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Sunday, April 20, 2014

The essence of good governance


Tuesday, 20 May 2014 | Ashwani Lohani | in Oped

The welfare of the citizenry must form the basis of all the decisions and actions of the sarkari tantra. For this, a cultural change is necessary
With a new dispensation round the corner and the hopes of the common man firmly pinned on the ensuing change, the emergence of good governance to take this nation forward, not merely in rhetoric but in reality is the need of the hour.

Foremost is the need of a good intent. Yes it is true that intent alone is not adequate, a lesson reinforced by the Kejri episode, yet sans a noble intent to provide good governance for the sake of the nation and its constituents, the nation would never really move up the garden path. Intent has to be to govern and govern well and can and should never be to make hay adequate enough to last generations while the sun shines. The intent is also to be supplemented by concrete action, not mere plans and rhetoric, even if it ruffles more than a billion feathers in the process.

Integrity in governance has indeed been conspicuous by its absence since long. Having been unfortunate victims during the last decade of a series of scams of growing magnitude we the common man of this nation are the best suited lot on this earth to really appreciate the need for probity in public life. Yet the fact that corruption which engulfs our day to day existence cannot be wiped out easily needs a deep appreciation. Since our famous tryst with destiny, the system of governance based on mistrust spurred by the greed and luxurious lifestyles of those in power has dented the entire social fabric to the extent that it has become rare to come across even one single interaction of the common man with the sarkari tantra that is devoid of the customary greasing of palms. And that should lead the powers to ponder - if all the apples are rotten, there is much more than mere apples that needs to take the blame. Yes it is true that our decision making and contractual mechanisms that are based on mistrust and mired in scores of thumb impressions provide a convenient shroud to the corrupt and need to be replaced with a system where affixing responsibility is a simple affair. The nation sick and tired of scams like the CWG, 2G, Coalgate, Adarsh and Railgate is looking forward to a dispensation that does not permit a recurrence of incidences of similar elk and brings to book the perpetrators.  

The belief that deliverance alone can lift the nation out of the morass that it finds itself engulfed in needs widespread acceptance. That the economic prosperity of any nation is directly linked to the sum total of goods and services produced or in other words the GDP is a thought that needs to be repeatedly hammered across the sarkari spectrums engulfing the nation. It is indeed shameful that even after almost seven decades as a free nation, the bare essentialities of roti, kapda and makaan still elude the common man. While it is true that the GDP is a function of the basic infrastructure put in place by the sarkar and the produce of the private enterprise, yet the fact remains that the policies of the sarkari tantra that are meant to facilitate both have been miserably failing in giving a boost to both. Government policies that directly affect the creation of wealth and infrastructure need simplification and a fresh look.

Maintaining the sanctity of the laws and rules of governance is one of the foremost duties of the government. The laws, rules and the procedures should not be allowed to discriminate between the ruler and the ruled and the rich and the poor as is almost always the case in our country. Discretionary preferential treatment to the privileged, a sign of inadequacy of services as well as cultural degradation would need to be curbed by effective measures on the lines of the developed world that provide a level playing field to all their constituents.

Police and judicial systems that ensure swift justice, not like the present where even perpetrators of heinous crimes occupy await retribution in the premises of the holy Tihar for decades together is the need of the hour. These systems while instilling the fear of an almost instantaneous retribution in the minds of the criminal should act as a beacon of support for the common man. 

Fundamentally we are talking about bringing in a cultural change, a change in the thought processes both of the ruler and the ruled and the emergence of a scenario where the good of the citizenry forms the basis of the decisions and actions of the sarkari tantra. Despite the all-pervading rot and sloth and an environment marred by scandals and lack of probity in public life, the time has come for the nation to put a major step forward and emerge out of the league of forever developing nations.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The turncoat bureaucrat

The imminent change of guard at Raisina Hill will once again witness the emergence of the turncoat bureaucrats, this time in large numbers due to their long association with almost a decade of a continuing shade of governance at the centre. Misrule or otherwise, the penchant of the indian bureaucrat to disassociate himself with the previous government and actively associate with the next even at the cost of being termed a turncoat is perhaps beyond compare.

Bureaucrats are expected to be non-political and therefore meant to guide and obey the diktats of their elected political masters, yet many of them emerge as bigger and wily politicians themselves in their perpetual efforts to have a good time almost always. Good times they invariably have, albeit at the cost of the nation and the hapless populace.

Bureaucrats also have another major role to play – that of keeping the nation in the throes of poverty and backwardness for it is only in developing nation like ours that the bureaucrat is the most important and the most powerful of the various clans that constitute a nation. Strutting like masters in developing and backward nations, the bureaucrat is almost always an invisible commodity in the developed countries of this world where bureaucracy is way down in the choice of professions as opposed to our own where being a collector or a superintendent of police is the height of ambition of the middle and lower classes.

Ambition for what? – serving the nation – unbelievable. Ambition is for flaunting power over the heads of those he is expected to serve, totally oblivious of the role that a servant – bureaucrats are government servants – is expected to perform. Besides in the past few decades, the tremendous opportunity for garnering ill-gotten wealth that a bureaucratic role offers has also added to the charm of being a part of the elite.

And in the process the true role of those who were once regarded as the steel frame has been lost sight of. While the political dispensation is expected to be temporary, the bureaucracy that had permanence of job was expected to provide stability and guidance to successive governments comprised of politicos ensconced in the chair of power for merely five years at a time. Unfortunately the servants, in connivance or on their own have become almost as powerful as the masters themselves without sharing the responsibility that generally comes with power.

The most dangerous fallout of this non adherence to the avowed role is the rapidly mushrooming cloud of corruption that has encompassed almost the entire gamut of machineries meant to govern at federal, state and local levels. Graft has become an essential ingredient of almost all sarkari decisions and contracts to the extent that it is rare to come across even a single act of governments that is straight and devoid of the customary manipulations.  

Yet the blame for the ills is invariably laid at the altar of the politician regardless of the fact that without a bureaucratic nod or misrepresentation of facts, it is almost impossible for the neta to move ahead on the short cut to prosperity. Yet the social pressure for acquiring materialistic gains bears hard on the bureaucrat who does not lose any substantial period of time in picking up the ropes. Sometimes, only sometimes it is also a case of lack of will or spine to be able to say “No”, rather than direct indulgence in money making on the part of the bureaucrat who finds himself in the soup without partaking of the loot. But even then it is only the bureaucrat to blame.

It is time that nation building through adept governance and development is realized as the only role of those who are in the business of governance in the nation. The primary issue in achieving the same would be the massive course correction that would be needed keeping in view the misdirected take offs attempted since the midnight tryst with destiny.

Yet in God and providence we trust! India shall once again rise and achieve its destined glory.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Political leaders go personal for the sake of power - to hell with nation building

It was never so bad earlier. The verbal onslaught of personal comments and attacks by those ruling and also poised to rule, on their opponents has marred the otherwise peaceful battle for transition of power. The PM nominee who is almost the PM designate is indeed wading through ugly swamps in his attempt to acquire a position where he can rid the nation of its baggage. Yet irrelevant issues relating to his official marriage are being brought to the fore by those who themselves otherwise have no character, individually or as a collective.

The worst onslaught of words is by the so called socialists who do not share any of the ideals of Lohia or even Janeshwar Misra. The mandarins of the Samajwadi Party leave no opportunity to put their foot in the mouth by their tongue in cheek remarks. The recent comment by the party satrap that amounted to giving the “boys” a license to rape has indeed shown us the worst that some politicians are capable of. I wonder whether the senior politician who seems inclined to pardon rapists would continue to have the same view if a girl in his family received a treatment similar to Nirbhaya of the 16th December fame. This insolence was followed by a number of statements made by a cabinet minister of Uttar Pradesh, the most famous of which attributed the Kargil victory to soldiers who followed the Islamic faith. Sad it is that those who occupy apex positions in the governance machinery of the nation, leave no opportunity in even attempting to divide the army on communal lines.

And despite the national outcry and condemnation that followed such vicious statements by socialists, there is absolutely no sign whatsoever of remorse. Indeed the seats of power in our nation provide such intoxication to the incumbents that they fail to differentiate between good and bad, or perhaps they get a feeling that whatever they say is good or maybe they just do not care. In any case, the scenario is dismal.  

This malaise normally confined to the political class has now started engulfing the bureaucracy too. The apex levels in the railways with rare exceptions of course, having shed all concerns for the organization are busy only in rollicking in luxury or settling personal scores. Corruption is at its peak and personal conduct of those in power and their spouses is at its all-time low. Yet being swathed in power, the realization that there is nothing right with the management does not appear to be dawning on those occupying top slots in the pyramid.

The ensuing Mahabharata is expected to throw up some good men (and women) who can lead the nation to its destined glory by removing the muck accumulated over decades. Even in the real Mahabharata, Krishna asked Arjuna not to show any mercy on the evil and the undeserving. The new government too would first need to clear the grass of its weeds mercilessly before directing the nation towards prosperity and happiness.  

Redeeming Greatness

My visit to the Heritage Transport Museum near Rewari on the 12th was an eye opener. I could never have imagined that such an outstanding creation can emerge in India that too in a place regarded as backward by many. The museum that covers a wide cross section of road transport and a good genuine sprinkling of rail heritage with a little bit of air and marine heritage thrown in is a place to visit for an indian in love with his country and a visiting foreigner wanting to visit a place that the nation regards as a place of pride.

The visit was unique in that it 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 greatly 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 this brief visit.

Almost two decades back when I was appointed the director of the national rail museum, I inherited a file the subject of which was the creation of the nation’s first transport museum. In the backdrop of a dilapidated museum crying for attention, I perhaps rightly let that file rest in peace and concentrated on a number of minor improvements that to some extent redeemed the original glory of the place. Transport museum at that time appeared to me like an ambition whose time has not yet come.

And so when I walked into Tarun Thakral’s creation recently, I was pleasantly surprised but also satisfied that this national dream has finally been redeemed. Tarun Thakral, the managing trustee of the museum and the chief executive officer of Le Meridien in New Delhi has given to the nation many times over what the nation 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 realizing his dream of giving the nation its first ever transport museum and in the process proved that there are many like napoleon for whom the word impossible simply does not exist. It is indeed men like Tarun who really deserve the Padma honors that the nation has been bestowing generally to the undeserving, in tune with the national policy of giving the cold shoulder to the meritorious.

Tarun’s achievement reinforced in me the belief that it is indeed individuals fired with inner zeal, conviction and commitment who are the real assets of the nation, that needs to nurture, 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 towards progress.

The German nation is a classic example of being repeatedly led by individuals who have lifted the nation from pits to emerge as the most powerful nation in the world. Closer home Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore and Mahathir Mohammad of Malaysia are examples of one man powerhouses who in their lifetime positioned their nation much ahead of what it was when they came on the national scene. Unfortunately we have awaited the arrival of a nation builder on the national scene since long.

Indeed history has repeatedly shown that it is single individuals who have propelled organizations and nations forward, never a collective. And therein lies hope for the future of this nation, hope that almost the entire population now has in one man who has already proved his mettle by taking his state forward by decades in a matter of years. The arrival of Modi, the epitome of integrity, commitment and deliverance on the national scene is indicative of changing times, a change that the nation has been yearning for since the famous midnight tryst with destiny. Perhaps now is the time for this nation to redeem its greatness and emerge in the frontline of the league of nations.   

Monday, April 7, 2014

Need to look beyond!


Monday, 07 April 2014 | Ashwani Lohani | in Oped
Tourism, which has been handled in a slip-shod fashion, needs to emerge as one of the focal sectors of the new dispensation at the Centre
The national perspective on tourism should not remain confined merely to figures of foreign tourist arrivals and the home population moving within the country. Unfortunately the mindset of the sector has been unable to rise above the jugglery of statistics, and therein lies the malaise. Even while remaining confined to statistics, the essential difference between the tourist, who is basically an explorer, and the traveller, who may be moving for many reasons, is not being appreciated, though both form part of the tourism statistics that are regularly being churned out and touted by those who matter in the matter of tourism in the country.
Another fallacy is related to promotional advertising. Our sheer inability to appreciate that the bottleneck in so far as foreign tourist arrivals is concerned, is not the inability to showcase but the excessive load factors on the flights plying between our country and the rest of the world. Advertising has to be primarily driven by Indian ethos, culture and achievements and not merely the number game.
And the third is about infrastructure. The much-needed basic tourist infrastructure is a physical necessity and merely dumping loads of money on hapless State Governments who permit only a trickle to reach the ground, is not going to help. The release of funds needs to be followed by proportionate conversion into hard reality, and without that happening, patting the back is not really in order. Perhaps the emergence of a good monitoring and executing machinery is the need of the hour.
The story of the (in)famous India Tourism Development Corporation says it all. An inherentlyprofitable business brought to seed by inept management is indeed the sad story of India’s tourism. Tourism development is the mandate, yet the corporation finds it difficult even to stand on its own feet and has emerged as perhaps the glaring national example of sloth, inefficiency and corruption. Now, matters seem to have improved. But almost a decade and a half ago, whenever I visited the Ministry of Environment and Forests, I wondered how a ministry that fails to maintain the environment within its headquarters can be expected to do justice to the environment of the country.
There is absolutely no doubt that tourism as an activity almost always happens on its own, without prodding from the Governments, and that it helps local economies to grow at a pace much higher than in other sectors. The employment potential as well as the multiplier effect of tourism have already received adequate hype. Tourism definitely needs to emerge as one of the focal sectors of the new dispensation at the Centre.
Emerge it shall, provided the new Government looks beyond the established clichés and takes necessary steps to enable tourism drive local economies, besides giving a thrust to the re-emergence and positioning of ancient Indian heritage, art, culture and thought.  It would indeed be a futile exercise to look at tourism without looking at all that the country stands for. The sectors encompassing tourism and culture are complimentary and a much higher natural synergy can be achieved by merging, once and for all the two separate ministries.
Tourist offices that earlier formed the backbone of the national effort to give a thrust to tourism need to be revitalised by suitable empowerment and injection of fundamentals of administration and management. The unfortunate state of affairs in which these offices and the men who man them stand castigated only because of the envious environment that foreign postings tend to create, should not be allowed to continue.
The focus on numbers has to go and the emphasis must be on setting the ground in order. Tourism can happen on its own, with timely facilitation by the Centre and State Governments.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The rise of Feudalism and Sycophancy!

Feudal structures in 21st century India are indeed the best mechanisms to keep the nation in the 19th.  And yes they have helped mediocrity to rule the roost in both the political as well as bureaucratic arenas.

The Congress in the political and the Indian Railways in the bureaucratic arenas are perhaps the finest living examples of a cultural ethos rooted in a feudal and therefore sycophantic environment. Though there are many more examples in both arenas, but none as feudal and therefore as sycophantic as these two and their contribution in the national debacle is therefore unmatched and worthy of appreciation. 

Let us first look at the great Indian Railways, great because it was one of the biggest achievements of the british raj, an achievement that qualified to be cited as the economic lifeline of the nation ever since. Unfortunately when the british left and our home grown rulers took over, the feudal mindset of a ruler that regarded all others as slaves continued. The bureaucratic structure continued and rapidly grew to be more bureaucratic than ever, the reason being that the rulers soon realized that self perpetuation is more fun than serving the masses. And so the culture of saloons, personal attendants, big bungalows, gifts and graft blossomed with time. Work took a back seat, only to be handled by the supervisory staff who unfortunately were kept away from the loot that was always regarded as the prerogative of the officer cadre.  With passage of time newer tools like Mahila Samities and protocol emerged to further the cultural legacy of feudalism.  The mahila samities served as a convenient tool to massage the ego’s of the memsahibs in the garb of welfare. Reception parties for receiving and sending off senior officers moving on official and personal visits massaged ego’s at the cost of spine.

Yes it is true that the railways of today has a culture that encourages a very fine officer to convert to a leech by the time he occupies apex level positions – and we have perfect examples at present.

Congress also belongs to the same mold. Congressmen of various hues and mold have realized that sucking up to the first family is perhaps the best means to retain and enjoy power. And so we have odious comparisons to goddesses of someone who was not even born in this nation, all for the sake of holding on to power for personal gains, the nation can go to hell.

The arrival of Modi on the scene may make a difference to the nation. The only difference that one does not want to witness emerging is the culture of feudalism and sycophancy in the party with a difference.