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 http://rajendramisra.blogspot.com.

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.

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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.

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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)

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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

gandhiedu.doc