A Multi-layered Narrative on ‘Maveli Stores’
Thiruvananthapuram: With his two previous books gaining critical acclaim, C Balagopal is not a novice in writers’ domain. He has made a name as an interesting writer who can engage the reader with meaningful anecdotes and insightful analyses, narrated in a lucid and racy style. In the latest book, ‘Maveli and Market Intervention (How SUPPLYCO Helped to Hold the Price Line)’, he has undertaken an even more challenging task. He has chosen to recall (after a lapse of more than twenty years!) how a novel market intervention idea initiated by Kerala State Civil Supplies Corporation went on to become a successful and self-sustaining model, managing to hold the price line of essential commodities. The idea of opening a few fair price stores, which came to be named Maveli Stores, had gone through the usual terrains of uncertainties and anxieties just as any other initiative of the Government, only to be finally accepted as a success story. As a former civil servant-turned entrepreneur, Balagopal now has the wisdom of hindsight to find new meaning and significance in the events of those days.
C Balagopal’s new book presents a different period in history when people in Government still believed in dreams and pursued the impossible
Today, the public sector is often looked upon as ineffective organisations, known more for corrupt practices than efficiency. The story of Maveli Stores, as recalled and narrated like fiction in this book, presents a different period in history when people in Government still believed in dreams and pursued the impossible. Those were the times when the senior officer always encouraged colleagues to be creative and adventurous. In fact, this book is a befitting homage to the late E Chandrasekharan Nair, the then Minister for Civil Supplies, but for whose sagacity and inherent trust in his officers, the bright spots of Civil Supplies Corporation would never have been possible. Though the book is essentially a recollection of the author’s involvement in realising an idea, the hero of the narrative is unmistakably the Minister and to a lesser degree K M Chandrasekhar who was then the MD of Civil Supplies Corporation. Pertinently, Chandrasekhar has written a pithy foreword to the book that provides the true perspective on the Maveli experiment and the inherent lessons it presents.
The abiding value of the book is its understanding of the healthy relationship between civil servants and the political executive. The book also implies that without the certainty of the support and protection of the Minister, bureaucracy is doomed to underperform. When officers are not encouraged by the political executive to outperform themselves, they stagnate and sometimes undesirable temptations begin to creep in. Balagopal has once again proved that he has the felicity and wisdom to present an otherwise unexciting subject like the birth of Maveli Stores as a gripping narrative. Today, the Maveli Store is no longer a success story. Balagopal’s book tells why without blaming anyone. Quite interestingly, the author recalls what late C Achutha Menon advised the Minister at the time of launching the Maveli Store. He said, ‘Do not allow it to become another KSRTC’. Statesmen are often prophetic.’
By K Jayakumar IAS (Retd.)
(The author is Director, Institute of Management in Government and former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Kerala)