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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Hastinapur would show the way!

Kejriwal gives hope, to the nation as well as humanity. A meteoric rise indeed yet there may be many years when he finally arrives unless of course all poll predictions go wrong that they may and he emerges from the shadows to occupy the throne of Hastinapur.

A former civil servant whose better half still serves the national government and for one who still resides in accommodation provided by the very sarkar he seeks to replace, his guts are indeed amazing and therefore the slight tinge of envy in many of us who would love to be in his boots yet do not have the courage, integrity or the commitment to be so.

His incessant battle against the establishment and also the anti establishment is against all odds, yet a battle that he is fighting with gumption. For his cause is right and intentions noble and this is what really matters when one is fighting for righteousness. Perhaps his integrity and commitment to the cause is what gives him the strength to keep on fighting what appears to be a one sided battle. This reminds us of the Mahabharata, the epic battle between the kauravas and the pandavas, the battle between the right and the wrong, between evil and goodness where despite heavy odds the pandavas won and in the process gave eternal hope to the people of Bharatvarsh.  

“Ekalo Chalo Re”is his slogan and perhaps the right and the only way when the odds are stacked almost to the level of being regarded as impossible. It is always only one man who can take an organization, a state or a nation forward. Gandhi dressed in the barest of attires amidst a sea of immaculately attired adversaries achieved for this nation what even massive armies would fail in. Truth was his only weapon and renunciation of ego his biggest attribute yet he achieved what till the very end appeared almost impossible. 

Arvind Kejriwal is not a Gandhi, but the closest to Gandhi that the nation has got so far. His battle is for a cause that is right, though his means are more direct and do not totally abjure violence. India is not China or Egypt or Syria where the masses have sufficient inner conviction to move out on the streets and face bullets for a cause, yet many people have often come out at his call, not sufficient enough to cause an uprising, yet sufficient enough to create a nationalistic fervor.

The nation is staring at the toughest electoral fights in its history. The battles are bound to be severe and maybe violent at times as patna has recently displayed yet the thought that nectar emerges only after a massive churning exercise has kept the nation moving forward in search of good governance, something that we have missed in the first sixty seven years of existence of an independent yet not a free nation. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

State firms fail because of inept management

(This article was published in the HT of 17/10/2013)

On October 10, civil aviation minister Ajit Singh told a private TV channel that the national carrier - Air India will have to make itself  “profitable or a subsequent government will have to explore at privatising.” The statement created a flutter reminiscent of the era of disinvestment when the hospitality sector giant India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) and many others were sold off.

As the head of ITDC, I was often amused at the irrationality of the excuses trotted out for justifying the sale of the family silver — governments should not be in the business of running hotels, the company facing huge loss and the government needs money — were the three major excuses trotted out, but without substance. The counter-arguments were: if the government can’t run even hotels profitably then can it run the nation, give us time and the company will be as profitable as those in the private sector; and if the aim is to maximise sale proceeds why not sell through an open auction and why attempt restricting post-sale operations.

Major properties were palmed off at prices that would not fetch even a decent house in the outskirts of Delhi. Unfortunately, the tremendous enthusiasm over selling the family silver overshadowed the need for sanity.
The theory that governments should not be running businesses and, therefore, get rid of them is inherently faulty. Running a business enterprise requires sound commercial sense. That is why private enterprises burn the midnight oil while selecting their chief executives. Had the same diligence been applied while choosing CEOs for State firms, the story of even the national carrier could have been different. With the might of the State behind it, the public sector has an inherent advantage over the private sector. Unfortunately, this advantage is now being frittered away.
Also, the latent strength of the Indian public sector enterprises lies untapped even after 66 years of Independence. It defies common business sense why many of these commercial enterprises set up with public funds and backed by the State perform so badly.
The reason lies in inept apex management as often the criterion for appointments lack merit. That the kinds of ownership and technicalities are mere peripheral issues and what matters is the commitment, zeal and integrity of the person in charge of these enterprises.
Air India and ITDC are textbook examples of inherently profitable business enterprises brought to the mat by inept managements.  Contrary to public opinion, blaming political masters or the external environment for the ills of a company merely diverts attention and shrouds the real causes. The fact remains that the ‘companies act’ and the ‘memorandum of articles’ sufficiently empower the chief executives to ward off any hostile threats to the efficient working of the enterprise, yet in many cases the chief executives lack leadership traits besides showing undue eagerness to succumb.
Any commercial enterprise, be it the local paan shop or a multinational corporation, is only as good as its leader, or in other words the officer who heads it.
Unfortunately, most of the senior officers only look upwards and display extreme keenness to be identified as the blue-eyed boys of the powers that be. They achieve that goal but in the process the company they head often lose out.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Cleaning the stables!

The battle to apportion credit for the ordinance rollback is indeed amusing. The ordinance that emerged out of the desire of politicos cutting across party lines to remain in the reckoning despite being convicted of crimes was processed in total disregard to the orders of the apex court and the need for probity in public life. Now that the prince has called the bluff, the race amongst different political dispensations to assume credit for the withdrawl has indeed assumed hilarious proportions.

The proposed ordinance followed by the bill was definitely against the concept of ethics and probity in public life. Unfortunately our political system has degenerated to such an extent that it has become almost impossible for a decent guy to aspire to become a public representative. While the court order is a major step in cleaning the stables, what is ultimately required is to evolve a system that attracts and retains good guys in governing the nation through the political route. 

In the melee caused by the battle, the primary issue with tremendous ramifications did not perhaps get the attention it so rightfully deserves. The issue is the sudden and abrupt reversal of a cabinet decision of the government of India at the calling of an individual even if the individual is dead right. The reasons are right, yet the methods are wrong.

While the nation appreciated the bold, desirable and much needed line taken by the prince, the sanctity of a cabinet decision of the republic that needs to be maintained has been violated.  Had the cabinet on its own reversed the decision after self introspection it would not have caused consternation amongst the populace, but now it has. A situation wherein a Member of Parliament is placed on a mantle higher than the cabinet of the republic is undoubtedly sad, irrespective of the party in power.

It is a downhill race to doom. With each passing day we witness a new low in the conduct of our leaders and institutions. During discussions, a leading industrialist recently highlighted the sloth in the judicial system of the country wherein decisions are for sale almost everywhere with only rare exceptions. The rot in the executive system is also so deeply entrenched and acceptable that people feel slighted only when work does not get despite bribe being paid.

And the race to be the blue eyed boys at the expense of the nation is indeed getting murkier by the day. But what has really taken the cake is the conduct of the present dispensation rising in unison to turn down what they only earlier proposed. Perhaps they also knew what they were doing was wrong.

The silver lining however is that right seems to have ultimately prevailed despite politicos cutting across party lines willing otherwise. Long live the prince. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The times are changing

Finally Lalu goes to jail. I vividly remember his days in the rail bhawan and the eagerness of the powers that be to line up and do his bidding, in fact do the bidding of his cronies. How my head still hangs in shame at the conduct of those whom the society regards as having arrived.   

Yet this indeed is a moment for all of us to rejoice; one more member of the power club goes to jail close on the heels of Asaram Bapu. This is the true beauty of our democratic system that even power and pelf of the highest order fails to prevent the entry of the high and mighty inside the precincts of the holy jail. Yet the ground reality that even such high profile arrests fail to act as a deterrent is a failure beyond comprehension. Sukh Ram, Kalmadi, Raja, Kanimozhi, Choutala and many others passed considerable time behind bars yet surprisingly fail to deter others of their ilk from following suit.

This country amazes me. A self anointed godman openly flirts with and sexually abuses young girls despite the presence of unsuspecting parents a few metres away. The brazenness of the godman as well as the naïveté of the parents are disturbing in this nation that calls itself modern. The crime of the godman is undoubtedly worse than the rapists of Nirbhaya, for while the act was similar, the godman also crudely exploited the sentiments of his own naive followers. How I wish we also had a law that prescribed stern punishment in city squares for such heinous crimes, yet I am certain that the fellow would walk out with a punishment not commensurate with the crimes on humanity that he inflicted.  

Modi’s speech in the capital has perhaps been the only piece of reassurance that the nation has had in the recent past. His address held promise for the future, a vision of the emergence of our nation as a state that shall brook no nonsense internally or externally. The emerging internal contradictions in the ordinance that ensured the entry and continuance of criminals inside parliament and state legislatures also gives hope that perhaps the political class has seen the light.

The best thing about the verdict of yesterday is that the spectre of Lalu will continue to haunt aspiring politicians and bureaucrats, a class that has aspirations for quick silver for a long time to come. That a powerful politician who throughout his life had scant regard for institutions and probity has been made to bite the dust by those very institutions would indeed prove to be a humbling experience for many.

We are indeed in for rapidly changing times!