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Friday, December 25, 2009

Reaching Delhi

My earlier post was on leaving Bhopal, and the very next post, this post had to be on reaching Delhi. And so here it is.
Having lived for over 11 years in Delhi, I am definitely not an alien here. But Bhopal still feels more like home. Is it because of the artificiality of Delhi, or the crowds, or the dirt and dust, I cant' say? But definitely it has something to do with the genuineness of the people of Bhopal. Delhi is more commercial, even in matters relating to personal relations. Here one is assessed and treated more on the basis of how powerful or wealthy one is. Human values count much less here.
Yet here I am to do a job, a specific job assigned to me. It is no doubt more difficult than the job at Bhopal, yet the same shall be done. After all, sheer will power is still a much more potent force than many other powers.
Delhi is preparing for the ensuing commonwealth games, at a speed that reminds me of a poor man preparing his house for a brief visit of a wealthy man. All areas that the foreigners may visit or see are either being spruced up or being hidden. Why do we have to put up an artificial facade that will soon revert to normal is something that I cannot comprehend? Perhaps it is in tune with the artificiality of the city, where even a smile is not without a specific purpose.
I also have to get on with the job of improving the three major stations of the city in right earnest. A monumental job no doubt, but possible. After all it was in Delhi only where I got mine and also the railways its first guinness by running the fairy queen and also where I almost achieved the biggest turnaround of the country at the (in) famous ITDC.
As always, I am excited and waiting for the non stop excitement to begin.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Leaving Bhopal

I have never felt so sad in my life as I have been feeling these days. The mere thought that I shall be leaving Bhopal on the 22nd of December is enough to make me feel a deep sense of sadness. But there is also a sense of satisfaction. Satisfaction that one gets when the work has been well done. Yes the stint in MPSTDC has been the most satisfying period of my life. I do not think that I could have done better.
Almost all my farewells have been heavily emotional affairs. Both me and my staff cry, togethor. I doubt if this is going to be any different.
Madhya Pradesh is a great state. Beautifully lansdscaped, innumerable tourist destinations, excellent climate, good crime and law and order situation and above all, simple people. Even the politicians are simple, no comparison at all to their brethren in other states. A starking example is the Chief Minister of the state. A simple and honest man, deeply committed to the development of the state. I am going to miss him too.
I always believed that in any organization, the disease or the cure, is vested in the top management, to be exact, in the top man. He can either take the organization forward or sink it. And this stint further reinforced this belief. The same set of staff and officers, who were earlier held accountable for all the wrongs, rose to propel the organization to the forefront of the nation, and that too in a remarkably short time frame.
Once during my first stint in Bhopal, an autorickshaw driver refused to charge me once he knew that I am a stranger to the city. That is the spirit of Bhopal.
I shall forever remember my days in Bhopal and shall relive them after retirement. Well that is the plan at present.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The predicament of the common man

I often wonder at the predicament of the common man in this nation of over a billion people. This is because I now stand fully conviced that our great nation has with passage of time emerged as a haven for only three categories of people. First is the politician, who with his single minded focus on loot for self and his cronies, friends and relatives has firmly enconsed himself in this country. The second category is that of people like me, the bureaucrats and also the lowly government servant. Being part of the power circle, this category has sufficient avenues to amply look after and take care of its breed, a job that is being carried out to the utmost satisfaction of this tribe. And the third category is that of the rich class, people who have an stupendous excess of income over expenditure. This class is able to purchase whatever it desires, especially from the government sector, where everything, repeat everything is on sale, provided ofcourse the price is right and the service provider, by a quirk of fate is not one of those rare honest government servants.
Then what does the common man do. The common man of this country, from whom almost all of us from the three categories expect sensitivity on all issues including preserving our heritage and dealing with others, is totally powerless and clueless. he is able to barely meet his basic necessities of life. His life is definitely not an envy of others. His major drawback is that he cannot, repeat cannot get anything done from the sarkari system without the conventional greasing of palms. And he accepts this situation without even once crying out loud for his legitimate rights. And he also regards those from the sarkari tribe as honest who do the work after taking a bribe. Dishonest for him is the one who takes a bribe and yet fails to deliver.
And that is where the difference lies between India and the other countries. Here the survival of the common man is at stake, there even the commonest of the common man can easily survive.
How much I would hate to be reborn as a common man in my own country!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

What defines merit?

I often wonder whether merit still counts in the present age India and am unable to find an exact answer. Merit rarely counts, is the best answer that one can think of.
Yes there have been cases where govermnents have recognized brilliance and merit overriding considerations based on money and proximity. E.Sreedharan is one such example of a person whose merit has been openly recognized and appreciated by the federal as well as state government. Nandan Nilekani is perhaps another. But that is about all. No other example readily comes to mind.
And so rarely we come across cases of an outstanding deliverance in this nation of over a billion people primarily because meritocracy has been finally given the go-by in this nation.
The sarkari sector definitely supports and promotes what it regards as merit. Unfortunately however, merit has a different meaning in this sector. Being from the elite IAS is considered meritorious, being well connected to the high and mighty is perhaps over brilliance and being stinking rich is also a fit case for being regarded as meritorious. Again, that is about all. And so all the institutions that are supposed to recruit people for important positions, with perhaps UPSC being the only exception, do their job on the basis of their own perception of what is merit.
The selection for board level positions in the central public sector undertakings is a classic example of a distorted merit assessment system. Both the methods of induction normally give weightage to the "connected" aspect, with the right phone call at the right time almost always doing the trick.
And so what does the really meritorious guy, with no connections and no surplus cash to be doled out as bribes, do in this country? Bide his time, I must say, because ultimately at some point of time, maybe a hundred or more years later, our nation, if it has to be pulled out of the abyss it finds itself in, shall be forced to start believing in and respecting true meritocracy as practiced in the developed world at present and not the pseudo kind, that it presently worships.

The koda factor

The recent scam unearthed in Jharkhand, involving an Ex Chief Minister has rattled the country. The scale of operations, pegged at over Rs 40,000/- per minute, non stop for over two years can only be termed as mindboggling. The tremendous focus that Mr Koda displayed, in amassing ill gotten wealth is however praiseworthy. If only he had displayed a fraction of this focus in building the state, things in Jharkhand would have been much different.

Many people sympathize with Koda, not because they think that he has been wrongly framed, but because he has been caught, while most of the politicians generally go scot free. I however personally feel that the biggest factor emerging out of the Koda episode is that he has upped the benchmark. Post Koda, any politician whose illgotten wealth is less that say a thousand crores, would develop an inferiority complex and regard himself in the category of a poor politician.

Politicians, cutting across states and party lines would now stand divided into two categories - one who have amassed over a thousand crores and the other who have less than a thousand crores. The lesser ones would struggle hard to achieve a semblance of respectability by quickly amasing wealth, obviously by looting the nation and crossing the thousand crore benchmark.

Corruption would now achieve greater heights and the country would also jump to the big league by having almost all its major politicians in the thousand crore plus category. India would also acquire fame for having the maximum number of multi billionaires.

The Koda episode has definitely given the politicians of this nation something to cheer about. Long live Koda.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Potential" is a dirty word

I get irritated when potential is talked about as if giving credit to the organization, place, city, state or nation. Is Madhya Pradesh great because it has tremendous tourism potential and does it give it any credit? Rightfully it should not. Realization of that immense potential is what should give credit and convey a positive impression.
Why do people say that India has tremendous potential and therefore should be regarded as great? Nobody ever talks about the potential of the United States or Britain. The difference is that while we have carefully preserved our potential, others, mostly the developed world has realized it.
Potential is therefore directly linked to deliverance, inversely proportional to be exact. We have done nothing and therefore we have tons of potential and those from the developed world have delivered and have therefore consumed their potential.
Consuming the potential is therefore what matters.
In tourism, the example of Kerala is worthy of emulation. A state known more for its militant trade unions gradually started first appreciating and then consuming its potential in the tourism sector. The state looked around and then realized that its backwaters, the tradition of ayurveda and the coconut lagoons can attract people and the famous Amitabh Kant took no time in consuming the potential of the state. On the contrary, states like the Madhya Pradesh, Uttaranchal and Orissa always took pride in the unlimited tourism potential that they ever had, with the difference that current Govt of Madhya Pradesh decided to do something positive about it. And the state surged forward in all spheres, especially tourism.
Let us all abandon the sense of pride that we Indians have started taking in the word "potential". Let the nation, state, city or organization be judged not by the potential they posess, but by what they have done to eradicate the potential.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A failed state

India is never referred to as a failed state. In fact, the rest of the world generally regards it as a superpower in the making. How follish the rest of the world can be. A free nation for over 60 years still half of whose population survives on less that 50 Rs a day! Is it something to be proud of? We have failed at building roads, generating and transmitting enough electricity or in providing any kind of water to its populace and in almost every other sphere of governance.
Cities that resemble large dustbins, cities that we have failed to even keep clean and villages, the lesser said about them the better. India has emerged as perhaps the world's largest mess, a gigantic mess that only our focussed politicians and nincompoop bureaucracy can be proud of.
Is it not sad that India finds a place at the bottom of almost all global indices, be they refer to the purchasing power, the human development index or the corruption scenario. Perhaps the most corrupt of all nations, where every interaction of those governed with those governing is laced with bribery. Every service of the government is on sale for those who can purchase it.
India has now emerged as a nation that is genuinely not for its citizens. It is liveable only for the rich or for bureaucrats and government servants.
Perhaps we a nation are not fit enough or mature enough for self rule. And therefore India is a failed state.

Friday, November 13, 2009

productive nations

A visit to the developed world always leaves me depressed in the end. The excitement at the beginning of the journey is always in deep contrast to the sense of despondancy at the end of the visit when I land in the motherland.
The despondancy is primarly due to reinforcement of the realization that while on a one to one basis we are better, as a society we are far inferior to them. Their roads, footpaths, houses, lampposts, parks, parking slots, railway stations, airports all go to prove their superiority as a system. It pains me to see that we are incapable of even keeping our cities clean, what to talk about building infrastructure.
And I am pained further when the leaders talk about building world class infrastructure. TALK is all they can do, and that is all they do.
Are we not aware of what is plaguing the system. Why evey Bharatvasi who leaves our shores is able to deliver while miserably failing in his home country. Do we not apreciate that corruption and a miserable decision making mechanism in the sarkari setup is the cause of our ills. Corruption, rampant corruption so deeply ingrained that even the corrupt has started believing that the system is responsible for his coruption and the persecuted suffers, but waits for his turn.
I feel sick and angry.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Ideas stink

Ask the man on the street about ideas to improve the country. He would know exactly. Except that in all probability he would not know how to improve his own organization or his own personal delivery in the job that he is in.
This is perhaps one of the biggest tragedies of this country. Everyone knows exactly how the other person or organization should be functioning, but he or she is not prepared to do anything about his own sphere of influence.
And so in the sarkari sector, of which I am very much a part, everyone is busy generating, delivering or accepting ideas. Converting those ideas into physical activity on the ground level is generally and conveniently missing. There are exceptions ofcourse.
My staff often cribs about my dictatorial tendencies, but it is a fact that I do not encourage ideas from my subordinates, except those that directly pertain to the specific individuals sphere of influence or control. Yes one is permitted to give ideas about other peoples sphere of activities very rarely and that too in a positive manner, not as a measure to pull down the other guy or to show oneself off. A free flow of ideas can be generated by an individual only if he has excelled in his own sphere of activities, the excellence being substantiated by state/national level awards. Not otherwise.
And this banning of free flowing ideas has helped me in achieving excellence in almost all my postings, be it in the railways or elsewhere. Wastage of time is minimized, the time so saved getting utilized productively.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Excess of justice is injustice

Being just is good, but an overdose of justice can also be unacceptable at times.
One has to be practical. One has to respect sensibilities. One has to respect the fact that to err is human, but to forgive is divine.
Yes, thre are many instances of officials committing grave irregularities in official as well as personal lives. It is also true that often the punishment awarded in such cases, with exceptions ofcourse, falls far short of the requirement as per the needs of justice. The punishment awarded in such cases is generally less than warranted.
Yes, it is true that corruption cannot and should not be tolerated. But in a society where almost every politician and every bureaucrat is corruption personified, is it really just to expect high moral standards from mere mortals. The tremendous and also rapid degradation in moral values and standards of integrity in the people of this nation in general and sarkari mulazims in particular does not even shock people anymore. Corruption is considered an essential and tolerable part of the system, by all and sundry except some individuals like me who are tolerated rather than accepted by the system.
How long will this go on. How long will people continue to expect sympathy for punishments despite committing crimes that far outweigh the punishment awarded. Being soft shall not help, despite the price that one may have to pay at times. And being a soft state also does not help either. Something that we indians should have learnt the hard way, and if we have not learnt so far despite travelling on a long, winding and treacherous road, perhaps God also cannot save us!

Deceptive appearences

Yes. One should not judge people by what one sees or experiences. But that is how it is. Our judgements, pronounced so magnanimously, are generally based on external appearences and experiences. Human personality is however much deeper that the thickness of the skin. The real person is therefore quite often much different from what is evident from the exterior.
A rough guy may quite often be a soft guy from the inside and someone who appears to be a rogue may turn out to be infinitely superior to the guys who appear to be pleasent on the outside.
The prevalant method of assessing people totally dismisses what the guy may have inside him, something that is not apparent to the casual visitor. And so one makes mistakes, only to regret them later. And this regret is hard to overcome. It causes burns, burns that are deep enough to survive for long but also deep enough to remain unnoticed for long.
How strange and inexplicible!.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Why government offices have to be sloppy?

Is being sloppy, a mandatory requirement for offices classified as government offices? I think yes, for one rarely comes across a government offices that is efficient and smart. Dirty files, sloppy furniture and absence of decent basic amenities define a sarkari office in India. And on top of that there is an official who is unconcerned, generally corrupt to the core, totally uncommitted, and who treats vistors and the general public with utter disdain and contempt.
Why can't something be done about them? Why the same guy who keeps his house in a state of absolute polish and shine adopts a different attitude when it comes to his office? Is it apathy, ignorance or immaturity? Why cant we keep a place where we spend a very substantial portion of our lives in an efficient and smart state? Why cant it be mandatory for sarkari offices to be as efficient and smart as corporate offices and then perform and deliver functions that they are intended for?
But I have learnt my lessons. An efficient and smart offices helps me to perform besides keeping me in a good state of mind. And so the first thing I do on joining anew assignment is to improve first my chamber and then the whole office that directly reports to me. This has generally also resulted in much improved attendance, both in terms of number of days as well as number of hours. The sarkari people than start liking spending time in their offices with consequent improvemnt in the delivery systems.
Perhaps our hindu mindset is responsible. The way we keep our public places of worship is disgraceful to say the least. Each of us who visits our temples ads to the filth and squalor of our temples. Yes there are exceptions like the Vaishno Devi and the Tirumala shrines, but exceptions they shall remain as we shell never learn to keep our offices and places of worship in a smart state.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Procedures override deliverance

I often wonder, where did we go wrong in the last sixty odd years. Why despite a stable democratic system inherited after centuries of foreign rule and oppression, Bharatvarsh did not really take off? Why, on the economic front we are still at the bottom of the list of nations. Why even basic infrastructure like decent roads and highways were non-existent till now, and it required a major resolve to start building them at a pace unimaginable, only a couple of years earlier. How is it that every Bharatvasi who leaves our shores becomes a success story, despite being an abysmal failure in his own motherland? Why, Why, Why, Why and Why. These Why’s, I think will haunt me to my grave.

Yes we all have to start questioning and start asking why? Isn’t it ridiculous that in the system we live in, a procedure or a rule or a policy is easily and almost always allowed to take overriding priority over deliverance? Isn’t it equally ridiculous that the same system lays such a strong premium on non-deliverance that at times the achievers stand the risk of being victimized. And in the process, deliverance suffers and has suffered in the first fifty years of the existence of a free Bharatvarsh.

Why is it so important for a sarkari mulazim to follow rules and procedures without any concern whatsoever about deliverance and output. It is important because in our system there is no demand for and therefore no premium on deliverance. In my twenty nine years of career, I can count on my fingertips, occasions when deliverance of a very basic nature, in the form of acts to be done, not results to be achieved has been asked of me. Career progression nowadays is not based on performance, but on other factors like sycophancy, spinelessness, sweet talk, boss handling, and other similar qualities. Strange, one even thinks about deliverance in such a system!


My fit of anger is always followed by a bout of regret. Anger definitely blinds. It has blinded me on so many occasions. And then it does not matter whether the person at the receiving end is my beloved wife or my best subordinate. The trigger is never the same. It changes from time to time, from venue to venue and from occasion to occasion. Constant however has been the inconsequential nature of the trigger, when viewed in hindsight. Another constant has been the deep sense of remorse after the event, when I invariably tend to make amends, knowing fully well that the situation or the relation shall never be the same again. The damage remains and also the remorse. Who gains, one wonders, till the bout of anger resurfaces again.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Nation loses a statesman

YSR Reddy passed away yesterday morning in a helicopter crash. The news came in today at around noon. The state of Andhra Pradesh is in mourning. The nation is in morning and the political class cutting across party lines are also in mourning.

YSR Reddy had been an ideal chief minister. He can be defined in only one word "Genuine". He had a genuine concern for the development as well as for the people of the state. His loss is one of the severest that this nation has suferred in the last decade.

YSR, Shivraj and Naveen belong to that select group of chief ministers in this country who are genuinely loved by the masses. An absolutely clean image and genuine love for the state and its people is what sets apart this breed of chief ministers from the rest of the crowd. This love for the state propels them to be development oriented, that too with a vengeance.

YSR shall be missed for long. He will be missed by people who do not even belong to his state, by peple who have never met him in the past, people totally unconnected with him or the political environment. And this is his true legacy. God bless his soul.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Addressing railway officers

Yesterday I addressed railway officers at railway staff college vadodara. The lecture was a part of a series which they call "Achievers series" and the eminent speakers before me had been Mallika Sarabhai and Sredharan. I therefore considered it quite an honor to be on the same platform as these two eminent personalities, even if only for the limited purpose of giving a lecture.
Addressing railway officers or for that matter officers from the organized services is difficult. Difficult because these officers are generally skeptical about delivery as opposed to officers from the private sector or students. This group had officers of a varied seniority and I therefore was slightly wary before my lecture.
The lecture went off smoothly. I spoke from the heart, as always and the response of the participants was also better than expected. The session ended on a happy note with a group of charged up officers wanting to share their experiences, their moments of glory with me after the event. This is how an ideal lecture session should end. It made me happy and contented.
There was only one disturbing trend when one of the participants questioned as to why railway officers like Sridharan (self included) are able to achieve eminence only when working outside the railway system. What he said was generally true, primarily because railways being a closed organization does not offer the same platform for recognition that organizations like the Delhi metro or ITDC are able to provide. It is quite possible that Sridharan would have been a super outstanding officer in Railways, whose super eminence never got a chance to be displayed adequately because of the limited territory that railways offer and the closed nature of the organization. By the way, the gentleman who raised the issue also did not consider a national award, a guinness record and a limca record worthy of being considered as proofs of sufficient achievements while working in the railways. This brings us to the basic human failing of not recognizing achievements of others just because one has a poor opinion of his own self.
Not getting avenues to achieve is a common crib of officers, particularly railway officers. I have never witnessed IAS officers cribbing. Perhaps the cribbing kind are not able to differentiate between success and achievement. Success is when one recognizes his own efforts, achievement is when others recognize it. Being successful is therefore in one's own hands, achievement is not. Perhaps most of the officers value recognition by others more than by their own inner selves.
How sad but true!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Independance Day

Today the 15th of August 2009, the main topic of discussion is corruption. Even the Prime Minister in his address to the nation talked about it. In the official function held at Paryatan Bhawan, Janakram Advani, the Vice Chairman of the corporation caused quite a ripple when he lambasted the politicians in general for their corruption.
Is this talk of eradicating corruption fuelled only by the momentary feelings of national pride that occasions like the Independance day and Republic day generate in us indians. The 16th of August and the 27th of January are unique because the feelings generated on the previous day have totally evaporated by then and the business of corruption again takes on speed after a one day speedbreak.
This leads me to ask whether we are really serious? Or are we really mature? If everyone loots will there be anything left to share? If some people devour everything what shall happen to the common man? Or whether the common man has any right to survival?
This independance day, I am again convinced that this country is not for its countrymen. Our great nation is only for the rich, the powerful, the corrupt and the unethical. It is also meant for the manipulative, the thieves and the crooks. It is definitely not meant for the "aam aadmi".
The politician of today, who represents the society from which he has evolved is definitely a very important constituent of today's India. His primary focus is self gratification. Secondary focus is at times development, but the sincerity for the same is often not genuine. He is focussed in his efforts to help his family, friends and relatives or whosoever can give him greenbucks for his efforts. Well such focus shall definitiely take the politician places, but not the country. The country shall continue to bleed with such focussed efforts of politicians, ably assisted by a fleet of sarkari mulazims who are also thriving at the cost of the ordinary countrymen. Well there are exceptions. There are politicians, many of whom I see in my state, who are in politics for a cause, the cause of nation building and service to the society. They give hope, but they are generally in a minority. Their numbers can be counted on fingertips. Similarly we also have many honest bureaucrats who are committed to their jobs and are busy delivering. They also give hope, but both these categories are generally overwhelmed by the corrupt and inefficient class.
This brings us to the basic question of whether we should start accepting corruption as a way of life. Whether we should give up on things like integrity, values and welfare. No doubt, corruption has been accepted by the society at large, but it can never get the respect that true acceptance from the heart begets. We have evolved into a society that gloats in corrupt practices but also overtly criticizes corruption. Therefore I am convinced that corruption shall forever continue to be indulged into surreptitiously by a very large chunk of all those who really matter in the running of the nation. God bless this nation.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Corruption control is quality control

Building World class infrastructure is the talk of the town. Everyone in the sarkari sector cutting across state boundaries talks about building world class infrastructure. It is akin to someone driving a dilapidated "Fiat" car talking about winning the "Grand Prix".
When shall we ever learn? Or shall we ever learn? Or Will we ever learn? Or Do we want to learn? What is the right question? The answer is "None of the above". The talk is just to impress the hoi polloi and also the "not so hoi polloi". Fortunately or unfortunately we live in a country where a mere statement is adequate to impress people, to get awards or to win elections. The tragedy is that no one is serious, cutting across state boundaries, cutting across political boundaries or cutting across bureaucratic fiefdom in improving matters including building world class infrastructure. This is and shall remain pure rhetoric.
The omnipresent cloud of corruption that has almost engulfed everyone who has a say or hand in matters relating to the state is responsible. The engulfing is so effective that even the corrupt has started blaming the system for his corruption. The corrupt individuals have lost all uneasy qualms they may have earlier had about themselves. Well they are not be blamed. The system conveniently takes all the blame.
Deal with the sarkari tantra as an ordinary citizen and then one would know the real power of the government, a government that has everything on sale, be a transfer, registering your house, an electrical connection, registering an FIR or getting a clearence for setting up an industry. I would also taste it after 10 years when I retire, But the taste shall not be real for we government servants, maintain vestiges of our power after retirement till we die.
But why this omnipresent corruption in the sarkari sector. Is the compensation provided by the job alone not enough? Obviously it is not! Probably the lack of pride in the organization one is working for leads one to seek gratification in the form of greenbucks. And the loot is really on. All rungs of governments cutting across state boundaries and political divide are partaking of the loot. Well there are exceptions of curse, but they are exceptions in the true sense of the word. And therefore new roads give up at the onset of the first monsoon, all excise departments sell excise licenses, all RTO's sell licenses and permits, all transport checkposts at the borders indulge in free loot, all property registeration offices do not register unless they are heavily bribed and so on and so on. But mind you everyone demanding and taking bribes has an excuse. He is not corrupt but is indulging in it as he has to satisfy those above. And so the loot is on. When everyone loots, will there be any bounty left behind? The answer is "No".

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Air India stinks

The Air India episode stinks and anyone who cannot smell the stink has obviously contributed to the creation of the muck that caused the stink.
I wonder when shall the Indian bureaucrats and politicians realize that the primary function of the public sector in India is not, repeat not "getting milched". That the avowed aim of the public sector is serving the society and not the ministry officials and the minister in charge is a fact that needs to be realized. But keeping the feudal mindset of the indian society at large in mind, it appears extremely unlikely now or at any time in the future. Well there have been exceptions and the most notable that I experienced was during my shortlived stint as the CMD of ITDC in 2001 & 2002. The then Minister of tourism who who made me the CMD despite stiff opposition from the bureaucracy, let me totally free, while at the same time making it clear that I had his full support and backing. He not even once, during my entire tenure sought any favor from the corporation and that was one singular factor that led to a turnaround in an organization that in 2001 stinked more than the Air India of today. The Minister who followed also sought deliverance, only deliverance and nothing else and deliverance followed suit.
The major factor in the working of any corporate is its HR and anyone, particularly the CEO who does not realize it is bound to hit the dirt very soon. This concern, genuine concern for the HR coupled with a spine that is not supple and integrity, total integrity, sound common sense and guts on the part of the CEO is bound to pull even the "totally gone case" corporate out of the abyss. Unfortunately all of us from the organized services of the union have nothing but disdain for the HR and a supple spine also does not help.
Possibly they do not make CEO's with these qualities these days.
And so the stink shall continue, forever I am certain.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Goodness still exists

We all honored Kallu yesterday. The entire staff and management at the corporate hqrs gathered to honor Kallu, the lovable waiter who works at the Dodi highway treat on the Bhopal Indore road. Kallu had displayed a very high sense of personal integrity when he returned to a visitor his bag that contained cash and jewellery, cash and jewellery that was enough for any normal human being to sacrfice his ideals for. But Kallu the waiter was not tempted, even in the present age of kalyug. kallu even went to the extent of refusing the cash award that the owner of the bag wanted to give him after receiving his bag.

Kallu is a big man. Big not in the eyes of the society, for the indian society equates bigness only with position or wealth, but in the eyes of God and also those who value values in life more than anything else. How I wish the indian society, especially the politicians and bureaucrats emulate the kallu example more than anything else.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Corruption Conference

My experiments on dealing with probity in public life finally seem to be bearing fruit. The third transparency conference held at Bhopal in March 2009 did not result in the kind of bad blood generated by the earlier ones. Yes, the first conference created ripples as it was the first ever attempt by a Government organization in the state to discuss corruption in a transparent and open forum. It is also true that some of my staff were disturbed, disturbed at having to face a mob of suppliers and contractors whose frank opinion was being sought on the issue of corruption in MPT by their own managing director. Even then the signal that emerged from the first conference was that the tourism corporation does not merit a mention in the front ranking corrupt organizations in Madhya Pradesh. The signal was satisfying, but for the message to be really forceful, it was necessary to institutionalize the conference, by having it at regular intervals. And hence the second conference in April 2008 followed by the third in March 2009. The closed door, one to one meetings that provide a genuine forum for the partners to vent their problems without being marked, have been the highlight of these conferences.

It is indeed rare for a public functionary to talk about bringing probity in public life and that too in an open forum. It is easy to remain honest, than to make others honest, even if by force. And therefore this attempt was hailed in the local media as another milestone/achievement for the tourism corporation. Hopefully this may also stir other sarkari organizations into some action on the integrity front, but I remain skeptical. So deeply ingrained has corruption become that only a major surgery can now cure Bharat Mata of this disease. Even Prime Ministers, one remembers the independence-day address of an ex prime minister, express helplessness over corruption. And if this is so, not even God can save this poor country.

Rampant organised extortion

Are only well established gangsters, settled in Karachi, Dubai and metropolises the real dons? Do only the “hafta seekers” in metropolises like Mumbai and Delhi, qualify to be called as the real extortionists? Yes it is true that they are extortionists and criminals whom the people fear and who deserve to be eliminated for the benefit of the society. But is it not true that many Governemnt offices, cutting across state boundaries, with exceptions off course, also act like extortionists? It is a nightmare for an ordinary citizen of this country to approach any governmental agency for getting an approval, registration, license etc. We are all aware of the harassment a simple citizen faces in getting a house registered, getting a driving license, getting a ration card, getting an electrical connection or even a life/death certificate from a government agency. Getting anything done from the Government system is a nightmare. Yet no senior government functionary, a politician or a bureaucrat would take sincere action to set things right as he remains thoroughly insulated from the malaise of the system and therefore has no stake. A common man, not a powerful government servant cannot get any job done within a government system without bribing a government functionary as well as massaging his ego. If you are an entrepreneur, be prepared to adequately take care of a battalion of extortionists under the garb of a variety of government functionaries who shall visit you or make you visit them with amazing regularity. It is as fact that every restaurant owner in the nation’s capital has to keep specified amounts in envelopes every month for the local police, the sales tax guy, collectors from the food department, the municipal authorities and many other leeches of various kinds. And Delhi is one city in India. Just imagine the extortion money only from restaurants. Try getting a gun or a bar license, without giving bribes. Try getting and then executing a big civil contract without being robbed of the fixed percentage. The list is endless. A corrupt breed of men in the garb of government functionaries on a perpetual extortion spree!

Yes there are exceptions. But one has to be either really lucky or really powerful or really rich to bump into one.

Come to think of it. While real extortionists, the official and licensed extortionists, the sarkari functionaries function under the safety of the law, under the garb of officialdom from their official chambers situated in official buildings. The masses look upon these extortionists with awe and pray that their children are able to occupy such seats of power when they grow up. This organized extortion is now an accepted practice with eyebrows being raised only if the extortion becomes unbearable. And the pack of jokers, the corrupt politicians and the officialdom alike who form the bulk of the system have the cheek to talk about development, values, integrity and the nation. Bullshit.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Bias against the public sector

A very strong bias against the public sector is a common trait of us indians. Public sector bashing is very good passtime. I have noticed it even within my own family, despite being associated with the public sector for a long time. Whenever we go out for a dinner, my wife criticizes the delay as well as the quality of foood if consumed in a public sector hotel, while at the same time not even noticing a greater delay or a really lousy food served in a private sector hotel of repute.
I often wonder why is it so? Is it because we regard public sector as our own and therefore while carrying a very low opinion of ourselves, we carry the same opinion of the public sector.
At the same time it is also true that the quality of the public sector leaves much to be desired, but the private sector can be equally bad or even worse at times. But fortunately or unfortunately there is nothing like a bias against the private sector, rather there is a bias for it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Public Sector stinks

My recent stay at Hotel Ashok was a disaster. Checked in in the mornig and checked out in the evening, due to complete failure of the airconditioning and generators. The beautiful suite room had turned into an oven by the evening. It was disgraceful, in fact the worst nightmare of a hotelier, the collapse of both the vital systems. There was a reason, large scale renovation, but the reason was not good enough. Airconditioning and electrical systems in a hotel are not meant to fail, despite whatever. And I moved into Hotel Samrat in the evening. Nothing much to write home about, but the hotel staff out of their love and affection for me and my family made the stay worthwhile.

ITDC is still a great organization with a large mandate "Development of tourism in India". Having headed ITDC in its hey days, albeit under the looming shadow of disinvestment, one of the worst things to have happenned to the corporation, I am still of the firm belief that the best days of ITDC are yet to come. ITDC can still, even now rise from the ashes and become the leader in the tourism scene of the nation.

If only it is handled like a commercial, not a bureaucratic organization and the CEO takes things head on, without bothering about the consequences. Perhaps I am wrong, for I was given the boot in December 2002, when I handled things head on and in the process rubbed the powers that be the wrong way, even though I was right and they were wrong.

And now we hear about the mess that is Air India. Again a classic example of bureaucratic mishandling of a commercial enterprise, rampant internal loot and weak CEO's. But such CEO's last their terms even though the organizaton does not.

God only can now help the public sector in this country.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Air India

The recent downturn in the fortunes of Air India makes interesting reading. Amazing, how the indian bureaucrats can screw a high performing public sector corporation in a short time frame. Well the present outcome is borne out of consistent efforts of mass loot of the corporation by the bureaucrats in command and also politicians. Else how can one justify the large scale purchase of aircrafts during the days when the aviation industry worldwide was reeling under recession. Large scale freebies to the top management as well as the privilaged classes of employees must also have contributed to the downturn. Rampant corruption that eats up an organization from inside must also have contributed. Having once headed a large hospitality sector CPSU in the past and now a state PSU successfully, I have acquired a fair amount of insight into successful running of PSU's.
But CPSU's have a lot of innner strength and resilience despite the looters and it would be real fun to turn this organization around and make it one of the finest airlines internationally. If given a chance ofcourse, one year is all it would take for a turnaround even for a mammoth organization like the Air India. I am totally confident of doing the turnaround, but not being from the elite IAS is a big disadvantage in this country where these three letters take overriding priority over meritocracy. As one rightly said, dreams ought to remain dreams.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Bureaucrats stake in non-deliverance

It is often said that the power and importance of bureaucrats is inversely proportional to the economic growth of the nation. How true, especially when viewed in the context of our home grown Indian bureaucrats! Has anyone ever noticed a bureaucrat from a developed nation flaunting around his power and authority, directly or indirectly over the citizens of his nation? Do the children of countries like the USA or Britain aspire to become a civil servant, only to lord over the masses, as is so common with the children of under-developed countries like ours? The answer is a blatant No.

Well we the bureaucrats of India, whom a british playwriter once described as a bunch of bumbling nincompoops have perfected the art of rampant exploitation of the system coupled with total and absolute non-deliverance. All of them are forever giving reasons and later excuses for non-deliverance, rather than being positive and reveling in deliverance. The bureaucrats are forever busy satiating their hunger for power, perks and money and in the process being of help only to their family, friends and relatives. And why not? After all, all of them have cleared the civil services examination, one of the toughest in the country and this gives them the right for a cushy comfortable existence thereafter. Who bothers about the masses? The common man can go to hell.

The bureaucrats are powerful, only because the country is poor and under developed. And the country is poor and under developed only because of the stranglehold of the bureaucrats, these so called servants of the government, the government that is supposedly of the people, by the people and for the people. Bull shit! How the hell can the country prosper when the reins of the country have been handed over to a bunch of nincompoops who have a strong vested interest in keeping the country backward and poor?

Monday, May 18, 2009

The spoken word

All of us have studied about the indestructible nature of matter as well as energy. Sound is a form of energy and therefore does not render itself to extinction. At best it can only get dissipated. The spoken word is therefore bound to exist forever, though at a very rapidly depleting energy level. But each packet of such energy has to survive forever. It may therefore be possible at some stage in the future to cull out all spoken words of the past, words that are floating in the sky in the form of rapidly depleting packets of energy and actually hear them. Theoretically it may be possible at some stage in the future to actually listen to the “Gita” being recited by lord Krishna. It is just a matter of the right technology for the same to be put in place. But God cannot be bound by the realms of technology and therefore if he exists, all spoken words of the past are accessible to him and that perhaps is going to be the sole criterion on which we are going to be judged by him. The perpetual affect of the spoken therefore needs better appreciation.

Clean up hindu religious places

Is it really necessary for hindu religious places to be generally filthy, unkempt and disorganized? With the rare exception of perhaps the shrines at Tirupati and Vaishno Devi, all hindu religious places have filthiness as their hallmark. Whether it is the Kamakhya temple at Guwahati, the Kashi Vishwanath temple at Varanasi or the temple at other religious sites in the country, generally they are unkempt, filthy, disorganized and do not by any stretch of imagination appear to believe in the philosophy of “Cleanliness is Godliness”. The presence of a group of touts disguised as the agents of God trying to fleece the devout of his hard earned money, adds to the disgust. I therefore find it almost impossible to visualize the presence of the almighty at such places. It is therefore strange that thousands and millions of people from all over the country regularly visit these shrines, get fleeced, physically engage with the densely packed and often unruly crowd in their attempt to enter the sanctorum and yet go back home satisfied that they have done their duty to the almighty who will now bestow his favors on them, their family and near ones. It defies conventional as well as scientific logic, yet it happens day in and day out. This untiring belief in the almighty and the calm acceptance of the dismal situation as his gift is what is keeping the wheels of the hindu religion and the nation moving.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Big Men

Is it necessary for people, especially those who live under the impression that they are god’s gift to mankind, to throw their weight around, just to show that they are important or big? This trait that is so unique to the Indian society needs to be eradicated for the nation to grow.

Is bigness characterized only by position or wealth? Is it not a sign of immaturity or lack of understanding of the bigger picture that leads us to classify mankind on the basis of not spiritual greatness but wealth and the position in society based on official rank, hierarchy or status.

Is it not likely that the peon sitting on a stool outside the chamber of a “burra sahib” may be a bigger human being in the eyes of God than the “burra sahib” himself. We are indeed lucky that God judges by deeds or “karma, and not on the basis of position, power or wealth. In our system, one vies for an important position of a bureaucrat or a minister, not because he or she wishes to serve the society, as they all profess, but to serve himself, his family, friends and relations. This falsehood is difficult to bear, especially for those who tread the path of truth and humility.

Being Happy

I wonder what makes one happy. If it was money, then Mukesh Ambani, our homegrown Indian tycoon should be the happiest person on earth and if it was power or position, then George Bush should be the happiest person on planet earth and Manmohan Singh in India. Well it would require considerable time, money and energy to test this theory, something that I can ill afford, and so I have decided to accept this, my own theory at face value. Well if neither money, nor power is the key to happiness, then what is? Fortunately for us, happiness lies within one’s own self and no external agency or circumstances can give it to us. Happiness is linked with inner peace, with being at peace with ourselves and the sooner in life we realize it, the better it is for us and the society.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Making a mockery of awards and selections

Except perhaps for the Civil services selections made by the Union Public Service Commission, a selection that is still regarded as fair, a mockery is being made of various other selections in the entire governmental systems in the country. Various service commissions, selection boards, recruitment boards and search committees either act to satiate the vested interest of one of its members or act as stooges of the concerned minister of the union, for whose territory the selection is to be conducted. The most common practice, especially in the central public sector undertakings and also in the central staffing scheme is to first identify the candidate who is to be selected and then go through the motions of selection.

Is such a mockery of a large number of institutions and organizations that are meant to be fair and just in what they are supposed to do, the right thing. Why do the members of such high institutions allow themselves to be manipulated and treated like a stooge of high government functionaries? Possibly the answer lies in the fact that most of the members and chairman are bureaucrats who have managed or manipulated to find a sound post retirement sinecure. Content they are with sitting on such high sounding posts and kowtowing to powers that matter, all for petty personal gains. That the selection of the right candidate strictly on merit is what these bodies are meant for is a philosophy that has gone to seed.

The rot in the system of selection has not left untouched even the Padma awards, the highest awards of the country, conferred by none other than the President of the republic. How else can one justify the inclusion of bollywood actresses in this prestigious list, actresses who are known more for their beauty and titillating postures rather than any contribution to the country. These awards that should be given only to outstanding individuals who have made a visible contribution to the nation have now been restricted only for people with a clout, mediocres with connections to powerful people, svelte dancers and to people from the glamour world for reasons best known to the selectors. Yes there are exceptions, but these exceptions are kept primarily as a front to retain some semblance of respect for these awards. The selectors in any case do not believe in other modes of contribution to the country.

It is unfortunate that no holy cows now exist, even in the matter of selections and awards in our country?

Vegetarianism - Wrong interpretations

I have always been an absolutely pure vegetarian, one who does not partake of even cakes or cookies or anything that may have even a trace of eggs. This streak of vegetarianism is not because of any spiritual or religious thought process, but because of a personal dislike for any foodstuff other than the vegetarian variety. But contrary to the “Ambumani Ramdoss” thought process, this streak has not led to my imposing vegetarianism on my wife and daughters, instead my daughters have always been encouraged to partake of non vegetarian food so that they do not face any dietary constraints especially while travelling.

I remember isolated incidents from my childhood of my mother puking after seeing raw flesh. I also feel the same way when faced with flesh, raw or cooked, but not as violently as my mother. The feeling is borne out of the inability to accept the fact that a living creature can be just a meal for another living creature. But that is the way the world made by God is, for almost all creatures including mankind. My inability therefore appears irrational and illogical, yet I would remain a grass eater, as they say, in this life at-least.
Being vegetarian, by no stretch of imagination makes one closer to the gods than the flesh eaters? Sadly our Indian society, especially the Hindu majority lays a very high premium on vegetarianism despite the majority being non vegetarians. On a similar vein one is tempted to add that even most of the boozers regard a tee-toteller with reverence and most of the smokers respect a non-smoker as if not partaking of alcohol or tobacco brings one closer to God and hence makes one a godly person. Unfortunately right from the cradle to the ashes, hardly any emphasis is laid on the necessity of being a good human being, with the stress being on inconsequential things like smoking, vegetarianism and alcoholism. How would then the almighty be viewing such a scenario? Would he be judging mankind on the basis of who eats flesh or not or who partakes of alcoholic drinks and tobacco or not? The answer is a definite “No”. Flesh, alcohol and tobacco are personal choices that may be good or bad for the health, but have no bearing whatsoever on the goodness or otherwise of the human beings. What is actually bad is being a bad human being and what is actually good is being a good human being. Fortunately in our society, we don’t actually have to become a good human being to be regarded as “good”, there are other peripheral factors that do the job.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Being Reborn

I often wonder what shape I shall take in my next life. Whether one is reborn as a pig, dog, cat, snake, spider, mosquito, fly, monkey or a cow is difficult to predict. However seeing the large number, eighty four millions as per hindu mythology, of life species on planet earth, and also considering the law of probabilities, it appears highly unlikely that I shall again be born as a member of the human race and this is a frightening prospect. But does it really matter. After all, all species are a part of the almighty, who being what he is, cannot and also shall not differentiate between his own creations. But his righteousness would definitely force him to favor some of his own, on the basis of “karma”. And this thought alone propels me to be good, both in acts and words, even though with a selfish motive of again being born as a member of the human race.

Sycophant Prayers

Why do people pray? The mighty and the weak, the corrupt and the honest, the powerful and the powerless, the rich and the poor, almost all of them say their prayers regularly and I wonder why? It is not that I am an atheist, I firmly believe in God and also in the philosophy that all that is happening on planet earth is his bidding.

I witness bureaucrats cringing before senior bureaucrats, senior bureaucrats cringing before ministers and politicians, the poor before the rich, the rich before the men in power and the super rich before the super powers. And all this cringing and placating is almost in the form of a prayer, though not from the heart. It is for gains, personal in nature like a favor, position, materialistic gains or power. Basically we are all trying to curry favors by praying to others.

Carrying the same argument forward, I often wonder, whether our daily prayers to the almighty also fall in the same category – an attempt to please by cringing and placating. I always believed that what the almighty expects from us is compassion, love for the life species and to be a genuine human being. If God could be moved by the cringing and placating in the form of a prayer and then if he bestows what is desired by the applicant, then he cannot be God; he has to be a human being. If he is really God after all, then all the cringing and placating in the form of prayer or other rituals would not have any effect and blessings would be bestowed by him on only one criterion, the “Karma” of the applicant.

I have since stopped praying, except for a weekly darshan of Hanumanji and now the only attempt and desire is to be a good human being.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Attempts at becoming immortal

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 just now 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 railway 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 they lived in.

My recent visit to Simla shocked 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 bridge was built would come to be identified as the builder of the bridge. I am also reminded of an inaugural ceremony held in Delhi a couple of years back when a minister inaugurated a “dustbin”. 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 two ministers jointly inaugurated a toilet block 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 “maskofy” 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 of 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 job of Governments to provide roads or say public toilets or say railway lines?. 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 or a new dustbin is considered a national achievement which should be celeberated and whose builders should be immortalised in stone for posterity. I am not deriding these stones totally. Definetely we should lay foundation and inaugural stones for long 8 lane highways or new power stations, fertiliser plants or if I let my imagination run wild, say a new quadrilateral for the railways. These would definetely be achievements of stature and the builders or dreamers of them deserve being immortalised 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 achievments 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.

Is corruption a dirty word

Even after fifty years of existence of which twenty-nine have been spent in the governmental sector in the country in various capacities, I am still not able to decide whether corruption is a ‘dirty’ word. I often find that majority of people I interact with, are apparently living beyond their known sources of income, have no convictions or morals, lack basic commitment to the organization and the nation and even then are considered not corrupt unless proved otherwise. My brain then long conditioned by the prevalent norms of the society says, “No, it is not” while my heart tempered more by ethics and moral values and a spiritual upbringing shouts, “Yes, it is”. The dilemma continues!

Recently a contractor who worked for me in one of my previous avatar of a CEO visited me, perhaps out of regard some people command irrespective of the seat they are sitting on. After initial small talk, I bluntly asked him whether he, while executing the contract had to grease the palms of the minions working under me. An embarrassing and also uncommon question! But I have been known to be rather blunt in matters involving integrity. After beating about the bush for some time, he finally summoned the courage to accept that he too, despite my direct involvement in the contract could not avoid paying the ten-percent. The only saving grace, he mentioned was that the system had agreed to provide him, as a very special case, a single window under the table service. I felt upset and also hurt. I wondered why he did not bring this to my attention, even when he and everyone else knew of my clean image and swift and also ruthless decision making ability. The answer he gave says it all

“There are so many people involved and the file keeps on shuffling between so many tables for perpetual checks and clearances. Everyone out there uses his negative powers and the bureaucracy is immense. If I had told you and you had taken up one person, the rest of the gang would have created enough hurdles to have stalled my contract or penalized me otherwise. I therefore chose the practical option of buying speed.”

The guy was dead right. It was the complexity of the stifling bureaucracy to blame not the poor individual in its grip. The bureaucracy out there was not stifling corruption by making things difficult to happen, but stifling deliverance and promoting corruption. In my view, it is very simple. If a hundred thumb impressions are required for every decision or action, then a lot of people will make money, pass the buck or delay matters as the system gives absolute immunity from being nailed directly, either for making money or for incompetence. If only one or two thumb impressions were involved, the owners of the thumbs would get easily identified and exposed and matters would be set right without delay. My failure in overhauling the system and making it simple and transparent then slowly dawned on me. But it would have required a major surgery with its attendant complications. Perhaps, then being under siege on so many fronts, I could not summon the courage required for the surgery. But I have always firmly believed that the answer to most of our ills lies in making things simple to happen. When are we as a society or as a system going to realize the benefits that will accrue by reducing the number of thumb impressions from hundred to one or two? Besides eliminating corruption, as the immunity provided by numbers would cease to exist, productivity would also shoot up and as a by-product generate clear accountability for deliverance or the lack of it. However, while making things simple to happen would be the correct thing to do, we perpetually continue to live in a fool’s paradise that making things difficult to happen will make it difficult to make money.

It is the same everywhere. There is not a single contract anywhere in the system where money is not changing hands, also under the table. Every checkpoint or a check-post has converted itself into a moneymaking business, and that is why we have lucrative, not so lucrative and dry postings, cutting across services and levels. If we think otherwise, we are living in a fool’s paradise. This is happening despite the presence of elaborate vigilance setups, which instead of curbing corruption are in fact making a significant contribution to the cause of escalating it. One more sentry to be taken care of at one more checkpoint. Perhaps I have become paranoid. Obsessed with the need for deliverance and the need to maintain high standards of probity in public life, I find myself compelled to take issue on tasks generally found pleasant by the majority. Perhaps being a Bharatvasi to the core, I feel hurt when the country is being bled by the corrupt and non-performers, both categories being Omni-present in our rotten system.

My younger daughter is thirteen years old. If someday I go senile and implement true democracy at home and in the process allow everyone including the thirteen year-old to take their own decisions, there is absolutely no doubt that she will end up ruining her life and in the process also cause a lot of discomfort to the other members of the family. This is exactly what happened to Bharatvarsh in 1947. An immature and non-visionary society, a society with a ridiculously low literacy rate was allowed to govern itself and that too democratically. And look where we have arrived, at the bottom of the list of nations with the exception of perhaps Bangladesh, Nepal and few other countries of no consequence. Is this the path we want to continue to follow in the 21st century? Do we want to be a country of glaring contrasts, a superpower that does not even raise an eyebrow when a large chunk of the residents of its capital city use railway tracks for morning ablutions? A country which wants to be a global preacher without even being able to provide basic education, water, electricity, sanitation and housing to most of its citizens?

I am of the firm opinion that corruption is more a symptom of a deep-rooted malaise within the decision making processes in the governmental system, than a disease by itself. I also strongly believe that corruption and productivity are linked directly not inversely. I do not see any merit in beating about the bush and living in a world, which does not believe in but still keeps on harping, that sincere efforts are being taken to eradicate corruption. I would rather just make things simple to happen and then see the last nail on the coffin of corruption. How I wish that we Indians who ape the west in so many superficial and cosmetic things, for once, starts aping their working systems, procedures and decision making processes for the good of the society.

Rampant Corruption

The most preferred drawing room subject of today is financial corruption. I sometimes wonder what we would be discussing at intellectual gatherings if ours had been a corruption free society. However all of us Indians having experienced it in some form or the other and at al levels, down from the class four employees to the political masters, have almost achieved expertise in the art of corruption. Corruption is taken for granted and any act having a financial bearing taking place without exchanging the green notes is viewed as an aberration.

It is unfortunate that the malaise of corruption has become rather deep-rooted and also wide spread, touching almost the entire spectrum of life within India. While the malaise that is omnipresent makes life difficult, if not impossible, its one good feature is that it does not differentiate between people on the basis of caste though at times it does on the basis of the financial or power stature of the person concerned. What is really unfortunate however is the national acceptance of corruption as an acceptable social evil with even the corrupt blaming the system for his acts of corruption.

Is this malaise restricted only to India? The answer is NO. Almost all countries of the world are effected by this disease though in varying degrees. While the developed countries are witness to corrupt practices, generally in mega contracts and deals, the population in general remains unaffected by the malaise. The situation in developing countries is worse, with almost every system that effect the life of ordinary citizens, becoming accustomed to the practice of graft. India has however acquired a rare distinction of emerging as a nation where no system has been left untouched by the malaise of widespread and deep-rooted corruption and where nothing gets done, except for the high and mighty, without greasing of palms. All international surveys on the issue of corruption have been unfailingly placing India at almost the top of the index of the most corrupt countries.

In India, God may not be present everywhere, but corruption is omnipresent. Be it obtaining a ration card or getting an electrical connection for a new house, making a driving license or getting your property registered, bending the building rules or getting some one a job in the sarkari sector, getting an FIR registered or obtaining a berth on a train at the last minute, even obtaining a Vespa scooter or a telephone connection two decades ago, almost every activity with the exception of perhaps acts like withdrawing your own money from the bank is carried out under the umbrella of graft, often called speed money. Even solemn occasions like Tsunami or the earthquakes are occasions of joy for the corrupt in the supply chain as there is potential to make good money. Even the judiciary, that was earlier considered beyond reproach is not averse to giving favorable judgements if the price is right. There are kickbacks in almost all official contracts of reasonable value. One may however ask, what are the agencies, and there are many, that are entrusted with the task of curbing corruption doing? They, in my opinion are like one more sentry at one more check-post to be taken care of.

Is the situation redeemable?

Difficult but possible, provided the will is there and the flesh is also not weak. It can happen only if within the sarkari systems, we change the way we make things and contracts happen. “Make things simple to happen” and then things will happen simply without the attendant complications that lead to corrupt practices. Besides things will then happen even at the hands of the so-called average and mediocre and then the country would also have no option other than taking off for the big league. Unfortunately the primitive feudal mindset still continues. During the British rule we were slaves, and the system was accordingly designed to make untrustworthy slaves work. Why we are still carrying on with the same system is what I am unable to fathom. The same old system, which required a hundred thumb impressions for a job as trivial as even buying a spoon, continues. The same old system where everyone is considered unworthy of trust and you have to have a countersignature over the signature of every responsible person continues. Somehow we have ended up believing in and therefore practicing “Make things impossible to happen” as the solution to all ills including the all-pervasive corruption. I quite often wonder why we don’t make it easy to do things. Why even simple matters spin out of control requiring phenomenal effort to execute? Why things happen so easily in the developed and even the developing countries and never happen in our motherland? Why our motherland even after fifty years of independence is still grappling with primary issues like water, electricity and housing? Why we can make one rocket and one atom bomb beautifully and fail in mass quality production of even petty items? Why projects initiated with great fanfare are found rotting only after a couple of months? All this, I feel is because we have made doing anything impossible. I really dream that the country would one day adopt the philosophy of “Make things simple to happen”.

Let us reduce the number of thumb impressions per decision. Let us if possible eliminate or drastically reduce files. This will radically improve productivity, fix accountability and in the process eliminate corruption. Everyone will then be fully accountable for his or her acts of omission or commission and will either pay the price for non-deliverance or enjoy the fruits of achievement besides standing the risk of immediate exposure for acts of impropriety. Another step is to de-complicate the complex mechanism of contracting. Our contractual procedures are so harrowing that ultimately one ends up purchasing poor quality products and services at unreasonably high and sometimes unworkable prices, and also in the process creating ample opportunities for loot.

The only way, in my way, of eradicating corruption is by making the system simple and then coming down swiftly with a heavy hand on offenders.