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Verve People
December 14, 2006

Inheritance Of Governance

Text by Alpana Chowdhury. Photographs by Ankur Chaturvedi

He is young, urbane, western educated and tech-savvy. Bursting with optimism, veteran politician, Murli Deora’s son is the new face of the Congress Party. For someone who was surprisingly not raised to enter public life, 29-year-old Milind Deora has learnt the ropes fast and is swiftly making himself heard on a regular basis. The businessman turned parliamentarian indulges in plain speak with Verve

I may not have a Utopian view of politics today but my idealism has not been blunted,” states 29-year-old Milind Deora, after two years of swimming in the realpolitik of Parliament. He is the new face of the Congress: young, urbane, western educated, vocal and bursting with optimism. One of the privileged brigade that has inherited politics as a legacy, Milind, nevertheless, entered the corridors of power through the heat and dust of elections, after taking on BJP stalwart, Jaywantiben Mehta, in the prosperous constituency of South Mumbai.

His eyes sparkle as he recalls his first day in that impressive, circular building.  What struck me is that this is the only piece of land where the whole of India can be seen at once. Nowhere else will you see someone in a Rajasthani saafa, another in a Tamil Nadu veshti and yet another in the traditional outfit of Assam….” He, himself, wore an unassuming trouser and shirt.

“I am more grounded today. Now I know how things happen; I have a better understanding of issues and how to tackle them,” continues the young parliamentarian, sitting in a modest cubicle of his family office in Mumbai, devoid of hangers-on or intimidating security men. One of the issues he believes in, passionately, is ‘The Right To Information’ (RTI). Inexperience notwithstanding, he initiated the parliamentary debate on it soon after stepping into the august portals of the Lok Sabha, and in October 2005 the ‘RTI’ became an Act. However, he is no longer all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about it. So, though he still thinks the Act is a revolutionary one with the power to transform India from an indirect, representative democracy to a direct, participatory one, he is open to the Act being amended to exclude file notings from its ambit. “I would certainly not want the Act to be diluted or made toothless,” he emphasises, “but, at the same time, the issue of file notings can be debated. There is a very fine line between transparency and ensuring that bureaucrats have a degree of freedom to take decisions. When even the President is concerned about this, it is only fair that we give it some thought.”

“What I’ve learnt is that you have to push for change fast but you can’t expect this to happen on the basis of your views and fancies. India is a democracy and you have to take people along with you. I may get stuck on an issue and have an opinion on it but a lot of people may not agree with me. I must understand their point of view as well.” Words of wisdom from a product of consensus politics!

For someone who was not raised to enter public life (“We were brought up to go abroad for higher studies and then join the family business. My mother, in fact, was not at all in favour of me joining politics.”), this son of veteran politician, Murli Deora, has certainly learnt the ropes fast and is making himself heard on a regular basis. Apart from the landmark RTI Act, he intervened for the creation of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), which recently released a large amount of money for the development of Mumbai. Ask this staunch Mumbaikar whether mere funds are the answer to this haphazardly-run city’s problems or if larger budgets can ensure sustainable standards of repairs and development, and he is frank enough to agree that funds should not be granted without accountability. “I’ve been seeing it repeatedly. Allocating funds to the city is like pouring water in a bucket with a hole. But the JNNURM has introduced checks and balances to plug this hole. Not just for Mumbai, wherever funds are released, an appraisal is made of the concerned city’s previous projects before granting further funds. It’s a reform-based mission. The state governments will have to, therefore, do more than come to the Centre with a begging bowl.”

This student of business management entered politics through the NGO route. Feeling disconnected from the real India when he returned from America after higher studies, he wanted to do something more meaningful than read Fortune magazine – so he took the help of friends from the corporate world to provide computers to more than hundred underprivileged schools in South Mumbai. “It was definitely more fulfilling to pick up the phone and talk to my friends on this subject than discuss the latest happening on the cocktail circuit,” he smiles. Empowering deprived youngsters continues to be on his priority list even today. “I want to give them the opportunity to be part of the mainstream, help them realise their aspirations. I may not be able to do it immediately but, in due course of time, I would like to help create equal opportunities for all. There should be no discrimination on the basis of the family a child is born into. The children of dishwashers and taxi drivers study in the schools where we installed the computers and even though the parents don’t have a clue as to what it is, the children know what opportunities open up for them with computer literacy. I saw a different side of life while interacting with them.” And the immense satisfaction this gave him, someone who always had the best of educational facilities himself, is what keeps him going through the bleaker phases of politics.

“Whenever I get frustrated or I am racked with doubts about what I’m doing, I remind myself that I got into this line because there are a lot of people who could do with my help,” expounds the guitar-strumming, businessman-turned politico who, expectedly, does not agree that politics is the last refuge of scoundrels.  “For me, politics is a means of facilitating change. It is always the larger goal of any activity that eggs me on. If I had been a professional musician, I would have wanted my music to break down barriers. In business, creating a 10 per cent profit every quarter would not have been a motivating factor. Rather, I would have wanted to expand my business to create a name for India, provide job opportunities and generate revenue for the country. Similarly, it was a larger ideological goal that inspired me to join politics.” Are these the right sound bytes or words spoken from the heart? Only his five-year term will tell.

For the moment, we shall keep cynicism out and believe him when he states categorically that India will, in time, shed the tag of ‘developing nation’. Striking a balance between khadi-clad politics and Boston-style eco fundas, this savvy Congress loyalist reasons, “Just now, all the growth that is taking place gets divided by a billion-plus people. So our per capita GDP is always less than the rest of the world. But the fruits of all that is happening today will be seen some years down the line.” At the same time he is honest enough to admit that corruption, a major stumbling block on the road to development, cannot just be wished away.

“It takes two hands to clap. I think a businessman, who bribes a minister to get Rs 1000 crore from a bank and then funnels it away to a foreign bank account, is as corrupt, if not more than the minister,” he declares vehemently. Has he ever been approached for favours? “I would feel very insulted if I had been! I would look at myself again! I don’t think anyone would approach the younger lot of politicians.”

But, more than anything else, what really annoys this plain-speaking legislator is “the huge conflict of interest between truth and commercial interest in certain sections of the media. Their lack of correct information, their biases and their clueless political commentary really irritates me. The lack of accountability in the news media is dangerous because vested interests can proliferate their agenda through it.”

And what about his personal agenda? Does marriage feature anywhere on it? “Yes, one would like to have a companion whom one really trusts. She doesn’t have to be perfect!” he replies.

Is that a more mellow Milind speaking? “Yes, you could say I’ve mellowed down. I’ve learnt to prioritise. Earlier, I would say yes to everything and not have time for anything.” What he has always made time for, however, is his music. “I could be playing my guitar while talking on the phone or listening to music while travelling. Music is a great stress reliever!”

That’s the politician of the 21st century. Young at heart, tech-savvy, eager to move ahead quickly, illusions still intact, global… “I believe in what Churchill used to say, ‘Keep buggering on, keep moving, keep pushing.’ ”

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