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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Government with a difference!

The difference has started showing within two days. For the first time in the history of the republic, we have a Prime Minister who plays on the front foot, who has clarity on the direction the country should take and the measures that would need to be taken to propel the nation towards prosperity and development.

Inviting the heads of SAARC nations for the historic swearing in served twin purposes – first to convey  the message that the country wants good relations with its neighbors and second that India is emerging into a nation that cannot be messed around with. Our heads swell with pride at the bold assertion of the nation’s sovereignty and self respect.

The setting up of a special investigation team for bringing back black money stashed in safe havens abroad clearly shows the will of the new government to eradicate corrupt practices. The missive in the form of an advisory to the members of his cabinet to abstain from nepotism in all their dealings and also not to splurge on improving offices and residences is akin to long awaited music to the ears. 

His message is loud and clear. Gone are the days when we had a reactive chief executive, we are now in an era where the top guy knows what needs to be achieved, how it needs to be achieved and believes that the conduct of those in the business of governance has to be exemplary and above board. The conduct of the government in the first two days gives me ample confidence that the slogan “Acche din aane wale hain” was not merely an exercise in creating a feel good factor.

I am absolutely certain that the message would also have traveled right across the bureaucratic spectrum and would be giving shivers in the spine of the corrupt, especially those who were brazenly indulging in corrupt practices and also exploitation of the government machinery for their personal gains. Yet fixing the bureaucrats would indeed be as difficult as finding a needle in a haystack given the chameleon like traits that are widely prevalent in this tribe. Most of the tainted bureaucrats would have already dumped their old masters and would be busy attempting to attach themselves to the new guy in the chair.

The last ten years in the life of this nation displayed the worst that is possible to showcase in the arena of governance. The series of scams – with CWG taking the cake for brazen corruption and accompanied by the likes of 2G, 3G, Coalgate, Railgate, Chara and Adarsh to name a few had jolted the collective conscience of the nation. Open corruption at apex levels inspired the hoi polloi also to partake of the loot whenever they found an opportunity. It is indeed sad that our nation had emerged as an entity where each and every single interaction of the ruler and the ruled was invariably laced with graft. Apparently the book on ethics was thrown out of the window at the first opportunity.

Corruption is an issue, the biggest issue that now stares at this nation, yet it is merely a symptom of a much deeper malaise in governance, in the complexity of our decision making and contractual processes. Why a system designed for the british to rule over Indians is being continued even after sixty seven years of self rule, I wonder? The large number of thumb impressions that are required both for decision making as well as contracting provide a convenient shroud for the corrupt as well as the waster, and unless this realization dawns in, the republic would never get cleansed of this malaise.

Yet for the first time, we the people of India have great expectations, that have a fair chance of being realized and therein lies the ray of hope, the first ray of a rising sun that has started falling on this land, mercifully.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Looking at the engine - of growth!

That the new government is going to focus towards railways in particular is indeed god sent for this organization that despite being in monopoly in a sellers-market in a nation of over hundred and thirty crores continues to underperform with amazing regularity. Yet it is often touted as an organization that delivers in this nation where other government bodies generally continue to flounder, an achievement only in relative terms.
An amazing organization that has immense possibilities, an organization that can kickstart the ailing economy and indeed redeem its place as the economic lifeline of the nation, but for it to do so, the archaic managerial structure and processes would need to be overhauled, if not built afresh.  Perhaps reorganizing the railways on functional, not departmental lines and taking the flab of the highly bloated bureaucracy would be in order. Moreover clarity also needs to be brought on whether railways is a ministry or a corporate or a combination of both as that alone should form the basis of how this largest corporate in the world in terms of number of employees, should be run.  

The last ten years have witnessed a rapid deterioration in the affairs of this giant monolith.  Growth has virtually come to a standstill, employee morale is at an all time low, public perception is abysmal, corrupt practices in almost all activities including apex level appointments as witnessed during railgate have become the order of the day and vision is conspicuous by its sheer absence.

With the first golden quadrilateral having been built in the nineteenth century, there is a pressing need for the ministry to rise above keeping itself occupied with petty matters and deal with major issues like quadrupling the Delhi – Mumbai – Chennai – Kolkatta corridor and improving and enhancing the basic infrastructure that is unable to cope with the present and forecasted level of traffic. Such measures would enable the railways to visualize its dream of running high speed bullet type trains within its system and also perceptibly increase the number of trains that it operates, catering to both passenger and freight traffic. The days of patch-up solutions are now over.

Fast tracking the dedicated freight corridors, inducing private investment in building new lines and terminals, outsourcing non-core activities and simplification of the complexity that the railway bureaucracy has built into its entire gamut of activities would need to be handled well by the new government. 

Inadequacies in passenger amenities on trains as well as terminals can be attributed primarily to the complexities in the operating procedures and contractual mechanisms and can be tackled expeditiously. Ensuring cleanliness in trains and stations and fast tracking the ambitious project of putting bio toilets in trains, measures that are the need of the hour and would enhance railways image would need to be constantly on the focus of the new government. 

Indian Railways has gone through a long period of sheer exploitation. It now need proper inputs – managerial, structural, financial and also in terms of processes for it to emerge as the growth engine of the nation as envisaged by the leader.  

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The sign of the times!

Advani, Modi and Anandiben, all broke into tears while delivering an address, all in a span of two days. These touching moments apparently mark the beginning of an era of political masters who are perhaps more human than those they are destined to rule.

People in power are generally perceived as devoid of human values and emotions. Making bland statements while wearing an expressionless long face has been the hallmark of the indian politico as well as bureaucrat, but perhaps not any longer. For the first time in the life of this nation, the citizens are witness to the emergence of a chief executive who wears his heart on his sleeve and that is the fundamental reason behind the immense connect that even a housewife or a child experiences when watching him live, or on the screen. Never before has one witnessed an entire nation erupt with joy as on the sixteenth of May this year when they also realized that the nation is going to move forward under a leader who says what he does and does what he says.

Another trait that touched everyone to the core of the heart is the rare combination of humility and determination, humility that evolves from being human and determination that emerges from a combination of commitment, resolve, concern and integrity. Perhaps it is all about the surface matching the interior. It is also about genuine outpouring of feelings for country and the countrymen. Rare it is in a nation where a feeling of superiority manifests itself at the slightest pretext or opportunity and we have many more categories of differences than mere caste or religion. It is apparent that we the countrymen of India are definitely in for good times.

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 for everyone the effort has to go on, not only for ones own sake, but also for the nation. 

Watching the new chief executive on the television and becoming abreast of his sacrifices and dedication, I found it difficult to control my thought that if only the clock could be turned back a few decades, I would have spent much more time on the welfare of the masses that formed the zone of my responsibility and influence and in acts beneficial for the country through the organization one works for. It is indeed true, yet a fairly late realization for many that life should not be allowed to while away on trivialities, there are much bigger and better things to do like simply being human. If that is the influence of the new leader, the country is definitely going places in the foreseeable future.

Yes it is true that in the bureaucratic or political circle one belongs to, being human remains farthest from thoughts and actions and that is the root cause of our national failure to rise above the forever developing category of nations. The predominant 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 the future unless we recast the governance model of this great nation.

We are now at the turning point and the ensuing five years are going to be remembered as the period of great change for this nation. May we emerge as a nation, the countrymen of which are full of pride for the national achievements, are courageous and bold and are perfect human beings with qualities of compassion, humility and impeccable integrity.

Friday, May 16, 2014


The spectacular win of Modi has proved that the people of this country are alive, they do not generally speak out against corruption and mal-governance, yet they speak out when it matters the most - during the polls.

The expectations are very high and so is the confidence of the masses in the BJP Govt led by Modi to be able to provide what the Congress failed at - good governance and to reverse what the Congress was good at - Corruption. Gone shall be the days of scams and open loot - CWG, 2G, 3G, Adarsh, Chara, Railgate and the Coalgate. The perpetrators and the incidents both shall be confined to the dustbins of history.

Happy days are here, not again but for the fist time in the history of an independent India. Hopefully the confines of the Holy Tihar will once again be teeming with scamsters of both varieties - corrupt politicos and bureaucrats and many of them shall be known faces. I only hope railways is not let behind in this race to the holy Tihar. Insha Allah we honest railwaymen shall not be disappointed.

The days of honest bureaucrats and politicos have arrived. Now we shall all be witness to a nation leaping forward. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

When mediocrity rules the roost in governance!

During the course of my walk this pleasant morning, while crossing the newly renovated swimming pool in the officers colony at sardar patel marg I noticed a shining stainless steel plate adorning the names of a few officials who it was obvious were the leading lights of the ceremony held recently to finally permit the hoi polloi to dive in the waters. With the senior-most bloke actually doing the honors, three other officials by their dignified presence added to the grace of the sombre occasion; something to this effect is what the plate said.

This happens all the time. Even the fitment of a new commode is accompanied by an inaugural ceremony replete with an inaugural plate or a stone that mentions the names of all those who were there at the time the facility was either incepted or commissioned.

Often the matter written on the plate leads me to deep introspection about the roles that different players would have enacted on such solemn occasions. While the bloke occupying the top chair invariably would have cut the ribbon or pulled the curtain and also proudly broke the coconut and in the process had his name inscribed for posterity as the chief guest, the role of the blokes junior to the top guy is often not very clear. Invariably the plate makes a mention of the 2IC as having a “garimamayi upasthiti” or a dignified presence on the occasion. This leads me to wonder whether the presence of all others, with the exception of the top bloke and the 2IC was of an undignified nature and if so, how does the dignified guy distinguish himself from the undignified crowd, who generally are of similar elk as those mentioned on the plate. The last category on the plate is officials who were merely present unlike many others who were present but not fortunate enough to have their names cast in stone.

Have we indeed become a nation of ceremonies? True it is yet what right do mere officials have to get their names cast in stone for posterity? Are these attempts at attaining immortality by mortals in paid service of the society worthy of a pardon?

And so during all my assignments, one of the first tasks on hand is to purge all the foundation and inaugural plates from my territory. Often this work is carried out under cover of darkness as the persons named on the plate exist powerfully enough to have this exercise suspended and the perpetrator ostracized.

Quite often the official seeking immortality really ventures too far as noticed during my sojourns to Simla. Heritage structures built in the late nineteenth century have been adorned by ghastly plaques that mention, not the name of the engineer who built the structure but the names of officials who were in power when they decided to have the plaque installed to commemorate the heritage value of the structures. The large number of such plaques invariably adorning every single heritage structure and other places of importance made me wonder whether after a considerable lapse of time, these very officials would be regarded as the ones who actually built the structures.

While such attempts to usurp credit and come in the public eye even for historical works is definitely condemnable, what is really sad is the penchant to have names cast in stone even for works of a mundane nature that should have been done as a matter of routine. Do we really require a toilet, a gymnasium, a swimming pool or even a garden to name only a few representative categories to be incepted or inaugurated with the names of the senior blokes cast in stone. Despite the deeply entrenched practice, such attempts cannot be justified even by extremely far-fetched explanations.

Yes for the sake of historical records, we may sometimes need commemoration ceremonies for building a new bridge or laying a new railway line or for creating a new city or even a new stadium or say a metro system, but not for building loo’s or putting new taps or commodes. Unfortunately the lack of real achievements is propelling some elements of the society to take credit and basking in self-created glory for run of the mill activities. Definitely it is the surest sign of mediocrity ruling the roost in governance. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Caught in a time warp!

Modi’s focus on the five T’s has led to a desirable scenario, that of introspection by all those who regard themselves as the constituents of the T’s. It is however obvious that of the five, the common man of this nation is affected more by two, T for Transport ie Railways and T for Tourism making it evident that sorting out the “travel and hospitality” sectors would indeed be high on the agenda of the next dispensation that rules the centre. Indeed a highly promising prospect.

And rightly so, it is the avowed responsibility of the government to set on track those sectors that have a high social impact and utility, yet have gone wayward due to their own inner contradictions.

Often referred as the lifeline of the nation, the railway system of this nation has since independence emerged as the most glaring example of corruption, inefficiency and sloth in a corporate; more at the managerial, decision making and policy formulation levels than at the functional. Otherwise how is it indeed possible for a commercial enterprise operating in a sellers market in a monopolistic scenario that too in a nation of our size and population to consistently underperform, both quantitatively as well as qualitatively in what it produces for sale. In this scenario that any corporate worth its salt dreams of, the growing chasm between the demand and the supply and the rapid deterioration in the quality of its services is indicative of an absolute lack of leadership and managerial abilities especially at the bureaucratic level.   

The decision making and contractual processes that were made by the british masters to keep the locals in a tight leash have long since lost their relevance, yet their continuance for no other reason other than a strong internal resistance to change of any kind is not an attitude that would keep an organization especially a commercial one from a string of failures. Unfortunately railways has been moving in that direction with the routine dressing up of figures keeping the reality under wraps. The extreme complexity of procedures that the railways has arrived at out of a penchant for total mistrust and absolute disempowerment is at a total variance with what commercial setups are supposed to practice. And therefore the feeling of utter helplessness that one witnesses even at the apex levels in all the three tiers of management.

Yet despite rank inability and an absolute lack of inclination to make a positive contribution, travel by its senior officials in luxurious saloons fit for Maharajah’s is a sign of the time warp that has engulfed the entire Indian railways. Is it not a sign of a feudal mindset that while the rest of the country is unable to get even one berth on the train with ease, a small section of the senior railway officials travel in one full compartment fit for eighty in reserved or one eighty for unreserved.

The feudal mindset is also reflected in the scenario where kow towing to bosses wife has emerged more important than pampering the boss himself and definitely many times more important than work itself. A scenario where positioning of reception and dispatch parties at stations for senior officials proceeding on and returning from train travel has overtaken the need for deliverance is as expected definitely pampering ego’s but at the cost of good governance that in any case has been missing from the railways since a considerable period of time indeed. 

The time warp is absolute and total. A lavish cocoon with tremendous perks in the form of saloons, bungalows, bungalow peons, parties, gifts, free travel, ample opportunities for loot and a fleet of pliant and over caring subordinates is what the upper crust of this commercial organization finds itself engulfed in. And the almost complete disempowerment ensures that the focus does not waver from the perks – authorized and mostly unauthorized ones.

The shroud of the time warp has to end for the railways to truly move forward, not merely in a cosmetic sense. Hopefully the new government will initiate the much needed reforms in this giant monolith and make it indeed what it always should be - the economic lifeline of the nation.