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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Building castles on foundations of mud!

I find it strange, unacceptable and often hilarious whenever I witness bureaucrats buckling under pressure, more often than not for reasons that are not above board.  What right someone in authority has, to pressurize sub-ordinates to do what is not right for the organization or the nation, and continuing on a similar vein, what right the dam subordinate has for doing what he ends up doing while toeing the line of the unethical superior.

The previous year and a half made me and many of my elk witness acts that no sane organization should ever have to witness, acts of gross impropriety committed by none other than those supposed to lead by example. And the blatant manner in which these acts were and are still committed, with vehement vengeance at their core are pointers to a saga that is much more sordid than what appears on the surface. Perhaps times have changed and so have the methods. Obviously the acceptability of unethical practices has gained ground and being ethical is out of fashion in our society. 

And corruption is indeed the biggest malaise staring at the nation, yet unfortunately not regarded as such and that indeed is the sad story of governance. The tentacles of corruption are so widely spread that almost every single interaction of the ordinary citizen with the sarkari tantra is laced with graft, cutting across political, sectoral and state boundaries. How the hell will we really move forward in such a scenario should be the biggest worry of all those who matter in the matter of governance in this nation, but do they one wonders? 

What is even worse is the fact that grossly improper conduct has accompanied the penchant for putting the hands in the till. In the good old days, those in the sarkari sector who had a tilt towards milching the organization they worked for, generally maintained a fa├žade of an impeccable conduct for perhaps deep inside their hearts they actually faulted their indulgence in unethical practices. But not anymore, with putting the hand in the till being considered a birth-right nowadays. And therefore the sordid spectacle of loot coupled with the lowliest form of conduct almost bordering on the inhuman that we all have been sad and silent witnesses to.

Yet we look the other way till our own turn comes and only then we cry out load against injustice, a scenario played often in the social environment we inhabit.

Good governance is the magic word of the present times. But should it not begin with emphasis on and also strict adherence to ethical and moral value systems. Shouldn’t’ eradication of corruption and propagating the need for maintaining an impeccable conduct amongst all those in the seva of the sarkar be the first major step in the direction of providing good governance? Great things will indeed happen, but only after the basics have been taken care of and inculcating the same is not really difficult. It is my belief borne out of experience that each and every one of us longs for Ram-Raj provided it is for real and not merely in name. 

Personally, after having gone through the grind lasting almost three decades and a half, I am neither in favor of nor believe that castles can ever be built on muddy foundations.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Ends do not justify the means!

Could not but appreciate from the heart the effort of a few individuals to honor those whose contribution to good governance in the country has been tremendous and who otherwise would have remained confined to the shadows. Well done Gfiles for doing what the system should otherwise have been doing to motivate their own men, yet it is rarely done.

Almost all who spoke at the function made a forceful mention of the need for ethics in public service. Some even gave real life examples of the stand that they took for doing what is right even in the face of powerful forces that willed otherwise and often in the process suffered ignominy. Yet for once I felt proud of belonging to the same league of government servants as these brave men and women who were decorated for making a difference in a system that generally does not lay a premium on doing and being good.

And that is why we are where we are – almost at the bottom of the list of nations in almost all spheres of societal growth and human upliftment. Yet it fails to surprise me for what better does one expect in a system that even after over sixty seven years of evolution remains woefully short of adherence to ethical values and proper conduct.

It often surprises me that in almost three and a half decades of service, I am yet to attend an official meeting (not convened by me) where adherence to ethical values and the welfare of men is discussed. The meetings generally remain confined to the mundane world of projects, budgets, punishments, discipline and more often than not – self-gratification of the powers to be. Never ever the need for probity in public life is discussed, much less acted upon.

And the almost tearing hurry to comply with the unethical demands of superiors even at the cost of the organization and the nation is invariably witnessed. Often this is the result of conditioning that we have been accustomed to – of never saying a “NO” to a powerful superior perhaps because of the degeneration of the spinal cord with the years spent in the services or for expecting the same ourselves from subordinates. Yet there are exceptions, a small sample of which was on display recently at the felicitation ceremony at the civil services officer’s institute.

The last decade has perhaps been the worst if one indeed regards a decline in moral values and an absolute lack of ethical values as the barometer of societal evolution. Rampant corruption reared its head only to be equalled by the incidents of violation of the dignity of the fairer sex. The Nirbhaya incident of almost two years ago, the public uproar thereafter and the almost incessant continuance of such incidents in the face of an abysmal lack of concern by those who are meant to govern has left a bitter taste in the mouth. And the series of scams topped by the one during the common wealth games that spared not even an occasion of national pride in an international arena left the society drained of any hopes of a turnaround in the happiness index of our nation. And we continue to chug along downhill.

Having handled two sinking ships in my career, tourism development corporations at the central and state levels and then witnessing their spectacular turnarounds convinced me that radical growth can come out of only radical decisions, strict adherence to the right path and most importantly an almost unflinching commitment in sticking to ethical values and impeccable conduct. Unfortunately this is not the stuff imparted to fertile brains in universities of education as well as life and therein lies the malaise. Materialism has conquered almost everyone and the human value systems have become conspicuous by their almost universal absence, except in pockets and that too, not by design but by chance.

These are changing times in the life of our nation. Perhaps we are poised to acquire our rightful place in the comity of nations, yet that may happen only if we follow what all our scriptures have laid down – the ends do not justify the means, the means also have to be right.

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Nation failing to protect dignity of women

The nation jumps, every time a woman is raped and it jumps rather high when the case is a high profile one as in the latest UBER taxi rape case in the capital. While immediate action that was taken leading to the arrest of the rapist is commendable this time and also on previous occasions, the malaise unfortunately continues unabated. Sadly every day the newspapers invariably carry at-least one new horror story of school girls being raped, toddlers being violated or working women being molested, and so it remains, merely one new story for the masses to read and forget.

The Nirbhaya gang rape case of 2012 had indeed jolted the nation into action that manifested more on the streets of Delhi than in any substantive real action. While the level of punishment for such offences increased, it miserably failed to deter the would-be rapist in carrying out his heinous acts as can be witnessed almost every day. Perhaps such cases are indicative of the contempt in which we hold our women regardless of the rhetoric that is often mouthed by almost all strata and segments of the society. The extent of involvement in sleazy activities by even those who were till then highly regarded as a spiritual guru by many is indicative of the low that the society has plummeted to. 

I wish I am wrong, but perhaps the national inability to uphold the dignity of the fair sex is borne out of the fact that with rare exceptions, generally the women who face the brunt belong to the economically weaker strata of the society. And the power to make a change lies with the strata that generally remains unaffected and therefore is unable to feel the pain and the anguish of the common citizen. The advocacy of ban on dress considered revealing and placing restrictions on free movement and interaction of the fair sex is an outcome of warped mind-sets that are now emerging in plenty.

And the basic question remains unanswered, why are we failing to put in place a punishment that would act as a deterrent? Why are we failing to put in place a judicial system that can impart swift justice, for that would also act as a deterrent? Why cant governments publicly declare their intent of protecting the dignity of women, irrespective of which strata of society she belongs to. Perhaps the intent is missing and so is the action.

Castration has to be the minimum punishment for anyone even attempting to outrage the modesty of women. And the gravity of the crime should dictate whether the guy additionally goes behind bars for a minimum of  ten years, a lifetime or is hanged. And it would not be uncivilized to put in place such punishments for those who treat women as a body merely meant to be lusted for. Indeed allowing women’s modesty to be outraged in the scale it is happening in our nation is indicative of an uncivilized society proving itself incapable of good governance.

Friday, November 28, 2014

India - on the road to excellence

The launch of electronic visa for nationals of forty three countries yesterday is one of the brightest moments for the tourism industry of the country. That it will spur inbound tourism is not in doubt, but that it displays the intent of the new government to give a fillip to this so far almost neglected sector is the powerful message that comes across clearly. Railways and tourism, the two sectors that were on the radar of the ruling party even much before the last general elections now appear poised for a major upturn. The use of the word “appear” is because with governments it is always wise not to count chickens before one actually sees them hatching.

My stint in the federal ministry of tourism began with me wondering why we crave a national impact even before being able to do anything substantial about the city of Agra, often christened as the mecca of Indian tourism. Why this city still remains the epitome of civic mal-governance is what bothers me even at such moments that for all of us even remotely linked with the sector are moments of rejoicing.

The economic impact and the multiplier effect of tourism on the national economy has always been fairly well touted so far and why not – there are glaring examples of many national economies surviving on and also thriving on mere tourism. Yet our nation that has the finest and most diverse collection of destinations and climates, culture and heritage, lifestyles, cuisines and shopping has not been really successful in taking full advantage of its endowments. 

The reason really lies in our inability to let the private sector adequately delve in areas that directly impinge upon tourism. The reason also lies in lack of cleanliness almost across the national spectrum, our penchant to fleece and bureaucratic apathy to development. Perhaps the realization that a plethora of small steps if allowed to flourish are much more potent that grandiose plans that usually do not see the light of the day, needs to sink in deeper. And the almost surreptitious acceptance of the fact that governments have miserably failed in running their small tourism businesses combined with lofty proclamations of grand intent really does not make any sense to me.

Achieving excellence in whatever we do has to be the aim and the tourism sector offers us a big enough plate to do that.  It is one sector that does not really need major investments exclusively for itself but can thrive merely with commitment and intent is a reality that needs acceptance. Like tourists, the entire sector only needs to be facilitated with favourable policies and mind-sets. The introduction of electronic visa for increasing tourism and various other measures to facilitate economic growth are displaying the road ahead rather favorably.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Mother Tongue in the Mother Land

The half baked sarkari attempts to implement hindi in Hindustan have always saddened me. I always regarded it blasphemous to implement the mother tongue in the mother land. Yet the efforts have continued since the nation came on its own during its tryst with destiny. And we created establishments whose primary job was to promote Rajbhasha, or the commonly spoken hindi within the plethora of sarkari setups in the country. Yet despite these attempts marked by a casual approach in almost all associated activities, the usage of our mother tongue has remained barely confined to name-boards, signage’s, noting sheets, a few official communiques and some ceremonial functions. The march of English on the other hand has continued unabated.

I often wonder whether there is any other country in the world other than ours where such attempts are being made, and despite my best efforts could not locate any so far. Perhaps our dabbling in the absurd is regarded as such by the rest of the world or maybe it is regarded as illogical and beyond comprehension by those who look upon their motherland and everything associated with it with a sense of national pride. Yet if our intentions were indeed genuine, we would have achieved the target a long time ago.

And almost everything retains the flavour and bias for English, beginning from infancy till we kick the bucket, to the extent that even in social interactions, people conversing in the mother tongue are looked down and often frowned upon. So is it in conferences, seminars and even discourses when one finds someone rarely using the mother tongue to communicate. And why not – our educational system is grounded in English with the hindi medium schools not qualifying even as a distant cousin to their English counterparts.

Even the authors and also the readers of hindi literature are regarded many notches below their counterparts in other languages. This bias permeates even the bureaucracy with the hindi speaking bureaucrats called “desi” in local parlance being regarded inferior to the one who frequently and also fluently dabbles in English.

During trysts abroad we notice foreigners generally communicating in their mother tongue without much concern for the ability of the receiver to absorb a language he may be unfamiliar with.  And the best part is that they are never apologetic about that, because for them it is the most normal thing to do. Indeed it should be!

And therefore the recent change with the chief executive of the nation speaking in hindi even during his visits overseas is gratifying to say the least. His stress on the mother tongue almost always in all his interactions is indeed genuine and also rare if we take into consideration many of those who earlier adorned the highest chair in the land. And that is what has given many of us that rare feeling of national pride surfacing after a long time. After all, only identifying ourselves with the core values and culture this nation stands for is going to give our society happiness and progress in the truest sense.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The land of the rising sun

Pun intended India is indeed the land of the rising sun. Spelt otherwise with an “o” replacing the “u”, the line defining the nation still holds good.

Almost all of us offer water to the morning sun, as a religious ritual as well as a daily practice borne out of habit, yet we never perform this ritual for the sun at dawn. And the penchant for a son also far outstrips the desire for a progeny from the fairer sex.

The massive national tilt and adulation for Modi even months before the battle for the ballot is also indicative of the national culture of caring only for the rising sun and consigning to the dustbins of history, the setting sun. On the other end of the political spectrum, the fortunes of the numero uno political dynasty of the nation, is on an all-time low right now and the tilt away from the family in favour of the rising sun was therefore on expected lines. The official working environment cutting across sectors and states also moves on similar lines and allegiances keep on getting shuffled around on considerations of who is the rising and who the setting sun is.

While some may call this adulation of the rising sun as unfortunate, perhaps it is the most natural thing for a human being except otherwise in those rare cases when greatness is achieved by one’s own acts of omission or commission and not merely resting backsides on a chair of authority. In such cases the sun never sets, it only rises and keeps on rising forever, Mahatma Gandhi being a fairly well entrenched example of this kind.

Perhaps therein lies the difference between power and authority. While the chair grants authority that men generally flaunt, power always remains personal. Men for whom the sun sets merely had authority, not an iota of power and that is the reason for their fading into oblivion after leaving the chair they enjoyed resting their backsides on.

The massive national shift of power and the emergence of a true leader after almost a decade of blatant mal-governance may indeed make the country the land of the rising sun almost literally.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Learning from the past


Tuesday, 11 November 2014 | Ashwani Lohani | in Oped
Human ego is the biggest stumbling block to progress and growth in today’s era. Bigger the ego, the lesser the delivery
The national penchant for re-inventing the wheel and invariably showcasing efforts as the first of its kind is as damaging as it is hilarious. I vividly remember the beginning of my tenure in the tourism sector when I was asked to take steps to prepare State-level master plans for the development of tourism. I tumbled upon a bookshelf and found that similar reports were prepared many times over in the past.
Yet, in our efforts that are directed towards self-perpetuation, we never learn, nor seem to be inclined to, despite the fact that there is really much that can be gleaned from the affairs of history. Napoleon’s conquests and his emergence as the emperor of France when he was merely 35, the rise of Germany as the most powerful nation in the world within 70 years of its being totally vanquished during the World War I and the ejection of the British Empire from the sub-continent almost single-handedly by Mahatma Gandhi, are classical examples from history that should  inspire us towards achieving greatness.
And it is not merely these great examples. There are many other equally important examples, albeit on a lower scale, that are within the realm of realisation by mere mortals. How many of us know that the great architectural masterpiece, Red Fort, took only 10 years to build — that too almost four centuries ago — and the iconic Howrah bridge took just five? That the three hill railways, namely, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, the Kangra Valley Railway and the Kalka Simla Railway, each took less than three years to build, is also beyond the realm of comprehension. Unthinkable indeed in the present era, when the skills, technological as well as managerial, are far more advanced than the time when those masterpieces were created.
Perhaps then delivery was as sacrosanct as processes are today. And therein lies the folly of the systems of present times. And it is also about ego. “The bigger the ego, the lesser the delivery”, a statement that symbolises the working of all the enterprises today, says it all about the causes that underline our most glaring failures. That human ego is the biggest stumbling block to progress and growth is a fact that needs appreciation. Yet what really surprises me is adjustable egos that do not even whimper when a superior pulls one up but flare up in the presence of a subordinate at the slightest pretext. And the tantra is perhaps the finest example of egos that remain elastic throughout ones lifetime. What a great waste of life, human life that according to the Hindushastra is conferred after passing through 84 lakh life forms.
The great Indus Valley civilisation of the 5th century BC is an outstanding example of what our ancestors were capable of even in those days that were bereft of technological advancements of the kind that exist today. The strides that this civilisation made in the fields of town planning, trade and culture are really an eye-opener and make us wonder with awe — if so much could be achieved in those days, why not now?
Perhaps it is all about our ability to dream and having a single-minded focus and determination to convert the same into reality. Yet the same would not be possible without three things — leadership, absolute integrity and ethical behavior, the void of which this great nation had been experiencing for quite some time now.  Yet we remain engrossed in trivialities, things that really do not matter in the long-run or even in the short-run. Moreover self-gratification and an absolute lack of concern for the collective can never propel a nation forward.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Pledging to maintain Cleanliness

The mission to make India a clean place is indeed a noble one. And the 2nd of October, being the birthday of the Mahatma was ideal for rolling it out this year.

While it shall definitely take some time for cleanliness in public places to attain desirable levels, it is of essence that the tremendous impact cleanliness has in creating a good environment should find root in the psyche of the citizens. The earlier it actually happens, the better it would be for the nation. 

Yet the fact that this mission is piloted by the Prime Minister himself gives solace that at-least some progress would definitely be achieved. The resoluteness with which issues are being handled by the present government gives confidence that in a couple of years, the nation would indeed be a much cleaner place with rhetoric having been relegated to the back seat at present.

A clean environment is at the root of almost everything including human happiness. It enhances productivity, creates a good living environment and enhances satisfaction and happiness levels. The Mahatma realized it almost a century ago when he called the cleaners “harijan” ie men of god. He also equated cleanliness with godliness.

Yet the nation remained dirty, the marketplaces, the roads, tourist sites, railway stations and the bus depots, almost all still bear the stamp of an unclean place. Even temples of worship have generally failed to maintain a semblance of cleanliness and that foxes me. How even tiny Asian countries are able to maintain cleanliness in their public places and private and why we have been a miserable failure on this important front?

Has it something to do with our culture and if so, why the same indian who litters on home soil displays perfect behavior even in matters of keeping his surroundings clean when not on the home soil. Perhaps more than culture, it is about conditioning and fear and also about pride. I clearly remember the seventies when the Kolkata metro emerged, the same “bhadralok” who considered defiling his city as his birthright, maintained impeccable cleanliness at metro stations even to the extent of admonishing one who littered within the confines of swanky metro territory. A difference made in a span of a few steps only. Perhaps this shows that a clean nation is indeed possible.

But not without a firm resolve. With my better half taking good (and clean) care of the home territory, I have pledged to ensure that the office space occupied by me and my team is always maintained in a state of pristine cleanliness. I am also inspired by the the clean india campaign of indiantopblogs (http://www.indiantopblogs.com/2014/10/diwali-and-clean-india.html) and am contributing my wee bit to their effort.

And the genuine national effort this time in this direction gives me hope of being able to witness an immaculately clean and by corollary an economically strong and contented India in my lifetime. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

ethics in governance is the need of the hour

The recent arrest of a Director level officer handling allotment of coaches was shocking for the nation, but not for many of those who throng its economic lifeline. Perhaps in his own assessment, the officer was merely doing what he thought was his birth-right, having seen at close quarters what many of his elk have been seen indulging into.

Mahesh Kumar through his act of attempting to buy his place into a seat of power and money achieved infamy as an icon of corruption. At that time many thought that the organization has seen its nadir and that the government would have no option other than stepping in to stem the rot. Unfortunately all such hopes were dashed when the sordid saga continued unabated with blatant and brazen acts of corruption being witnessed daily. In fact with time they picked up speed and those who were bracketed in the honest variety quietly slipped into the shadows.   

And the sordid acts continued – the side lining of a very senior and fine officer for the top job and his subsequent harassment, blatant dispensing of favours to contractors for consideration, making the office meet household requirements and gross abysmal conduct of those in high place. On the other  hand we also witnessed many being moved from the confines of their cozy homes to becoming jailbirds, notable being the case of two officers working in the censor board and IRCTC.

And then the toilet thing happened where a senior officer was shunted merely because he played the role of a custodian and refused to succumb to demands that smacked of gross unethical conduct.   

Even while the officer community was reeling under the shock of these expose, the coaching scandal burst on the scene with almost a vengeance. It appeared as if some were trying to outwit the other in looting the organization that gives us our daily bread.

The organization bleeds incessantly and the corrupt revel.

But should they be allowed to? Is it not the time for all those who have the interest of the organization uppermost in their mind to come forward and save it from the clutches of the corrupt? Is it not the time for the honest minority to say “this far and no further” and then act accordingly? Shouldn't the national interest take overriding priority over everything else, even at the cost of harm to oneself that may occur in the process?

The answer is “Yes”. The silent minority of the honest and the right minded should not allow itself to be swept away by the torrent of the corrupt and self-seekers.  

For the first time in the history of the nation we have a Prime Minister who is brutally honest and also extremely intense about his intent to pull the nation out of the abyss that it finds itself in. All of us have to be on his side, not merely seen to be so but by battling corruption and sloth in whatever territory we find ourselves to be. That indeed shall be the best homage to the land of the Mahatma.   

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Heed the voice of conscience!

The incessant babble – of voices imploring one to act or not to act is often maddening and at times dangerous, if one indeed acts on them. This babble is often so overbearing that lesser mortals which  most of us are, find it difficult to set aside.

We Indians are great at advising others, while at the same time often guilty of inaction ourselves. And therefore we have all these cases of blatant corruption, loot and rapes in glaring public view. People watch and walk away, wishing that someone else would pick up the straw and yet later grumble about the sorry state of affairs in the society, a society that is rapidly going bereft of men with spine.

We look the other way when the powerful custodians have their hands in the till. We continue to look the other way even after our Prime Minister, the greatest that this nation has ever had, exhorts us to rise above the “Mera Kya Mujhe Kya” syndrome. The top guy realizes, yet we do not, that a thief is hurting us irrespective of the ownership of the cauldron he is busy emptying. It is our nation and also our railways after all.

Often in life one encounters situations when a bigger general good is tipped against a petty personal gain or loss and unfortunately the latter tips the scale. Personal discomfort or comfort takes overriding priority over the need to be on the path of righteousness and the general good. Giants become pygmies on such occasions.

The very fact that organization and nation building does not come cheap needs to be grouted firmly and straight, in the inner recesses of our mind. The thought that good shall always remain good and shall always be the right thing to do even at the pinnacle of “Kalyug” needs to settle firmly in the collective psyche of the nation. Will it ever be so I wonder, yet the thought that now we have a true leader at the helm gives solace.

While we are all separate bodies with different likes, tastes, preferences, attitudes and actions, the fact remains that at the sub-conscious level, we are all one having emerged from the one single root of energy in the universe. Our conscience is therefore our best guide at such moments in life when the voice of reason starts wavering in the face of petty personal gains or losses. Brutal suppression of the voice of conscience that invariably emerges whenever there is a subconscious battle between good and evil is definitely not in order. Gautam Buddha the great, advocated looking within as the best means to lead a life, yet in the land he spent most of his life in, we have moved away from our souls towards materialism that really does not matter in the short or the long run.

Spiritualism needs to be at the core of all our actions and activities if the glory of this great nation or the great organization is to be restored. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Tigers and Foxes in bureaucratic jungles!

It is not as if the jungles are bereft of tigers – met one in a bhawan today and another a couple of weeks earlier. It is just that in a "no watering hole" jungle full of sheep, monkeys, foxes and coconut trees, tigers have become a rare commodity, are therefore rarely visible and have apparently ceded territory to the wily foxes out of frustration. And such jungles therefore do not gel and make many wonder about authenticity and also whether it is real or just a make believe.

And the sheep, apparently simple and spineless creatures who can be lured by anyone in any direction throng the jungle in the hope that the wily fox in a rare display of compassion would throw some crumbs that they would be equally fast to grab. The sheep in the hope of crumbs are always eager to dump their fellow brethren at the altar of the wily fox at the slightest opportunity.  Unfortunately many of the sheep are actually hypnotized tigers who have forgotten their strength under the influence of the fox that is busy milking the jungle dry.

And the monkeys true to their nature always present a continuous display of jumping from one tree to the other and from one branch to the other mainly to create a ruckus and convey an impression of vibrancy in an otherwise dead environment.  

And the coconut trees, unable to provide even a semblance of shade to the weary complete the incompleteness of the jungle. The stark absence of watering holes completes the saga.  

And the jungle therefore fails to produce anything beyond what the nature automatically does. 

What a jungle – not even a remote cousin of Kanha or Bandhavgarh. In Bandhavgarh it is almost impossible to miss a tiger and in the jungles of Delhi – one bumps only into foxes or their all-pervading smell and influence unless of course one is lucky like I have been today to have bumped into a bubbly tiger raring to romp.  

A single tiger controls a jungle, provide he realizes his lineage. And if he does not then the fox shall rule – the most wily of them shall be the most vicious. The few tigers left in the jungle have to rise and put the jungle in order. They have to emerge from the wilderness and show the foxes their rightful place. Yes they can only if they decide to……..  

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The anatomy of corruption

The recent case of harassment of a director level officer by an officer of secretary level simply because the junior played the role of a custodian of government property to the hilt, indicates the level to which ethics in public life have nose-dived. Yet the essential difference that I have witnessed in this case as compared to scenarios two or maybe three decades earlier is in the highly elevated level of brazenness of the corrupt. “Chori and Seenajori” has indeed become the order of the day. It is also true that there has been a sharp decline in the morals and ethics of the society at large leading to a scenario where the service of the government has degenerated to service of the self. Any young entrant to services would easily testify to this ground reality.

The last ten years have set new milestones in the national race for amassing ill-gotten wealth and the servants of the governments have been generally leading the race. The veracity of this statement can be checked by interacting with any sector of the sarkar, strictly as a common citizen. Invariably every single of such interactions is laced with graft.

Yet the new dispensation at the centre gives hope. But it warrants critical appreciation that raising ethical levels of over a billion citizens would be far more complex and difficult than merely injecting a stiff dose of integrity amongst the few million of those who misgovern, often for personal gains. Beginning with the tantra therefore seems the most sensible and logical course to follow.

Total absence of a nationalistic fervour has been the hallmark of the indian society, except for the period when independence from the british was being actively sought. This has led to a scenario where personal good has assumed overriding priority over the general good without realizing the pitfalls of such a thought process.

And within the Sarkar, the inability of individuals at large to be able to make a meaningful difference leads to scant self-respect and therefore the spate of efforts at other means of self-gratification that merely give material comfort. And the failure to realize that a material high is far lower than a spiritual high is not exactly a direct fault of such individuals. Perhaps over the years our efforts at nation building have fallen far short of the requirements and therefore the distortions in the social mind set.

The complexity of the tantra that acts as a convenient shroud for the corrupt enabling him to almost never getting caught is also at fault. Yet the recent indictment and jail of senior politicians for abetment of corrupt practices gives hope that perhaps we are moving in the right direction.

Our inability to differentiate between what is ours and what is not is indeed sad and this is at the root cause of incidences akin to what resulted in the recent harassment. Our rank inability whether mistaken or on purpose to play the role of custodians and also our penchant to regard the service of the self, much above that of the nation provides the foundation for such actions.

Yet one single individual can change the direction or the fortunes of the nation and all its citizens. That is what leadership is all about and perhaps we are witnessing that rare moment in the history of the nation when that single individual has arrived on the national scene.

In god and providence we trust and in our hearts a burning desire to see a really clean nation.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Wielding the broom and cleaning the nation


Wednesday, 01 October 2014 | Ashwani Lohani | in Oped

The Clean India campaign embodies the Mahatma’s ‘cleanliness is godliness’ slogan. It has the potential to revolutionise the Indian mind, body and soul
The launch of Clean India campaign on October 2 is perhaps the best tribute that our nation has ever paid to its father, the great saint Mahatma Gandhi. The Mahatma likened cleanliness to godliness, yet unfortunately so far, the nation never really embraced this saying — muck and dirt being commonplace in public and private places. Worst of all has been the spectacle of unclean environment in almost all temples regardless of their holy stature.
It is indeed a problem of mindset that engulfs the entire nation, a mindset that fails to appreciate the impact that a clean environment can have on delivery and also on happiness levels of the people thronging the environment. And, therefore, we have dirty offices, dirty markets, dirty temples, dirty railway stations and dirty trains and so on with almost everyone blaming the society at large for the state of affairs. It is indeed a classic case of the great indian blame game where everyone finds the others blameworthy.
It is also a stark reality that economic status does not play a role in the cleanliness of a place. We are often witness to garbage being thrown on the roads by people travelling in swanky cars, even in cities like Mumbai and Delhi that call themselves modern.
The Varna system that classifies society in four major groups with the Shudra, who is generally considered to be in the ‘cleaner’ category being placed at the bottom, is also to blame. There is hardly any rationale behind expecting excellence in work by someone devoid of basic dignity that human beings deserve. The existence of the safaiwala is denied by society yet, he is expected to keep places spic and span. The sheer act of cleanliness is looked down upon, yet a clean environment is desired by all and sundry. This attitude has to change and dignity of labor restored.
The wielding of the broom by the high and mighty of the nation on Gandhi Jayanti should, therefore, be much more than a mere photo opportunity. It also has to extend beyond mere symbolism as the intent this time is apparently genuine. The Prime Minister, it appears, genuinely believes that a clean environment is the precursor to growth and progress and his intent and push should, therefore, not be allowed to wither away. 
The campaign, however, needs to extend beyond mere cleanliness of places and percolate the intangible world. During the last 10 years, the nation witnessed the rock bottom in the realm of ethics in governance. Rampant corruption marred almost all acts of governance and ethics were conspicuous by their sheer absence in the bureaucratic and political systems. Even events of national pride like the Commonwealth Games were juiced to the hilt, regardless of the beating taken by the national image. And almost every single Government contract was viewed as a means of amassing wealth. Ethical behaviour become a rarity. Literally cleaning the act of governance itself is perhaps the order of the day.
It is from this abyss that the nation now has to rise. Why is dealing with Government a nightmare for the common man and the towering corporate alike? Why should change form an essential part of the rhetoric and not be a reality on the ground? Why has our tryst with destiny been belied with the nation not being able to solve the basic issue of poverty even after almost 67 years of its independence? These fundamental questions should churn our minds while we, on October 2, wield the broom.
It is perhaps now or never. Rapidly changing times are upon us and the nation appears poised to once again achieve the state where the entire citizenry can take pride in being an Indian. After all, it is not mere rhetoric that can motivate and instill pride; only real change can.

Friday, September 19, 2014

What is good for the goose is obviously not for the gander

The on-going tussle for a house on Tughlaq road between the government and a former cabinet minister is as interesting as it is disgusting. Yet what needs to be appreciated is the perseverance of the government of the day in ensuring that housing rules are made applicable uniformly for the hoi polloi as well as the high and mighty.

That repeated excuses parroted by the occupant seeking time to pack his things were not genuine was exposed by the emergence of the demand to convert the house into a memorial for a kisan leader of the nation who happens to be his late father. That a battery of farmers threatened to cut off water supply to the city of Delhi in retaliation for applying rules on those who regard themselves above the same tantamount to blackmail for a cause that is grossly unfair and unjust.

What else does one expect from the political class that is the true mirror of the materialistic society that has evolved in the nation since the tryst with destiny almost seven decades ago. Perhaps we were not ready for democracy, a system in which rights and responsibilities have to go together if it is to be a success. And therefore I am also often amazed at the national penchant that seeks improvements in the nation without paying the price that the act warrants.

In the last ten years the nation witnessed a nadir in governance. Corruption touched new heights and scams that surfaced with amazing regularity remained the popular topic of discussion among the masses. Rise in prices as well as crime was a natural corollary and the people at large, fed up of shoddy governance therefore effected a change, a change that had disenchantment at its root. The populace tired of a glaring lack of ethical conduct in those who govern expected things to look up. It also expects that those who had their hands in the till will be made to pay. One seriously hopes and prays that these expectations will not be belied.

Talking of memorials, I fail to appreciate the need to have a memorial for people other than saints or those who changed the course of history. Merely being a leader of a class of people or even a state or a nation should not justify creation of a memorial, as that would never touch the chords in the hearts of the citizenry. And memorial on political considerations, as many of them are is indeed unacceptable by any stretch of imagination.

I vividly recollect asking a leading local politician during my stint as the head honcho of Delhi division, whether he would keep aside one room in his house for the encroachers whose case for not demolishing encroachments he was so vehemently piloting. Obviously what is good for the goose is more than often not good for the gander.

I also often witness to manipulation of laid down rules by the babudom with the specific motive of pinning down or favoring individuals. The same guy for whom the rule was manipulated for cries hoarse when he gets affected by a manipulation aimed at helping someone else.

I wonder when the era of double standards and double talk would come to an end. Till then we would continue to be witness to such dramas being played on the national stage.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

the tutor and the taught

My lecture at the CBI academy the day before was an eye opener for me. While I always believed that the rot has to be universally prevalent, I could never have visualized the sense of disenchantment that prevailed amongst the lower echelons of the premier investigating agency of the nation, a situation, contrary to my expectations. Disenchantment leads to negativity and negativity is never good especially amongst those who are expected to cleanse the tantra of all its ills.

And there were smiles, for obvious reasons of course whenever a reference was made to the fact that at the apex levels, a conduct that can be emulated is the prerequisite for giving good results. I on my part facing a similar situation could only commiserate with them.

Anyway the experience was worth the while – a learning experience for both, the tutor and the taught even though exposure to dim realities only saddens the heart. Yet the enthusiasm of the group was infectious and that gave me a feeling that all is not lost yet.

Why there is invariably a deep divide between the management and the men who run the show, cutting across sectors and states is what I fail to understand even after putting in almost three and a half decades in the service? Why cant humans treat others of their elk with respect and dignity, something that everyone aspires for, I wonder? Why rising within the officialdom is regarded as such – a rise even though it may be a fall, I fail to understand?

After all in the eyes of the almighty all human beings are equal and if at all they are to be ranked, it would have to be on the basis of their contribution to humanity and human values. In his eyes, I am certain, the walls separating the peon and the officer would never exist, yet we carry on regardless and almost always, creating classes and sub classes within the human race perhaps for self-gratification that actually never takes place in the real sense.    

And perhaps therein lie the answers to the malaise that the nation has continued to face since it came of its own almost sixty seven years back. Our failure to appreciate that the ultimate objective can only be to deliver, not merely shuffling of files, passing time in official environs or gratifying the ego has me really worried these days. If delivery indeed emerges as the objective, the existing structures and processes would necessarily have to become the first casualty. Yet the ground reality that is far different makes me think otherwise.

The arrival of the new government on the scene has indeed given hopes to millions like me, yet hope has a strange way of fading away if not timely actualized. After the honeymoon period is over, either hope or disenchantment would remain and I sincerely wish and pray it would not be the latter.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Heroic individual efforts touch the right chord


Friday, 12 September 2014 | Ashwani Lohani | in Oped
Individual initiatives, although seemingly minor, can bring about major changes in our beliefs
My recent visits to two establishments in Rewari, the first Heritage Transport Museum of the nation and another first the ‘Neverenough’ miniature trains park, opened my eyes wide and bright. That both these establishments have been the culmination of the efforts of singular individuals who invested their own time and money in realising their dreams of passion, gives happiness as well as hope that not everything is lost yet.
The heritage transport museum had always been a dream of the nation’s curators and heritage lovers. Unfortunately, despite sporadic efforts that died almost instantaneously, the dream continued to remain a dream till Mr Tarun Thakral, a passionate lover of antique cars and railway trains, stepped in. The museum that covers a wide cross-section of road transport and a good genuine sprinkling of rail heritage with some aviation and marine heritage also on display is a place to visit for an indian in love with his country and a foreigner wanting to visit a destination that is unique, interesting and provides a great experience.
The miniature rail park created by Adesh is also an amazing novelty so far confined only to developed nations. A place of joy for kids and adults alike, this park will also in time emerge as a tourist attraction of international levels. Besides its touristic value, such parks would also give a fillip to rail modelling industry in the country that is presently in its infancy.
These visits were unique as they reinforced in me the belief that there are still some good men (and women too) who care for their country and would go to any extent to live their dreams, dreams that are great in themselves and also contribute in making this country great. That it is still possible to achieve so much despite the constraining environment is a thought that loomed on me for a long period after these visits.
Almost two decades back, when I was appointed the Director of the National Rail Museum, I toyed with the subject of creating the nation’s first transport museum. In the backdrop of a dilapidated museum crying for attention, I perhaps rightly did not pursue the idea further and, in lieu, concentrated on a variety of improvements and other measures that helped in the proper positioning of the museum as the proud repository of the nation’s rail heritage. Transport museum at that time did not appear as a concept whose time had come. 
And so when I walked into Mr Thakral’s creation recently, I was pleasantly surprised but also satisfied that this national dream has finally been redeemed. Through this creation, Mr Thakral has given to the society many times over what the society would have given him in his entire life. He has put his entire life’s savings and almost two decades of energy and effort in realising his dream of giving the nation its first-ever transport museum, and in the process, proved that there are many for whom the word impossible simply does not exist. It is indeed men like Mr Thakral of the transport museum and and Adesh of the miniature rail park who really deserve recognition and also the highest accolades that this nation has to offer.
The achievements of Mr Thakral and Adesh reinforce in me the belief that it is indeed individuals fired with inner zeal, conviction and commitment who are our real national assets.
The nation on its part simply needs to harness, encourage and reward such individuals, if only with the selfish motive of inspiring many others to join this coveted league and propel the nation further on the road to progress.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Alas there are no Ceasers anymore!

Somehow the depressing feeling that there are no doors to knock at, except perhaps the supreme court for a honest official in distress or for someone longing to bring to book those who loot the country, that had started taking root in my heart since the last decade or so refuses to ebb even in the recent times. The thieves, looters and the depraved seem to be getting away with ease is the popular public perception taking root.

The ancient saying the Caeser’s wife should be above suspicion is held more in breach in our nation. Perhaps even the Ceasers of modern times are generally not above reproach and that is sad for this nation that in ancient times was indeed the torchbearer for the entire global civilization.

The media splash in the last few days covering the activities of the head of the country’s premier investigating agency has indeed shocked the nation. Perhaps even the last bastion has fallen and unless the defenses are restored asap, the nation is indeed in for harrowing times.

Sometime back there was a whisper that an officer of the railway service was shunted out for refusing to supply toilet paper for the residential use of a senior honcho of the organisation. Well definitely this could not have been the first such indiscretion of its kind, but rather the one that emerged in the public domain and shocked everyone by the brazenness of the act. And it is not always that someone from the bureaucratic class possesses the courage to stand up against illegal orders. After all very few of us treat sarkari assets as amanat, while for the brute majority it is milkiyat. It is indeed sad that with minor exceptions the custodians are prepared to sell the nation along with their conscience for petty personal gains. It is not really a bargain that is worth it.

It is also true that the fear of retribution for committing gross misdeeds has receded and in its place a new kind of fear of speaking out against those in power committing gross misdeeds has taken roots, rather deep one at that. The full tantra cutting across services and states and to some extent even the common citizen remains in awe and fear of those in power regardless of the misdemeanors committed by them.

Yet there are some who rebel against the loot by those who are expected to protect. And it is this minority, comprising of individuals like the one shunted out who have kept the flag flying high.

Somehow it all boils down to a major decline in value systems in our society. A society that generally regards power not as a means to serve but as a means for self-aggrandizement and a display of superiority over mere mortals will never be able to achieve what is right. Yet a few right steps by a few men have the capability to bring about changes that can alter the course of history and perhaps the time for such changes is knocking at our door.    

In God and providence we trust.


Friday, August 22, 2014

Have a heart - Stand up India

India suffers in silence from the “Mera Kya Mujhe Kya” syndrome. The recent Meerut incident in which a girl single-handedly faced the wrath of goons and fought back in a busy marketplace in broad daylight is indicative of the depths to which we have fallen – that we are a country of onlookers, tamashbeens to be exact. The onlookers at Meerut who were watching the brave girl fighting and facing the wrath of the goons perhaps had no qualms of guilt in not coming to the rescue of the damsel in distress. Why to get involved in someone else’s fight was perhaps the only thought that came in their minds despite relishing for free the action on the streets. 

And why not, rarely does one come across a citizen who possesses the spine to stand up for a cause other than his own. And yet everyone complains when others do not stand up when they are in distress themselves.

Rampant corruption that touches the lives of every single citizen all of the time is also an offshoot of our rank inability to stand up for a cause that does not affect us directly or it affects others. Like the goons, the corrupt also get away because of failure of the masses to step forward against acts of violence, corruption and gross injustice being perpetrated on others.

And it amazes me when even those from the services despite being guaranteed a lifetime of sarkari dole and other legitimate and illegitimate perquisites fail in doing what they should, to stand up against acts that go against the national fabric, even at the cost of subverting their own conscience. And all this for petty personal gains that ultimately do not matter in the long run.

The citizen is still justified but the bureaucrat is not, in failing to stand up for a right cause. After all lack of faith in systems and structures that form part of the government machinery of the nation is the reason why the aam aadmi feels miserably lonely in all his battles. The men at Meerut were absolutely certain that had they moved against the goons, they also would have faced a double whammy, both at the hands of goons and the state police force. Yet these ground realities do not absolve them of inaction by any stretch of imagination.

Modi understands the pulse of the nation and that is why he is the first ever prime minister to put his finger ,bang on the “Mujhe Kya, Mera Kya” syndrome afflicting the nation. He exhorted the entire nation to rise above this syndrome in the overall interest of humanity and if this call is heeded, the country would indeed emerge a much better place to live in.