Bitter brew of power
TEA SHOPS IN countryside have a proclivity to brew interesting conversations. They serve as collection points for information, opinions and gossip from nearby villages or towns. For journalists, they are one-stop shop for gauging public opinion during elections from a set of people whose perception of time has more to do with the change in season rather than the difference between day an night.
The tea shop that I found in Kolar - famous for its old goldmines - had a buzz about it. And, it had nothing to do with the hundreds of flies buzzing around the stall. There were people sitting on small benches animatedly discussing in a language that we could not understand. They were an angry lot. "He is a Muslim, he would speak Hindi," I was told in broken English by someone who sensed that I needed help and interpretation.
Suddenly, it struck me how the Muslims, due to their reading of the Koran in Arabic and Urdu, provided a linguistic link between the north and the south of India. The fat, heavily perspiring man in a blue check lungi did not disappoint. He could speak some Hindustani that I could comprehend, but it was heavily laden with the local Kannada dialect. "Why are people angry here?" I asked. "Ever since the BJP came to power, the electricity has vanished from Kolar. Now, we get no power through the day," he said.
It was a hot summer afternoon and there was a natural desire to gravitate towards a shade or just enjoy some breeze from a fan that worked. The tea stall operated from a dark hole and the fan hanging above the benches seemed as if it has not been used all these years. A tomato farmer voiced his grievance, "We have not had power for the last few days and that makes it difficult to do anything. Our cell phones have got discharged and our children cannot study in the evening. If only the new government could assure us power, we could grow more tomatoes."
The same story was repeated in the towns of western Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan. In Chhaprauli, a Jat-dominated town, I was told by an official of the local bank that the branch cannot operate for days together due to power outage. "In my long years of working in different branches in Haryana and other places, I have not seen such acute power crisis. These computers lie unused as we cannot operate them on small invertors or generators. Most of our account holders are driven to desperation due to power shortage."
There were others in this affluent agricultural town who echoed his view. Noise and fume from small generators were turning bazaars into furnaces. Anger against the local government was palpable and Jats, known for liberal use of colourful language, mouthed choicest ones against the government in Lucknow. If people in UP voted against BSP, then there were ample reasons.
In my reckoning, if there was one big issue in the 2009 general elections, then it was power shortage. Surprisingly, the Congress that signed the civilian nuclear deal with the USA last year and linked it with their resolve to provide power to all, remained silent on this issue during the election. If only they reiterated their promise as eloquently as Rahul Gandhi during the civil nuclear deal debate in Parliament, Congress would have won 400 seats. All the 40 crore people of India, who do not have access to power and the rest who have power connections but no electricity, would have ensured them a resounding victory. Congress, perhaps, lacked conviction in its ability to live up to this promise.
If India has any desire to be an economic powerhouse then it would have to change the circumstances which result in inefficiency and dehumanise large mass of the people. Assured power supply all over the country will not only raise national efficiency, which is at present an abysmal 30 per cent, but also result in a quantum jump in our growth rate. When that happens, a different conversation would be brewing at tea stalls.