Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Potatoes: My First Introduction to Politics

Patibandla Srikant

Thinking of potatoes and politics, one might question the link between both apart from both the words beginning with ‘p’. I was under the same impression until one day I bumped in to the inextricable political link between potatoes and politics. In the hostel mess of our University campus they serve potatoes for lunch and dinner on all seven days of the week. After a point of time this became unbearable and all the students took our plates and barged in to the kitchen to catch the cook (after the incident some say we rushed in to thrash him, others say we just wanted to question). Cook reasoned it out to us saying whatever the mess manager supplies he cooks, thereby implying that he is only a weapon, while actual culprit is the mess manager. Immediately we barged in to the hostel office. By this time the crowd has sobered down a little bit. The manager pushed the accounts book towards us and told us with the money being allocated only potatoes would come (apparently potatoes are cheap in this part of the world). Some raging students asked him who is allocating the money. Finance officer, came the reply.

Just when I thought the saga is complete, as no body may be interested in questioning the finance officer. But the enthusiastic students wanted to find out the potato culprit and get rid of him/her along with potatoes. Little did we know, at that time, that we are heading for a long journey. By this time we were already in front of finance officer’s chamber. The finance officer – middle aged lady – listened to our potato problem with patience. After everything was done from your side, she just washed away her hands saying the allocation of funds is actually decided by the vice-chancellor. That’s the moment – any single issue against the VC we are always to take him on directly. With increasing excitement at every step, some of us felt like detective a la Sherlock Holmes with nobody playing Dr. Watson. When we heard VC’s name, we thought we had the potato culprit finally in our hands. The poor VC showed us all the accounts with total amount received from the University Grants Commission (UGC) and total expenditure under various heads. He had to cancel all his appointments for the day and he sat with us nearly for three hours and explained with enduring patient levels to all the questions that we rose.

We came out of the VC’s chamber with a sense of triumph. But then the story does not end here, because the VC named UGC as the culprit. Apparently it is the UGC that decides which university gets how much amount and all that related. So straight we got in to the campus bus and bullied the driver to drive down to the UGC bus. The bus was fully packed with some sitting on top of the bus. Some other promising detectives took city bus to the UGC office. Finally, with all the sloganeering on the way we reached UGC office with much fanfare and excitement. We reached the UGC office and raised our voice demanding the UGC Chairman to come out and meet us. After ten minutes or so the UGC Chairperson emerged out of the building with a genuine smile. Immediately our detective skills came out and we started grilling him for giving us potatoes. He told us that the Ministry of Human Resources and Development (MHRD) only grants UGC a certain amount and in turn UGC distributes it to all the universities across the country accordingly. The same base that we came from campus was still there and this time the driver was much cooperative and drove down to MHRD. When we reached the MHRD, we found that only the Deputy Minister was present in the office. When he came out we pleaded to him our sad story of potatoes and coming from south India, he seemed to be sympathetic to our story. But when it came to taking the responsibility he was helpless. He told us that the MHRD is restricted on its expenses by the World Bank and the IMF as a part of the structural adjustments programme. That is when we understood the real potato culprits are the World Bank and the IMF

We realized that we cannot ferry the same bus to New York or Washington and we started thinking the reasons behind the restrictions of the World Bank and the IMF with regard to the government’s expenditure on higher education. Somebody in the crowd commented, “shit man! as long as we remain apolitical we will suffer the onslaught of the World Bank or the IMF either in the form of potatoes or in some other form. Lets protest against the World Bank and the IMF.” We all agreed with him realizing that we are not eating ordinary potatoes…but with under currents of politics.

This whole process of finding out reasons for our daily potatoes actually opened our eyes in the manner politics operate. That is when we felt although we maintain our distance from politics be being so called ‘apolitical’, still politics influences our day-to-day activities. Thus it is better to choose the right kind of politics so that we can have right kind of policies for our future. Choose correct politics for a better future, because it is politics that decides our future.

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