Influence peddlers

One of the problems most of us have is that we do not consider a direct method of achieving our goal. Instead, we look at taking an intermediary’s help to solve our problem.

Recently, I had to get a long-pending file to be moved at one of the government departments. I was told it would be more effective if I went through ‘contacts’. Obviously, that would come with a price tag.

In the USA they have legitimatized this process by accepting the concept of “lobbying”. In fact there is a lot of money to be made, hence we have many out-of-office American politicians also getting on to the bandwagon.

I have been exposed to the concept of ‘contacts’ over several decades but it varied from city to city. Delhi is the ultimate city for this activity thanks to it being the seat of government. Everybody and his uncle claims to have influence with the powers to be.

Even for the Republic Day parade, contacts are invoked to get a pass for stands closest to the saluting base. However, the ultimate recognition is when one gets invited to soirees at foreign embassies.

One story my mother would relate was the time my father was invited for dinner at the American Embassy and she got to shake hands with the 6 ft 8 inch tall ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith.

Newspapers are full of stories of how senior bureaucrats and politicians refuse to vacate their sprawling bungalows in Lutyens Delhi.The fact is that there is a lot of 'effort' that needs to be put in to even get the allotment at that prime location in the first place.

Hyderabad has a different ‘contact’ culture altogether. There it is either the politicians or the big business families. For some unknown reason I was thought to be influential within my organization so I used to get calls from even ministers requesting for jobs for their relatives. I asked one of my colleagues how one gets perceived as being influential.

He gave a simple explanation. If I was standing next to my chairman in our head office portico and I said something and he laughed, it was immediately construed that I was close to him. It is immaterial that the conversation may have been only regarding the quality of food in the cafeteria.

Bangalore has more an ‘I couldn’t care less’ culture. Thanks to the large migrant techie population, the need for any influence peddling becomes redundant except when some land sharks need rules changed for their pecuniary benefit. However, once a year there is a mad scramble to invoke past relationships and favours done. This is when signatures have to be collected for club membership application forms.

Now that I have retired I am off the radar for anyone wanting any help. Putting it another way, I think people know that there is no point in approaching me as I am no longer a ‘contact’.

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