A.H. Wheeler faces the axe of Lalu's reforms
19 July 2004
The landmark Wheeler bookstalls at railway stations may soon be gone with the government deciding to invite open bidding.
When I was a child I used to wonder why there was a Wheeler stall at every railway station. I grew up reading its books on every journey I embarked, only to realise what was so unique about A.H. Wheeler.
It has 258 bookstalls across India providing employment to 10,000 Indians. It stocks a variety of books from Prem Chand's Godan to Erich Segal's Love Story apart from newspapers and magazines.
Above all, the reading culture it has instilled among the travelling Indian masses is beyond praise. The recent announcement by the railways minister Lalu Prasad Yadav to ban this longstanding bookshop because the name sounds English has raised hackles of millions of book lovers who have been cherishing the heritage of Wheelers.
The threat to A.H. Wheeler & Co, which published Rudyard Kipling when he was all but unknown, was announced live on television when the minister departed from his prepared text to say in Hindi, "Wheeler, Wheeler, Wheeler. Why do we have a Wheeler bookstall everywhere? The English have left this country long back!"
In his speech, Yadav asserted that the government has decided not to renew the company's contract to run station bookstalls and to invite open bidding. The question that statement triggers in my mind is whether such a move is to champion the cause of free market reforms or to encourage sycophants to play their games in the name of 'competitive bidding'?