Saturday, April 15, 2017

The MONKey way of administration

First of all, the disclaimer: The views expressed here have nothing to do my official position or of the views of my present organisation or the government on the subject.

The ideal governance systems are supposed to be those in which high standards of ethics, efficiency and service (customer service in case of private entities and public service in the case of public entities, NGOs and public service organisations) are maintained and are constantly nurtured by a great leadership.

Due to factors known to all of us, governance has traditionally not been an area of focus in India. Administrative reforms have not taken place in true sense though reams of papers have been filled by successive ARCs and innumerable committees. If ever there was a steel frame, it has rusted from inside while getting a shiny polish outside - its values have gone down to even below the colonial days while physical environment and pay-compensation have become much better.

Long term governance reforms need a high quality of selection, followed by proper grooming (including training) and an environment where excellence, morality and public service spirit flourish. That does not seem happening. But, if you want the existing administration to deliver and behave, and you want it to happen fast, you need to do what is being experimented by a few leaders in India.

What I am hinting at is the top political leadership showing the way by being honest to the core and showing a no-nonsense attitude to work. There are tough deadlines that have to be met, and the message is that if you are found doing something wrong you had it. Though this might not seem to be the 'ideal' way to reform the system, this is instant and effective - much more than the long term and subtle measures.

When the top political leader shows by example that he works much more than expected of him and his actions are meant to benefit the citizens even if they are harsh at times, people buy his words. The people in the administration who have been used to usurping the system to their own self see the tough message for them. Since the moral values do not change much, the exploiters might wait for 'good times'. But recalcitrance goes down. Things happen.

Add to this the leadership that would do all it can to support the needy but does not want for itself even the legitimate comforts of the high office. This adds a great moral force to the commands emanating from the top, which are even more difficult to resist. How do you ask the monk to first mend his ways? How do you blackmail him?

Remember Chanakya? He was a wise man but a tough guy, and such guys tend to be very rigid in their approach. But he was a monk in his heart and his deeds (historians forgive me, as my example is the Chanakya of folklore), and thus his influence was much more than a tough guy would ever have. It is said that when Megasthenes met Chanakya in his hut, he found two candles there, one for his personal work and one for official work. It may be folklore, but it does underline a point, and the point is very relevant for today's India. The point is, if you cannot reform the badly rusted bureaucracy, instill discipline and fear in it - and to make it effective, first learn to be a monk.