Thursday, August 2, 2012

THE POWER BROKERS PART 2


THE POWER BROKERS PART 2

By Neeraj Mahajan

In any organization or government it’s important that the stakeholders have a clear vision of its goals and objectives. Only once this happens, can the organization achieve its mission. Atleast this is what management guru Peter Drucker meant when he introduced the concept of management by objectives (MoB) in the mid-fifties. What this concept means is that you have to synchronize and align the goals of all the stakeholders to ensure that everyone knows exactly what to do, when and how it was beneficial for the whole organization.

It seems that even the great Peter Drucker failed to understand the ground realities in the India where the Government of India is like an imaginary globe revolving around the axis of the Ministers and the civil servants. Let’s say we are taking about the rail ministry—where a minister is concerned about the political mileage that a new railway line would give him, the official advises otherwise because of technical viability, route unfeasibility and non-availability of funds in the budget. When the minister insists, the officer gives in and the minister wins. Take another example where a bureaucrat in the Defense ministry prepares a case for purchase of some weapons and makes sure that the specifications match a particular manufacture but the minister cancels the tender at the last minute. In other words he who is powerful– decides the official objective of the government of India. There can be atleast four possible combinations of relationships between a political boss and the officials-- minister & bureaucrat both are honest; dishonest minister- honest officer; minister & bureaucrat both dishonest and a honest minister-dishonest bureaucrat. It all depends upon the actual working relationship at a particular time – for instance you may get competent officer but they are generally not subservient… they have faith in their competency and prefer to call a spade a spade. Then there can be subservient officers who are generally not competent because all their time and energy gets exhausted in trying to follow the orders from above. You have to make a choice – what you want because competency and sycophancy does not go hand in hand. The vision, priorities, hidden agenda or objectives of the person who prevails, becomes the roadmap for governance.

One day P V Narasimha Rao -- then Prime Minister of India, was preparing his speech for Independence Day when a brainwave struck him. He wanted to send a signal to the Muslims of India that he really cared for them. He asked his men to look around. This is when suggested to him why not appoint Zafar Saifulah a Muslim officer and Chairman, Bombay Port Trust as the Cabinet Secretary of India. There is just a one hitch that Zafar Saifulah had eight CBI cases registered against him. Though under normal circumstances even a single CBI case is enough to cook the goose of an officer, one by one the eight cases were withdrawn and with great pomp and show Zafar Saifulah was elevated to the post of the senior-most civil servant in India – no one dared to object.

Here is something else I learnt many years ago from a senior Congress leader who had been closely involved with both Indira and Rajiv Gandhi. “We always needed money to run the party, but during Indiraji’s time she would ask someone like Birla or Tata who would willingly contribute and expect something in return like a tax concession or a loose policy on something from which they could benefit. Rajiv was not in favour of all this… 

why should we ask anyone he would say so instead he started the tradition of mark-up on important deals, you might call it kickback or commission but that’s the way it was and finally Rajiv paid the price for it when his name was involved with Bofors”, said the leader who himself was a powerbroker in the corridors of power. He used to control information and access to important people. He was so powerful that there was a time when top bureaucrats, civil servants, IPS, IFS officers used to request him for a prime posting as a governor, ambassador or vice chancellor. But as they say the higher you go up, the stronger the pull of gravity hence faster you fall--- the influential politician soon became an insecure politician. So pathetic was his condition that he once told this correspondent, “I am now not in a position to give anything to anybody… so nobody comes to meet me… I would not blame you if you too stop coming”. This is precisely the point nothing is constant… what is top priority or urgent today ceases to be so? The moral of this story is that most politicians are corrupt – only their shades or grades may differ –someone may just want to retain power, another would like to make as much hay while the sun shines. But most officers are not so. Many of them are honest and up-right. Some succumb… some don’t. Hence their goals keep changing.

Take the case of Sanjeev Chaturvedi a honest forest officer from the Haryana cadre who exposed a multi-crore forestry scam and as a result been transferred as many as 12 times in five years. Another similar case that comes to mind is that was of an honest officer who was poster to the Protector of Emigrants office under the Ministry of labour where the entire staff was corrupt. They all ganged up against him and told him in no uncertain terms to live and let live. Luckily for him the CBI got to know about the rampant corruption in the department and conducted a raid where except him, everyone else was arrested.

Another such officer is the quiet and low profile 1983 batch IPS officer and head of Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) in Andhra Pradesh, D Boobathi Babu is proving to be thorn in the side of the state administration they have tried their best to get him transferred out and ensure that he does not get any further promotions but inspite of everything he may well retire as the additional director general of police. Whose loss is it anyways since there are no carrots to dangle before him?  In his book Autobiography of a Civil Servant in Bihar Shree Shankar Sharan a 1955 batch IAS officer who was related to many luminaries like Lal Bahadur Shastri who was his maternal uncle, Jaya Prakash Narayan who was his father’s uncle and Anugrah Narain Singh a power political powerhouse in Bihar recalls, “though in the eyes of the common man, a District Magistrate or Collector is a man of immense power, in reality, they face hundreds of obstacles.”

The book cites many such examples how an officer had to risk his own life to ensure fair administration. “I found the SP comfortably ensconced at Jamalpur PS. While I upbraided him for inadequate patrolling, news came of an imminent breach of peace elsewhere...…The SP came with two truckloads of armed force and teargas after the crisis is over”, Sharan reveals. At another point, he refers to another case where the SDO revolted against him and stuck to orders he gave out defying the order of the Collector! The inference drawn is that honesty has a price to pay. This may be one reason why honest officers are a very rare and you don’t find one quite easily…

“What else do you expect in a country where the officers run to the political master at the slightest pretext… to get a plum post, stop an unfavorable posting or to get an out of turn promotion. In most cases there is no such thing as prize or punishment posting – wherever you get posted you are going to get your full pay, fully furnished house, vehicle with red light, staff and helpers in office or residence… what else do you want?” said an officer who did not wish to be identified.

“The only difference between one posting and another is the potential to earn extra. That is the incentive why officers prefer to lick the boots or rather chappals of politicians. You just bend once and they will ensure that you become their slave for the rest of your life…Today you may want to stop a posting, tomorrow you may want a foreign juncket or cushy deputation and as you get close to your retirement, you may want a prestigious post after retirement as a governor or VC of some university and if nothing else works out as a Director in some PSU. That’s what happens when you create an artificial façade – where you must eat in a five star hotel, your children can study in a foreign university and you wife can buy gold ornaments every month. The government of India does not pay you for all that”, the officer explained.

“I have a salary of around Rs 55,000 every month… most middle ranking people in the government get around this amount. Out of this I have to deposit around Rs 12,000 per month as income tax. Hence I am left with Rs 43,000 out of which I have to pay for education of two children, monthly ration, fruits & vegetables, clothes, shoes and other expenses for the whole family. What do you is left at the end of the month to book flats, invest in shares and property in different places? Obviously the people who are doing so are living beyond their means. You must compare what they had when the joined the service and what they have today, of course what they have been earning is known? How do think many people have been able to amass assets worth crores? Many of our bureaucrats are glorified pimps and property dealers”, the officer added.   

In my own journalistic career I have come across many police officers who were known to be very honest till something—some kind of injustice or pressure– transformed the person, who was now extremely dishonest. For instance there was a very honest IPS officer. He was called a vigilante policeman. He proudly claimed that he would sometimes break the law but only to protect the law and the common man but never for himself. Like in one case he ‘arrested’ the whole baraat without any entry on paper because they teased a few girls from his area. If you ask the girls they would call him their savior, their messiah but for the baraatis he was the demon personified. The officer got posted out of Delhi but when he returned, he was like a tame domestic animal. He had learnt the ways of the world…and would open doors for VVIPs. The change was shocking

Possibly there is a similar story behind Madhya Pradesh IAS officers Arvind and Tinu Joshi who amassed property worth Rs 350 crore, or the 1971-batch Neera Yadav who became the first Chief Secretary of Uttar Pradesh to be jailed for corruption. Even Prasar Bharati CEO BS Lalli and Director-General Aruna Sharma were sacked following CBI cases against them for colluding with the UK-based broadcast firm SIS LIVE to cause a loss of Rs.135 crore. Ravi Inder Singh, an IAS officer in the Home Ministry, was arrested and jailed for passing on sensitive information to business houses in exchange for cash and sexual favors. Many officers of UP, Jharkhand and Orissa have been arrested by CBI for possessing disproportionate assets worth several crore. The government gave its nod to charge sheet IAS officers in 15 corruption cases in 2011. Most of them are small fries. The big fish and crocodiles continue to swim unaffected by the minor ripples.

They were all not corrupt when they joined and assuming that they had been Government servants for anywhere close to 10-20 years… What happened in these 20 odd years that led to such a big change in their personality? They might have wanted to do ‘desh-seva’ when they started…why, when and how they became corrupt?

As the eminent jurist Nani Palkhiwala wrote, “The picture that emerges is that of moral decay. The immediate future seems to belong to the doomsayers rather than to cheer-mongers. We suffer from a fatty degeneration of conscience, and the malady seems to be not only persistent but prone to aggravation. The lifestyle of too many politicians and businessmen bears eloquent testimony to the dictum that the single minded pursuit of money impoverishes the mind, shrivels the imagination and desiccates the heart.”

To quote what Dr APJ Kalam, former President of India said during a seminar on “The Effects of Corruption on Good Governance and Human Rights, “A virtuous and courageous person can hear the inner voice of the soul clearly. In a wicked person his conscience has been destroyed by sin or corruption. He is unable to discriminate between right from wrong. Those who are leading organizations, business enterprises, institutions and governments should develop this virtue of the ability to use their own conscience.”  

As philosopher-statesman Edmund Burke suggests: “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.” Better late-- than never.