Pump up the jam
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Pump up the jam

CN-ji and LP-ji sat rubbing their hairy forearms at their favourite beer bar on the National Highway. Chander Nath-ji and Lal Prakash-ji, to give their full names, were dealers in petrol, CNG as well as LPG cylinders.

india Updated: Aug 24, 2002 12:29 IST
Bachi Karkaria
Bachi Karkaria

CN-ji and LP-ji sat rubbing their hairy forearms at their favourite beer bar on the National Highway. Chander Nath-ji and Lal Prakash-ji, to give their full names, were dealers in petrol, CNG as well as LPG cylinders. The official term for them was 'allottees'. To you and me, this word might seem as aesthetically offensive as a Gurgaon gas station, but in the light of the current scandal it was quite appropriate. 'Allottee' means you get a lot.

LP-ji and CN-ji ordered two bottles of Kingfisher beer, even though the controversy over the 'maal-ya' that changes hands in such transactions had put an end to the good times. Nursing his chilled glass in his plump hand, LP-ji morosely said to CN-ji, "I should never have called my petrol station 'Bharatiya Janata Pump'."

CN-ji replied as desolately as a shut-down business, "Thank God, I didn't call mine 'Chander Nath's Gas'."

Yes, the week's uproar in Parliament had made life tough for the once-favoured dealers. In a foster-kneejerk reaction, the Prime Minister had cancelled licences for all the 3,158 petrol stations, as well as LPG, CNG and kerosene outlets allotted since 2000. It was an unprecedented move that threw everyone concerned into reverse gear.

Then the fingers, as greasy as a pump attendant's, began to be pointed at the Opposition. Many felt that this counter-tactic would backfire like a truck exhausted by constantly adulterated diesel. Everybody fumed. The MPs jumped up to shout, 'Size matters. Our list is smaller than yours.'

Indeed, the roster of nepotism, snaking across the length and breadth of the country like an Express train, was a major embarrassment, weighing down all sides like leaded petrol. It seemed as though there were more political relatives in the petrol pump business than there were taluka-level party offices.

Before the scandal burst like a tyre tube, the Harvard Business School had reportedly commissioned a study to examine the co-relation between power-related genes and extraordinary success in the petroleum retail industry — Rs 50,000 profits, cash down, in return for nothing more than a Rs 1,000 application fee; all infrastructure investments were made by the public-sector oil companies who 'owned' the pumps. It was a global first in joint venture business models: public-sector capital, private-sector profits. There was even talk of a high-level team from OPEC and G-8 countries arriving to study the phenomenon.

LP-ji spluttered, spewing his paan-spiked beer all over CN-ji's pristine safari suit, “Here we were trying to get on to the social 'A list'. And, instead, we've ended up on the 'Pee-list'.”

By now LP-ji was firing on all cylinders. Anger poured out of him like petrol from an attendant's nozzle; his own BP rose steadily like the numbers on the meter. He ranted, "Canceling the licences has only fuelled the matter. The fossils in the party should have left it to evaporate. Theek hai, maan liya, Atal-ji is as sensitive as a filter-paper test about the adulteration of his pure image, but, Bhai, did anyone accuse him of directly having a finger in the Vaj-pie?"

"Yaar, 'Bhai' mat kaho," said CN-ji, casting a nervous glance around the beer bar. "Someone will tape our conversation and accuse both of us of having underworld connections as well. We don't need any more `tension', to use that Shakeel's favourite word. Or any more attention, for that matter." But, LP-ji was too tanked up on both beer and belligerence to exercise caution. "Naik, Khalnayak, at this moment for me both parties are without a difference."

"Hey Ram!" said CN-ji, looking quite Shell-shocked. Why was LP-ji driving his point home as recklessly as a trucker high on a bottle of 'Double Ghora'?

CN-ji had learnt to compress his natural gassing. He tried another route to pacify his friend. "Look at it this way, the present Petroleum Minister, 'Jai Shri Ram Naik', at least set up Dealership Selection Boards headed by respected judges. These were theoretically more above board than the ‘discretionary' ones which brought such discredit to Satish-ji, the Congress's Petroleum Minister, in 1996." But this didn't impress LP-ji who loudly retorted, "Dono ko Sharma-na chahiye! "

As clearly as a windscreen just wiped down with Amway C-Clean, CN-ji's attempts to pour some coolant into his friend's overheated engine were not working.

LP-ji gulped down the last of his beer, got up to leave, and gave his fellow petrol dealer one for the road, "Forget about PUC certificates. This political pollution is not going to be under control for a long time. Now we'd better put up another symbol at our pumps. It should showS an open palm with the slogan, 'Lure for Sure'.”

* * *
Alec Smart said, "With her new matchmaking TV programme, should we start calling her 'Madhuri Fixit'?"

First Published: Aug 11, 2002 00:27 IST