Pahle Aandhi(Adversity), phir Gandhi

(This article is published in the October issue of the mgazine “Management Compass)

A billion nonfollowers

The rot in Indian institutions calls for another Gandhi

By Hiren Shah

Recently in The Times of India, Shashi Tharoor stated that Gandhiji was the father of a nation of one billion people but no followers. This corroborates the view expressed in the critically acclaimed movie Maine Gandhi ko Nahin Maara, in which it is shown how Indians remember Gandhiji only as a matter of formality on his birth and death anniversaries. We also have movies like Lage Raho Munnabhai, which may popularise what is called Gandhigiri for a while, only to be followed by newspaper headlines like Gandhigiri gives way to goondagiri How relevant is Gandhi really today? Was his contribution limited to gaining independence?

One of the most endearing things about him was that he was a very sincere and honest man. He was not averse to debating on professional ethics with his friends. In his own words “I had always heard the merchants say that truth was not possible in business. Business, they say, is a practical affair and truth a matter of religion and they argue that practical affairs are one thing and truth is another. Pure truth, they said, was out of question in business. I strongly contested the position and further stated that the conduct of the merchants in a foreign land was a measure of millions of their fellow countrymen”

He was the apostle of non-violence too. One wonders how much compromise applies to non-violence. In practical life, no one’s strategy works with all individuals or at all times. If you need a Gandhi against a Churchill, you need a Churchill against a Hitler.

Talking of truth brings to mind the role of politicians and bureaucrats. Columnist Swaminathan
S Anklesaria Aiyer reveals, “In 1947, we were proud of our political leaders. We cheered them as noble souls who had sacrificed much in the long struggle for independence. Today we regard politicians as knaves and scoundrels. In 1996, the election commissioner estimated that there were 40 criminals in the Lok Sabha and another 700 in the state assemblies.” This is too steep a fall from grace from the Mahatama’s standards.

Much of the political corruption has to do with election expenses. Gandhiji’s views on public money were, “People never cared to have receipts for the amounts they paid but we always insisted on the receipts being given. Carefully kept accounts are a sine qua non for any organisation. Without them it falls into disrepute. Without properly kept accounts, it is impossible to maintain truth in its pristine purity. The public subscriptions that an institution annually receives are a test of its popularity and the honesty of its management, and I am of the opinion that every institution should submit to that test.”

Gandhiji’s personal habits are also worth a look “I kept account of every farthing I spent, and my expenses were carefully calculated. Every little item of expense would be entered and the balance struck every evening before going to bed.” It is the motive and not method that matters and with dubious motives, the computer can prove to be a dangerous tool.
When one reads things like these, one wonders that would it ever have been possible to make the Mahatma’s standards all pervasive even if he had been alive. It is said that “Attitudes are taught, not caught”. From that perspective, when the top man is honest, it definitely makes a difference even if it may not percolate down the line to the same degree. One of the causes attributed to Sachin Tendulkar’s not doing so well as a captain was that he expected his own high standards from his team mates. Had Gandhiji been alive today, wonder how he would have fared with the current politicians. The founding fathers of the constitution had also coined the term “Satyameva Jayate” which means truth prevails. Considering the way politicians are perceived in India and the fact that Transparency International named India as one of the most corrupt nations, the leaders of independence must be turning in their graves.

The fall in standards has been all pervasive — it is there in all spheres of Indian life. These are Gandhiji’s views on Journalism, “I realised that the soul aim of journalism should be service. It made me thoroughly understand the duties of a journalist. The newspaper press is a great power but just as an unchained torrent of water submerges whole countrysides and devastates crops, even so an uncontrolled pen serves but to destroy.” With the advent of TV journalism, media has really become a potent force but some elements in the media have made sensationalising their modus operandi.

No profession is without its black sheep. Though the media acquitted itself very well in the Jesicca Lall case, it could not answer why it did not hear the pleas of the poor people of Nithari whose children had disappeared when they were covering the case of kidnapping of a multinational CEO at Noida. The sting operation implicating Uma Khurana, who was accused of abating a prostitution racket has turned out to be false, was a black chapter for Indian Journalism.

When Gandhiji was returning from South Africa to India, he was held in such high esteem by the people there that they would not let him leave. In response, Gandhiji said, “The voice of the people is the voice of God., and here the voice of friends was too real to be rejected”. He was allowed to go only when he accepted the condition that he would return to South Africa, if required. In this context in recent times, the most obvious example that comes to mind is former President Abdul Kalam. By all accounts he was the people’s President and had there been a direct contest with the people deciding whether he should continue for a second term, he would have won hands down. He, along with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also formed a handsome Technocrat President-Prime Minister team. However, the “voice of the people” was ignored completely by the powers that be and according to some newspaper reports, they wanted their own person at the top because of the impending elections in 2009. Sometimes one wonders that even with all the communication revolution, whether we are better off than our ancestors where the people’s voice being implemented is concerned. The movie Gandhi, My Father showed how absolutely impartial Gandhiji was towards his son. He did not allow him to take any advantage of his position. Contrast that with today’s scenario where the sons of sports and filmstars have to prove themselves but the politicians progeny gets a free entry. No harm with that if they have the talent, but how is that to be judged? Some people are against career politicians and believe that politics should be a natural progression from what one is doing. That need not necessarily be so because there could be genuinely good people only good at politics as well.

Among all the things discussed, perhaps the most dangerous is the dwindling credibility of the politicians. Opinion polls show that people want honesty above everything else. From common sense, an honest but incompetent person is equally undesirable Like most problems, this can be attacked in two ways- method and motive. Just as one needs an airplane to fly, there has to be some mechanism to monitor honesty and performance. Sometimes during philosophical discussions, one comes across statements like “If the law of Karma were transparent and it was possible to see past misdeeds whether in previous or current lives for current problems, half the crimes and wrongdoings would disappear”.

Most of the problems in politics are also because of lack of transparency. If each locality had a website where the local representative reported what his goals and accomplishments are and also made to answer questions of people in discussion forums, one can get a lot done without having any administrative inconvenience of going to his office and having to face his staff. Since lots of people are likely to participate, no govt official can thwart individuals. It is easier to monitor performance and similar ways can be thought to monitor his assets as well. Without any such mechanism, all talk of honesty and removing corruption is a drawing room debate.
Where motive is concerned, Gandhiji’s words are worth noting “No reform is possible unless some of the educated and the rich voluntarily accept the status of the poor, travel third, refuse to enjoy the amenities denied to the poor and instead of taking avoidable hardships, discourtesies and injustice as a matter of course, fight for their removal.” From the Darshan Shatras to management books like “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” , it is given how extreme disparity of In come and wealth can cause chaos in society. This what the Pulitzer prize winning book The world is Flat has to say in the context of India’s current economic upsurge: “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.”

It is said that “Without danger, we cannot go beyond danger” It proved so in economics because liberalization was introduced in 1992 only when the foreign exchange reserves were negligible. We can similarly wait for a similar adversity in politics and hope that once again, following the principle of “cometh the hour, cometh the man” another Gandhi will rise from the teeming millions of India. He will have a tougher act to follow because in the British, we had a common alien enemy but now, we may have become our own worst enemy. Despite all the progress, only severe adversity can bring radical reform. Pahle Andhi, Phir Gandhi. (Severe adversity likely to precede a second Gandhi)


For lack of space, the entire essay that had been submitted could not be published. When I meant that the fall in standards has been all pervasive, there is no point targetting politicians alone. Since Gandhiji was a lawyer, I must mention some facts that were submitted regarding lawyers:-

Gandhiji’s views on the conduct of lawyers makes interesting reading. This is what he had to say on his own profession :-

“I suggested to my client that if an arbitrator commanding the confidence of both the parties could be appointed, the case would be quickly finished. I felt that it was my duty to befriend both parties and bring them together. I strained every nerve to bring about a compromise. I realized that the true function of a lawyer is to unite parties riven asunder. The lesson was so indelibly burnt into me that that a large part of my time during the twenty years of my practice as a lawyer was occupied in bringing about private compromises of hundreds of cases. I lost nothing thereby- not even money, certainly not my soul. I never resorted to untruth in my profession and a large part of my legal practice was in the interest of public work, for which I charged nothing beyond out of pocket expenses and these too I sometimes met myself. My friends wanted me to confess some wrong in the belief that it might benefit the legal profession. As a student I had heard that a lawyer’s profession was a liar’s profession. But this did not influence me because I wanted neither money or position by lying.

During my professional work, it was my habit never to conceal my ignorance from my clients or my colleagues. Wherever I felt myself at sea, I would advise my client to seek some other counsel or if he still preferred me, I would ask him to seek assistance of some senior counsel. This frankness earned me the unbounded trust and affection of my clients which served me in good stead in my public work. They were always willing to pay the necessary fee whenever such consultation was necessary.”

Sixty years after independence, the courts are perceived by the common man as a remedy worse than the disease. Though lack of judicial infrastructure, lesser number of judges etc are one of the major reasons for delay in cases, it is not uncommon to come across people cribbing about some lawyers deliberately delaying cases for their own vested interest. One can conclude, therefore, that much before he became a public figure, he was no less a Mahatma.

Though I did not submit this to the editor, I had written an adverse post some time back on my blog about medical ethics and I was surprised by the way people responded with their own experiences with doctors which only shows how standards have fallen:-

Click and read this entire blog and comments by others on medical ethics

Coming back to the main essay, there are several sections that were left out like some famous people of integrity also talking of compromise at times and things like how the so called communication revolution throws out music and dance Indian idols but no political Indian Idol. For the essay as it was orignially presented please see



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