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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.