Take a bow, O Arjuna!Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister have been among the best pieces of writing I have ever seen and admittedly a very hard act to follow when an Indian version was commissioned. The Hindi Jii Mantrijii didn't get anywhere near the brilliance of the original despite following the plots to a T, mainly because the incisive wit of the former was quite difficult to find equivalents for. But there is hope in real life. For the (fast becoming legendary) interview of Arjun Singh on CNN-IBN (link via Salil and Adi) has convinced me that all some desi Lynn and Jay have to do is to release a collection of the Hon. HRD Minister's interviews, and we'd have a rollicking Hacker-worthy masterpiece.
Let me illustrate. In an episode titled Official Secrets, Bernard Woolley, the as yet green Private Secretary gets an enlightening lesson from the PM, James Hacker, on handling difficult interviews (after Bernard gets tricked into saying the PM is above the law to the media). The eight ways are summarised as follows, and since Arjun Singh is an old practitioner of the grey arts, I have provided examples from this interview wherever possible for the benefit of any budding politicians among the readers:
1. Attack the Question and 2. Attack the Questioner:
Karan Thapar: According to the NSSO - which is a government appointed body - 23.5 per cent of the college seats are already with the OBCs.
Arjun Singh (Minister): What do you mean by college seats?
KT: University seats, seats of higher education.
Min.: Well, I don't know I have not come across that far.
KT: I put it to you that you don't have a case for reservations in terms of need, you don't have a case for reservations in terms of their efficacy, why then, are you insisting on extending them to the OBCs?(Of course, there is no explanation on the fallacies or lack of logic)
Min.: I don't want to use that word, but I think that your argument is basically fallicious (sic).
KT: Many people say that if reservations for OBCs in higher education happen, then the children of beneficiaries should not be entitled to claim the same benefit.
KT: So that there is always a shrinking base and the rate doesn't proliferate.
Min.: I don't think that that is a very logical way of looking at it.
KT: Is that not acceptable to you?
Min.: No, it is not the logical way of looking at it.
3.Compliment the Question - I personally feel this is only for rookies and not surprisingly, the experienced campaigner didn't not need to use this base trick.
4.Unloading the Question:
KT: For example, a study done by the IITs themselves shows that 50 per cent of the IIT seats for the SCs and STs remain vacant and for the remaining 50 per cent, 25 per cent are the candidates, who even after six years fail to get their degrees. So, clearly, in their case, reservations are not working.5. Make it All Appear An Act:
Min.: I would only say that on this issue, it would not be correct to go by all these figures that have been paraded.
KT: You mean the IIT figures themselves could be dubious?
Min.: Not dubious, but I think that is not the last word.
KT: But there are people who feel that their lives and their futures are at stake and they are undertaking fasts until death.6. Use the Time Factor: Though the minister did not explicitly make use of this technique, he must have been comforted by the fact that time has been scientifically shown to tick by at regular intervals and the interview would end soon. All he needed to do was use the remaining two methods.
Min.: It is being hyped up, I don't want to go into that.
KT: Do you have no sympathy for them?
Min.: I have every sympathy.
KT: But you say it is being hyped up.
Min.: Yes, it is hyped up.
KT: So, then, what sympathy are you showing?
Min.: I am showing sympathy to them and not to those who are hyping it up.
7. Invoke Secrecy:
Min.: As I told you, it is an issue that I cannot comment upon at this moment because that is under examination.
KT: Will the reservation for OBCs, whatever figure your Committee decides on, will it happen in one go, or will it slowly be introduced in stages?
Min.: That also I cannot say because as I told you, all these issues are under consideration.
KT: Which means that everything that is of germane interest to the people concerned is at the moment 'under consideration' and the government is not able to give any satisfaction to the students who are deeply concerned.
Min.: That is not the point. The government knows what to do and it will do what is needed.
KT: But if the government knows what to do, why won't you tell me what the government wants to do?
Min.: Because unless the decision is taken, I cannot tell you.
KT: But you can share with me as the Minister what you are thinking.
KT: So, in other words, we are manitaining a veil of secrecy and the very people who are concerned...
Min.: I am not maintaining a veil of secrecy. I am only telling you what propriety allows me to tell you.
8.Take Refuge In a Long Pointless Narrative
KT: Except that Parliament is not infallible. In the Emergency, when it amended the Constitution, it was clearly wrong, it had to reverse its own amendments. So, the question arises - Why does Parliament believe that the reservation is the right way of helping the OBCs?A masterful performance indeed! (BTW, IBN need to proof-read better: the first page of the interview had Parliament agreeing in rare anonymity rather than unanimity!)
Min.: Nobody is infallible. But Parliament is Supreme and atleast I, as a Member of Parliament, cannot but accept the supremacy of Parliament.
Min.: I wouldn't like to go behind all this because, as I said, Parliament has taken a view and it has taken a decision, I am a servant of Parliament and I will only implement.
KT: Let me quote to you Jawaharlal Nehru, a man whom you personally admire enormously. [...] "... This way lies not only folly, but also disaster." What do you say to Jawaharlal Nehru today?
Min.: Jawaharlal Nehru was a great man in his own right and not only me, but everyone in India accept his view.
KT: But you are just about to ignore his advice.
Min.: No. Are you aware that it was Jawaharlal Nehru who introduced the first ammendment regarding OBCs?
KT: Yes, and I am talking about Jawaharlal Nehru in 1961, when clearly he had changed his position, he said - I dislike any kind of reservations.
Min.: I don't think one could take Panditji's position at any point of time and then overlook what he had himself initiated.
On a more serious note: if you think I'm biased, well, unfortunately, what to do you expect if the votaries of such policies seem to be unaware of possible contradictions and are as inarticulate as a random guy off the street? Though it must be said that very few on either side of the debate seem to have the capacity to provide clearheaded thinking right now.