The Maharashtra state elections yesterday coupled with a chat session with an XLRI senior toggled a chain reaction of snapshots from the past. Another indifferent turnout left me feeling a bit sad and indeed irritated with those who did not vote.
I did vote. I voted for a candidate with a post-graduate degree and no criminal charge. He is unlikely to win unfortunately. So what. I took part in the process.
For XLRI taught me, amongst other things, to respect and to have faith in a democratic process. I have experienced how powerful it can be, first-hand.
For those who would not know, XLRI has a body known as the Student Affairs Council. (No, its not a committee which aims to keep track of philandering educatees). This Council (SAC for short) consists of the General Secretary and representatives from each of the classes. It is the apex student repesentative body and as such, case default for all student problems and grievances.
Circa early July 2006. As a typical newbie MBA, after examining my "skill sets" and deciphering how best to "leverage" them, I concluded that I needed to apply for elections to the SAC. I would be a harbinger of change. I would be a true leader.
Over discussions with a senior SAC member at Chhappan Bhog (a popular snack outlet in Jamshedpur) I made up my mind to apply and submitted my nomination.
Instructions were absolutely clear. There was to be no campaigning. (This ain't no engg college). Each candidate would have some time to present his candidature. (known as the soap box; the term probably originated from Hyde Park, London where public orators would stand on soap boxes to deliver impromptu political speeches). That would be followed by a Question and Answer session. May the best man win.
As expected, I was not the only enthusiastic contender. There were a large number of people for each division. I sat nervously anticipating my turn. I had prepared a list of the issues which I intended to focus on.
When I was finally called, I was quite shaky. Staring at 180 faces, most of them unfamiliar and asking them to vote for me was, to put it mildly, unnnerving. I blurted out the points that I had noted, reading them almost verbatim at times from the paper in my hand. I hardly looked at the people present.
Q & A began. And I learnt the most important lesson of leadership. Just when I thought all the questions were done and was about to walk back to my place, a person whom I will call Revolutionary Vampire (if you are reading this, absolutely no offence meant) got up and asked me: "How do you expect to represent us, when you are not even prepared to look at us?"
Ouch. I thought Mallus were nice people. I was stunned. I had no answer. I knew then and there that I had lost it. The senior SAC members who were moderating Q & A told me not to answer the question, but that was not the point anyway. I came back to my seat, feeling listless.
When the process ended, we were each asked to leave a person behind who bear witness on our part for the counting of votes. I picked on one of the few people whom I knew at that time - Nirkesh Mulundwala (keep guessing, folks!).
Finally the results were announced. 6 deserving people had won. (As later events proved, they were deserving). I gathered the courage to ask Nirkesh how many votes I had received.
"2" he replied.
2 votes. Not as bad as I had expected. To this day I don't know the kind soul who voted for me.
"Ah well" I consoled myself. "Public life is not meant for everyone"
Cut to Jan 2007. January is a transition period in XLRI. The senior batch typically lazes around in the JLT, getting photographs clicked in arbitrary poses, while the junior batch starts shaping itself up for the year ahead as the new senior batch. Entering Grihasthashram.
I was with the Lord of Destruction in his room. (One of the 6 people mentioned above).
"Are you applying for SAC this time?"
"No no, I failed miserably last time."
"Things are different. People in the batch know you now. You have helped everyone a lot with acads"
"That doesn't matter. I still am not networked enough"
"People don't want a high flyer. They want someone whom they can trust enough to get the job done"
"It won't work..."
Well, I applied again.
Life one year later in XLRI is quite different. Everyone knows everyone. Bullshitting doesn't work.
I knew the real issues this time. I knew what to focus on. I knew the questions that could be asked. And I didn't need the piece of paper.
Still, the past creates its own overhangs which are not easy to get rid of.
I don't recollect feeling more nervous ever in my life. Two people (who shall remain unnamed) were kind enough to accompany me on a walk in the bylanes of Circuit House. Much of the time was spent in anticipatory silence. The cool bracing air did lift my spirits.
I entered the classroom and took a look at the other 2 contenders (2 out of 3 would make it, so not a bad ratio one may think). Number 1 was the Lord of Destruction. Number 2 was CRISPy Bong - a person whom I do not know very well personally but have high respect for. The kind of person who would take the shirt off his back and give it if needed. These were the sort of competitors you would much rather give up against in all humility, than fight to the finish.
Backing out was not an option now. I stated my points. Looking at the faces in front of me, each one which had certain qualities associated with it. Unconsciously trying to connect with them.
Trust me on this guys. I am here to do my best. I won't screw up.
Q & A followed. I tried my best to answer with raw honesty.
Time was up. Votes were to be cast. People looked as inscrutable as ever.
Did I manage to strike a chord with them?
Ganjeshwarnath was my counter this time. I waited for the few minutes of counting outside. It felt like an eternity.
Finally, the people inside came out. I looked at Ganjeshwarnath, a standing question. He broke into a smile.
Before I knew it, I was in the air, a dozen arms holding me, spread eagled and legs flying around, subjecting my rear to a brutal volley of kicks, cheering and shouting.
Yes, my vote count this time was slightly higher than two.