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Competence in election depends on competent criteria in selection

April 10, 2014

This write up is inspired by Mr Gurucharan Das’s article on the current Indian elections, “Secularism or Growth-choice is yours” in the Sunday times of April 6, 2014 where he says “ “where he suggests how economic growth is crucial to the lives of the youth who represent demographic dividend. The last line states “ There will always be a trade off in values at the ballot box and those who place secularism above demographic dividend are wrong and elitist”.

Former Union Minister and Infosys chairman Nandan Nilekani had written in his book “Imagining India” how demographic dividend could make or break India. This is only possible through good governance which obviously implies a sincere, competent and experienced prime minister which in turn reminds one of Mr lal Bahadur Shastri . One should learn from history how he came about being prime minister on sheer merit unlike today’s dynastry politics. . Apart from performing very well in several party posts on different occasions , he was also a capable minister in many spheres- He performed with distinction as Railways minister, Transport and communications minister , Commerce minister and even union Home Minister. In the book “The Prime Ministers of India” compiled by Dr R.K.Pruthi, it is mentioned,” In 1964, Pandit Nehru fell ill while attending the annual sessions of the congress. It was decided to strengthen the union cabinet to relieve the prime minister of some of his routine work. Persuaded to return to the cabinet, Mr Shastri became Minister without portfolio whose task was to perform such functions as may be assigned to him by the prime minster from time to time in relation to the ministry of external affairs, atomic energy and Cabinet secretariat.” It is further mentioned that though Nehru did not name a successor, he had been grooming Lal Bahadur to step into his shoes. He had been entrusting to him the most pressing problems of the country and he had tackled them well. This has proved his ability to the masses and when the time came, he was unanimously elected the new leader. Perhaps Mr Rahul Gandhi could have tried something similar under Professor Manmohan singh for getting valuable governance experience. Mr Nehru has spoken extremely highly of Mr Shastri’s competence.

Mr Shastri had governance experience even before Independence- Mr Shastri was elected to the UP assembly in 1937. In 1945, he became secretary to the state government parliamentary board. Re-elected in 1946, he was appointed parliamentary secretary to the chief minister. The following year, he became minister for police and transport. There is mention of exceptional service under state chief ministers as well. It may not be out of place to mention here that he went to Jail for a total period of nine years during independence.

In contrast today’s candidates seem to be found wanting . Though Mr Modi has become chief minister of Gujarat several times, he has no experience of central government. Though not officially announced, one gets to hear Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal’s names is possible PM candidates. Neither has any governance experience to speak of. Mr Kejriwal won the Delhi elections, made a lot of announcements and quit for dubious reasons. Those announcements were touted as achievements which no government had achieved in 49 days. This is like trying to compare cricketer Vijay Merchant’s test batting average of 47.72 to Saurav Ganguly’s 42.17 forgetting the fact that while Mr Merchant had played only 10 tests , Ganguly played 113. This comparison can be misleading as Mr Kejriwal does not have any performance to speak of actually. Well known management writer Ram charan in his book “Execution” states how the best of students of ivy league colleges are found wanting in execution skills though they have excellent articulation skills. Venture capitalists say “ We fund teams(execution), not ideas”. Mr Kejriwal maybe a well meaning man but taking execution for granted and making accusations without proof make his seem naive.Even internationally, there is seems to be quite a gulf between President Obama’s oratorical and execution skills..Mr Kejriwal’s pet issue corruption is a major issue but a less corrupt politician who is not capable enough is equally undesirable.

As for Mr Gandhi, him and the congress party should have a look at what his great grandfather stated on electing his successor “Do democratic leaders choose their own crown princes? Are we Roman Emperors? I know that the ordinary process of democratic politics will pick my successor. Four hundred million people are capable of selecting a leader for themselves. I am not going to do it for them. It would be insolent for me to do it. “ On paper, the congress party may profess to do this but there is clearly a predominance of the Gandhi family. According to media reports, Mr Gandhi has made sincere efforts to induct professionals from other streams. From my experience, professionals only accept somebody who has superior capability as their leader or maybe that does not apply to politics where the stakes are much higher than the corporate world. Apart from shastri all the other prime ministers from the non Gandhi family had plenty of governance and administrative experience and performed better as well. Though we all want competent politicians, the mainstream media rarely highlight this fact. How somebody like Jagan Mohan Reddy can straightaway aspire to be chief minister of a large state like Andhra Pradesh also defies logic. It reminds me of my college days thirty years ago when, being an impressionable teenager, I used to think that the short cut to success was a rich father. I would go around saying

Whether your father makes profit or loss,

When you join him in business, you become automatic boss.

When your father is in business, you can be sure of one thing.

Whoever may come and go, you will be the king

Whether it is restaurant, factory or shop

The principle is the same, replace the pop at the top

Practical life proved to be totally different. I worked in one company where there were four candidates from the same management institute- one person got three double promotions over a year but the others got only one promotion which was obviously because of difference in execution skills though everybody had the same degree.

I never thought that my short poem would apply to politics one day which has become a business, a thought well articulated by former cabinet secretary, TSR Subramanian in his book,” Governmint in India”. In an earlier article, Mr Das had stated that there is nothing wrong if a son or daughter of a politician chooses to follow in their parent’s footsteps but nature rarely distributes talent that way. How true. I grew up in the era of Amitabh Bachchan and Sunil Gavaskar. Their sons are hardly a patch on their superstar fathers as many others from bollywood and cricket. In politics, legislative and governance talent is not highlighted or monitored strongly. Bollywood and cricket superstars have to be on their toes(latest hit or latest match) but politicians have a five year term and public memory being short, they can many times get away with being incompetent.

Since I am likely to be accused of Gujju bias where Mr Modi is concerned, people can draw their own conclusions after reading the latest issue of India today on the possibility of replicating the Gujarat model or on the internet. His governance credentials are much better but for somebody who is asking votes for good governance, inducting actors/actresses as legislators in place of people with strong grassroots experience does not augur well unless they really have the capability and sincerity(I read long ago how actor Vinod Khanna had done a lot of good work in Gurdaspur and had won twice from there). Inducting an erstwhile dream girl as a candidate reminds of the famous Sholay song “Jab tak hai jaan, jane jahaan, main nachoongi, main naachongi”.. It seems her sunset years are being used for a different kind of dacne. How different reel and real life can be- for an exceptional display of dance and body, the same lady is not willing to even come out of her Audi. How competence in politics has to be promoted vigorously is something everyone needs to and should study.

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One comment

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