhara Raje was given specific charges instead of an overall grandiose portfolio of junior minister in the PMO and then packed off to Jaipur after serving a short spell in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government.

The job is what you make of it, and experience suggests that most incumbents tend to make too much of it.

But Chavan, an egghead politician, if there is such a thing, was young, idealistic, and a professional who shares Singh’s world view in respect of intellectual honesty and Calvinist ethics.

Although Chavan belongs to a political family — both his parents were MPs from Karad in Maharashtra and his father a minister in Jawaharlal Nehru’s Cabinet — he studied at the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, and having qualified as a design engineer, got a Unesco fellowship to study in Germany.

From there, he went to the University of California in Berkeley in 1967-68 in the thick of the student revolt. Having grown up with politics at home, Chavan was enchanted by Joan Baez and long hair, but power politics was passé.

Having graduated, he joined Aerospace Industries and worked there for three years. Electronic design fascinated him and he returned to India to set up an R&D and design lab for information technology in 1974.

Chavan had his first brush with politics as a grown-up in 1983-84 when he met Rajiv Gandhi. Gandhi had quit his job and joined politics. He wanted to develop a database for computing in Indian languages, so that land revenue records could be computerised. Chavan was developing a programme along precisely those lines.

The two clicked instantly and Chavan was given a ticket to contest from Karad in the 1984 election as a ‘direct entrant’. He won the election despite warning Gandhi that he would be resented by the existing satraps.

Gandhi waved aside all his objections: “There must be thousands of engineers better than you, but they can’t win an election,” Gandhi told him. Karad fell in Sharad Pawar’s sphere of influence in Maharashtra politics, so it was by no means a ’safe’ constituency. But Chavan won that election and all the following ones, increasing his margin each time, except in 1999, when the Congress split and he elected to stay with the Congress rather than go with Pawar.

In this, Chavan only did what his parents had done before him. Through the splits in the Congress in 1969 and 1978, his parents stayed with Indira Gandhi believing the Congress had to be supported as a mainstream political alternative, not a regional outfit. Chavan agreed with this view.

It was widely expected that he would become a minister in Narasimha Rao’s government. But he was identified with Pawar, an impression that couldn’t have been further from the truth. But Chavan got on well with Manmohan Singh and tried to learn from him, recognising that he was in the company of a visionary.

There were many ministers in that Parliament, but few MPs who tried to defend Singh’s reforms. Chavan understood Singh’s grand plan and liaised closely with him to give political underpinnings to reform.

Chavan lost the 1999 election because of Pawar. He came to the Rajya Sabha in 2002. He would have contested the Lok Sabha election this time, but the Nationalist Congress Party bagged the seat.

Chavan was Congress spokesman and has had a long innings in Parliament. He is quiet, intense, and efficient. He has already shown his mettle in Mumbai. A couple of bomb blasts are not going to hold him back.