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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Building Nations!

By peeping under the carpet; appreciating the accumulated muck of almost six decades of mal-governance and then striving to clean it up.

Easier said than done, and that precisely is the reason why no one follows the above advice. Least of all the bureaucrats and politicos of our country.

The muck under the carpet is massive, yet invisible to almost all of us, the nincompoop bureaucrats of India.

Rampant corruption, corruption that pervades almost the entire sarkari sector of the country is the first glimpse beneath the carpet.

Characterless, spineless and idle sarkari mulazims is the next realization.

A system that thrives on sycophancy is the next view and a system designed for non deliverance is not the last.

The view under the carpet is not at all pleasent. It is the true view of our beloved country.

Why not do something about it for that is the true calling of all those who have joined the sarkari system for serving the sarkar, not behaving as the last mughals of the country.

Let us for once start on the path of nation building, by sacrificing the self. Let us for once stop bothering about our postings, promotions, foreign trips and post retirement sinecures. Let us for once justify our fat salaries by indulging in the sheer act of deliverance, improving systems of delivery and focussing on developing the musch needed national infrastructure.

Can we, the sarkari mulazims of an immature democracy do it, or it is asking for the moon.

Do I have the right to lose hope? I think not!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Common Wealth makes a difference ?

All the countries including ours that were once slaves of the mighty british empire are getting together to celebrate their common lineage during the common wealth games at New Delhi. Are the games therefore a symbol of british dominance or our common subject like mentality? The group definitely is made up of former subjects of the british empire, but the games are not, they are pure sports and I see nothing wrong in it! The british superiority is something that a nation should strive to be able to emulate.

The games have caused quite a furore in the country. Allegations of corruption in high places that rather appear to be true, sordid saga of shoddy construction work at stadias and the Connaught Place that looks like a bombed out zone, not a place where almost a thousand crores of our hard earned money has been (mis)invested. Yes a lot of interesting but sad news has been manufactured.

The fact however remains that there has been a massive input of infrastructure to the capital city of Delhi. This input would otherwise have taken decades and that is what we Delhi-ites have to be thankful for. It is another matter that over eighty percent of the allocation appears to have been siphoned off. Yet we should be thankful for the twenty percent that hit the ground and has made Delhi a slightly more pleasant place than it was earlier.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Work all seven days!

India should work all seven days. The economic and social condition of India demands that the sarkar should work and deliver all seven days. The rationale for the two day weekend that all sarkari mulazims get is beyond my understanding.

Germany as a nation was totally devastated in the 2nd world war and look where it is now. Indians placed in an identical scenario would still have been waiting for foreign aid to arrive, and in the meanwhile would also have been idling around for want of money and men who can toil.

Nations are not built by words, promises or files alone. They are built by the toil of its citizens, by the commitment, hard work and integrity of its bureaucrats and by the leadership provided by the political class. Unfortunately India does not possess the required traits in all the three categories.

Here surprisingly, everyone wants the nation to improve, but at the same time he wants others to do it. Almost everyone has ideas about how the other guy should be doing his job.

China also became independent at around the same time as India. It is now a superpower and India is still developing, forever developing sounds better. China has been built by the combined toil of all its citizens, bureaucracy and the political leadership. Yes, the discipline imposed by the communist regime definitely helped, but who prevents us from becoming a disciplined society?

Given the totally inefficient way the sarkari sector works in India, it would be premature to say that working all seven days would radically improve matters. But it would definitely give a message that the sarkar means business and that the nation cannot afford the idling of the sarkari machine at all.

Once India enters the developed league, its babu's can have as long a weekend as they desire.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Make things simple to happen and they will happen

I often wonder, where did we go wrong in the last sixty three 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.

My first discourse on deliverance was after my visit to Germany in 1991 where I thought, I unraveled the secret of deliverance and then shared the experiences with my wife and all who came in contact with me. During visits to German locomotive builders whose productivity was fifty times ours, I understood why the purchasing power of an average German was as many times that of a Bharatvasi. And this ratio of fifty was not due to just technology. The major factor was an enthused human being who delivered for the eight hours he worked as opposed to remaining or appearing busy for eight hours. The crux is delivery, not deliberation and the sooner we understand this as an individual, as a society and as a nation and relate it to our capacity to purchase even household items of everyday necessity, the better.

Over three decades of being wedded to sarkar has left me thoroughly confused. In the hallowed sector, one is generally assessed by how busy he remains, how rule and procedure oriented he is and how subservient he is. How productive one is, generally remains immaterial unless it is to be twisted and used against him. Procedure orientation is welcome but output orientation is considered an unacceptable trait, and delivery, if at all it happens is always looked at with suspicion. Cutting across official buildings spread all over the country, one comes across a sea of babus, who appear busy but have no interest whatsoever in delivery and are therefore not delivering. And if deliverance happens, it is more by chance, less by choice. And so we have become a rashtra of non-achievers. A rashtra where anything happening is considered an achievement and so one has all the foundation and inaugural stone ceremonies galore for things, which should have been there as a matter of course.

“Make things simple to happen” and then things will happen. Things will happen at the hands of even the so-called average and mediocre and then the country would 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”.

If even buying a spoon is a project, how will factories and powerhouses get built? And therefore as a first step let us de-complicate the over complex decision making process. And I am not talking only about the big decisions. Even petty decisions at the field level also require being de-complicated. 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. Let us for once accept that our decision-making processes and the contractual mechanisms have failed the country and therefore deserve to be overhauled.

The remarkable book “Maverick” by Ricardo Semmler tells us about a multi billion dollar organization, which has no policies, no rulebooks and believes in absolute delegation. The employees decide their own wage, decide their timings of work, take decisions about production and create their own working environment. And instead of bringing about a chaos, which we Bhartvasis believe such a system shall, the organization is growing at an annual rate of more than 70%, besides being rated as a model organization in Brazil. If structured and complicated decision making systems, strong procedure oriented budgeting systems, elaborate vigilance setups and an over bearing bureaucracy has brought the country to the present situation, we would be better off without them.

Let us make things simple to happen and then they will happen.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Cleanliness is Godliness

I often wonder how Corporate headquarters, especially in the sarkari sector, most of which have abandoned any semblence of cleanliness or orderliness try to make their subordinate offices neat and efficient. Such claims or efforts, in my opinion are not even worth the paper which they are written on or issued. Only exceptions, so far in my career, have been experiences with the Rail Bhawan and then, the Vallabh Bhawan in Bhopal. These two office buildings present quite a non-sarkari appearance and an equally appropriate working environment. They definitely smack of efficiency, whether they are or not is besides the point. A visit to the Rail Bhawan surprises even the hardcore Delhiite. The corridors, toilets and public areas are definetely a cut above the rest of the Bhawans. And even the archives are a class. One can locate a file or a noting made almost fifty years ago. But, a dekko of most of the sectional offices and officers chambers leaves one dazed, mainly because of the glaring contrast between the public and the private areas. Well anyway, the mandarins of the Rail Bhawan definitely deserve a pat on their back for their efforts in keeping the building clean and smart. I also clearly remember my visits to the Paryaran Bhawan which houses the union ministry of environment. Well now matters seem to have improved but earlier I used to wonder how a ministry which cant maintain its own environment can do justice to the “environment” of the country?

Talking of environment, that is perhaps the most important aspect, but which most of us, almost the majority of us experience, but fail to appreciate. My first brush with environment was during those heady days of probationary period at Calcutta, almost thirty years ago, when while descending the stairs of the metro station at Calcutta, I suddenly came alive to the impact environment has on us mere mortals. It was an experience that shall remain ingrained in my mind. The same Calcuttan who treated littering and spitting in public places as an accepted trait of the society, changed colors within a space of only a hundred odd steps. One does not dare litter or even spit inside the metro stations at Calcutta, merely because of the pride, which the wonderful environment inside metro stations instills in the Calcuttans. Similar experiences at various other places in our Bharatvarsh, especially now the Delhi metro has reinforced this belief and I am now convinced that one does not litter a clean place. Also having experienced the effect which cleanliness and orderliness had on me in almost all the offices I have inhabited so far, leaves me convinced that a neat, clean and organized environment generates positive vibes which have a multiplier effect on efficiency with consequent growth in deliverance.

And so my first task in joining any new organization is to try to effect a change in the working environment. It has happened in all my offices, in railways, the ministry of tourism, the India Tourism Development Corporation, the State Tourism Corporation and now the Divisional Railway Managers office in Delhi. Cleaning up the seat of power and that too literally is the task for the first day, to be followed by beautifying the working environment, both hardware and the software. I find it strange how we sarkari babus manage not to throw even paper, which is useless, out of date, irrelevant or even dirty enough to soil our hands and the table it is put upon. And so we have piles and piles of files, piled up in almirahs, inside and on top of them in typical government offices, and absolute indifference on part of all of us to do anything about it. And it is not just files, but old cardboard boxes, file covers, old pieces of dusting cloth and if one looks hard enough, even old slippers tucked under the almirahs. Broken furniture is omnipresent.

But before passing any value judgement, let us try to analyze why someone who maintains his home absolutely spic and span fails to carry his zeal to the work place. Is it because of lethargy, aversion to cleanliness, too much work or just indifference. I feel it is the last, indifference it is, but why? The answer lies in our not being able to correlate our activities with deliverance and that leads to indifference towards whatever we do at work and also the surrounding environment. Official work has become a drudgery that has to be endured. Nothing matters whatever we do has become the prevalent belief even amongst the elite in the ruling class – the bureaucrat. And this is something that has to change, if we are to change for the better. Amen.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Outperforming oneself

That the rapid improvements that me and my Delhi division team dreams of, would come only with perfect teamwork is something that all of us have now started appreciating. The rapidly changing scenario, here in Delhi makes me vividly recollect the unconventional start of 2008 when my entire MPT team watched “Goal”.

It was the third movie that we, the MPT team, watched in the office and during office hours on the first day of 2008. The intention like in all previous shows was not just entertainment, but to instill in the staff, ranging from peons to the top management, a strong sense of desire to achieve something for the state of Madhya Pradesh. This show, like the previous ones was attended by the entire staff together, without caring a fig for the official hierarchial system that prevents a managing director from breaking bread with his peon. For a true cine experience, popcorns and coffee were also served during the show. Well changing thought processes is a long drawn out affair but a beginning would have been made, if my men just start talking and dreaming about doing something for the state, deliverance will automatically follow.

Lagaan, Chak De and Goal mark the beginning of a new era in Indian cinema, an era where movies have starting working as a management tool to inspire the populace into achieving something extraordinary in their ordinary lives. “Lagaan” was the story of a ragtag team of rustic Indians coming together to beat a team of britishers at the very british game of cricket. “Chak De” is the story of how a much ridiculed and maligned Indian women’s hockey team puts its act together to win the world cup and the latest in the series “Goal” is the story of how a football club in Southall, London, pulls up its socks to achieve the impossible task of wining the league championship and in the process saving the club from extinction.

The common thread in all the three stories has been the presence of one single individual in the role of captain or coach, who inspires the team members to achieve very high performance levels, levels that were originally considered impossible by the players as well as the general public. The single individual, around whom the story rotates, be it Amir Khan in Lagaan, Shahrukh Khan in Chak De or Boman Irani in Goal had an extremely high power catalytic effect on the performance of the team. All leadership qualities, about which we read in management books were amply visible in these three individual roles.

How true it is. The hindi phrase “Akela Chana Bhad Nahi Fod Sakta” is now not true. It is always one single individual who makes a difference. A group of rudderless people, howsoever brilliant they may be on an individual basis can not and shall never be able to bring about turnarounds. Be it the Delhi Metro, the Reliance empire, the Microsoft or public sectors like the ONGC or NBCC, all have been led to success by individuals who have outperformed even the most optimistic of expectations. People who have defied the word “impossible” and inspired their men to outperform themselves, not for a materialistic gain but for achieving self actualization are the ones who actually change the world. India needs more of such men in pivotal roles cutting across sectors and territories and this is the true message of “Lagaan”, “Chak De” and “Goal”.