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Saturday, May 18, 2013

The turmoil within!

The ongoing turmoil ignited by the Mahesh episode is akin to a tsunami slamming the nation. It has also led many of us to look within and ponder on the growing absence of character and value systems as one rises (if one calls it rise) within the system. Yet it is surprising that within official forums in public or private sectors, one rarely witnesses either a focus or an open discussion on the pressing need to eradicate corruption, instil value systems and build character within the machinery meant to manage affairs. These fundamental issues are almost always brushed under the carpet in favour of mundane matters or vested interests. These also continue to remain taboo and are never brought on the table, perhaps due to the absence of men with sound value systems who have the courage to call a spade a spade.

Yes it is true that in the bureaucratic arena, a spade is often identified with a spoon or a fork. Sheer absence of stress on “truth” in the land of the Mahatma ensures that the torrid state of affairs retain a valid ground to continue ad infinitum. It is also apparent that whenever the custodians of rules, procedures and systems abdicate their responsibility for personal gains, lack of concern or out of fear, disgraceful incidents like the one recently witnessed start surfacing.  

Professional honesty is the key and the lack of it acts as a powerful catalyst for corruption of the financial kind, yet what the nation invariably witnesses and remains concerned about is matters relating to financial impropriety. A myopic view of the organization, delaying execution of decisions and projects, lack of objectivity in decision making and contractual matters, lack of objectivity in personnel matters, inability to stand up to illegal orders, maltreatment of subordinates and a lack of concern for growth and development are few of the glaring examples of professional dishonesty that invariably cause a more permanent damage than isolated cases of financial impropriety. Quite often even established rules processes and systems are either followed or given the go by merely to suit the convenience or moods of the powers that matter. Sad it is that even the written word appears to have lost its sanctity.

Financial impropriety quickly spreads like a wave in an organization that is devoid of professional honesty. That corruption touches the lives of almost all citizens in almost all spheres of their existence is therefore a hard reality that is not surprising at all. Moreover despite the majority of interactions of individuals and organizations with the tantra being laced with graft, it is a strange scenario that everyone complains and curses yet expects someone else to stem the rot.

Mere symbolism will not do. On my morning walks cutting across the diplomatic enclave of Chanakyapuri, the names of the streets always make me chuckle with amazement. Nyaya Marg, the street of justice is followed by the Satya Marg, the street of truth. Niti Marg, the street of propriety comes next to be followed by Shanti Path, the street of peace and tranquility.  Next comes the Vinay Marg, the street of humility and humbleness. And the most interesting of them all is Satya Sadan, the homes of the truthful. It is evident to even the novice that a lot of water has flown since the diplomatic enclave of Chanakyapuri came of its own.

Amen!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

professional impropriety is the bane

That corruption is not confined to merely currency exchanging hands for dubious reasons is a fact that is generally not appreciated by the clients and constituents of the great sarkari tantra of this nation. Is it therefore not sad that professional dishonesty invariably takes a backseat whenever issues relating to integrity are flagged? While it is true that insofar as the “aam aadmi” of this nation is concerned, demand for or expectance of illegal gratification in lieu of doing what should rightfully be done is the correct definition of corruption, it is also true that professional dishonesty by almost the entire fleet is the inherent reason behind our country continuing perpetually in the league of developing nations.

A Mahesh Kumar is thrust into the dungeons jolting the organization as well as the nation out of the slumber it has gotten into. Yet the celebration that many of the honest constituents of the railways are indulging into would prove to be short lived if even this golden opportunity is wasted and the stable not cleared of the accumulated muck of decades. Mahesh Kumar has been caught and perhaps deserves a life behind bars, but this organization has an excess of the Mahesh Kumar variety and perhaps many times more who are going through the transformation process only to later emerge as great thieves.

In my over three decades of active service, with the exception of only a handful, most of the officers that I had an occasion to interact with had absolutely no sense of propriety on professional issues. They were like a tumbler that may roll in any direction. Rules, processes, guidelines and yardsticks had absolutely no rationale whatsoever for this group that was always prepared to bend in whatever direction the powers that mattered desired. And as a result even the written word had a tendency to lose its sanctity within the confines of the 5’6” gauge.  

I am reminded of the penchant of many of the illustrious chief executives who encouraged abandonment of the rules and processes in the interest of shortsightedness yet like a chameleon switched sides whenever something went wrong and responsibility needed to be fixed. Our attitude towards our most prized asset, land appropriately fits the bill. While the top guy places ten minute punctuality issues ahead of land on a regular basis, yet he would leave no effort in fixing lowly subordinates in both cases, of his boss expressing annoyance on land grabbing or land reclamation. The recent exposures that reveal a penchant to be "his masters voice" rather than a custodian of rules and processes even in the matter of secretary level appointments by the apex levels of the railway board are merely a peek into what most of us have been silent witness to for many years now.

The route to financial corruption is via professional dishonesty and professional dishonesty would definitely lead one to the swamps of financial impropriety. This hard reality needs acceptance, the earlier the better, even otherwise the great Indian railways would stagger on.

Amen!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Caught with the pants down!

The great Indian Railways stands exposed. Managed by puny guys, one of whom has been caught with his pants down with a few more in the pipeline, this great organization that witnessed minimal contribution from its mandarins in the last few decades is indeed tottering. As I had mentioned in an earlier post, a great organization brought to its knees by its constituents is indeed a sad story.

It is a cultural malaise, a culture where a senior guy does not appreciate a junior bloke standing erect, a culture of supple spines, free lunches, self gratification, sycophancy and feudalism. Indeed, railways is very much out of place in the corporate environment of the twenty first century. A corporate sans sprinkling of a corporate culture.

Mahesh also must have been a budding youngster perhaps full of idealism and commitment when he would have joined the railways as a probationary officer. Like almost everyone else he also would have learnt to enjoy power and the perks that go with the job, steadily increasing as one climbs up the ladder. Trained in a staff college that does not regard instilling value systems or leadership traits in youngsters, as worthy of consideration, Mahesh would have grown up in the system that admires and places on pedestals sycophant pygmies. He also would have realized fairly early that for a price paid in cash or sycophantic behavior,  many of the important postings are negotiable. And therefore the dubious deal! While Mahesh deserves a couple of years behind bars, yet the major part of the blame should be apportioned to the rotten system that has percolated the nooks and corners of this organization that once had a great affixed to its name.

As the head honcho of the Delhi division I had ringside seats in so far as witnessing the conduct of the apex levels of the railways. And the view was disturbing to say the least. While the top guys never displayed leadership qualities, always had a supple spine and lambasted subordinates at the slightest opportunity, they invariably laid prostate at the feet of their bureaucratic and political masters. Many of the lot also never lost an opportunity to take advantage of their position almost always, even in the matter of whacking the curtains that are allotted to their official bungalow, at the time of their retirement. Whacking of curtains and adjusting the entire electricity consumption of their house as official are minor examples of unethical  practices, yet lays bare the conduct of officials in high places.

Large scale structural reforms are perhaps the only route to redeeming the greatness of the railways. The Mahesh Kumar episode is signalling a turning point provided the gravy train is able to negotiate the turnout it is faced with. 

In God we trust, Insha allah!