Sunday, July 29, 2012

Corruption in India

I can count some shifts in the Indian polity and social conduct over the last about four decades as I have felt and observed.

India till Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri was India of the old. Somewhat idealistic, enthusiastic, and hopeful. It then changed to India of Indira. With great grit and determination she eased out the old guard, centralized all sources of party money, and created and elaborate structure of 'Yes Men Congress'. Some would remember D K Barua's 'Indira is India, and India is Indira'. There was then JP movement - a quintessential Gandhian movement for Total Revolution - and it faced the might of CRPF and BSF. And, emergency. And, opposition coming to power. It was still a hopeful India. Indira came back with a vengeance in 1980 and the violence in the election of the time was shocking. Miscreants were often better armed than paramilitary forces. Goons came to power and ruled worse than goons would. Innocence and idealism was lost completely. Parliamentary practices were turned into joke and muscle power rubbed shoulders with money power.

As 'we the people' watched in dismay irresponsible, populist, and ever manipulative and colluding political dispensation caused the balance of payment crisis in 1991. The liberalization  then gave the economy some breathing space and India began to grow - in pace, in expertise, in ambitions, in maturity, in scale. Optimism set in and was corrected by scams in stock markets, communal and sectarian riots, terrorism, exhibitionism. Sanity came with electronic voting machines, entrepreneurial energy, global opportunities, periods of low inflation/low interest rates, legislation like Right to Information, Public Interest Litigation etc. India became trillion plus dollar economy looking to be a key player in the 21st century.

In this same period the bounty for politicians, bureaucrats, and businesses expanded dramatically and the dynamics of corruption underwent a sea structural change. Discretionary 'bakhshish' was replaced with obligatory 'percentage', police and investigative machinery became thoroughly politicized and complicit. The scams expanded in size to rival the GDP of the country.

This is no rise in corruption. It is an explosion and deep institutionalization. This has come to the point that the very integrity of state, judiciary, parliament, and executive is in serious question. This is a tectonic shift.

Worse, the press/media are corporate tools and can no longer be trusted. So, when Jairam Ramesh laments about Indian accounting for 60% open defecation in the world the press talks about a controversial statement. Media has become powerful, manipulative, sensationalist,and shallow.

Organs of democracy have stopped listening, remain unaccountable with impunity, and leave no choice for the citizenry to voice it concerns and be heard in civility and on the merit of its views and arguments.

This picture of India is frightening.

Yet, a movement like Anna Hazare shows hope. Sure enough Anna does not have all the answers. Nobody should be expected to have. But it has shaken the conscience of many and many have come forward to reclaim the integrity of India.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is the most academically and professionally accomplished PM of India in history. But he has presided over a culture of mega-corruption and has been silent, elusive, and possibly complicit.

If our generations do not stand up now for the essential integrity and soul of India we would be counted as the dud generation that let the country down with its indifference. And this would be the most catastrophic of all mistakes we have seen in history.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Maruti Unrest

The incident at Manesar plant of Maruti Suzuki has been highly disturbing. I wrote in Times of India's comments the following:

"'This is a litmus test for India. India's response to this would tell the world as well as India's own entrepreneurs and professionals how things will shape up for India in future. This was not an unrest but a systematic, criminal, brutal, and highly damaging attack. Such attacks do not take place without political groups being deeply involved. India has allowed its politicians to operate with massively corrupt and criminal practices that can manipulate state and non-state machinery. Enterprises of all sizes have had to contend with pressures from them. This is one time when India needs to unequivocally respond to the conspirators and perpetrators and show that rule of law stands supreme. Governments should be held directly accountable and a failure on their part to allow this situation should disqualify them from power. Parties with involvement like this should be banned from elections individually and collectively. The deterrence needs to be that strong. This violence is striking at the very root of India. India's future is at stake. And, India needs to be decisive."

And, then I saw another comment of an ex-employee of Maruti who referred to the pent up frustration of the employees who are required to follow a very strict discipline in Maruti. Having lived in Japan for nearly half of my career I am aware how strict that discipline can be. And it can also be rather insensitive, even cruel. However, when that is mixed with Indian style indifference it can become suffocating. This person claimed that the canteen in Maruti is 20 minutes away when the lunch break is 30 min.

The Japanese systems are designed for harmony. Everybody dresses the same, acts the same, differs in the most muted ways. But India is diversity personified in every sense of the word.

So, while I have no sympathy for the conspirators and perpetrators of the violence I think Maruti's challenge is not how to move from Manesar to Gujarat but to find the right balance between the working cultures of India and Japan.

I believe that both cultures stand to gain if an honest fusion is done.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Of the 99.99%

The last couple of months had lot of discussions on IIT admissions. It is an issue that I do feel strongly about and broadly supported the stance taken by IIT Kanpur.

However, my problem with the HRD minister is not so much about what criteria are suitable for admissions to IITs - IITs can take care of them the best and most responsibly - but the real problem of India, i.e. what happens to the ones not in IITs or indeed in any professional college?

That 99.99% is barely affected by whatever decision is taken about admission to IITs. That is the real and really big problem and our ministry is doing little about it.

In fact, India has a real big problem of dealing with the vast population that is either untouched by or drops off from the system in the course of early education. Estimated at about 300 million, this population has hardly any avenue in modern India. They remain unemployed at worst and underemployed at best.

The size of any problem in India is usually so big that one wonders if individual or small scale efforts can make even a dent at all? While this is partly true I do think that most problems in India are amenable to replication and scaling. So, getting to one piece of success in a smaller scale can then be considered for replication and scaling.

I explored the possibility of doing something in my hometown of Gaya. A historic city from the poorest state of India - Bihar. I started exploring my school - Zila School, established in 1845 - and my college - Gaya College, established in 1944. Both these have a modest presence on Facebook and it was possible to interact with a few students and alumni. In my estiamte, both these institutions would have about 100,000 alumni around. Some would be quite successful in their chosen areas.

There was a general sense of frustration and gloom among current students. Their syllabi are outdated, placement records poor, faculty is barely paid, and barely fit for the responsibility. Allegations of nepotism, favoritism abound. Looking for some silver linings I started posting messages to elicit response. Some did respond.

Frustration and helplessness has caused many to be distracted, and some sound rebellious. But there is a population that explores and posts ideas and discoveries on Facebook. Alternative coaching institutes take advantage.

I have been trying to find out what can we do to make these students employable and also develop a sense of entrepreneurship among them.

As this discovery is still on I am trying to crystallize ideas and see how to cultivate the brand value of my city and its educational institutions. Sounds somewhat daunting but I remain an optimist. 

Memoirs of my journey in subsequent posts!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

देखें कौन आता है ये फ़र्ज़ बजा लाने को ?

इसे मैंने पहली बार भूपिंदर सिंह के गायन में सुना था. दिल को छू गयी थी तब. बिस्मिल जैसे लोगों ने तब के युवाओं को प्रेरित करने के लिए ऐसे गीत लिखे थे. इस गीत की आखिरी लाइन है 'देखें कौन आता है ये फ़र्ज़ बजा लाने को'. अपने अपने समय में युवा पीढी की अपनी चुनौतियाँ होती हैं. तब की चुनौती थी देश को आजाद करना. अब की चुनौती है देश के युवाओं को शिक्षा, कौशल, सुविधाएँ, और मार्गदर्शन दे कर उनकी सफलता के आधार पर देश को विश्व स्तर का विकसित राष्ट्र बनाना. एक पुराना गीत है 'अब कोई गुलशन न उजड़े, अब वतन आजाद है'. हमारे यहाँ करोडो युवाओं के गुलशन बसाने की चुनौती है. विश्व भर में विकसित होने वाले देशों में शिक्षा ने ऐसे चमत्कार किये हैं. इसलिए भारत में भी उम्मीद है. ये लाइनें कहीं खो न जाएँ इसलिए इन्हें संजो कर यहाँ लिख रहा हूँ। मूल 'मुखम्मस' के लिंक पर मिला था।
हम भी आराम उठा सकते थे घर पर रह कर,
हमको भी पाला था माँ-बाप ने दुःख सह-सह कर ,
वक्ते-रुख्सत उन्हें इतना भी न आये कह कर,
गोद में अश्क जो टपकें कभी रुख से बह कर ,
तिफ्ल उनको ही समझ लेना जी बहलाने को !
अपनी किस्मत में अजल ही से सितम रक्खा था,
रंज रक्खा था मेहन रक्खी थी गम रक्खा था ,
किसको परवाह थी और किसमें ये दम रक्खा था,
हमने जब वादी-ए-ग़ुरबत में क़दम रक्खा था ,
दूर तक याद-ए-वतन आई थी समझाने को !
अपना कुछ गम नहीं लेकिन ए ख़याल आता है,
मादरे-हिन्द पे कब तक ये जवाल आता है ,
कौमी-आज़ादी का कब हिन्द पे साल आता है,
कौम अपनी पे तो रह-रह के मलाल आता है ,
मुन्तजिर रहते हैं हम खाक में मिल जाने को !
नौजवानों! जो तबीयत में तुम्हारी खटके,
याद कर लेना कभी हमको भी भूले भटके ,
आपके अज्वे-वदन होवें जुदा कट-कट के,
और सद-चाक हो माता का कलेजा फटके ,
पर न माथे पे शिकन आये कसम खाने को !
एक परवाने का बहता है लहू नस-नस में,
अब तो खा बैठे हैं चित्तौड़ के गढ़ की कसमें ,
सरफ़रोशी की अदा होती हैं यूँ ही रस्में,
भाई खंजर से गले मिलते हैं सब आपस में ,
बहने तैयार चिताओं से लिपट जाने को !
सर फ़िदा करते हैं कुरबान जिगर करते हैं,
पास जो कुछ है वो माता की नजर करते हैं ,
खाना वीरान कहाँ देखिये घर करते हैं!
खुश रहो अहले-वतन! हम तो सफ़र करते हैं ,
जा के आबाद करेंगे किसी वीराने को !
नौजवानो ! यही मौका है उठो खुल खेलो,
खिदमते-कौम में जो आये वला सब झेलो ,
देश के वास्ते सब अपनी जबानी दे दो ,
फिर मिलेंगी न ये माता की दुआएँ ले लो ,
देखें कौन आता है ये फ़र्ज़ बजा लाने को ?
“पंडित राम प्रसाद बिस्मिल”