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The tyranny of No. 2

india Updated: Jan 11, 2011 22:38 IST
Uddalok Bhattacharya
Uddalok Bhattacharya
Hindustan Times
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A senior IPS officer's son had a dual problem. He was not sufficiently familiar with the hierarchy of the police service and often indifferent to it. The stuff bored him. It was natural for him to have a feeling of discomfort when his father's sidekicks introduced him in social circles as son of the 'No. 2 policeman' in state X. He couldn't fathom why his father got second place as there were so many others who could claim the slot with equal justification.

Disgusted though he was, the absurdity had an impact on him. That's why while reading about Hitler's rise and coming to power, he was curious to know who the Nazi leader's next in command was. After a considerable search he stumbled on the answer: a relatively feeble and unimportant Rudolf Hess, deputy leader of the Nazi Party. Somewhat surprised and disappointed, he again thought of his father.

As he got on in life, the thing about No. 2 became more and more perplexing. His friends were joining jobs, some of them at a newspaper that had started a few years earlier. Number one there was undisputed No. 1, but the second person in the organisation again became difficult to identify. Several names he heard, this time on circuits to which he himself belonged. As he was now closer to the stage of what he had earlier thought was a bit of a comic play, he could not remain impervious to the No. 2 business. He had to drink it in, and even tried to make an academic discourse on who could be what in which circumstances of corporate life. In later years, he found his friends 'getting' No. 2 positions, not with much conviction though. What was thought as 'absurd' seemed in some way very potent.

When the claim to being No. 2 is nothing but a vacuous boast, it is amusing and conducive to small talk. But sometimes this can create governance problems, as often happens in the defence ministry. For example, no one knows who comes next to the minister — the defence secretary or the defence chiefs? It amazes me no end when I hear Pranab Mukherjee was considered No. 2 in the Indira Gandhi years. But today, when he lends shoulder to the PM to keep ranting colleagues at bay, mercifully no one calls him 'second man'.

However, those who equate Sachin Tendulkar worship with patriotism are wiser now. Thirty years ago, Gavaskar fans called the Indian opener "the greatest after Bradman". Sensing the vagueness about being number two, Tendulkar has now been put above the Australian. Period!