Look who’s paying a surprise visit

June 2, 2011

A newly appointed chief minister swoops into government offices, pulls up officers for their tardy work and hammers out orders and suspensions against them. That was the plot of the Bollywood film “Nayak” starring Anil Kapoor.

This is now a reality in Assam and West Bengal, where over the past week, state employees, generally perceived as laidback, corrupt and inefficient, have been shocked by the surprise visits of ministers.

Assam’s education minister Himanta Biswa Sarma visited several directorates under his ministry, carefully examined old files and suspended an employee for being inefficient in Guwahati on Wednesday.

That was days after the head of a state-run hospital was suspended in Kolkata after a surprise visit from mercurial West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

The crackdowns were extensively covered in local media, earning them brownie points from a citizenry who have often encountered countless delays, signs of inefficiency and blatant calls for bribes from India’s bloated bureaucracy.

Politicians paying surprise visits are, however, not new in India. Many a leader, including the maverick former railway minister Laloo Prasad Yadav, have done so in the past.

But what really sets the latest actions apart is the extensive media glare and the consistency with which Sarma carried out the whole operation. And the seriousness he exhibited while dealing with employees.

On Wednesday, Sarma not only enquired about absentees and looked at old files, but also asked about toilets being set up in front of schools, and doors and tables being in poor condition.

With a headmaster’s authority, he questioned directors and top level employees, bureaucrats generally perceived to be above the law.

A lawyer by academic qualification, Sarma is one of the best communicators Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has in his cabinet, and the oratory skills of the young minister have been an asset for Gogoi.

Wednesday’s actions may seem like a gimmick, but it did earn Sarma the desired media attention and established him as a leader who is serious about his job.

However, both Sarma and Banerjee need to continue their blitzkrieg on corruption and inefficiencies to get the fairytale ending that ‘Nayak‘ had — a popular, respectable chief minister and a happy population.

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The Communist thugs had created the most corrupt state in India. Had the new anti-graft Lokpal bill been in existence the largest number facing the death penalty would likely have been CPI members in government.

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