Inland letters addressed to Narendra Modi, at the India Post office in Nirman Bhawan, New Delhi - Aditi Malhotra/The Wall Street Journal
On a recent morning at a post office in New Delhi two postmen sorted through almost 5,000 envelopes sent from across India all marked to one addressee: Narendra Modi, the country’s new prime minister.
Letter-writing may seem outdated in the age of WhatsApp, Hike and Facebook Chat, but the letters inside the bags filling the dusty floors of this local post office are a hand-written testament that the dwindling practice still survives in India.
It’s also evidence that Mr. Modi is inspiring– and inviting — people to put pen to paper.
He used a recent national radio address to ask citizens without access to email or the Internet to get in touch. “Send me a letter, with your ideas and suggestions. I assure you that it will reach me and I will look at it with utmost attention,” Mr. Modi told All India Radio listeners.
And they did, in droves.
“I’ve never seen such an inflow of letters” for a prime minister or his office, said Dal Chand, the postmaster at the post office in Nirman Bhawan, a complex in central Delhi that houses several government departments. On average, Mr. Modi receives between 3,000 and 5,000 letters a day from around India and all of them come through this delivery office.
Mr. Chand’s colleague Rajendra Singh Rana, who sorts letters into pigeonholes ready to be sent to the correct department, delivered mail to the prime minister’s office between 1989 and 1999 when the Internet had yet to reach India. But none of the leaders he was postman to “kept the local post office so busy,” as Mr. Modi, said 56-year-old Mr. Rana.
India Post, the country’s state-run postal network, is the largest of its kind in the world with around 150,000 post offices across the country. In recent years the service has, like many of the country’s state-owned enterprises,been making a loss and losing out to private sector couriers.
Since Mr. Modi became prime minister though, the Nirman Bhawan post office has had to add two new staff members to handle the increased letter load taking the total number of employees to 52.
The postmen’s hours too have extended. Instead of winding up at lunchtime, the two men in charge of delivering letters to the prime minister sometimes go on a second round to get all the missives to his office before the end of the day. The work has been especially intense in the past few weeks during the festival season when Indians have been diligently sending greetings cards to their prime minister.
Mr. Chand, who has worked for the postal service for 35 years and been postmaster at the government’s main sorting office for just over a year, thinks there’s another reason for the increase in mail.
The prime minister’s personality and his ability to connect with his countrymen explains the uptick, Mr. Chand said as he grabbed a fistful of postcards all destined for Mr. Modi’s desk.
Among them are pale blue inland letters that come ready stamped, cost as little as 2.5 rupees (about 4 cents) to send and fold up into a self-adhesive envelope.
The correspondents using these addressed the prime minister variously as “His Excellency, Mr. Narendra Modi,” “The Pride of India: Narendra Modi,” and some simply use “Modiji,” (“ji” is an often-used honorific in Hindi.)
Then there are bunch of yellow-colored post cards, some with handdrawn lanterns and rangolis(Indian designs) to wish the prime minister a happy Diwali. Another contains a short poem titled “Namo Namo, the Conqueror.” Others are marked “urgent” including one asking Mr. Modi to expedite a response to a right to information request.
Even before Mr. Modi’s on-air request for letters, his postbox was bulging. He received an average of 5,000 letters a day in the first week of July, weeks after becoming prime minister and, a few days after his birthday on Sept. 17, more than 100,000 letters and postcards arrived for him, staff at the post office say.
With Mr. Modi in charge, “people have immense hope,” said Sukhbir Singh, who has been one the prime minister’s two postmen since 2010. The “aam janta,” or the common people, he added, “see an opportunity in Mr. Modi to solve the smallest of their problems.”
Mr. Singh and his colleague Jaspal, who goes by only one name, are assigned the two “beats” known as 10 and 27 that cover all the mail directed to the prime minister’s office. Beat 10 handles letters sent by speed post and any mail that is addressed to a particular person in the prime minister’s office. Beat 27 deals with letters, postcards and registered mail for Mr. Modi.
As they prepared the last round of sacks full of letters, postcards, couriered mail and parcels for the prime minister for the day on Wednesday, the two discussed what it was about Mr. Modi that made people write to him in such numbers. They settled on a single word: approachable.
Source : http://blogs.wsj.com/