Friday, October 15

The Game of The Name

Its official now. In a widely reported 'confidential' note, Cabinet Secretary KM Chandrashekhar has mandated against indiscriminate use of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi’s names for government initiatives to "prevent proliferation of such association." The directive has not come a moment too soon. By one count, over 450 schemes have been blessed with these prefixes since 1991 alone, a fact that had drew frequent critique from Opposition benches. It was also the subject of a petition to the Election Commission last year, suggesting the practice violative of the Model Code of Conduct. That the Government has finally chosen to "to be sparing and selective" is, therefore, at best a case of late-than-never!

Apart from displaying a singular lack of imagination, this publicity overkill was bound to be counter-productive. It is one thing to name the most prominent road in every town in the country after the venerable Mahatma, post anointing him Father of the Nation. It is another to affix Nehru-Indira-Rajiv (not in that order) to every government program impinging all walks of life. As the journalist father of the EC petition pointed out, from child bearing, rearing, education, employment and marriage; schemes concerning the citizenry's entire life-cycle found coverage! Of course, the patronage extended to national challenges too: food, drinking water, shelter, electricity, destitution, handicap - you name it and you had it, pardon the pun. Various state governments as well as central ministries seemed in a mindless race, falling over one another to appropriate these prize prefixes, presumably to find favour with Congress's First Family. It is only natural that some of these schemes exist only in 'name': National Water Mission, Fellowship Scheme, Gramin LPG Vitrak Yojana, Creche Scheme, Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent Girls (Rajiv, all); Old Age Pension, Matritva Sahyog Yojna (ditto Indira), to 'name' but a few.

Faced with this assault of the ubiquitous, the aam aadmi, purported mascot of our ruling dispensation, could only respond with characteristic nonchalance. Unfortunately this resignation meant even actions bordering on the ridiculous went unprotested. For instance, the powers-that-be were obviously unimpressed with the globally recognized Brand IIM. What else explains the desire to add 'Rajiv Gandhi' to the moniker for the Indian Institute of Management's fledgling Shillong edition. At least the hue and cry over the MoST's use of Sonia Gandhi’s visage on NH signboards had the good lady herself ask its able minister to desist. (In any case, in the Congress scheme of things, few would have dared suggest removal, for fear of inviting questions on 'loyalty' all partymen wear on their sleeves!)

Perhaps one could explain actions of a developmental nature needing such heavy handed government guidance. Note however that even an activity like sports was hardly untouched. Tournaments of note carrying Gandhi-Nehru nomenclature ranged from cricket and football, through beachball and kabaddi, down to the Kerala Boat Race! In a nation short on sporting achievement (an odd CWG notwithstanding) one wonders if this was not a frittered opportunity to build examples from within the pantheon. In this backdrop, apparent concerns over potential "devaluation of the national leaders" is eminently laughable officialspeak.

Think larger picture and this name-rename obsession remains a quaint Indian construct. Having once had "San 1942 August Kranti Marg" as my mailing address (read it aloud if you don't find it funny; popular parlance any case had it as Hardinge Road), my acquaintance with this wasteful pastime is old. (We moved to MacDonnell Road a k a Madhav Shrihari Aney Marg next!) In fact, contemporary India has been stage for many puerile efforts over the years. Witness agitations to cleanse Bombay, Madras and Calcutta of their colonial past (more Ban-galore's are in store for sure!); or facelift for Odisha or Uttarakhand; plus thousands of roads, lanes and bylanes that have had name surgery, it is easy to understand why the Great Unwashed rarely care. Almost without exception, these cosmetic changes are shrugged off with the indulgent disdain Indians typically reserve for the political ilk and their shenanigans. At any rate, even if some such interventions have been accepted, they have done little to enhance the respective denizen's self worth, nor quality of life.

It is, therefore, incumbent on us to actively protest such name games beyond the issue of wastefully "associating names of national leaders". As a nation with superpower ambitions, taxpayer money and political interest are better served in actual pursuit of schemes like NREGA (pronounced Na-Re-Ga in the heartland) than its rechristening 4 years after launch, apparently in tribute to his dedication to Gram Swaraj, after Mahatma Gandhi. Else we will end up with MREGA :)


Anonymous said...

Well said as usual, dude! I must differ you a bit though -- the answer is not for example in fitting more sporting icons' names for sports events -- they may be sullied too. We are a function of the society we live in -- it molds our thoughts and outcomes in multiple ways. How else do you explain so many 'World Series' events in this glorious country!