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Monday, December 30, 2013

From despair to hope!

Pain and anger over the Nirbhaya incident marked the national mood in the December of 2012. Such was the pain that a nation normally used to celebrations abandoned the new year bash and such was the anger that the entire populace clamored for nothing short of death penalty for all the rapists including the juvenile. It was perhaps the first time in the history of independent India that the entire nation rose in unison against gross injustice and torture perpetuated on one individual. It was also perhaps for the first time that the middle and upper classes spilled out of the confines of their homes onto the streets, to show solidarity with a cause and anger with the incident as well as the state of the nation. Perhaps everyone felt as if  mother india herself had been defiled.

The December of 2013 in sharp contrast has been marked by a mood of despair yet anxious expectation. Despair and frustration over the abysmal standards of governance witnessed in recent times and anxious expectation over the results of the mini general elections that are indeed a pointer towards larger changes to occur in the way governance is conducted in this country. That the quality of governance and call for probity in public life and not merely anti incumbency mattered in this mini mahabharat was its main redeeming feature. For once the people of this nation voted for good governance in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh, and for AAP in Delhi out of sheer frustration with national parties. 

I only wish that the anger, frustration and despair does not spill over to 2014 and that this year marks the beginning of good governance in this nation thirsting in vain since its tryst with destiny.

Perhaps the time for a real tryst with destiny has now arrived. Maybe we the people of India, the resilient people of India may now opt for spine in favor of resilience and for the call of conscience in favor of greed. The silent acceptance of mal-governance, corruption, high handedness and inequality may soon be a thing of the past if and only if the change that has happened especially in the capital of the nation proves to be a real change and not a hashed continuance of the status quo.

We as a nation have a problem in almost every sphere of our activities. Be it poverty, lack of housing, water, electricity or basic infrastructure, there are shortages galore, shortages that do not have a plausible reason to exist after sixty six years of self rule. Why Delhi should be internationally known more as the rape capital of India than for any other reason is what makes us hang our heads in shame. Why we are way below in the transparency index and a front runner in corruption is beyond rationale. 

Screwed or perhaps warped governance is at the root of almost every issue, yet our leaders, good and bad blabber only about further tweaking the system for marginal improvements that remain merely sinusoidal. While any bureaucracy thrives on the backwardness of the nation, the inability of the public representatives to understand why we have not reached where we should is inexplicable. That a machinery built to rule is unfit to govern is a realization that has not sunk in despite failures galore on every front. 

The day we have a leader who understands this very basic premise and then makes structural changes in the processes as well as the machinery that makes policies, takes decisions and enter into contracts, the country would be able to make up for the lost years.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Victorious Democracy - Hope Lives

Who would have ever thought that Kejriwal, the national icon of defiance and honesty would be taking oath as the Chief Minister of Delhi after participating in a battle, the results of which defied all odds. His victory brings to fore the greatest strength of the indian democratic system, a system where governments regularly pass the baton of change without rancour and where even an ordinary citizen can aspire to reach the top through ballot, not bullet.  
The recent elections have once again displayed that the nation has sufficiently matured to endure the pangs of democracy. Despite the ills plaguing the nation, rampant corruption being the most visible amongst them, democracy has taken deep roots in this country unlike many other nations of similar elk. Thankfully hope is not yet dead!
The singular trait of the developed world that India a member of the forever developing group shares is that governments smoothly change by ballot without the hullabaloo normally witnessed in many developing countries. To a great extent this can be credited to the strength of the national institutions that were set up in the post-independence era. The credibility of the machinery conducting general and state elections, the election commission in conducting the biggest electoral battle in the world is now unquestionably established. Also established is the environment of mutual trust that almost all political parties generally have with the commission that functions as it really should - in an unbiased and nonpartisan manner.

Despite low literacy levels, the electorate that often displays a high level of understanding of fundamental issues cannot be taken for granted anymore. It now has the proven capability to show that even established political pundits can be way off the mark while making profound assessments. Till the results started pouring in, no one was willing to give the Aam Aadmi Party more than a single digit figure, yet the electorate gave them the mandate, almost and placed Arvind Kejriwal in the top seat in the hope of being blessed with good governance. 

Arvind Kejriwal is not merely a person who has ascended to the throne of a state in the shortest ever time frame in history, he is indeed a phenomenon and an assertion by the common people of the capital that they are sick and tired of acts of gross abuse of power by powerful men and now want a change, a change for the better. Contrary to popular expectations, the common man pinned his entire hopes on the Aam Aadmi Party and it would therefore be a sad travesty of justice if these hopes are belied. This change is therefore also a realization that the common man in his heart of hearts really aspires for goodness and dreams of Ram Rajya. 

The recent election in Delhi will also go down in history as the culmination of a series of events that catapulted an ordinary citizen, to the highest seat of power in the state. While the rise has indeed been meteoric, the fall will also be as drastic if the new dispensation fails to provide what they promised - good governance. The proof of the pudding is always in the eating. 

For the sake of the national yearning for a society based on value systems and for keeping alive "trust and hope" in the common man, his dreams have to convert into reality. If they really do, it would indeed mark a major turning point for this nation. The great national experiment has just begun.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

It is all about being human!

Birthdays are an ideal occasion to introspect and then if possible, attempt to emerge as a guy better than one has been. My fifty fifth today brings back to me a kaleidoscope of my earlier years, my follies and my weaknesses rather taking center stage.

Fifty five is fairly old despite how young one feels at heart. It is almost seventy over with only about thirty remaining, yet the very thought that one can make a much bigger mark in the remainder is what gives hope and strength. May god give me the strength to get over all my mistakes and shortcomings and help me in emerging a better human being that one has been in the past. 

My morning walk today again gave me an opportunity to blabber out my thoughts. Perhaps the youngster who accompanied me gave his ear out of sheer respect for seniority, yet the blabbering had some sanity and its essence may remain at the core of all my actions for the rest of my life. Perhaps much more important than being wealthy or powerful is being a genuine human being, an act so simple yet so hard to emulate. Emulating simplicity or genuineness is not only difficult but almost impossible, because these traits cannot be emulated, one can only be. Yet the effort has to go on, not only for my own sake, but also for all those who are the intrinsic constituent of my own tiny universe. 

If only the clock could be turned back a few decades, I would radically cut down on my nasty behavior, catch up on a lot of reading and writing that I have missed and not waste time on issues that now appear as mere trivialities. It is indeed true, yet a fairly late realization, perhaps for many like me that life should not be allowed to while away on trivialities, there are much bigger and better things to do like simply being human.

Yes it is true that in the bureaucratic circus I belong to, being human remains farthest from our thoughts and actions and that is the root cause of all our failures, our failures that are not merely ours but strongly impinge upon the organization we work for and the nation. Our sole focus on self gratification and absolute lack of concern for others has hurt the nation in the last sixty seven years and would continue to do so in future unless we recast the governance model of this great nation.

My last five years in the service of the nation begin today with the prayer to the almighty that this period should not be allowed to go in vain. I strongly believe that the contribution to the society at large that one is able to make towards the fag end of the career is what will give me the satisfaction to carry on unabated even after I hang up my official boots on the last day of 2018.

This purpose of this blog is only to strengthen my own thoughts and resolve!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Combating Corruption - The Lok Pal way

Amidst high drama the Lok Pal finally becomes a reality with the parliament giving its nod. With this the national aspiration for a corruption free nation has again started rearing its head. 

The achievement is definitely creditable with Anna, the parliament and the government to a limited extent sharing the honors. The intent is pious and the motives honorable, yet having delved in the complex maze of the tantra for a considerable period of time makes me wonder whether this historic move would indeed deliver what its founding fathers envisaged.

The plethora of agencies ostensibly created to combat corruption, namely lokayukta's in the states, CVC, CBI and CVO's in ministries and public sector have obviously bitten the dust. Else what was the tearing hurry or even the necessity to create one more agency without going into the apparent causes behind such large scale failures? How many check posts do we really need?

Mere intent is not enough. A thorough appreciation of the system that the nation follows is equally if not more essential and that is where the mandarins of the nation who dream of a corruption free society have been failing miserably. Perhaps the intent is also missing as apparently omnipresent is the drive to display a semblance of seeking a corruption free society. Sick and tired of such self seekers is the common man who gets taken for a ride both by the dispensation in power and those aspiring to take their place, almost always. 

In over thirty three years of working with the tantra, I am yet to come across a superior who brought the issue of corruption on the table or attended a meeting in which the ills of the organization especially those relating to corruption and value systems were discussed candidly. I am also yet to attend an independence day celebration at the red fort where the prime minister makes an open call to eradicate corruption and warns those indulging in the same of swift and severe consequences. I am absolutely certain that corruption would take a nose dive the day we get such a prime minister and we bring this issue on the table.

Perhaps everyone feels helpless and the apex levels who are well taken care of have no stake in bringing about the improvements that they also once desired. Sad it is that in the drive to reach the top, the bureaucracy as well as the politicos have given the go by to everything else. 

Corruption is a symptom not a disease and any symptomatic treatment therefore is bound to fall flat on its face as we have continually witnessed. India has emerged as a rare nation where every single interaction of the common man with the sarkari tantra is invariably laced with corruption. Is this indicative of a society gone to seed or a tantra that encourages corruption to flourish? If the society has indeed gone to seed then precious little can be done and that makes me lean towards the latter with optimism, the tantra is to blame not our moral fabric. 

The complexity of the tantra is at the root of both corruption as well as non deliverance. The existing tantra was designed to enable a ruler to rule over his subjects and lack of trust was therefore at its core. A plethora of thumb impressions therefore ensured both a casual as well as a corrupt approach. It is indeed sad that the complexity continues to be aggravated despite self rule for over six decades in the hope that somehow it would help to combat corruption. Unless the manadarins start appreciating the need to simplify and recast the decision making and contractual mechanisms, there is no hope whatsoever of a corruption free Bharat. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Getting used to removals!

I had an almost similar feeling on two previous occasions.

The first time it happened, I was much younger and highly volatile. Being sacked from the top level assignment of CMD, ITDC and also premature repatriation back to railways was a jolt from the blue. A jolt primarily because the ITDC stint has been the finest innings that I played so far, besides believing till then that the government generally recognizes merit. A government that openly lauded my work and flaunted me as a blue eyed boy on many occasions did not blink even an eyelid in showing me my place when deliverance started hurting vested interests. Yet the culmination was the outcome of almost a year long battle that I fought with the department entrusted with the task of palming off family silver.

The second time it happened, the jolt was even bigger. The Minister of State to whom I was assigned as an Executive Director summarily terminated my services even though he never left any opportunity in lauding my tremendous contribution in improving the railway stations that fell in his constituency in a record time. Perhaps repeated mentions within the government and the party as Lohani’s Minister egged him to do what he did. While the sacking from ITDC was not very unexpected, this time the summary removal caught me by total surprise. Yet by this time I was getting used to blatant acts of injustice by those in power and also started appreciating why our nation continues to stand still. 

Yesterday evening was the third of my summary removals from an assignment though not as high profile as in the case of earlier removals, yet fairly important from the operations point of view. In the background of the recent scandals in railways, the flourishing corruption and blatant display of lowly personal conduct by the apex levels, this removal was also not totally unexpected. Perhaps not being a sycophant, having a bit of a spine and also being honest to the core created an unfavorable situation that led to what happened.

Yet I am neither disheartened nor demoralized. Perhaps it is because of maturity acquired over age or simple acceptance of the rot that engulfs the railways more than it engulfs the nation. Why cant’ an officer be judged merely on his leadership abilities and sheer deliverance, especially in a developing nation I wonder? Why do top bosses and their better halves clamor for sycophant subordinates basically for petty personal gains that really do not matter in the long run? 

Governance in this nation needs a deep cleansing and the railways literally needs to be washed of all its ills of sycophancy, protocol, gross mismanagement and corruption to enable real progress. Till then all talks of moving forward would remain just hot air.  

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Organizational Excellence

Inaugural Address
Delivered by Ashwani Lohani at ISM, Dhanbad on 6th December 2013

Really a pleasure and an honor to be with all of you here for the national seminar on organizational excellence with emphasis on ethics. An honor because the Indian School of Mines is a great institution and a pleasure mainly for two reasons – the first - it is an enlightening experience to be addressing a big gathering of budding youngsters and the second – it was at a god forsaken place called Patratu in the Dhanbad division that I got the first field level administrative posting in my railway career. Oh what an experience it was – I was 29 and Patratu was the biggest hub of activity on the eastern railway and a place always on the edge. It was here that I realized the tremendous, almost overpowering role of the human resource in running organizations. It was here that I learnt that “Men” is by far the most important of the 3M’s that one talks about in management.

And so ladies and gentleman, I am indeed happy and honored to be here today.

I am no management expert as is often misunderstood. In my career spanning over 33 years I have never been nominated even for a single training session in a management institute and therefore I regard all of you from the department of management studies as far ahead of me in so far as management techniques and strategies are concerned. My only plus is the varied experience that I acquired during various postings in the railways – open line, headquarters, production units and the National Rail Museum, in the Govt of India as Director Tourism, as a public sector honcho at the infamous ITDC and later at MPSTDC along with my role in the state government of Madhya Pradesh handling all governmental functions in the department of Tourism. This variety in postings gave me an insight into and experience of the grand mess that in other words is known as a government department or undertaking. The two public sectors that came my way imparted a rare experience of handling loss making commercial entities about which I can confess I knew nothing about till then.

It is my varied experience and that indeed is all I have that therefore forms the basis of  my talks and any impression that conveys eulogizing of any kind needs to be taken in the right spirit. This is my humble request to this august gathering in all humility.

The subject of today is organizational excellence yet what really is excellence in organizations all about, I often wonder?

Perhaps it is all about achieving the optimum blend of profitability, productivity, operating ratio, work culture, employee and customer satisfaction, ethical values, environment and corporate social responsibility. Or maybe much more, as I said earlier I am not an expert on this subject. Please bear with me therefore if at times you feel that my blabbering is not making any real sense. Yet if I am asked to lay a finger on the one single indices that can be a pointer towards organizational excellence, it has to be the operating ratio of the organization.

My first visit overseas was an eye opener. It brought me down to earth and that did me a lot of good in ensuing years. I would therefore like to relate two or perhaps three incidences that really had my head reeling and made me appreciate that there are no rich and poor nations but only productive and unproductive nations. My second visit overseas mainly to the land of the rising sun and then England also opened my eyes wide and fully awake.

By then I was almost convinced that the road to prosperity goes via deliverance. What is needed in our country is a quantum jump in deliverance – cutting across sectors and states. Since then the hindu rate of growth has failed to impress me for that would keep the nation relatively at the same place almost forever. Why cant’ we aspire for growth rates in excess of twenty five percent per annum especially in the case of commercial organizations, I have since wondered. Perhaps therein lies the difference between capabilities of managers and leaders.

We need to cultivate leaders rather than merely focusing on imparting managerial skills. One definition of leadership is that it is the art of achieving many times more than what the science of management says is possible. This is one singular trait the trail blazing results of which have been amply witnessed in the cases of Gandhi from India, Lee Kuon Yew of Singapore and Mahathir Mohammad of Malaysia to name a few.  

Leadership is the issue, nothing else is. It is a lot about believing in yourself even when none believe in you. It is also about being more committed to speaking the truth than seeking the approval of others. Besides it encompasses all core managerial and human values.

Now let us look at success.

We all aspire to be successful, yet what is success all about?

It is important not to measure personal success and sense of well being through material possessions. Success is not about what you create for yourself, it is what you leave behind that defines success.

Success is your ability to rise above your discomfort, whatever may be your current state. You can, if you want, raise your consciousness above your immediate surroundings. 

Success is about Vision. It is the ability to rise above the immediacy of pain. It is about imagination. It is about sensitivity to small people. It is about building inclusion. It is about connectedness to a larger world existence. It is about personal tenacity. It is about giving back more to life than you take out of it. It is about creating extra-ordinary success with ordinary lives.

If wealth gave happiness and satisfaction then Mukesh Ambani should be the happiest person in the country and if power and position gave that, then our prime minister should, yet that is not the case. There is something else within us that is the true  fountainhead of happiness and satisfaction. The sooner in life we understand this simple philosophy, the better it is.

At Patratu I started appreciating the real value of the human resource. The combined strength of over a thousand men working in unison delivered much more that what even the best of my predecessors ever expected of the team. That the men in return expected neither enhanced wages or promotions or rewards but genuineness on the part of management was a realization that dawned on me at Patratu and continued during my next stint at the Diesel Locomotive Works at Varanasi. That unions are an essential part of any enterprise with a substantial workforce, yet they merely thrive on the incompetency or non genuineness of primarily the apex management was also a deep realization.

Slowly with the passage of time it dawned on me that whether it is a parchun ki dukaan, towering corporate or a nation, it is the top guy who really matters and everything else is merely a symptom. Yet how wrong most of us really are in almost always attempting to tackle symptoms? Thankfully our family doctors are not like us – they rightfully attack the disease!  

Tackling the 3 M’s in a defined time frame to achieve the desired objective is at the core of the philosophy of management. Yet in the complex maze of organizations that we live in, we invariably fail to appreciate that the “will” to achieve is at a much higher plane than the how’s and the why’s. The regular engagement in the How’s and Why’s therefore amazes me no end. There are examples galore of the tremendous success achieved by nations and organizations inspired merely by the sheer will power of the leader. The meteoric rise of Germany in the thirties and then again after total demolition in the second world war is a vivid example of the power of the will power. I often wonder what would have happened if we Indians were left in the lurch in 1945 as the Germans were –we would still be begging the developed world, the world bank and the IMF for dole. What we would have done with the dole is another matter. National catastrophe’s like cyclones, earthquakes and what Uttarakhand recently went through have started emerging as occasions for the rulers to make hay while the sun shines. Unfortunate yet true! How deep is the abyss still I wonder?

A few days back one of my younger colleagues asked me how to differentiate between a good and a bad posting. My reply was that a posting conventionally regarded as good by the masses is bad and vica versa, provided of course rollicking in power and money is not the aim and making a difference is. After all who ever said that USA has potential or Germany has potential? It is India that is still accumulating potential in almost every sphere of activities. Potential is indeed a dirty word and generally postings regarded as bad possess tons of untapped potential.

Tackling the tourism major, the India Tourism Development Corporation and that too during the era when the nation was going through the motions of selling the family silver was an interesting assignment. Beleaguered on all sides – heavily loss making and corrupt organization, my not belonging to the elite service of the nation, the adhoc appointment and the disinvestment ministry excited about the selloff to follow, even paying the salaries to staff was by no means a cakewalk. And then 9/11 came as the icing on the cake! Yet Hotel Ashok, the flagship and the conscience keeper of the corporation posted the biggest ever hotel turnaround of those times – its turnover grew by almost 60% in the year when the hotel industry worldwide plummeted. This turnaround that gave jitters to the powers that be was mainly fuelled by two components – the decision to turnaround taken by the apex management and the absolute commitment of the staff in ensuring the success of the effort that followed.

Firm adherence to ethics, value systems and genuine concern for the employees is what really differentiates excellent firms from the routine. Clamping down on corrupt practices, imbibing value systems and providing genuine leadership to the men therefore has to be the fundamental focus area of the top guy. That this is far more important than merely chasing production or revenues is not yet apparent to many of the corporates especially those from the sarkari sector! 

In the rotten sarkari domain often most of us are at a loss to decide from where to start, and therefore there are umpteen sad stories of merely confining ourselves to planning and power point presentations that paint a rosy future yet fail to impress. Grandiose future emerging from dingy rooms occupied by demoralized employees is just not acceptable. And therefore in all my postings I literally begin with a cleaning up drive starting with the seat of power to be followed by other offices, units and workplaces. I really cannot visualize a bubbly enterprise in the absence of smart offices, units and workplaces. The men have to start feeling the change and that is what started happening at the dingy headquarters of Madhya Pradesh Tourism in 2004 and continued to happen for the next five years.

The organization turned around in the very first year and the turnover rose so fast that the profits at the end of five years were almost double of the turnover at the beginning. Meanwhile rapid strides in infrastructural development, innovative and bold promotional campaigns and making things easy for the private sector to make an entry propelled the state to the fore front of tourism in the country – an achievement celebrated by a number of recognitions in the form of national awards given by the federal government.

While managerial excellence played a major role, the almost vertical growth was made possible by inculcating ethical values, rooting out corruption and genuine concern for the men of the corporation. 

What however took me by surprise was the tremendous positive response of the railway staff in the Delhi division of Indian Railways. Infrastructural development works that normally take decades to show were completed in a record time and at such low costs that even the CAG profusely complimented the renovation works at New Delhi station in its audit report of the CWG games. Here again a transparent environment, genuine concern for the men, quick decision making and regular emphasis on value systems played a major role. 

All great performances appear smooth, be it Geet Sethi playing billiards or Sachin Tendulkar scoring centuries and all bad performances give an impression of tremendous activity. The test is that if an organization and its constituents appear to be at peace with themselves it is almost always certain that the organization is on the road to achieving excellence. 

Leaders clearly differentiate between remaining busy and delivering. They also quickly separate the grain from the chaff. 

Finally I would like to conclude by saying that achieving organizational excellence is simple though it often appears impossible. It only requires the will, commitment, genuineness and integrity on the part of the management. Once the decision to achieve excellence is taken, the next step is merely to put our life and soul in achieving the objective. 

Thank you everyone for being patient. 

Thank you for this honor once again.