Saturday, March 11, 2006

Power Trappings

Or lack of it..

Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen is in India now on a 5 day tour and will be inagurating the new Nokia factory in Chennai today (March 11, 06). The Prime Minister and his entourage traveled with me from Frankfurt to Chennai by Lufthansa last night. No one noticed the presence of an VVIP in the plane. Everything was absolutely normal and business as usual in the plane. I came to know about the VVIP on board only because his press officer was sitting next to me and we chatted. When I asked her whereabouts of the Prime Minister in the plane, she pointed to a guy who was just 2 rows ahead of us. I was impressed with the simplicity of the whole team and the Prime Minister. Even though they were a group of about 15 with a VVIP in their midst, there was no extra layer of anything.

All that changed when the team landed in Chennai. There was a big group led by some TN State Minister waiting to welcome the Prime minister. They blocked the aero bridge for good 10 minutes and didn't let anyone to alight. The usual garlanding and photo shooting went on at the cost of other passengers. I wonder if the Finnish team really liked this welcome.. Because they could clearly hear the murmur of the fellow passengers who were getting restive.

Welcome to India, Prime minister Matti Vanhanen.. You may not have liked the welcome last night, but be prepared for more of it in the next few days. In India, even a junior civil servant has lot of power trappings and they flaunt it.

PS: I caught the Prime Minister watching Vijay's Sivakasi in his personal TV monitor. He may be catching some of the 'Tamil' culture before landing in Tamil Nadu.


  1. Agreed on Simplicity part, things about India and other stuff, probably not.

  2. While simplicity is admirable in theory, it may not be possible with Indian PM or other big personalities. I would agree in case of other ministers and CM though. Thing is, all the 'special attention' is dependent on how big and influential person is, and how much is threat to his life.

  3. Ram

    Great post. I think its really commendable on the part of the Finnish PM.

    And i dont agree with the second commenter.

    What do you mean by big personalities. Just because India has more people, does not make its PM a bigger personality.

    Every head of nation is as big as it gets. And i could care less which nation it is.

    Why would you compare the Finnish PM in stature to our CM ??

    I dont understand the logic.

    I think the Indian PM can maybe learn a thing or two. We see huge delegations accompanying the PM. Every Tambi, Deepak and Harish and their families seem to become a part of the PM entourage. Maybe we could cut that out and just take the very few officers who will do the actual work.

  4. are comparing a PM of a small country (Finland's population is 5 million people - there are dozens of cities in India with population greater than 5 million) with India?

    And when was the last time Finland parliament was attacked or Prime Minister murdered?

    And contrary to popular belief not every minister commands a private jet in India. Only President and PM are entitled for dedicated 747 when they fly outside - reason being security insists on a four engine plane. Govt of India pays Air India to maintain a 747 for PM/President trip, so unlike Rajiv Gandhi days, Air India's schedule is not disrupted nowadays.

    As a sidenote, do you know when President/King of Maldives or Bhutan wants to India, Govt of India sends its Airforce VVIP planes to fetch them? There is a reason for all this - and showing off is not one of them. As a big and responsible country I fully support in India using exclusive planes for VVIP trips.

    And comparing Finland - whose national GDP relies on just one company - Nokia to India is not even apples to oranges comparision. Rather is it Elephant to Ant comparision.

  5. Finland and its Nordic neighbours are truly egalitarian. Being a welfare state, education and heathcare costs are borne by the state and there is absolutely no disparity in the quality of services available to any citizen, be he a janitor or a CEO. The flip side, of course, is that the tax rates are high. But every citizen is aware of his rights as he is of his responsibilities. It is a truly enlightened society and I have always admired the Finns for their understated, yet confident demeanour. I am not surprised to hear that the PM was so inconspicuous during the flight.

  6. The scariest part of this post is that he was watching 'Sivakasi', God save us all.

  7. You comparing India with Finland? ANd the welcome part has to do with traditional Indian hospitality, the inconvenience has to do with security which is a real concern. It may be fashionable to attack politicians, but remember that they are OUR representatives. If the PM of India travels in a plane all to himself, I'm only proud about that.

  8. The author made a very apt observation. It is sad to see the trashing down of Finland by the ultra-sensitive xenophobes who can't digest a simple positive comment about any non-Indian culture.

    Perhaps there is a connection, if the readers reflected for a few minutes, why Finland ranks 1st or 2nd on the transparency international’s corruption-free index, while India barely makes it to the double digits (88), somewhere in the vicinity of Mali, Gabon and Iran (so much for size of the country argument).

    Maybe there is something to learn from this puny country, that proudly came out of centuries-old domination by the swedes and the russians after the second world war.

    Before we take off on the terrorist threat excuse, recall a Swedish PM, another egalitarian scandinavian, was killed on the streets of Stockholm. An aside, our native terrorism of Kashmir and before that in Punjab was largely the doing of gross mismanagement and shoddy treatment of our own people... long before al qaeda came into being and became global.

    Going by the comments, perhaps Indians deserve their swashbuckling mafia-styled leaders travelling with their large retinue looking down on the "ordinary people".

  9. Friends

    Thank you very much for your comments and observations.

    I fully appreciate the 'threat perception/s' of various leaders in India. The security accorded to various leaders must be corresponding to that. No questions asked period. But, India must find a way to do that in a non-intrusive way and avoid causing inconvenience to the public. It can certainly be done.

    No my observation about the 'junior civil servant flaunting power'.. In Chennai, I frequently observe all kinds of Government officials & ministers zipping across the city 'doing their' stuff. But in the process they cause great inconvenience to ordinary citizens. The frequent traffic diversions, stoppages are not the 'friendly acts' of public servant/s. Also, even when they do find time to interact with citizens, they usually treat them with utter disregard to the individual as though they are doing a favor.

    What I liked about the Finnish PM was his simplicity. When he had some business with his colleagues, he just walked around to talk to them. Infact, he wasn't even travelling in the first class. Indian hospitality and welcome is most welcome and must accorded to the visiting dignitary. But it could definitely be done in way that doesn't become an irritant to the fellow passengers. After all, all of us had traveled for over 10 hours in that plane (from Frankfurt) and deserve a decent reception (hospitality) ourselves.


  10. This comes as no surprise to me as I am living in Finland for about two years.

    You should see the Parliament here no jazz, no security and no layers. The President goes to dance class with just single body guard and does grocery shopping like all of us in the same shop every weekend.

    Here a citizen is more important than a minister or president.