Though I am not a Journalist, I began with blogging and now my articles get regularly published in a magazine called Management compass. This article was published in April’2009
Another grand election looms large on the horizon. Newspapers and political magazines are full of how the whole political scene in India has become centrifugal with influential regional satraps calling the shots and no national leader with a pan Indian following emerging. The year when a national party got an absolute majority was two decades ago, ie in 1989. The regional allies are becoming stronger and demanding their pound of flesh as no party is expected to get absolute majority in the new power equations that are expected to emerge. So much so that some congressmen feel that it is the regional parties that pose a bigger challenge than the Bharatiya Janata Party and there are several people with prime ministerial aspirations even among regional leaders.
All kinds of alliances are being contemplated by the regional and two centrist parties. In 1998, the Telugu Desam Party, National Conference, Lok Jan Shakti Party and Biju Janta Dal forgot their secular roots and aligned with the BJP against the Congress at the centre. Though they may have broken off later on, this was the first indication of the fact that alliances were more on the basis of self interest rather than any ideology or principle. That apart, in a diverse country like India, voting often takes place on caste, regional, ethnic and even linguistic considerations. Though infrastructure, jobs, terrorism etc are the major issues, most parties are targeting the various vote banks. One hears of the Lodh vote, the Muslim vote, the Yadav vote, the Thakur vote , the Dalit vote, the Brahmin vote, the Vaish vote etc. Such tendencies are bound to multiply in the absence of a strong national leader who can sway the masses singularly with slogans and oratory and also act as a transformational figure. Apart from the vote banks and regional considerations, one significant factor playing a major role in these elections is the youth.
In a youth survey conducted by India Today magazine in February 2009, Narendra Modi was the number one choice of youth as the prime minister of the country and at 16 per cent of the vote got double the percentage of vote as the official nominee of the BJP, LK Advani. What and how the youth thinks would be a key factor in these elections. The report further stated that the youth have chosen a leader who delivers, a leader who has found redemption in the hard work of reform. They have chosen the doer and rejected the wafflers. If this is indeed so, it is surprising that prime minster is number four and Rahul Gandhi is number two. This is a clear indication of the fact that apart from performance, biology does matter. One got to readon how an 81-year-old Advani was rushing out playing hi-tech games, launching trendy websites, meeting IIM graduates and spoke of his experiences to the Microsoft headquarters in Seattle. The desperation to reach out to the youth is also visible in the fact The Hindustan Times report on February 22 about popular blogger Sidin Vadukut refusing to be a part of ‘bloggers for Advani’ programme. This is what he had to say in his refusal letter “Obama’s greatest success perhaps was in infusing his nation with optimism even during a period of great economic crisis. With your blog and website, you have the power to do that.” Where just the youth factor is concerned, future politicians will have to keep in mind this experience of the experienced Advani — “Javani nahin hai gavani” (can’t afford to be old). Considering the youth factor in demographics, this may actually be a good thing for an Indian Obama to emerge.
In another India Today study that was published in September 2008, it was stated that Amethi, which has elected members of the Gandhi family — Sanjay Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi (twice), Sonia Gandhi and now Rahul Gandhi — (five times out of 10 polls) ranks 484 on the socio-economic index and 475 on the infrastructure ranking. Phulpur and Allahabad, represented by Jawaharlal Nehru, who was prime minister for 17 years, ranks 409 out of 543 on the socio-economic index. Barring Surat, which elected Morarji Desai, none of the prime ministerial constituencies figure anywhere on the top 100 list.
Though business management and politics are drastically different in India, some reference to the management world is not completely out of place. One of the best write-ups that I have come across about the credentials of family members in running their businesses is this extract from the father of modern management, Peter Drucker’s What makes an Effective Executive? which has been selected by Harvard University among Drucker’s best. There, Drucker writes on the well known company Du pont, “In the successful family company, a relative is promoted only if he or she is measurably superior to all the non-relatives on the same level… Beyond the entrance level, a family member got a promotion only if a panel composed primarily of non-family managers judged the person to be superior in ability and performance to all other employees at the same level. The same rule was observed for a century in the highly successful family business J Lyons and Company when it dominated the Britsh food-service and hotel industries.”
Considering the fact that in politics, the scale of problems is much greater than in business and the country is not anybody’s private property, the vetting and validating process of separating the wheat from the chaff should be even more stringent. I once worked for a boss who got several double promotions in one year and went on to establish several businesses of his own. He was much better than three other people from the same management institute. In this context, if I were to compare him to the chairman’s sons, no amount of business training or coaching would have made them as good as he was.
However irrelevant the parameters of voting may seem on parochial considerations and whatever the political drama that may ensue, from a management perspective, one has to look at the entire scenario on the basis of performance. Though the economic performance has been no doubt exemplary, since this government came on the promise of aam aadmi or common man in 2004, certain comments in this context made by the the comptroller and auditor general (CAG) made headline news in the Times of India on February 23. The CAG reported “Over Rs 51,000 crore was allocated for the government’s flagship schemes in 2007-08 which got transferred to the bank accounts of NGOs, autonomous bodies and district authorities. However, the government has told CAG that it was not aware of the actual expenditure by these organisations. The aggregate amount of the unspent balances in the accounts of the implementing agencies kept outside government accounts is not readily ascertainable. The government expenditure, as reflected in the accounts to that extent is, therefore, overstated.” The report also pointed out how the social and infrastructure development fund (SIDF) — created in 2006 for funding initiatives such as the employment of physically challenged, insurance cover for rural poor, etc — was diverted to unspecified programmes like celebration of 150th year of the First War of Independence and towards grants to various cultural organisations. The report concluded that the CAG’s observations in an election year, just before dates are to be announced for Lok Sabha polls, is a big blow to the UPA government’s pro-poor, pro-development posture. That apart, according to other reports, even the Rs 2 crore-per-MP-per-year local area development scheme has become a tool for nepotism and rampant corruption in some cases. So much for the aam aadmi. It seems that instead of the recent award winning movie Slumdog Millionaire the poor execution is more on the lines of Slumdodge Millionaire. It is dodging the real people towards whom the funds are targeted and to whoever they are going is probably becoming a millionaire.
From my experience as executive assistant to my father and managing director in another company, I can say that where implementation is concerned, there is indeed a slip between the cup and the lip. However the executive assistant to the top man’s presence in what is called “Management by walking around” could mitigate all this to a significant extent. Rahul Gandhi could have put his considerable influence in the party and the government to bring about a systematic change rather than help some poor individuals sporadically like highlighting the plight of Kalawati Bandurkar of Vidharba where he had gone visiting.
Even on terror, the common man suffered considerably. The Times of India reported that after the Mumbai blasts of 26/11, the Maharasttra government put forward a slew of security measures. Some of these measures had already been put forward after the Train blasts of July’06 but never been put in place. This clearly hints at faulty execution. The public outrage at 26/11 also revealed how the political class as a whole is derided in India. This is not restricted to the central government or terror alone. One article in India Today on the Maharastra government had this to say of their track record: “Despite criticism from various quarters, the government is falling back on populist schemes. Once announced, no one bothers to see when the schemes are actually implemented.” This reminds of a dialogue that Amitabh Bachchan says in the aptly named movie Sarkar “Pass ka faayda dekhne se pahle door ka nuksaan dekhna chaahiye” (one should look at the long term loss instead of the short term profit). However, in general and the election years especially, it is exactly the opposite — all the governments are only concerned with winning the elections and all kinds of populist schemes and loan waivers are announced without a thought to how the future governments and generations will cope.
When one has a ringside view of how difficult it can be to run even a medium sized company, one is able to realise the fact that one needs really good talent to run a diverse country like India. I was around 20 and a college student when Rajiv Gandhi became the prime minister. In his first year he was very impressive with the kind of speeches he gave and the business-like manner in which he went about signing the Punjab and Assam accords. Apart from the Gandhi name, his sweet smile, charming manners and handsome looks could have bowled anybody over. He came with noble intentions but was not able to fulfil all that he had promised initially and faltered on several other spheres. The experienced Nararsimha Rao made a better prime minister performance wise. He, along with his finance minister, Manmohan Singh, made possible the “garibi hatao” slogan that India Gandhi had coined in the election of 1971. This alone shows that merely depending upon family names or slogans can prove deceptive and the best orator need not be the best performer.
In his book India from Midnight to the Millennium and Beyond, Shashi Tharoor has this to say of the 1971 Lok Sahha: “The majority of backbenchers seemed to be out of their depth; they knew how to get elected but not how to legislate.” Tharoor is himself standing from Thiruvanthapuram to perhaps reverse this trend. The word “legislate” reminds me of eminent jurist, the late Nani Palkhiwala, whose speeches on the budget in matters of fiscal legislation used to be more popular than the budget itself for the manner in which he exposed the government blunders. When asked why an eminent and intelligent man was not in the higher echelons of the government, he replied “I don’t mind being nominated but I will not get elected”.
The manner in which Rajiv Gandhi was elected prime minister also deserves some mention. In the first February 2009 edition of the magazine The week, this is what I Rammohan Rao has to say of former President, R Venkatraman who died recently: “When RV became the vice-president, I was the director of news services division of All India Radio. The day Indira was assassinated; President Zail Singh and home minister PV Narsimha Rao were abroad. I sought RV’s permission to broadcast the news. He came to the studio and announced her death and the swearing in of Rajiv Gandhi as prime minsiter.” One wonders can even the student leaders be elected like this. Varun Gandhi’s inflammatory speeches on religious grounds reflects a desperate attempt to perpetuate dynasty politics.
This is why it is said that democracy is more vibrant in fully literate societies where politicians can get elected on merit instead of caste, religion, region, language etc. When that happens, it is more of a mobocracy than democracy. There are other newspaper reports on how some politicians are planning to get into the bandwagon of reality shows. Unfortunately even the majority of talk shows are more obsessed with discussing issues and raising awareness than monitoring what exactly the politicians are doing. Instead of the talk shows, there should be walk shows to know whether or not they are walking the talk.