Competencies in politics

This article is published in the December issue of Management Compass. The magazine version is in the pdf file-:obama-dec-2008

Now, walk the talk

Intro: Barak Obama has proven his broad vision, brilliant oratory skills. Now he must prove his execution skills

Body Text

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer. It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled – Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.”

In one sweeping statement, Barack Obama seems to have emphasised the one issue that should matter most in politics: Despite all the diversity a nation may have, when it comes to electing a leader, they should forget all the parochial biases and elect the most meritorious. Since the US and India are the world’s oldest and largest democracies respectively, one could not help but wonder about the possibility of an Indian Obama and by that I mean not necessarily someone from an underprivileged segment of society but a person who is the most deserving should be able to rise to the highest office in the land.
One comes across articles stating Mayawati to be a potential Indian Obama as she is a Dalit. But that, to my mind, is fundamentally incorrect as she has used caste as her calling card extensively. Obama, on the other hand, never used race/colour or the victim mentality as part of his campaign. He was chosen by 45 per cent white America, majority of every ethnic group and even Jews in a country where 11 per cent of the public is black. In contrast, Mayawati has been known for naked aggression in the past compared to the calm and unflappable Obama who is so popular internationally for his conduct that a German daily, Süddeutsche Zeitung, called him the new Dalai Lama. Oratory apart, Obama, known for swaying audiences with novel ideas, having risen from obscurity, also reminds one of the Mahatma.

Style with speed

Since brilliant oratory is what Obama, a Harvard-educated lawyer, is most known for, can that alone make a good politician or statesman? Rajdeep Sardesai mentioned on one of his blogs on Television politicians how he had to make do with Arun Jaitley and Kapil Sibal when the top leaders of their respective parties were not inclined to debate on television. The recent American debate clearly revealed Mccain’s ignorance and discomfiture on matters related to the economy and Sarah Palin’s gaffes on international affairs. Would Indian politicians subject themselves to such rigorous scrutiny before the elections and if some of them prove more knowledgeable than their senior counterparts, will it take them anywhere? There maybe other chuppa rustams within political parties who may have the potential but even if that comes out, what after that? The Lead India campaign threw up an ideal candidate in RK Mishra, who though not a brilliant orator won on the basis of his execution skills. Where is he now? What happened to him after that? Can such people be allowed to be out of sight, out of mind?

Even if people are in favour of a particular person, since political parties are faction-driven and have their own internal politics, will that young person ever have a genuine chance of surging forward or will he have to wait in the wings for his turn even if he is more capable. Obama at 47 had only five years’ experience in national politics but he was still nominated by his party and made it to the top. Recently, Mahendra Singh Dhoni got selected as the captain of the Indian cricket team on merit, bypassing seniors like Virendra Virendra Sehwag and Yuvraj among others. Can that ever happen in politics? In India, when it comes to the Lok sabha elections, only the most senior leaders are projected as prime ministerial candidates. The young brigade in the Congress already speaks of Rahul Gandhi as its leader, which is completely at variance with what Obama stands for. A party with a hundred year history is bereft of talent to rally the masses to a particular cause and therefore has to depends on a single family. In Obama’s case, there has been an element of luck as well, as the recent financial crisis and mismanagement of the past few years probably influenced voting on merit than any other consideration.


Oratory may not reflect the real picture or be an asset in all situations. Newsweek reported that Mc Cain’s speechwriter had tried to convey sentiments that he symbolised but they sounded stilted coming from his mouth. Talking the walk, therefore, can be as important as walking the talk. That apart, I am reminded of a statement made by former British prime minister Clement Atlee, who said that while eloquence maybe an asset in election speeches and Parliament, it could be a liability in cabinet meetings where brevity is the norm. This brings us to the critical question of execution. Whenever the word execution comes to mind, one is reminded of Rajiv Gandhi’s famous statement in which he stated that 85 per cent of the funds for the poor never reached them and he was a powerful PM with 400 plus MPs in the Lok Sabha. Rajiv Gandhi also showed a lot of fresh promise in the beginning with his speeches at the UN in 1985 and his tirade against the power brokers in the Congress but towards the end of his term, he seemed to have lost his way and began to sound more like a typical politician. In a recent column in Hindustan Times, historian Ramachandra Guha, while praising Gandhi for his encouragement of technological innovation and Panchayti Raj also conveys how his record in office was sullied on issues like Shah bano, Ayodhya and Kashmir. Promise in oration need not imply exemplary implementation.

Since Obama stands for change, it would obviously include implementation in its range.
If an aspiring politician is a brilliant orator, can his execution skills be taken for granted? Some very good insights are available in the book Execution by Ram Charan and Larry Bossidy. The book says, “Intelligent, articulate conceptualizers don’t necessarily like to execute. Many don’t realize what needs to be done to convert a vision into specific tasks because their high-level thinking is too broad. Boards of directors, CEOs are too often seduced by the educational and intellectual qualities of the candidates they interview. Instead of checking how good the person is at getting things done, they check whether the person is articulate, a good change agent and a good communicator. In our experience there is very little correlation between those who talk a good game and those who get things done come hell or high water.” In many cases, the people concerned falter when they are promoted to a higher or different level. Edward de Bono said once that the person with the bright ideas is not always the best person to execute those ideas. Venture capitalists also say that they fund teams and execution, not ideas. Brilliant oratory can prove deceptive and to judge by that alone would be missing the wood for the trees. There maybe the proverbial slip between the cup and the lip.

In that context of walking the talk, one Indian politician that comes to mind is chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi. I went to a function in Delhi where he was going to be felicitated for bringing the Nano to Gujarat. This was the first time I heard him speak though I had read elsewhere that he only spoke the language of development. He speaks very well and made a very good presentation on how Gujarat was progressing as a state and the various initiatives his government had been taking on social, economic and other fronts. He clearly sounded very much like a man with a mission on the move and spoke of proactive governance among other things. In India, it is a pleasure to hear a politician who is gloating over his performance instead of trivial regional and parochial issues and he has beaten the anti incumbency syndrome twice. Though absolved by the Nanavati commission for his role in Godhra, he evokes strong reactions in many people. All one can say is that at least from the development and economic progress perspective, he has given a Ram Rajya of sorts which the BJP used to talk about earlier.

Execution talent

Normally a good chief minister is perceived as a potential prime ministerial candidate, the issue is how does one decide who is likely to be good at execution at the national level. Since ability is backed up by visibility, how does one make execution talent palpable to the general public as oratory talent. People who show good organisation and administration skills at the party level or within a company are prime candidates for providing good governance in politics. I worked under a boss once who was so good in conception and execution that he got elevated from sssistant manager to chief executive in just one year. That apart, he had Lord Krishna-like smartness to get around office politics. Such people arre obamas in letter and spirit. To borrow a quote from bill Clinton, I would say, “It is the execution, stupid”. A less charming but better executing politician is preferable to vice versa.

The book mentioned above has an entire chapter devoted to ‘Right man, right job’ and concludes: “Even the best process always does not get the right people in the right jobs, and it can’t make everybody into a good performer.” In another book on competency mapping, it was mentioned how the right person in a particular role can be 20 times better than the wrong one. In politics however, talent seems to be taken for granted. Since Obama did not have any exalted political lineage, this is a fact worth mentioning. In India, one reads about sibling rivalry in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, the scions of state politicians either being “groomed” or having taken over the reins in Punkab, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Kashmir and of course the national scene where one can see smart and educated descendents of politicians in the Lok Sabha. Prominent journalists write on the “heir apparent” time and again with an article pitched in once in a while against dynastic rule. Benazir’s niece Fatima Bhutto has expressed strong views against dynastic politics and speaks in favour of platforms, not personalities. This is very true as Obama talks of including republicans in his new team because of their capabilities, which is a great boon in the Presidential system. According to some reports, India’s prime ministers have to do all sorts of balancing acts — region, religion, caste etc. The Indian Obama may not be able to walk the talk in a situation like this, no matter how brilliant an orator he.or she is.

Talking of personalities, what happens if Jyotiraditya Scindia or somebody else in the young brigade turns out to be more talented than Rahul Gandhi as people’s talents can be as different as their appearances? In corporate management, such a person would stand a far better chance. Since everybody is unique and talented to different degrees in different competencies of a role, Individuals have to be distinguished separately in talent management as the penetrative power of different radiations -Apha, beta and Gamma if we have to get a genuine Obama. What we have currently is political legacy passed on by Papa and Mama. In corporate management, hiring, training, performance appraisal, compensation, career and succession planning is done on the basis of extensive competency models. Compared to the suited booted world of professional corporate implementation, execution in politics seems more like a man out on a stroll in a kurta pajama. Then how can one hope for an Obama? This is also due to the fact that in the management world, results are monitored on a quarterly basis.

One thing that deserves to be mentioned in the context of execution is whether a politician should be allowed to do any and everything once he is elected. Before the Iraq war began in 2003, all kinds of people in the US, including Obama expressed their opinion against it but Bush chose to ignore not only that but bypassed the UN and made what turned out to be the biggest mistake of his Presidency. He is expected to bow out with extremely low ratings. This is even more relevant to India as the credibility of politicians is extremely low. New information technologies should be invented to ensure that elected politician honour public opinion.

Since the general public cannot be expected to read fancy talent management books, how does one educate them on spotting and voting for political merit? Since Bollywood and cricket drive India, we could perhaps take their examples. Being born in 1965, I grew up on Sunil Gavaskar and Amitabh Bachchan. While the sons of both the superstars followed them in their respective professions, neither is a chip off the old block where sheer talent is concerned. Rohan Gavaskar could not even play in tests and though Abhishek Bachchan seems to have done better, he has a long way to go before he can be anywhere near his father. If one looks at a majority of father-son cases in cricket and bollywood, the descendents have rarely surpassed their fathers with the possible exception of Hritik Roshan and the Kapoor sisters whose fathers were not successful actors anyway. There may be other exceptions or examples. Even in politics, Indira and Rajiv Gandhi simply do not command the kind of respect Jawaharlal Nehru enjoyed as a national leader. How can talent ever be hereditary? One has to get the point across somehow. However if somebody is genuinely talented, he deserves to go further irrespective of the fact whether he belongs to a political family or not. The issue is how does one determine that — by oratory alone?

For the time being, one has to be vary of the wrong kind of political speech making. Considering that much of India’s population is illiterate, it is not very difficult for a good communicator to be a good rabble rouser in the wrong manner towards the wrong or right ends. The recent example is of Raj Thackeray. Considering that the Jet airways employees sought his help when they were removed from the company, it would be even more easy for relatively uneducated people to play into his hands and such people abound in India. Time magazine reported that after winning, when Obama asked Mc Cain for help on being called by him to be congratulated, Mc Cain replied “Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans.” In India, however, there are all kinds of politicians following divisive politics and trying to invoke false pride in the name region, religion, caste etc instead of performance. Even if we cannot achieve the rule of Rama or get a Mahatma, a Dalai Lama or an Obama, we have to stop this drama. I wish like Obama, one could say with confidence “Yes, we can”.


BIG BOSS II-Political style v/s substance

This article is published in the October’2008 issue of the magazine, Management Compass.

The Reality game show Bigg Boss was in the news recently for how politicians were desperately trying to get into it to hog the limelight. Manas Chakravarty, the managing editor of Mint, in an article, in the Sunday Hindustan Times of 31 August reported that hundreds of Republican Party of India (RPI) workers ransacked the office of Colors television channel as their leader, Ramdas Athavale was dropped from the reality show Bigg Boss-II. He also stated that Sanjay Nirupam from the Congress and several other politicians pulled all the strings they could to get in and the UPA tried to persuade Shibu Soren to accept a place in Bigg Boss rather than become the chief minister of Jharkhand. You’re in front of a camera every single minute of the day for three months, it’s every politician’s dream, the analyst pointed out. “They would do anything to get on the show.” Some desperation.

Earlier, an article by Shailaja Bajpai in the Indian express on August 20 revealed that Sanjay Nirupam had stated in his blog that that he had agreed to participate in the show to enhance the image of the politicians through his behaviour in front of 32 cameras. One wonders whether Rahul Mahajan also had similar ideas. If he did, he was not doing a good job of it as by the end of the first week, he seemed hyperactive and desperate to make a good impression. It was best summed up by actress Ketaki Dave on the show on September 1, “Rahul is trying to be gregarious with everyone but is that the real Rahul?” God knows.

Ironically, the same edition of Hindustan Times that featured Chakravarty’s article revealed a reality of a different kind. Actor turned MP Vinod Khanna was praised very highly for the initiatives he had taken to build several bridges throughout his constituency, Gurdaspur. The article stated that embittered by corruption in Indian politics, medical practitioner Narinder Kumar Kohli had stopped casting his vote 20 years ago. He changed his mind recently. In his own words, “I will exercise my right to franchise during the coming Lok Sabha elections only to support him. His contribution in this area in the past one decade has been immense. Vinod Khanna is a real-life hero for me,” said the 58-year-old doctor. He said the BJP MP was doing a good job, even if he was inaccessible. It seemed strange that while politicians were pulling out all stops to come to the limelight frivolously, a former actor and celebrity was avoiding it despite performing so well in politics; style without substance and substance without style.

It seems that some politicians are of the view that just as Big Brother did a lot more for Shilpa Shetty than her acting career, they would perhaps fare likewise just by appearing in front of the camera.

Is it so easy to impress just by being in front of the camera? It is worth looking at perhaps one of the best performing politicians in front of the TV, former American President Ronald Reagan. When he died in the year 2004, Time magazine devoted an entire obituary issue to him. It has some interesting insights about his television performance. The magazine reported that when his career as a Hollywood actor was going nowhere he was hired by General Electric. For $125,000 a year, he would act as host and occasional star of a weekly television drama series for General Electric; for 10 weeks each year he would also act as a kind of goodwill ambassador to GE plants around the nation. As one of the first prominent Hollywood actors to defect to the much-scorned new medium of TV, Reagan revived his acting career. The General Electric Theatre, with Reagan as host from 1954 to 1962, dominated the Sunday-night ratings. But what changed Reagan was his tours of the GE plants. Later, Reagan’s opponents often underestimated him, dismissing him as “just an actor,” an amateur lacking political experience. What they failed to see was that although Reagan had not spent much time in conventional politics, he had gained both skill and experience in what was to become the politics of the TV age, the politics of electronic images and symbols. Reagan once figured that in his eight years at GE, he had visited every one of the company’s 139 plants, met more than 250,000 employees, spent 4,000 hours talking to them and “enjoyed every whizzing minute of it.” He polished his delivery, the intimate confiding tone, the air of sincerity, the wry chuckle, the well-timed burst of fervour. The very fact that he had to make so much conscious effort despite being an actor shows how difficult it is to pull off an outstanding performance on Television.

That apart, one needs to be smart and witty like Shah Rukh Khan, who seems to be in his element in front of the camera not only as an actor but whenever he gives interviews or speaks extempore. Coming back to Reagen in this context, he once turned the tables on his electoral rivals by one witty remark. Reagen was getting on in age and this had become an issue during the 1984 presidential debate with Walter Mondale. His humorous reply “I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience..” bowled over a wide American audience and impressed his opponents as well. That one statement made a pivotal role in his victory.. So political performance apart, even TV by itself requires a flair of a different kind. I doubt if even the actor politicians of India can get anywhere near Reagen.

Our politicians are lucky that our audiences are not so discerning. American politicians in general and Presidents in particular have to do well in terms of both style and substance on TV as well as politics.

Since politicians are so desperate to get into the limelight, conducting behavioural interviews on what all they had achieved could make interesting viewing as anecdotes can be very entertaining. They could be pitted against one another or other features could be introduced to make things more interesting. The Times of India with its lead India campaign, has already shown the way on how to detect political talent but that was from among unknown people. This would be more of a performance appraisal of established politicians. The politicians would have their place in the sun and be made accountable on TV with behavioural interviews. It could be a win-win situation for everyone.

An inadequate performance culture is one of the reasons why politicians try to hog attention the wrong way in real and reel life. India Today summed it up wonderfully in one of its recent issues — “The world Bank says that four out of 10 Indians live below the poverty line. You could quarrel with the methodology but there is no disrupting the cause — pathetic governance” Its latest issue, while giving the constituency wise performance and stating that even the constituencies of long-elected ministers and former prime ministers were far below from the top performing ones, has this to say in conclusion: “The landscape is littered with issues of poor governance- from teacherless schools to waterless pipes to a crumbling delivery system for foodgrains. At the assembly level, anti-incumbency is as high as 65 per cent, while it is between 45 and 55 per cent at the parliamentary level. Nothing reveals the sloth in the system that renders even the most voluble politician ineffective better than this study”. On the positive side, the article praises Sharad Pawar alone for bringing about a complete transformation in his constituency.

The public has to act as the big boss and using transparency provided by Television, choose to stay with or remove them, the way people are ejected from the reality game show. The India Today article above thankfully mentions that though MPs are elected to legislate at the centre, they are now expected to monitor everything from bad sanitation in the neighbourhood to public transport in their constituency. The media, in turn, should follow up the MPs using behavioural interviews or whatever feasible manner, instead of just moving on to the next news story. The crisis of Kosi has shown how lack of competence can make things messy. Politicians can face problems of a far greater magnitude than companies and lack of relevant competencies can prove disastrous in preventing such crises or coping with it; Kosi left 2.5mn homeless, 1000 dead and 866 villages destroyed. Looking at it from another context from the scale of problems that politicians may have to face, they are the big bosses and not being able to elect the right ones can cause substantial, unmitigated losses.

Lead India; don’t Bleed India

This article is published in the March’2008 issue of the magazine Management compass

What is an idea without execution?

RK Mishra’s readiness to get hands dirty made him Lead India winner

The lead India campaign launched by The Times of India to provide an alternative platform for those desirous of joining politics culminated on February 9, 2007 when RK Mishra from Bangalore was declared winner and Dewang Nanavati was declared the runner up. The manner in which the entire campaign was conducted and the kind of response it drew made it seem that the process itself was the biggest winner. No wonder former President Abdul Kalam declared, “Lead India is the best movement I have come across in the recent past.”

Victory apart, Mr Mishra has an interesting profile and is quite a role model for young people. Born in 1965, he is an ME graduate from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur. Having been a successful entrepreneur, he left the lucrative corporate world in 2005 to bring about large-scale social change. Mishra specialises in policy planning and investments and works with the governments of Karnataka and Rajasthan among others. He is obsessed with making a difference in infrastructure and rural education, as reflected in his blog

What clinched the victory was a plan that he outlined to set up a co-operative dairy farm to transform the life in the village where he was born. He presented a well thought- out plan with time-bound targets and actionable goals, which impressed both the audience and the jury. The Times of India further reports, “The combination of Mishra’s story — rags to riches to social service — and his successful track record both as serial entrepreneur and activist proved to be unbeatable. His ability to think big, coupled with his willingness to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty, made a big impact in the one sided 6-1 verdict.”

He reminds you of Shah Rukh Khan’s role in Swades, where he plays an NRI who becomes determined to help bring prosperity to his village. Around the time the movie was released, India Today, in one of its issues, highlighted how some other NRIs in reality were actually doing the same thing. It is not everyday that real life follows reel life in such matters and it should form a complete virtuous circle when they are again highlighted on reel — on television. Shah Rukh had said in one of his interviews, “It takes a show off to be a show on.” Who would have known about Mishra if Lead India and TV had not highlighted him. Such committed people can do a world of good to politics.

Both the winner and the runner-up complimented each other’s strengths. Nanavati conceded that “RK is a doer, not a talker” which probably gave him the edge. Mishra acknowledged Nanavati’s skills “Dewang argues his case well. I must learn from him.” Their comments reminds one of the Japanese proverb “Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.” Articulating one’s vision effectively and implementing the same are equally important. Even venture capitalists say that they fund teams and execution, not ideas. Our entrepreneurs are now being respected in boardrooms and markets all over the world for their ability to combine vision and ambition with execution. There is no reason why it should be different in politics; the hand is the cutting edge of the mind.

Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh made an interesting remark
“Lead India is a very good concept. But it deals with the classes. Only when these finalists have their share of blending with the masses, will a real leader emerge.” Being proved competent is one thing but that need not always translate into votes. Former Pakistani captain Imran Khan is a case in point. Being a national icon because of being a very good all rounder and a great cricket captain, who won them the world cup in 1992, he also took the initiative of having a cancer hospital constructed, which also won him a lot of appreciation. But when he joined active politics, he could not translate his achievements into votes. Even accounting for the fact that Pakistan is not really a successful democracy, one cannot take the voters or a mass base for granted.

Talking of Pakistan in this context brings to mind Fatima Bhutto, the daughter of Murtaza and grand daughter of former prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. An established newspaper columnist in her own right, this is what Fatima had to say about dynastic politics after the recent death of her aunt, Benazir, “The idea that it has to be a Bhutto, I think, is a dangerous one. It doesn’t benefit Pakistan. It doesn’t benefit a party that’s supposed to be run on democratic lines and it doesn’t benefit us as citizens if we think only about personalities and not about platforms.” She also rejected her own claim to the Bhutto legacy. The Times initiative has created a kind of alternative platform of sorts in India at least and it is only a matter of time before other personalities emerge.

In India’s context, a prominent former US secretary of state had once said, “The most powerful job in the world is that of the president of the United states but the most difficult job in the world is that of the prime minister of India.” He probably said that because of the different kinds of diversities that we have in India which can make a politician’s job tougher and implies the need for really talented people. Whether somebody should come from a political family or not, he should be and seen to be competent. Ability should be supported by visibility and the Lead India has shown how TV can be used effectively for this to fructify.

One of the best performing politicians in recent times has been Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. Being a Delhi based Gujarati, one cannot know the ground reality in Gujarat but whenever I go to Ahmedabad, I am amazed at the kind of popular support he enjoys. The people there not only keep reiterating that he knows how to run the government but also speak about his clean image. Having won the election for the third time in succession, he has proved that the anti-incumbency syndrome can be an exception, not the rule. The February 18 latest issue of India Today has reported that voters across the country voted him as the best chief minister. Though 77 per cent of the voters in Gujarat rated him the best chief minister ever, he got a nationwide approval rating of 19 per cent and polled double the number of votes than his nearest rival, UP chief minister Mayawati. This shows that for people, development and not emotive issues is the prime agenda. Maybe television could also be used to highlight the good points of Modi’s governance for everybody’s benefit, just as young MBAs used to go to Karasanbhai Patel’s Nirma once upon a time to learn about how it took on Hindustan lever.

Unfortunately, unlike the two major forces that unite India, Bollywood and cricket, politics is not transparent enough for the wrong kind of people to be weeded out. Unlike the corporate world, where in addition to short and long term goals, job description, competencies and role analysis are identified and followed up by performance management, nothing like that takes place in politics, which is strange because the scale of operations and implications are far greater in a country than a company. One gets to read several newspaper reports that the public in the US is not only disenchanted with President Bush but also dissatisfied with the kind of leadership options that they have in the current Presidential elections. When people like Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj singh can be criticised strongly for non-performance, there should be no scope for poor performance in politics even in the short term and there should be a mechanism for removing non performers instead of waiting for five years. Such mechanisms should also prevent them from taking grossly unpopular moves like the Iraq war for instance.

At the same time, one should have realistic expectations from politicians. The book Mind of a Manager, Soul of a Leader says that charismatic leaders get organisations started and then pass on the baton to the bureaucrats, professionals or scientific managers who can run them. In the BJP, while Vajpayee is credited with brilliant oratory and charisma, it is Advani who is perceived as the capable organisation man. Thought leadership and executive leadership does not necessarily have to emanate from the same person. There should be a proper follow —through to ensure that they are performing to their potential.

Modi had said in one of his interviews that development without security does not have much meaning. In a similar vein, talent without transparency does not have much meaning. In the past 15 years, business has increasingly discovered the virtues of good governance, not necessarily because of a sudden stab of conscience, but because of the premium that foreign investors place on transparency Why should voters not do the same? In the age of mass communication, if the media does not make latent political talent transparent, who will? Lead India is an effective rebuttal to those who say that the media only focuses on negative events. The rest of the media should follow the lead of The Times of India, which in turn should also try to highlight non —performers — Lead India; don’t Bleed India.


In my original submission to the editor, I had mentioned in the context of different thought and executive leaderhship that the current ruling party team of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh also reperesent different leaderships. While Mrs Gandhi can sway the masses with the background of her political legacy of the Gandhi family, Mr Manmohan singh is the head of the government on merit. The orator/charmer/rabble rouser does not have to be a part of the govt and vice versa. One can only hope for the day, when like our cricket and filmstars, politicians too acquire a mass base on good governance instead of parochial emotive issues or diversities fuelled by the illiteracy of our masses.

For those interested I had also covered Talent Management in Politics in my earlier article Pahle Aandhi Phir Gandhi published in the same magazine in October’2007.

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