A ninety minute workout every morning. Juggling between her stepper, having her tea and reading the newspapers. Breakfast comprising a banana, almonds and toast. A young fitness freak? No. Keep guessing. Writing blogs, tweeting and lining up meetings. A corporate CEO? Wrong. Planning surprise inspections at government offices, tweeting and scheduling public grievance sessions. Alright, a fresh IAS officer? Incorrect. A dream Chief Minister? Still off the mark. Close to 70 years old, Puducherry’s Lt. Governor seems to have the same energy of her teenage years as the national junior tennis champion or as India’s first woman IPS officer in the early seventies. But passion for her profession is not the only trait that sets Dr.Kiran Bedi apart from others in the Corrridors of Power. Age cannot wither her, nor political pressure stale her infinite courage.
Decades before the term ‘disruptor’ entered our lexicon, Dr.Bedi was at the epicentre of ‘change’ in the most unimaginable fashion, right from her khakhi avatar. As a young DCP (Traffic) in Delhi, when she had ordered the towing away of a car belonging to the Prime Minister’s Office, she earned the nickname ‘Crane’ Bedi. As the Inspector General of the Tihar Jail, she introduced yoga and brought about prison reforms that won her international acclaim and the Ramon Magsaysay Award. As the Deputy Director General of the Narcotics Control Bureau, she struck at the root of the menace by targetting illegal opium and cannabis cultivation. Seeking voluntary retirement from the Indian Police Service in 2007 when she was the Director General of the Bureau of Police Research & Development, Bedi went on to be appointed as the Special Secretary to the Lt.Governor of Delhi, where she revolutionised public grievance redressal through an interactive, computerised unit bolstered by Citizen Wardens, solving close to sixty five thousand complaints. A prelude to her own gubernatorial role.
After an unsuccessful shot at the 2015 Delhi assembly election as the BJP’s Chief Ministerial candidate, Bedi was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry in May, 2016. In a thousand days, that will be completed later this month, the office of the Governor, often described as a rubber stamp, has been anything but that. Bedi’s critics may call her a maverick governor on a collision course with an elected government in the Union Territory, crossing the delicate constitutional Line of Control, but never has Raj Nivas or any Raj Bhavan been buzzing with activity of this magnitude, almost as if it is on steroids!
What makes Lt. Governor Bedi so different from most other holders of this high office? Breaking the ‘palace intrigue’ of a Raj Nivas, Bedi does not seem to believe in false airs or prestige of her office. Direct communication is her mantra. Barely two hours after I reached out to her aide Shivani Arora, who is an integral part of her social media team, about this column, my mobile phone rang. I had stored Bedi’s number during my NDTV years and recognised the Lt. Governor’s voice. “Hi Sanjay, what can I do for you?” Warm, no pretences or needless pleasantries and cut to the chase.What a refreshing departure from the exasperating practice of flunkies or secretaries calling from board lines and putting you on hold, heralding the voice of ‘God’ as it were!
Far from functioning like a ceremonial figure head, belying her age, Bedi is a Governor always on the move and of ‘standing’, quite literally too! Even inside her office, I’ve seen videos of her meeting people while standing behind a podium and signing files. Conscious of her role rather than her position, Bedi is not the kind who hankers after the trappings of power or revels in cutting ribbons or lighting lamps at functions. The ‘corridors of power’ are meant to be ‘corridors of service’. A little birdie inside Raj Nivas told me that she gets restless when there is no action! Weekends for her are not meant to kick up her heels and chill out but to hit the road with morning rounds.
During the week, officials at different government departments are on their toes, not knowing when the Lt. Governor would turn up for a surprise visit. While these visits are video recorded, they don’t seem contrived for the camera, going by the spontaneous interaction with the staff and members of the public. Instructions and orders are passed on the spot. Attempts are made to streamline systems and ensure that they are citizen friendly. I remember a video of the Lt. Governor asking an official who greeted her with a shawl if he had used his personal funds for it. When he nodded, she turned around and made her Aide De Camp to reimburse the cost from the Raj Nivas account.
Not influenced by official versions, Bedi has a mind of her own. So when the local authorities are said to have thrown up their hands citing lack of funds to desilt canals, Bedi roped in citizens and corporate volunteers in a bid to make Puducherry water rich. Team Water Rich Puducherry is on a mission to clean ponds, lakes and canals. Putting the kibosh on overdrawing of groundwater above a prescribed threshold with advisories issued to major consumers, the groundwater table is being studied. Efforts are on to replicate best practices of companies like MRF, such as maintaining a water balance sheet, conservation through drip irrigation and recycling. Isn’t this scientific approach in sharp contrast to ‘thermocol’ solutions bandied about by a Minister in a neighbouring State?!
Ask most students about the office of a Governor and they would probably remember some basic information from their Civics or Constitution textbooks. Enter Lt.Governor Bedi. Youngsters are now doing internships at the Raj Nivas! Other Governors may have opened the gates of the Raj Bhavan to the public. Bedi has opened her heart as well, if videos of kids sitting on her chair and posing for photographs with the Lt.Governor standing beside them, are any indication. Accessible to everyone with a problem or an idea, people seem to top Bedi’s list of priorities. And like the proverbial mountain, if the people are unable to meet her, she goes to their doorstep. A recent interaction at a home for the aged run by nuns, was a touching reflection of Bedi’s compassion.
Does the early riser also crash early? Not a chance. The Lt. Governor’s aide Shivani reveals how Bedi would, after a frugal dinner of soup and toast, peep into her room even at 9.30 at night with some query or instruction to the social media team. A cup of hot chocolate before dozing off is perhaps Bedi’s only indulgence. A workaholic can jolly well afford to be a chocoholic!
(Sanjay Pinto is an Advocate practising at the Madras High Court, a Columnist, Author, TV Political Analyst, Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident Editor of NDTV 24×7)