Friday, May 10, 2013

Lowly Morals, Lofty Positions - Can we change it?

Karan Kharb
               India has come a long way from 1956 to 2013. There was a railway accident at Mehbubnagar in Sep 1956.  Nobody blamed the Railways Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri. Nobody doubted his credentials as an honest and efficient Minister. Nobody, not even the Opposition, demanded his resignation.  Yet, he resigned.  Nehru refused to accept it – a decision that was welcomed not only by the treasury benches but also, barring a few dissenters, by the Opposition benches. Later, when another rail accident took place, Lal Bahadur Shastri resigned again. This time, too angry with himself, he stood his ground and forced acceptance of his resignation by the Prime Minister. Addressing the Parliament on the issue, Nehru stated that he was ‘accepting the resignation because it would set an example in constitutional propriety and not because Shastri was in any way responsible for the accident.’ But those were the men of substance, leaders with morals.  
               Within a period of 57 years, we have experienced a total paradigm shift in our attitudes and sensibilities. Perched in Lal Bahadur Shastri’s heritage chair we have Pawan Kumar Bansal as India’s railway minister today. Unlike Shastri, Bansal is surrounded by strong evidence of bribery and malfeasance. Allegations against Bansal are not from private parties or individuals; these are reports and facts based on which his family members, relatives and close associates have already been arrested by the CBI. Entire Opposition in the Parliament and popular mood of the nation want him to either resign or be removed forthwith. But, he arrogantly dares, “who cares?” Nehru sobs in Shanti Van; Shastri wails in Vijay Ghat with none to take note.
Then there is the case of the country’s Law Minister meddling with the CBI investigations into another scandalous scam now known as Coalgate. The honourable Supreme Court has severely condemned the role of the Law Minister and the PMO for ‘interfering/influencing the CBI and altering’ the Status Report despite the apex Court’s directions that no Government department would be privy to CBI investigations in this case. But virtually trashing such judicial directions, Law Minister Ashwini Kumar orders CBI to not only discuss the Report but also virtually kill it because, as the apex Court has observed, ‘soul of the Report’ has been removed. And yet he does not resign, and nobody has the courage or desire to remove him! What is happening? What kind of Government is this in 21st Century India? Even backward societies in North Africa/West Asia have woken up and refused to endure corruption and tyranny any further. Winston Churchill had ominously warned the British Government in 1946 against entrusting India to “…….inefficient, self-serving, corrupt, immoral men of straw…….” No Indian Jyotishi has ever made such a thorough and precise prophesy.   
Tomorrow, unable to defend the morally and legally indefensible ministers any further in the face of mounting public outcry, even if the Government drops them from the cabinet, it would hardly undo its betrayal.  
It often occurs to me that India has been systematically sedated. Come elections and we are given booster dose of the same sedation packaged more attractively than last time. The immediate effect of this freshly administered sedation is that we suddenly climb down from the high pedestal of vital national issues like corruption, security, good governance, development, poverty eradication, health, education, agriculture and rural development and so on. We quickly align with Parties and candidates dishing out freebies, quickies, caste-based quotas/reservation – the best strategy to lure and render people powerless and dependent. Communal passions are whipped up; local rivalries are ignited and passions heightened; community strongholds are created and muscle power deployed. They have learnt how to divide us and rule; we have learnt to be easily tamed and led in divisions. Our national psyche is already so conditioned by now that no one today expects Bansal or Ashwini Kumar to tender resignations on their own volition in a morally upright righteous way. A man of high moral virtues would renounce politics and public life forever, if not commit suicide, rather than cling to chair and let sludge pour from all sides.
The performance record of the 15th Lok Sabha is dismal. To begin with there were about 160 MPs facing charged in various courts.  Today, nearly half the Lok Sabha MPs are tainted. The UPA Government is a minority Government threatened, maintained and exploited by small parties like Mulayam Singh’s SP and Mayawati’s BSP. Interestingly, in such a regime nobody feels accountable. What is more worrisome is that even the Supreme Court strictures are failing to have effect. Public outcry, rallies, fasts – all democratic efforts have failed.
General elections are due next year - may be even earlier. People are fed-up and tired of the corrupt callous dispensation. Popular anger is a force that can be harnessed and utilised to achieve far-reaching changes. There being no selfless nationalist visionary leader as yet in sight, it would be useful in many ways for all right thinking citizens to take it upon themselves to inform and sensitise as many people as possible in their sphere of contact. Prof Jagdeep Chhokar and his team [see Association for Democratic Reforms and National Election Watch (] have made significant contribution in making available significant information – all authentic – about each contestant before, during and immediately after the election. Such campaigns could be very effective tools to inform the electorate and bring about a tilt in the public mood against the corrupt candidates who consequently stand exposed. This information campaign needs a more aggressive propagation by all of us on all types of media, say, Mobile, Internet, Cable TV, RWAs, Community organs et al. At the same time, rumour campaigns from the vested quarters will have to be exposed and fought against vehemently and immediately. Likewise, every effort to divide and polarise the electorate along caste, communal lines and mass bribing through freebies, cash, feasts must be betrayed and fiercely decried.  

Sunday, May 05, 2013

How to fix the 5 problems that ail Indian bureaucracy

By Aman Sharma, ET Bureau
(Courtesy: Economic Times, 2 May 2013)
Three years ago, a survey done by the government among its civil servants showed that every third bureaucrat felt the system was not fair or transparent, while half of them cited working under strong external pressures. Familiar themes were delved into on April 21, Civil Services Day, as India's top bureaucrats and ministers came together to debate whether they were hindering India's economic growth and progress.
There's a growing feeling in international quarters that they are. Last year, the Hong Kong based Political & Economic Risk Consultancy ranked the Indian bureaucracy as the worst in Asia, saying its officials are rarely held accountable and were the root cause of the mistrust felt by companies towards the government.
In February, Vittorio Colao, global CEO of Vodafone Group, which is locked in a $2-billion tax dispute with India, termed its bureaucracy "damaging" to the country. It was in this backdrop that senior bureaucrats (Ajit Seth, Pulok Chatterji, and secretaries from all major ministries) and ministers (Salman Khurshid, Kapil Sibal, Jairam Ramesh and V Narayanaswamy) sat down last month to outline problems and suggest solutions. ET plugged into their conversations to identify the five major fix-it issues; subsequently, we tapped Naresh Chandra, former cabinet secretary and one of India's most prominent bureaucrats, on how these could be fixed.
Reduce Subjectivity in the Appraisal Process
A greater weightage is given to subjective factors than objective in the performance appraisal, from which promotions and postings flow. The current system assigns 60% weightage to personal attributes and functional competency (a subjective assessment) and just 40% to work output (an objective assessment). This has created a situation where 90% of bureaucrats were rated 'outstanding' (scoring 9 on 10) without even having a face-to-face meeting with the appraiser. "If everyone is outstanding, no one is," cabinet secretary Ajit Seth said at the conference. He conceded the current system, which has been there since 2007, needed an overhaul.
The cabinet secretariat has drafted a new appraisal process. Drawn up after examining similar systems in Australia, Malta, New Zealand, and Singapore, it mirrors the norm in the corporate sector, and links team performance to individual appraisals. It also gives greater importance to results and performance: 80% weightage to results, 20% to personal qualities and functional skills. "The superior must read the whole report of the junior to judge his performance, reduce subjectivity and keep the grading loose," says Chandra. The proposal is still being discussed in the government and no implementation timeline has been set. Unless this system changes, quips a secretary-level officer, not wanting to be named, our government will lose every match despite having "11 outstanding centre forwards in a hockey team".
Link Compensation to Competence
Personnel Secretary PK Mishra, at the conference, advocated for a radical system that ensures lower compensation to incompetent bureaucrats. "In Brazil, 60% of a government servant's pay depends on competency and only 40% is fixed," he said. "The concept is that if you do not measure up to a performance standard, you are paid less. Unless we accept these modern concepts wholeheartedly, the image of Indian civil services is unlikely to improve."
But performance-linked benefits might not go down too well with the Indian bureaucracy. For example, the Sixth Pay Commission had recommended the introduction of a new performance-based pecuniary benefit for Central Government employees, over and above their regular salary.
Employees would be eligible for variable pay only if their department achieved 70% of its targets. Most government departments are yet to implement it. According to Chandra, variable pay might not work in the bureaucracy. "It will become a scenario of reward hunting, like the ills plaguing the performance-appraisal system," he says.
Fixed Tenures for All Bureaucrats
At the conference, Mrutyunjay Sarangi, Secretary, Labour and Employment, caused a stir when he said that, in the states, for every officer who refuses to sign a file due to political pressure, there are 10 others willing to do that job. Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid admitted to the concept of a "committed bureaucracy" in certain states. Civil servants were aligned to political parties, leading to a spate of transfers and hounding out of bureaucrats following a change in political dispensation.
Chandra told ET the problem was endemic in states like Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, where chief ministers have failed to draw a distinction between "political direction and political interference". He suggests a fixed tenure for civil servants at all levels. "The Centre must ensure that all states make public the reasons if a bureaucrat is transferred within three months of a posting," says Chandra.
A proposal to have a fixed tenure at all levels will have to be cleared by the Cabinet. In 2006, the Cabinet had cleared a fixed tenure of two years for defence secretary, home secretary, cabinet secretary, and chiefs of the Intelligence Bureau and the Research & Analysis Wing. Likewise, the Supreme Court had fixed a two year tenure for CBI director.
Sr Bureaucrats should Lead in Innovation...
Addressing the conference, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked bureaucrats to think "out of the box" and use technology more to deliver public services and improve governance. Later in the day, his principal secretary and arguably the country's most powerful bureaucrat, Pulok Chatterji, said bureaucrats failed to innovate "as they know, in the government, no one will question them if they stick to the status quo".
Chandra told ET the Indian bureaucracy is a classic case of "homeostasis": junior- and midlevel bureaucrats always look for a precedent in decision-making because they fear boldness could lead to harassment later. It's why, he adds, the lead has to come from senior bureaucrats, both in the way they deal with officials below them and political masters. "The concept of flexibility and innovation should first come at the level of senior bureaucrats who are leading the ministries and only then will it percolate down the system," he says.
According to Chandra, this has to be buttressed by legal protection for decisions taken by bureaucrats while in service. Towards this end, the government is working to amend the Prevention of Corruption Act, and the proposal is pending before the Cabinet.
Inter-departmental Collaboration
At the conference, Chatterji said that while this government had done reasonably well on the policy front, it fell short on implementation and delivery because of an absence of teamwork; they were, too often, working in silos. "We should learn teamwork from a corporate governance (point of view) and not always look at problems from the narrow perspective of each department," he said.
According to Chandra, this is partly a construct of India's governance structure, which has too many points of reference, and old and elaborate procedures. "Our ministries are highly fragmented," he says. "We have nearly five times the number of ministries than the US. The work supposed to be done by a single ministry in the US is done by six here. Everything is not teamwork here."
Even in collaboration with other parts of the government, Chandra adds, senior bureaucrats need to take the lead. "We should learn from E Sreedharan and take lead from how the government chose to build Delhi Metro by seamless cooperation between departments," he says. "If our departments had worked in silos then, Mr Sreedharan would still be digging tunnels in Delhi."

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Illiteracy of War Drums

Lt Gen (Retd) Prakash Katoch

In a recent TV debate on the Chinese intrusion in Ladakh, to a suggestion by a veteran Army General that India should be resolute in response, a Member Parliament from the ruling party said, “Yeh badi badi moochon wale general larai karwa kar chodenge (these big mustachioed Generals will plunge us into war). The irony is that we are chock-a-block full with politicians of this breed who were best described as “Post Tortoise” by a wise farmer, which he amplified by saying, “When you’re driving down a country road and you come across a fence post with a tortoise balanced on top, that’s a Post Tortoise. You know he didn’t get up there by himself, he doesn’t belong up there, he doesn’t know what to do while he’s up there, he’s elevated beyond his ability to function, and you just wonder what kind of dumb jackass put him up there to begin with.” This specific Post Tortoise should have been asked, has one single military veteran ever recommended in the first place that this bunch of banner totting Chinese picnicking at Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) be attacked and wiped out or bombed? The problem is that these Post Tortoises cannot visualize anything between war and groveling diplomacy – read inaction. Hence, disdain and arrogant retorts to sane advice of the ‘mustachioed General’. For them, any physical action whatsoever signifies direct beating of war drums. These are the fellows who perched atop the fence post are responsible for the nation’s security but do not see the a requirement of any national security strategy or even a standard operating procedure despite numerous intrusions and offensive actions by the Chinese who capitalize on fear psychosis of the Indian hierarchy.
Ask the government and take a bet they cannot reply why the ITBP guarding the LAC in DBO Sector is not under the Army and why is the Indian Army not responsible for complete land borders. Therefore, the gumption of the Chinaman in merrily intruding 30 kilometres inside your territory, with Xi Jinping  surveying the scurrying chicken with some running to nanny for advice and the Prime Minister with the Foreign Minister in tow still insisting this is “localized action”. One wonders how many read the article by Manas Chakravarty titled “Lost but not found” in Hindustan Times dated 26 June 2011, saying that the real Manmohan Singh is gallivanting in Pattaya Beach and that his replacement back home is a robotic marvel made to order by the Japanese and wondered how much of it is fiction. As for the Post Tortoise, any mention of physical action gives him hallucinations of massive cyber and nuclear strikes by China. Mercifully, most of them, if not all, would be unaware of the Chinese term ‘Shaoshou Jian’ or Assassin’s Mace least much more panic would generate.  But then how can you expect the Port Tortoise to imagine that physical actions can also be other than direct attack, which can nonplus the attacker and make him recoil. Perhaps they can learn from the mere display of quills below:   

Writings in India, are full of quotes by Sun Tzu like, “To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill”. Very appropriate and we get awed by the Chinese following it religiously, for are aren’t these numerous intrusions and changing claim lines part of the same philosophy? But then Chanakya too had said that if the end could be achieved by non-military method, even by methods of intrigue, duplicity and fraud, he would not advocate an armed conflict. Many of our Post Tortoises would perhaps not be aware who Chanakya was, what he wrote in 6th Century BC and if you tell them he said, “As soon as fear approaches near, attack and destroy it”, their immediate response will be to equate Chanakya with the ‘mustachioed Generals’ who can only think of ‘attack’; signifying beating of war drums. These fellows are the Ahmad Shah Abdalis of today; without a clue to attack fear and indulge in foolish action like Abdali leading a war on the sun. Those of us who have read Chanakya’s (also known as Kautilya or Vishnu Gupt) ‘Arthashastra’ would agree that Chanakya was at par, if not greater than Sun Tzu. Chankya wrote of “Silent War” including use secret agents, sowing discord amongst the enemy, use of ‘disinformation’ and the like. To the ignorant polity of ours, Arthashastra will perhaps be thought of as “Earthshastra” with visions of it being a treatise to optimize illegal mining for making billions. But the fact is that Arthshastra should be compulsory education for the ruling hierarchy with periodic quizzing to ensure it actually sinks in.  For that matter, the teachings of Gita too are excellent exposition for developing conflict strategy but that would be taboo on grounds of vote bank secularism practiced by our Post Tortoises.
Chanakya’s pearls include, “Your neighbor is your natural enemy state. The neighbor of your neighbor is your friend”. He did not by any logic preach that one must go for war against the neighbor but advocated an entire spectrum of statecraft to handle neighbours on the premise that the neighbor could be an enemy or potential enemy. Therefore, his teachings contained a five-fold approach; conciliation, gift and bribery, dissention, deceit and pretence, open attack or war. He also advocated that the ruler should not hesitate to break any friendship or alliances that are later found to be disadvantageous. If only Nehru had followed just the first part, then we would have not halted operations in 1948 when Pakistanis were on the run. There would have been no POK and we would be linked with Afghanistan through the Wakhan Corridor with China treating us differently. Similarly, he would have not had the blind faith in the Chinese with Chou-en-Lai befooling him completely in 1962. But why talk of 1948 and 1962? In hindsight, Nehru’s successors should have at least taken in the second part of this advice by Chanakya – “The neighbor of your neighbor is your friend”. Had we followed this, we would have had our own string of pearls surrounding China and not the other way round. But nothing is lost even now.
Through the follies of our Post Tortoises, we lost control of practically one third of Jammu and Kashmir in 1948; 13,297 square kilometers to be precise. Then was the usurping of 38,000 square kilometers of Aksai Chin by China followed by the illegal ceding of the 5,860 square kilometers of Shaksgam Valley by Pakistan to China. But it did not stop at this. Then has been the periodic swallowing (not nibbling) of Indian Territory by China, mostly kept under wraps by our petrified Post Tortoises, as is being attempted presently in relation to the Chinese intrusion in DBO. Yet our Post Tortoises want to cover up portraying the 30 kilometres deep intrusion as 19 kilometres – as if the latter is of no consequence. It was depressing to listen to former Ambassador Stobdan (who hails from Ladakh) on national TV (29 April 203) telling us that since 1980, in Ladakh itself over 400 square kilometers of Indian Territory have been lost to China over and above the 38,000 square kilometers in Aksai Chin.  Ironically, over this entire span of decades since 1948 to-date, of shall we say dismal statecraft, the present ruling party has the predominant lion’s share of causing national loss, both in terms of territory and prestige.   
Lack of governance and defence preparedness, plus incoherent strategy has undoubtedly created asymmetries vis-a-vis China. Our border communications and infrastructure are pathetic despite the hollow declarations of improvement. Given the current dispensation, these asymmetries are not going to go away in a hurry and may even increase. Those who talk of ‘first’ get over the asymmetry are living in a fool’s paradise. What we need to do is to target the mind of the enemy. “The arrow shot by an archer may or may not kill a single person; but skilful intrigue, devised by wise men, may kill even those who are in the womb, said Kautilya. China has numerous vulnerabilities that are targetable and she knows them. That is where we need to apply pressure, however, this should not be misconstrued that we should not resort to acupressure in Ladakh also.
The writer is an acknowledged military strategist, having commanded India's most coveted strike Corps and first hand experience of the Siachen imbroglio.  He is also one of India's highest decorated Generals who has led special commando missions and proudly wears many combat wounds, honours and awards.