June 24: He may be the architect of a new, assertive India of corporate success and high living, but to Manmohan Singh progress lies as much in certain old-fashioned values.
The man who could claim the wide city roads and swank cars as his insignia today declared himself appalled by the chaos and rage on the country’s streets.
“Building modern roads and driving modern cars is not the end-all and be-all of progress. Good road manners and adherence to road discipline are equally important,” the Prime Minister said after laying the foundation stone for a metro rail project in Bangalore.
“I think we must ask ourselves, ‘Why can’t we be more polite to each other, more caring of each other, more respectful of each other'’”
Singh, perhaps the most polite and well-mannered among India’s politicians, is known not to mince words on matters of public interest. Launching Mumbai’s metro rail project on Wednesday, he had said the city’s civic administration needed to be “freed from the cancer of corruption and the stranglehold of land mafias”.
Today he said drivers must learn how to give way to pedestrians, how to observe rules while overtaking, how and where to park and when not to blow the horn. “These are simple rules, but their observance makes a lot of difference to our daily lives.”
The Prime Minister’s comments may not have come too soon. A recent survey of the world’s major cities by a magazine found Mumbai the rudest and Delhi not much better.
Singh, however, praised Bangaloreans for their politeness and hospitality, and put the infotech capital’s global success partly down to this. Investors come from across the world to Bangalore because “Kannadigas are so gracious, so gentle, so talented and so forward-looking,” he said.
Stories of Singh’s own impeccable manners are legion. When journalists visited his residence during his days as the Rajya Sabha leader of the Opposition, he would often go into the kitchen to bring them a glass of water ' and even make tea for them.
It’s not known if Singh, who used to drive around in a cream-coloured Fiat after his stint as the nation’s finance minister ended in 1996, was ever himself a victim of road rage.
Given Delhi drivers’ reputation as the most abusive and violent in the country, this is not unlikely ' especially since his car tended to break down now and then, as fondly recalled by staff and journalists at the Congress headquarters who had to often push it back to life.
“We Indians behave with great courtesy at home and with our family and friends,” the Prime Minister said. “But sometimes, when we go out, we leave these good manners at home. On the road, we lose control of our good senses. Why should this be so'”
Bangalore seemed just the right place to ask this question. “You (Kannadigas) have become the symbol of a new India, an India on the move'. This success has been made possible by the toil and commitment of millions of people. Above all, it has been made possible by your warm hospitality,” Singh said.
“You must zealously preserve this great asset ' your hospitality. This is what makes Karnataka one of our most modern states.”