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Thursday, December 27, 2012

The State of the Nation

The plethora of articles and reports on the state of the nation, post the traumatic incident of rape has compelled the denizens of this nation to look inwards. The papers are flooded with suggestions and advice on how to go about life in the aftermath of this ghastly incident. Capital punishment, castration and public flogging are some of the most common suggestions doing the rounds.  And rightly so, sweet pills can never be effective deterrents.

A though provoking piece in the Times on date castigated the city government on merely focussing on building flyovers and not on controlling crime or improving the law and order. The writer hit the nail almost on the head, almost because flyovers are also as much a necessity as the need for a safer living environment. Yet the writer is right, merely building infrastructure is not what nation building is all about.

That there is a sea of a difference between a nation building exercise and mere building of civic infrastructure and providing consumer goods in plenty, is a thought that is yet to find appreciation amongst people who shoulder the major responsibility of leading this nation. The lop sided approach has led to a scenario wherein we have a swanky capital city that is unsafe and also houses, perhaps the most corrupt governance establishment in the world, as has been fairly exposed in recent times.

Is nation building sans character indeed possible, I wonder. Is mere adequacy of civil infrastructure and consumer goods a sign of a nation having arrived? Is a scenario that showcases both abject poverty as well as stinking riches, acceptable? And finally, does a tantra that fends and feeds on itself qualify as a democratic governance machinery? 

While it is apparent that the answer to all these and many more such questions is in the negative, yet the inability of all those who matter to first appreciate and then take corrective steps is indeed sad as well as deplorable.  

A thoroughly corrupt and inept governance machinery sends a powerful message across the nation that it is indeed the right thing to make money on the side and that delivery does not really matter. The recent incidents of rape that are coming to the fore are reflective of a society that in the absence of a clear direction and control has gone astray. Perhaps the lack of priority accorded for education immediately after our tryst with destiny has led to stifling of delivery mechanisms and emergence of a society sans value systems.

A society, the constituents of which expect others to build the country will rarely gallop. Each one of us has to play our roles genuinely and with commitment and only then the collective shall prosper is a thought that needs to go deep into our psyches for the nation to really emerge from the shadows.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

India's Tianamen

The Tianamen square of India, the sprawling Vijay Chowk was today erupting with people, people who were anguished and angry at the same time over the ghastly rape incident that has shocked the nation. The ordinary citizens of India who identified themselves with the victim were shouting slogans against the high and mighty of this nation, the so called leaders who have distanced themselves from the ground realities and the men they ostensibly represent.

Standing at the Vijay Chowk, I wondered whether a governance machinery that does not feel the pulse of the nation that it governs, has a right to exist. Continue it shall as in banana republics, for want of a leadership that can make it efficient responsive, accountable and also sensitive to public opinion. Yet it is indeed sad that peaceful and spontaneous protests by ordinary citizens have been met by water cannons and lathi charge by the same police, whose inept conduct has led to such shameful incidents of lawlessness.

I am shocked at the inability of the leaders of this nation to face their own constituents at moments like these. Is interaction with the masses reserved only for the election time? Avoiding even the idiot box to allay the genuine concerns of their own constituents is a reality beyond comprehension for a civilized society. And that leads me to wonder as to whether we can indeed be classified as civilized. Even the president of the united states comes forward and faces the nation whenever catastrophes afflict the collective conscience of the nation, but our leaders are yet to display symptoms of such exemplary conduct.

Perhaps and I may be wrong in my assessment that while the delhi police is blameworthy for its inefficiency, insensitivity and callousness, but holding them fully accountable for this ghastly incident may not pass the test of fairness. It is indeed true that almost the entire sarkari tantra is inefficient, unresponsive and insensitive and therefore needs to be collectively held responsible for the mess. With many having their hand in the till, the common man has hardly any options. 

While the government may or may not draft and implement laws that deter such incidents, the only course left for all of us is take a pledge that whenever we see a lady in distress on the road or in the organization we work for, we shall without fear of violence, harm, harassment or inconvenience come forward to help and shall not later offer, excuses for inaction.

With hope we live!  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A nation outraged!

Another rape in the metropolis and a ghastly one at that and the police is once again on the mat. The outrage over the incident poured onto the streets and the media and rightly so. The masses at large feel outraged and cheated, outraged over the sheer beastly nature of the incident and cheated over their right to a free and safe movement within the confines of the capital of the nation, right that needs to be guaranteed by the state meant to provide proper governance.

The Delhi police, one of the finest police forces in the nation is once again in the firing line. Perhaps they have been in the firing line so often, that by now they would have realized that the heat would melt away in a few days, anyway with the election results round the corner. The moot question however remains is whether the police could have prevented what happened and whether they are to be blamed to the extent they are actually being.

While watching the debate on Times Now yesterday, I could not help but commiserate over the plight of the young joint commissioner of police who obviously like all bureaucrats with little real authority over his domain had to respond to uncomfortable charges. I could visualize his request for additional force and police control vans doing the rounds of the great Indian bureaucratic system that does not fully authorize those accountable. I was also aghast at the attitude of some of the participants who were not in favour of capital punishment that indeed may prove to be the biggest deterrent for such crimes against humanity. Perhaps physical castration may be the best bet.

I often wonder how one sector of the massive governance machinery excel in isolation when the efficiency of the entire tantra is below par. When shall all of us who are a part of the tantra start appreciating that authority and accountability have to be in matched sets for delivery to be possible. Unfortunately empowerment and systemic improvements remain a utopian dream as much in the police as in the rest of the system.

Is it not unfortunate that merely beating around the bush is what keeps most of us in the sarkari tantra occupied? In the absence of adequate empowerment, quick decision making processes and complex contractual mechanisms topped up by a fair sprinkling of mistrust inherent in the governance machinery, we are indeed getting a taste of our own medicine!

Nation building requires the toil of generations and unfortunately we never toiled. The society is indeed at the receiving end of what it deserves.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Armchair Enthusiasts

Armchair enthusiasm is easily the most popular pastime of the citizens of this nation. Passing comments or issuing advisories on all and sundry is what we have become adept at, unfortunately at the expense of our core responsibility.

Ask a man on the street what is wrong with the nation and he shall have answers. He is also almost always available to dispense free advise on all matters under the sun except that in all likelihood he would be messing up the job assigned to him almost regularly and with ease.

The railways is no different. The upper crust that has by now ensured a fair amount of distance between itself and the ground realities keeps itself occupied in fault finding, dispensing free advice and passing value judgement on almost everything that is not directly within their domain. What they have also ensured by now is that matters relating to providing vision and direction to the organization that they purportedly head remain permanently relegated to the back seat.

The heritage sector also has more than its fair share of armchair enthusiasts. With not a shred of contribution that can generally be assigned to them, they continue to pass value judgement and deride efforts at improvements and modernization in the garb of preservation of heritage.

It is indeed sad that this tribe is growing at a rapid pace for it has realized that armchair enthusiasm is perhaps the finest way to remain in the public eye and be noticed as a voice of concern. It is however another matter that in their own little way, they impede delivery in a nation that has been thirsting for it since inception.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Matters of the Heart

Mr Budhalakoti left for Haridwar yesterday. After almost ten months of retirement, he commands greater respect that he commanded when he occupied the corner room in Baroda House. That is what happens with people who are intrinsically great. The love and respect for them grows with time and the official chair has no relevance whatsoever.

Most of the officers are feared, few are respected and only the rarest of the rare are loved. Mr Budhalakoti will always be loved.

The number of people who came to see him off at his residence today, while he was leaving for Haridwar was indication enough of the deep inroads he had made in the hearts of all those who came in contact with him, even if momentarily. I can recount a large number of very senior officers who after retirement have passed into oblivion, but Mr Budhlakoti shall never. Perhaps he was the only true General Manager that the Northern Railway ever had or is likely to have in the future.

There are two categories of officers, the majority belongs to those who are subservient to the chair they rest their backsides on and for the other category in the minority, the chair is subservient. That Mr Budhalakoti belongs to the second category is amply reflected in the radiance he exudes, radiance that is ever increasing as the days pass by.

Why are persons like Mr Budhalakoti a rarity in the bureaucratic setup of the nation? Why most of us bureaucrats are heartless, mean and self centered? Why almost all of us fail to appreciate in our entire bureaucratic careers that it is more important to be a good human being than anything else? Perhaps there are no answers to these questions and life has to be lived on regardless.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Think Big Act Small

A simple mantra, yet almost never followed. Half hearted attempts at climbing lofty mountains when even crossing foothills is difficult, is an oft visible sight in sarkari territories especially railways.

The turnaround of the New Delhi Railway Station in time for the CWG was the culmination, not of a mega revival project but of a large number of small yet focussed action plans. And what a turnaround it was that made even the sceptical CAG take notice and record his appreciation in no uncertain terms. This simple turnaround with a massive impact could not happen earlier due to the dilemma that all my predecessors faced in light of the perpetual grand plan running in thousands of crores to give a world class look and feel to this station. A grand uncertainty over shadowing simple yet doable development plans for decades is an unacceptable scenario, a scenario that was accepted and justified at almost all functional and policy making levels in the railways. Sic.

Ambitious plans that generally fall flat on the ground, is the unfortunate ground reality of the sarkari sector in the country. That it is fashionable to talk about grand plans and pedestrian to talk about small matters is a trait that is rapidly taking us downhill.

My arrival in the state of Madhya Pradesh in mid 2004 as the head domo of tourism revived hopes even at the apex political levels. Everyone expected major changes almost immediately and hoping for an impressive response, the chief minister asked me about my plans. My plans were however confined merely to improving my chamber followed by the entire head office, the flagship hotel and then all other seventy odd properties and then only attempt something major. I was clear and hence could clarify to the chief minister that tourist destinations across the state would come on my radar only after setting my house in order, an exercise that would take around a year. The results that subsequently emerged exceeded all expectations and ultimately resulted in positioning the state as the numero uno in tourism.

We have to dream big, yet act small if the situation so warrants it. However the act should always be within the competence of the executive who is responsible for its execution. The reality is unfortunately otherwise. The people who occupy apex levels and are primarily meant to dream and provide leadership are so distant from the ground realities that neither, do they dream nor are they able to avoid becoming another roadblock. It is in the backdrop of this ground reality that it is necessary to instil in all sarkari executives a thought that doing something small is far better than not doing something great. This shall ensure that some things do happen and great plans on paper do not always over shadow small plans on the ground.