My memories go back by thirty years when I was a struggling entrepreneur.
I met two high-ranking ministers of two different states for two different purposes at two different times. I will name the cabinet minister who didn’t want anything for herself for going out of her way to help me, but the other cabinet minister shall remain anonymous. Let the dead lie in peace.
The first was Mrs. Shakuntala Bhagwaria whom I met in September 1984. I carried a letter of introduction from Mr. HKL Bhagat, who deigned to help me at the recommendation of Air Marshall Kapoor (then the boss of Congress office in Delhi), whom I met through one Mr. Dave, who was introduced to me by Mr. Rathi, a lecturer in the local college in Gurgaon and a part-time politician and social worker. In this long chain of extended assistance, none of them expected anything from me. Instead, they offered me tea or coffee with biscuits.
The Air Marshall warned me in typical Air Force style : “If you don’t employ a good number of ex-servicemen in your factory I’ll make your life miserable”. That was spoken in good spirit, and I agreed readily. I went to Chandigarh, determined to abide by the Air Marshall’s command as soon as my factory got going.
Almost a minute after I sent in my card, I was ushered in to an office that was the size of a banquet hall. Mrs. Shakuntala Bhagwaria, the Minister of Industries for Haryana State sat behind a huge table. At least twenty villagers – as I guessed from their
dhotis or pyjamas and turbans – sat on chairs arrayed along the wall. She stopped the Haryanvi pow-wow with them when I walked in.
The pleasant, if somewhat plump lady in her early forties had her legs folded up on the chair. I noticed no air of arrogance. That was so different from what I had expected from a previous experience, which I shall recount later. Good things first.
She motioned me to sit down. Beside me sat the MD of the state Industrial Corporation whom she introduced as ‘my MD’. Even before I opened my mouth, the Minister explained the purpose of my visit to the officer
“Bhagat Saa’b has told me everything. What date have your planned for the event?” She asked me. Her Hindi had that rustic accent.
I told her that we had planned the inauguration of our attempt at an electronic factory in a government-allotted plot in Udyog Vihar, Gurgaon on 3rd November. If that wasn’t convenient for her, I could change the date.
“Any date can be made convenient. Bas, you need to do just one thing. Didn’t my secretary tell you?”
My heart missed a beat. Is this going to be another experience like the one before?
“No, he hadn’t told me anything”, I said. “I came directly to you”.
“Theek hai. You will need to give away blankets and transistor radios to two hundred poor war widows when I come for inauguration. You will find many war widows in the villages near Gurgaon and Faridabad. I know you can’t afford much. But something good has to be done before you start a venture. You are an electronic man, 200 radios shouldn’t be a problem for you”.
But 200 blankets were. Even radios would add to my heavy load of expenses, but I could manage.
Could I put her name and photograph in my invitation cards and on advertisements?
“Bilkul, bilkul. Nahin toh aapko mera aaney ka kya faida?” Certainly, otherwise what purpose would my coming serve you?
I wasn’t sure of the protocol. So I asked, “Now that you’d be inaugurating the function, am I supposed to invite the CM”?
She threw her head back and chuckled. Then she looked around at her audience along the wall. The villagers chuckled as if sharing a secret. A subtle smile appeared on MD’s face.
I thought I got the hint and nodded in gratitude.
Two weeks before the inauguration, Udyog Vihar was spruced up. The road to my factory got a face lift. Senior officials came in and suggested improvements. The generator subsidy I had applied for and was pending for two months was granted, and the executive engineer himself came and ensured that the generator switched on easily enough when the government electricity was on shut down mode. I got detailed information on when and how the Minister would arrive, and what is the right protocol. Somebody from the department supplied me the names and addresses of war widows in the district and the next. They ensured that we sent out letters of invitation to each one. Such government efficiency amazed me and my staff.
In the event, the inauguration did not take place. Three days before the widely advertised date, Indira Gandhi was shot dead by her trusted guards. Udyog Vihar, on the Delhi-Gurgaon border, stood burning all those three days. On the evening of 2ndNovember Mrs. Bhagwaria’s secretary cancelled her booking in the local VIP guest house. Several days later I got letter on Government letterhead. The Minister regretted her inability to come for the inauguration under the circumstances and hoped that I had suffered no loss. Such courtesy, to my mind, was unheard of.
Sadly, the only occasion when I was not asked to pay a bribe from a high government office turned out to be an unlucky one for me. My huge advertisement bill went waste. Part of the factory I built up with sweat and blood was destroyed. The radios I had collected on credit from many small manufacturers and the blankets I bought for cash in Chandni Chowk were looted at the border. I remained in debt for many years.
Nonetheless, I cherish the memory of meeting a simple, understanding and sympathetic woman in power who asked for nothing for herself. She even gave me a subtle warning to stay off those who could be different.
I had met another cabinet minister of another state on a previous occasion. When this story is told, you might even guess the state. I am hoping you might not guess the name of the august minister . Let the dead bury their sins.
It happened when I migrated from making tape recorder-radios (then known as two-in-ones) to black-and-white televisions. It became difficult to compete with the giant Indian brands of the time. So I began to make wired printed circuit boards for the giants. Many of them asked that the circuit boards be machine-soldered. To buy a wave-soldering machine, I needed to be assured of a larger market. With a Government order for my product, I could wangle a bank loan.
Those were the days when many state governments were trying to establish their own electronic corporations along the lines of Keltron, a grand success at that point of time. I wrote to many state governments, claiming that with my circuit boards, they could do better than Keltron. All that they had to do was to connect my board to a picture tube and place the assembly inside a cabinet.
To my great delight, I got a letter, followed by a phone call, that I arrange a demonstration of my product for the MD of the electronic corporation of a particular Northern state. I was warned that I must not fail; the minister might want to witness the demo.
I flew to the capital of the state next morning with the kit and a technician who had never flown before. He puked through the propeller-powered flight and was of little use by the time we landed.
I sent in my card, and was shown in to the MD’s office almost immediately.
I assembled the kit by myself, set up a portable antenna, and switched on the set. Even to my surprise, the picture came on without a flicker. The MD was impressed. He went to the minister’s office to report.
The minister didn’t come to watch the television. He had more important things in mind. I was called in..
With my hopes flying high like migratory birds, I walked in to the well-appointed room. There were trophies in teak cupboards; huge portraits of Mahatma Gandhi , Indira Gandhi and the Chief Minister of the State adorned the wall.
I wasn’t asked to sit down, so I stood respectfully. What would be the price of the kit, the minister asked.
I told him the price. I added that I knew that the market was competitive, that I wanted his electronic corporation to be a great success, so I could offer a ten per cent discount.
“Discount-viscount kutch nahin. What’s in it for us?,” the minister insisted.
I couldn’t imagine that what he meant was what he meant.
“All right, sir, twenty per cent,” I said
“And you will bill it all at twenty per cent discount?”
“Of course, sir. Excise paid. You only need to give me the interstate Sales Tax form.”
The minister turned to the MD. “Bewqoof hai. Kyun laykey aya?” This is an idiot. Why did you bring him to me?
While being marched out, I knew why I was called an idiot.
That state’s electronic corporation never really took off. Perhaps all my competitors were also idiots. Nonetheless, the minister prospered.
What’s more, the man remained a cabinet minister and a respected leader of his party through much turmoil till the day he died.
Nothing has changed. My hope for the Country rests on simple people in power like Shakuntala Bhagwaria, the smiling, chatty lady surrounded by simple village folk, whom I had met just once.