By T S Sudhir
Last year, the State Bank of India in Andhra Pradesh started a unique facility for its customers. Anyone having a grouse had to just sms `UNHAPPY’ to a particular SBI number and the bank promised their problem will be resolved almost immediately.
`Unhappy’ ministers in Kiran Kumar Reddy’s cabinet did not text the chief minister, after the portfolios were announced after 9:30 on Wednesday night. One of them, known not to mince words and always high on self-confidence and other elements, called up the CM late in the night and reportedly asked if he thought the cabinet was his private limited company. Kiran, one is told, just said “Repu choodam” (we will see tomorrow) and disconnected the call.
You can’t fault Kiran for being a man of few words. After all, in the last 18 months, the words he has most frequently uttered in the state assembly as Speaker is “Quiet please” and “Please take your seat”.
But the CM’s refusal to continue the conversation or entertain charges had an immediate effect. Even before he got ready for his first cabinet meeting, the new Reddy in town had an apparent `political crisis’ on hand.
Calls were made to newspaper groups and Telugu media channels, slamming Kiran and one of the ministers even put in his papers.
Another minister, the grapevine goes, scribbled something on a piece of paper and asked his driver to deliver the note to the chief minister. But by morning, he had forgotten he ever wrote any letter to Kiran and was found asking people around him in disbelief if he indeed did so !
I am not surprised. Another `unhappy’ minister had once told me that soft drinks and wine were taboo for him. “Only hard drinks,” he had chuckled. On an evening, when Kiran delivered the zor ka jhatka, zor se lage, it is obvious that while drinking, you should neither drive a car nor discuss one’s career.
But the tone and tenor of newspapers and electronic media, given the prevailing political mood in the state, suggested that the Congress had miscalculated yet again in Andhra Pradesh.
Here was a case where the ministers were essentially gambling, just in case they got something bigger. Most of them knew the reasons why they were demoted to low-profile ministries. Atleast three of them face serious charges of corruption and but for the Jagan factor, would have been shown the door. Atleast one of them was accused of letting his family members actively take part in Jagan’s Odarpu yatra, thereby keeping his feet in both boats.
One of YSR’s trusted ministers was deemed incompetent to handle his ministry and was almost certain to lose his job. It was a bonus when he found himself in but found his portfolio changed. He said to me this morning, “Sudhir bhai, I don’t know anything about this ministry. But then you may ask, what did I know about the previous ministry either. So I am not complaining. I am keeping quiet.”
Another minister as soon as he took charge, insisted that he wanted only an IAS officer belonging to his caste, to be the commissioner in charge of his department. Did this gentleman take this oath “I do, swear in the name of God, that I will promote only people belonging to my caste, community and religion …”
Such is the calibre of Kiran’s team, that promises on paper and in lofty soundbites, that it will usher in a prosperous Andhra Pradesh. A cartoonist joked to me that if only Kiran had inducted one more minister, he would have drawn an `Alibaba aur chaalis chor’ for the morning newspaper.
At the entrance to Ministers’ quarters, a mediaperson of a vernacular channel, was excitedly asking every MLA and minister who exited “Happy? Are you happy?”.
I would look forward to the results of this unique exit poll on the happiness quotient in the Congress party in Andhra Pradesh, on the channel this evening !