Gaping holes without goals shall put us on the mat in a world that is flat.

December 9, 2006

I just finished reading the wonderful book “The world if flat”. by three times pulitzer winning author Thomas Friedmann.It is basically about how flatteners like outsourcing, off shoring, supply chaining among other flatteners were creating a level playing field for all countires in the world. It spelled out the consequences from several perspectives on the United states in general and the world at large in particular. While saluting the manufacturing and service prowess of China and India respectively, the author is of the view that unless education in America is radically transformed, Americans shall have a tough time coping with global competition.

The book has several interesting references to India including the TCS contract in the state of Indiana, interactions with Infosys President Nandan Nilekani and former Wipro President Vivek Paul, India’s prominent role in business process outsourcing and supply chains, India’s rural mismanagement , role of NGO etc.

Though on the whole the book salutes both China and India, it has certain misgivings about Indian misgovernance. Some excerpts:-

Foreign investors “ When we go to India and are asked about opening plants, we say “You don’t have the infrastructure. Your electricity goes four times a day

“Dinaker singh, the hedge fund manager regularly goes back to India to visit his family. In the winter of 2004, he went back to New Delhi for a visit. When I saw him a few months later, he told me about the moment when Inida’s economy as a whole, had still not taken off as much as it should have- outside of the high-tech sector. “I was on the sixth floor of a hotel in New Delhi and when I looked outside the window I could see for miles. How come? Because you do not have assured power in Delhi for elevators, so these are not many tall buildings” No sensible investor would want to build a tall building in a city where the power could go out at any moment and you might have to walk up twenty flights of stairs”

“There is no question that china and India are better off for having at least part of their population in the flat world. But there are many, many others living outside this cycle. They live in villages or rural areas that only criminals would want to invest in, regions where violence, civil war and disease compete with one another to see which can ravage the civilian population most.”

In the same context, this is what was written in another part of the book “ At the same time rural Indians understood, at the gut level, exactly why it was not happening for them: because local governments in India have gotten so eaten away by corruption and mismanagement that they cannot deliver to the poor the schools and infrastructure they need to get a fair share of the pie. India can have the smartest high-tech vanguard in the world, but if it does not find a way to bring along more of those who are unable, disabled, undereducated and underserved, it will be like a rocket that takes off but quickly falls back to earth for lack of sustained effort.

This reminds me of a statement that former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi often said and which was repeated time and again “ I know that from every one rupee that the government allocates for the poor, only 15 paise actually reaches them. “ A strong prime minister with 400plus MPs in parliament was powerless to do much about it. It so happened that when Rajiv Gandhi died in 1991, I used to be executive assistant to the managing director in a washing machine company. Earlier I had also functioned as executive assistant to my father in a lighting company that he had helped turn around. My experiences as an executive assistant in these medium sized companies can be best summed up in these words- there is a slip between the cup and the lip. So many things can go wrong after instructions are issued because of the hassles of communication and other things that one really wonders how a country as diverse as India with all its powerful vested interests can ever be governed without executive assistants who monitor implementation and report directly to the prime minister or the concerned union cabinet minister in some cases.

Another thing that amazes in politics is the lack of transparent goals. After one elects an MP, one does not even know what that member of parliament is doing. There should be websites on which there should be clear cut goals for each MP, minister or whoever is there in an office of responsibility. The book says that with the way India, China, Russia and certain countries of Latin America are expected to progress, if rural development does not catch up and rural population continues to migrate to the cities in search of a better life, these countries and the world at large shall be in serious trouble because of infrastructure problems and pollution.

Management consultants emphasize that setting goals is so important that it is a habit that should be cultivated in school days. My wife, a nursery school teacher told me that they have goals even for the tiny tots to develop their gross and fine motor skills. Politicians without goals are like naughty boys in need of regulation. There is no point in blaming them all the time if there is no proper mechanism to ensure accountability. Information revolution and mass communication are usless without clear cut goals and effective monitoring. The media should not just report misgovernance but monitor the issue to its logical conclusion.
Our so called “democracy” is quite infructous if not useless without this.

If governance does not cope up with economic progress, it could be counterproductive and India could become a veritable hell impossible for anybody to nurse back to health.



  1. Whenever I read/hear about the problems of india then all this talk about India shining seem so fake.

    Lack of proper infrastructure,Criminalization of politics, a delayed justice system, uncheck spread of AIDS and increasing presence of religious fanatics are truly scary thoughts!

  2. The stark contrast between the urban and the rural must truly be bridged for sensible development.

    More initiatives; not only through NGOs but also by the Pvt sector are much needed. Micro financing is coming up in a big way, following the Bangladesh example.

    Surely, long way to go for India to really ‘shine’.

  3. India has definitely moved much much ahead. Partly because of our political intiatives, partly because of technology. But we are still no where we should actually be. Our best brains are still lost in a unfriendly system. The same bright Indians need to go to the US to grow. Even though we are such brainy guys, how many inventions can be attributed to Indians? We are democracy. Good. But not when politicians are bad.

  4. Having read the book you refer… one thing that can also be said is (which the GE Chief said on a visit to india ): China has the macro picture of development right, India has the micro picture right.

    I guess, india does not even have micro picture that is right. Wherever private sector has invested, and done so without govt. interference, india has seen good growth. Talk about IT industry.

    This statement is most telling:
    “If governance does not cope up with economic progress..”

    There is rapid economic progress by people who can – but there are no policies to sustain or encourage this. Infact we are seeing a skewed development and growth. Govt. collects massive taxes but fritters it away. So progress of one, is not necessarily helping others.

    The failure is squarely with governance. No questions about it. And do not expect a Sadhu Yadav, or a Karunanidhi to get down to the business of growth and planning. One is in jail. The other is distributing television sets.

  5. nice blog, thanks for commenting and visiting my blog, I will put ur blog name in my blog name…

  6. Our democracy has been perverted by moneypower and musclepower. It has been reduced to ‘demoncracy’ with criminals and corrupt public representatives as well as officials calling the shots. The rot is there in every sphere of life – not only in the neglect of the rural folks or the poor.

  7. Things are improving in some areas and declining in some areas. The increased cross-breeding of politicians and criminals is causing immense problems and governance issues; but increasing trends such as RTI and court interventions is also increasing the push towards more cleanliness.

  8. Mismanagement and bad governance are going to be hard to stamp out since even the seemingly educated citizens lose their mind when it comes to the polling booths.

    There is no point complaining about politicians if you reward good performances of governments (eg. the last BJP govt) by kicking them out.

    It requires shift in mindset, across the board, which will happen – but, very slowly.

  9. If you research on any of the many problems exisiting in India then you will come to know that root cause of every problem is governance.In China its said that when a governor of a region snaps finger Highway gets erected and in India to construction of Highway has to go through many bottlenecks like corruption,Court stay,mismanagement etc.

    If we change our governance….it wont take much time to change India.

  10. I think we need to make the country more democratic. Now we say that our country is the largest democracy but unfortunately we the people dont have much power for 5 yrs after the elections are over. Hence people should have the right to vote in all the laws that are being passed in the Parliment. MPs are supposed to vote in the parliment based on the majority opinion in their constitution. But they rarely do it and end up voting according to their party wishes. Our country could become more powerful, once we become truly democratic.

  11. There are two options for us. Make the economic boom that is happening independent of the political influences. Else we should change the political system of the country. Given that no one is interested in cleaning up the mess in the politics and everyone expects someone else to do that, the former idea seems to be the only way out.

    I agree that tall buildings do look shiny but developing the nation as a whole should be the priority.

  12. Ashish says: “cross-breeding of politicians and criminals ”

    That’s a really funny and a interesting statement :).

  13. think this book as the views about India from someone outside the system…. remember the best flaws are found by guys who does not know how the stuff works.

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