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Monday, February 7, 2011

Encapsulated in rank

Right from the time a youngster is inducted in what they call services, he or she permanently remains encapsulated in rank, almost always till death. And therefore we find even retired officials finding it convenient to remain under the garb of the post they earlier held, with a mild “retd” attached to it, even though it totally suppresses their personality and also individuality. The serving though would even like to forget their names and appreciate remaining encapsulated in rank, for that gives power, perks and an unbridled opportunity to fleece the system.

We have to learn to appreciate that behind the façade of every rank there is a human being who is any day more important than any rank or title and therefore deserves to be treated with concern and humility.

I often wonder why bureaucrats aspire for a position? Is it to set right the organization or the nation or is it for petty personal gains? Almost all the top honchos that one bumps into in the bureaucratic system are there and would like to perpetually remain there for the power that makes them feel worthy and important even though they may be not, and for the petty personal advantages like free housing and equally free servants and other legal and illegal facilities that in their opinion are to be fleeced from the system. The beacon light on the cars of top bureaucrats is symptomatic of the deep rooted malaise, the desire to appear important in the eyes of others.

And this brings us to the basic question. What would a bureaucrat like his legacy to be? Would he like to be known as the one who manipulated all his life to rest his backside on the top chair for his personal glorification or one who by his contribution to the organization and the nation glorified the very chair he sat upon. It is indeed the misfortune of the nation that the second variety is generally found missing.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Semmler way!

The conference on 28th on tendering and contracting was interesting, even though my presence there was brief. The participants were shocked when I questioned the basic premises of the tendering system. Why should we tender and if we tender why should we have a tender committee?

I remember those heady days of probationary period when we were told about the canons of financial propriety and the first canon was that government money should be spent as our own. Thereafter I have always wondered as to why we tender for sarkari purchases and contracts whereas for our own personal requirement we do not? And these complex sarkari procedures ensure, no they almost guarantee substandard quality, high life cycle cost, time over runs and a liberal sprinkling of corruption in the entire process. Despite the same, our insistence on following the complex procedures and at the same time mouthing the canons of financial propriety is not understandable.

Why are established practices and systems taken as sacrosanct, despite the same having brought the nation to where it is now? Agreed that India is not a failed state, but at the same time its ranking at almost the bottom of the list of nations in the human development index does not really make us proud. And the latest ranking on the transparency index also brings disgrace.

But why the sea of babus mismanaging the nation is not able to appreciate the same is what I have been unable to fathom so far. From the bottom of the pit, one can only rise and therefore getting rid of the existing procedures and systems does not, in my opinion, offer any risk whatsoever. Despite the same, while exhortation for superior performance continues, it is not backed by any effort towards a new way of working.

Status quoism is the hallmark of mediocrity. It is high time we looked at the "Semmler" way of management.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Attaining Amaratva!

I am now seriously contemplating having an inaugural ceremony at my residence, the next time I purchase a Television, Music System, Refrigerator or any costly household appliance. The ceremony will be replete with an inaugural plaque mentioning of-course my name in bold, which will be stuck to the equipment. After all being the boss of the house I shall be doing the honors almost every time. At times I may also invite senior neighbors for the ceremony and their names will also be displayed on the plaque in an appropriate capacity, generally as the Guests of Honor.

Sounds strange, to the extent of being ridiculous. Well a similar scenario is what we indulge in regularly during the course of discharge of our official responsibilities. So what is strange about it if we extend the same to our homes.

Jokes apart, my wife and daughters have warned me that my plan is outright foolish and they would go to any extent to prevent me from putting it in action. They are certain that my scheme is going to make me not “amar”, but a laughing stock in the colony. If engraving names on foundation/inaugural plaques started conferring “amaratva”, on the person so named, then perhaps I would have been permitted to indulge, but not otherwise. My daughter also sarcastically reminded me that Gandhiji and Pandit Nehru are “amar” not because of their names having been engraved on plaques, but because of their contribution to the society.

My visits to heritage sites shock me. Worthy attempts at glorifying heritage bridges by placing granite plaques mentioning the significance of the heritage structures, had fallen terribly short of the professed objective because the plaques also glorified the officials responsible not for building the structure, but for putting the plaque. Again crude attempts at sycophancy and also attaining “amaratva”. Well think of a scenario 100 years hence when it would appear that the names on the plaques are those of the builder. History would then stand rewritten and the engineer who was born 50 years after the structure was built would come to be identified as the builder. I am also reminded of an inaugural ceremony held in Delhi a couple of years back when a dustbin was inaugurated. I was told that the ceremony itself attracted a lot of sniggers, but what are few sniggers on the road to “amaratva”. But one occasion which was really the cause of great entertainment for the participants was when a toilet block was inaugurated at a public place.

We have become a nation of inaugural and foundation stone ceremonies. Open any newspaper and you find innumerable instances of public figures vying for amaratva. Full page advertisements announcing inaugural or foundation stone ceremonies have become common. The ceremony itself becomes larger than life and the very cause of the ceremony becomes insignificant vis-à-vis the Chief Guest. Omnipresent sycophants contribute in no small measure by leaving no stone unturned during such occasions and well after the event is over, the cause can go to hell. Very often it so happens that first it is decided to glorify a public figure and then the foundation or inaugural ceremony is suitably evolved. Well on a more sombre note, comparing the two, I am supportive more of the inaugurals because they signify completion of an activity even if it is a dustbin, a toilet block or the plaque itself. What really annoys me however are the foundation stone ceremonies, which are a dime a dozen these days and no one really has even the foggiest idea of the day when the foundation stone would get consummated. You lay a foundation stone with great fanfare, achieve amaratva and then conveniently move on to another ceremony elsewhere. But think of the positive side. Every activity has so much potential for ceremonies and there are so many petty activities to be performed. Everyone who is a somebody can always remain busy either cutting ribbons or marking attendance during these ceremonies. The potential is immense and I am confident that we as a society will leave no stone unturned in lapping it up ad infinitum.

I just am not able to appreciate this great national pastime of laying foundation and inaugural stones for almost about everything under the sun. Is it not the in thing to provide roads or say public toilets or any other civic infrastructure?. Why the hell do we then lay foundation or inaugural stones for carrying out routine obligatory functions. Or is it that the Indian society has become so bankrupt of achievements that even a toilet block, an office complex, a fountain or a dustbin is considered a national achievement that should be celebrated and whose builders should be immortalized in stone for posterity. I am not deriding these stones totally. Definitely we should lay foundation and inaugural stones for long 8 lane highways or new power stations, fertilizer plants or if I let my imagination run wild, say a new quadrilateral for the railways. These would definitely be achievements of stature and the builders or dreamers of them deserve being immortalized in history, but not those of toilet blocks, dustbins or even boundary walls.

We ape the west in almost every sphere of our life. I once asked a Britisher whether in his nation they have such ceremonies as frequently as in India. He smirked and said that such ceremonies send a signal that the nation is bereft of real achievements. It is sad but it is the truth, a truth which dawns on me every day when I open the morning newspaper. Besides the routine and the sensational stuff, there are news stories about cultural events being held, CD’s being released, exhibitions being inaugurated, petty structures being renovated and many other insignificant events trying to rev up our national pride. What is glaringly missing are significant achievements in any sphere of activity, achievements which would make a positive contribution to the growth of the nation. Does it mean that we have become a nation of non achievers, the conformists or the status quoists. Again sad but true. A very high acceptability of the status quoists by the Indian society is what is ruining the nation. A society which feels uneasy with achievers is what we have become today. And therefore the foundation and inaugural stones, which give a false sense of achievement from mediocre run of the mill accomplishments.

If my point of view were to prevail, I would place an immediate ban on laying of any type of stone other than the tombstone. Let people be known and remembered for what they have achieved in life or contributed to the society, rather than by having their names engraved in granite or marble stones for petty activities.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Blurred republic!

This sixty first Republic day makes us sad, because on its eve, a honest government servant has been brutally murdered by mafia. A true reflection of the state of the nation.

I love my country, almost all of its citizens do, yet I wonder how many of us take pride in it. Yes we all love our children, parents and all that is dear to us. Yet how many would take pride in a child that has gone astray, a child who has abandoned the high grounds of moral behavior for personal petty gains, a child who often brings pain to its parents? None I believe, yet they would love him.

Similar sentiments I feel for my nation. Amply loved, but no feelings of pride. The 2G scam, the commonwealth loot, the adarsh conduct and the deposits in swiss accounts, are they the signs of a nation that one can be proud of? The rampant corruption, the abject poverty, lopsided development, a nincompoop bureaucracy and inadequate masters again make the heart bleed on this day when all of the nations citizens should be celebrating.

Where are we heading to? Will we forever wait for a leader who pulls the nation out of the mess it finds itself in and lead it towards development and growth in the true sense.

One can only hope and pray!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A feudal setup!

It is disgusting to witness senior officials commanding their subordinates for petty personal favors, that necessarily can only be provided by fleecing the official machinery. And such officials are the ones on whose shoulders rests the responsibility for taking the organization forward and setting benchmarks in ethical behavior.

I am appalled at the growing penchant for misusing official staff at residences and at the same time issuing circulars counseling against such misuse. I am equally appalled at the system of assessment followed by such officials, a system that is based more more on "seva" than sheer deliverance.

A system that dispenses advice in place of support and a bureaucracy that believes in licking the backsides of its superiors and booting its subordinates neither inspires confidence nor hope.

All of us from the sarkari tantra should never forget that our loyalties are meant to be only to the organization and not its self centered mulazims. During my recent discourse to probationers, who are not yet fully exposed to the filth of the system, a youngster asked me as to why railways is still extremely feudal as compared to other services? I could only agree with him and yet had no answers.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Painful Reality

India Inc pleaded with the Government to do something about corruption. This is the big news of today.

India would definitely be the numero uno in Olympics, only if the competition was of a different kind, centered around the widely practised sport of corruption.

Do the decision makers, or the men who matter, the bureaucrats and the politicos who have not yet jumped on the bandwagon of corruption have even the foggiest idea of the level of corruption in our system? It is almost nothing that an outsider can do with any sarkari system in the country without the customary greasing of palms. Yes, organizations like the Delhi Metro also exist, but they are notable exceptions that one can count on fingertips. The rot is absolute.

The tantra has two category of men who matter. One who have jumped on the bandwagon of corruption and the second who have not yet. The second category has a miniscule sprinkling of men of integrity who also deliver, the rest are either spineless, nincompoop or unconcerned. It is also tragic that this category generally feigns ignorance about the corrupt practices going on right under their noses and remains busy in its own world, fully occupied by the mundane stuff, that it tries hard to believe would bring about the change.

The problem invariably lies in the top management. Everything else is generally the symptom and this top layer, with a sprinkling of exceptions of course, generally comprises of rank mediocres, a category that alone possesses the capability to rise through the muck. Most of them, members of the second category of course. This ground reality is painful!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why Steam?

Why talk of steam now? This question has always engaged the minds of many men who matter, at different points of time in our quest for a limited scale preservation and revival of steam locomotives.

I clearly remember those heady days of mid 1990’s when the revival of the Fairy Queen was on the cards. Also on the cards was the birth of a niche tourism segment in the country, the “Steam Heritage Tourism” segment. And I clearly remember the detractors and also the supporters who remained committed in their support resulting in the victory of the cause. The GUINNESS world record and the National Tourism Award that followed left no one in doubt about the genuineness of the stupendous effort that had been put in.

The birth of the steam engine of James Watt marked the beginning of the industrial revolution in the world and the steam locomotive of Stephenson that subsequently followed, revolutionized the way people were used to traveling till then. Rapid advances in locomotion and railway systems thereafter, resulted in huge benefits to the economy and the society.

The advent of diesel and electric locomotives on the railway scene resulted in the rapid elimination of steam locomotives from main line operations. Yet nations that were and still are much more advanced than us, did not destroy the glorious heritage of steam locomotives. Almost the entire western world retained sizable number of steam locomotives and also associated skills, primarily for the twin causes of heritage and tourism. We unfortunately, took on large scale destruction of steam locomotives in right earnest and went to the ridiculous extent of destroying each and every single of the WG class of locomotives, ostensibly to meet scrap disposal targets or was it sadism?

Our sincere efforts at destruction bore fruit in the year 1995 with the phasing out of steam locomotives from the broad gauge and from the meter gauge in 2000. Our efforts to remove steam even from the hill railways, where the locomotives added a bit of romance to the journey also bore fruit in later years.

Therefore while nostalgia for steam locomotives took the western world, especially the UK by storm in the late seventies, some of us also felt nostalgic beginning ninety nineties and that led to the historic run of the fairy queen culminating in a Guinness world record adding considerable value to the international image of the Indian Railways.

And then as is the national culture, everyone jumped on the bandwagon and the bandwagon broke.

The resurrection of Rewari started the ball rolling again. The efforts of Vikas and Saraswat and the guidance of Sethi, the evergreen president of the steam railway society bore fruit. Steam, once more appears to be getting back on track. Insha-allah.

The question yet remains unanswered. Why steam?

Well the presence of raw fire that fires raw power in the belly of steam locomotives is the draw. The unique sound, the rocking gait, the shrill whistle, the throbbing body and an open design bordering on nudity are features that impart an irresistible charm to these black beauties. The die hard steam enthusiast believes in the individual and unique personality of each steam locomotive, a personality so individual that it warranted a crew of three, a driver and two fireman, by name to man her.

The charm apart, the steam locomotive is one of the most revered items that constitute the heritage of mankind, a heritage that propelled the industrial revolution in the world. Should we let that heritage die in our country, whereas the western world that is miles and miles ahead of us in development is still carefully nurturing and preserving steam locomotives.

And lastly for the cause of promoting steam heritage tourism, a niche and fast growing tourism segment in the world. We arrived in this sector with a bang, a bang that only the Fairy Queen, the oldest working steam locomotive in the world could have provided and yet we have not moved forward, as much as we should have done.

The arguments in favor of limited and careful preservation of steam locomotives are unbeatable and Rewari has once again provided the push and shown the path. We now have no way to go but forward.