Published On : Wed, Jul 29th, 2015

Boycotting the IIM Nagpur inauguration: Mr Gadkari, protocol and respect are not the same

Nagpur: Nagpur MP and Union Minister Nitin Gadkari’s absence from Sunday event marking the inauguration of Maharashtra’s first IIM in Nagpur has provided enough fodder for speculations to run rife. Right from social media to prints and online space, the telling effects of incident is evident everywhere.

Here we come across an interesting piece over the incident, posted by Mahesh Vijapurkar. The article appeared in Firstpost. Here’s for you to see the Gadkari’s IIM episode in a different perspective. Read on…

There is protocol and there is respect. In politics, the two often are mixed up, and in popular understanding too, they are one and the same. This has come up once again because Nitin Gadkari, a Union minister did not find his name on the invitation list for the inauguration of the Indian Institute of Management in Nagpur. As per DNA, there were two invitations, one without Gadkari’s name, and the other with his name below the IIM-N’s director.

Someone had been careless. The director does not design or structure invitation cards, someone down the line does. These faux pas are avoidable but the problem arises when government functions are held or many politicians are invited, most of them only to crowd the dais simply because they are elected representatives. More often than not, these politicians have nothing do with the event. One excuse often cited is that the event is in their bailiwick.

Protocol is all about the formal official conduct, the etiquette, the code of behaviour that goes with it. A person may figure high in the order of precedence which also determine the protocol – the President goes before anyone else anywhere, for instance – and as Gadkari’s case is, he goes above the IIM-N director. Respect is what people earn, not demanded and is secured when it is reluctantly given. That false respect is not worth it. People are extra careful with ministers simply to avoid a situation.

IIMs may have been a blunder in etiquette, an embarrassment, even tactless. It does not, however, mean Gadkari had to become “furious”, as one newspaper described it. He could have quietly told the offending institution it was not kosher, and if possible, send a polite letter listing the protocol requirements to the director. No one need have known that he was ‘insulted’ or ‘disrespected’. There wasn’t any need for public contretemps and his ‘boycott’ of the event. Tactlessness was met with a dose of the same.

This development has two significant aspects to it. Not many would have noticed the IIM’s lapse had the minister ignored it. By making an issue, he has invited attention to it and himself. Secondly, the person who is going to steward the IIM is going to feel knuckled under. Though chief minister Devendra Fadnavis hails from there, Nagpur is essentially Gadkari’s fort. IIM has taken off on a wrong note and this issue may rankle at least in the background because it went public.

Public representatives are rather thin-skinned about this business of ‘disrespect’ shown to them, even if it were to be unintended. IIM-A’s director, Ashish Nanda has apologised for the “breach of protocol” and Gadkari’s PR Office has denied that there was no plan to move a breach of privilege in Parliament against the IIM. Gadkari will now write to the HRD minister, The Times of India says, to urge, “that no public representative is shown disrespect in this manner in future”.

Amid, or because of this kerfuffle, the Maharashtra Government has reissued a January circular to its offices on how to respect elected representatives. Officials must stand up when a visiting elected representative is leaving his/her office. They should reply to their letters within a week. The letter should signed by themselves or the ministers, not their PAs. They were, in short, a tutorial in polite conduct. Either the politicians are too demanding or the officialdom is crass.

Notions of respect seem to vary, in so far as the elected representatives themselves are concerned and in their own conduct. Yesterday Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury tried “thrusting a placard in front of Speaker Sumitra Mahajan”. As The Times of India reported, the “Congress leader in Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge said no disrespect was meant to the chair”. “Sonia Gandhi was heard saying she did not see any reason to” object to the erring MPs conduct. That is rather rich.

Both the main political parties, the Bharatiya Janata party and Congress have shown disrespect to the presiding officer. When it was in Opposition, BJP did what the Congress is up to now with scant regard for public opinion. The Speaker who is the custodian of the rights of the members, and their privileges, has been hardly been heeded, making him or her appear so helpless. Their responsibility to perform as per the mandate – law making by discussion and debate and dissent by vote – has been ignored.

Since we are on the subject of how respect is demanded, here is an interesting, but fortunately aborted move by a legislator in Maharashtra. Jayant Patil of the Peasants and Workers’ Party had sought that when MLAs and MLCs arrive at the Council Hall for their sessions, the police officers present there should salute each of them. It is forgotten that the police deployment there is not to present a guard of honour as a security detail to ensure their safety which is of much importance. Other legislators did not think much of this idea and its impracticability sank it.

This false sense of respect they want to command is by its very nature is not earned. It may not even have much to do with their convenience of doing their business, like the VIP lounges etc. at airports which the common man resents. Like the red beacons, like the subsidised food, et al. This resentment is not unfelt by them but they wink at it because convenience is important. After all, this resentment cannot be the reason why a voter may deny his or her favour in the next round of elections. That makes them secure.

But who knows what the future holds? Haven’t we forgotten that Aam Aadmi Party was an outcome of this resentment, and a strong desire to send the establishment packing? I suspect the political class is sailing too close to the wind.