By Raghu Raman
The aftermath analysis of any security or governance related incident in India reeks of déjà vu. Be it natural calamities, terror attacks or the recent Siachen tragedy - its post mortem has similar elements. Seeming apathy, antiquated equipment, archaic processes, rampant corruption and absence of accountability. Analysts bemoan the omnipotent ‘system’ for lack of progress, transparency and answerability. This is invariably followed by clamorous demands of resignations, public and social displays of empathy, tributes to the ‘spirit’ of the victims and - moving on.
This narrative has become so staid that any of our post facto analysis could be substituted with any previous one without much difference. If doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a varied outcome is the definition of insanity – we are certifiable.
India’s challenge is not about ideation; it is about the implementation. Countless recommendations of committees, innumerable amendments to the law, numerous proclamations of schemes and assurances of ‘investigations’ – belie our capability to stay course till meaningful resolution of complex challenges. This has become our national DNA.
Perhaps it is time to discern the root causes.
There seems to be agreement that the system we bemoan is obsolete and needs a seminal change at best or an overhaul at least. What seems to flummox us is where to begin. When confronted with serious issues we continually resort to the ritualistic committees, composed of retired or serving eminences who table their reports which then lie unimplemented. There’s a perpetual lack of resources, obsession about due process to ensure propriety, long drawn procedures and despite all that, what is achieved is too little and too late to make any consequential improvement.
This is not about making incremental or linear changes, it is about ripping out the rotten wiring and undertaking exponential transformations. India has achieved quantum progress across fields of connectivity, digitisation, access to information and informal education. But the full potential of our capabilities is still constricted by our country’s governance structures and mindsets which have not kept pace with development in other fields or countries. Our governance processes are complicated and cumbersome, our procurement processes rarely procure anything in time or within costs, our educational degrees rarely match the knowledge they assert, our skill development programs have abysmal efficacy, our quality and quantity both fall short of what is needed to propel the country forward.
Again it is not that we don’t know the answers. But reforms are seldom implemented. Police reforms, land reforms, performance appraisal restructuring for the bureaucracy, defence self-reliance, public-private partnerships etc. are all stillborn or insignificant efforts that are more symbolic than substantial. Let alone recommendations of sovereign committees, even strictures of courts are not obeyed. Why is that we seem helpless to achieve momentum that is imperative for survival in a hyper competitive world?
When large entities are confronted with a changing world they go through predictable phases, beginning with denial.
Decision makers refuse to acknowledge gravity of the situation even when disasters stare them in the face. They order more inquiries, ask for more data, more studies as if refuting reality will make grave problems like pollution, climate change or mismatched job skills go away. Then procrastination or ‘not-during-my watch’ syndrome sets in. Leaders tread water hoping to pass their tenure and let successors deal with the efforts required to make significant orbit shifts. Finally when the crisis assumes a magnitude that cannot be swept under the carpet, the blame game tries to establish in whose watch the tipping point occurred. The massive quantum of non-performing assets of public sector banks, the insufferable toxicity of our air and water, surplus capacity in real estate, the stranglehold of Left Wing Extremism are but a few examples of the 800 pound gorillas that could have been caged much earlier but for this.
Complex problems have multitude of variables. It is akin to solving the health challenge of a nation. Becoming a healthier nation entails many vectors working simultaneously. It needs more and better doctors, nurses and infrastructure. But that needs deeper supply chains of talent, so better schools and better teachers. Which needs enhanced conditions to attract talent. Improving health also needs education on preventive hygiene, control on pollution, stricter implementation of law to enable the former, higher levels of empathy and concern, lower tolerance of adulteration and spurious drugs, more investment on sports in schools, increased importance of early detection and lower costs to enable that. This is admittedly far costlier and more difficult than announcing some medical schemes but that’s the only way to attain orbit shifts.
We need to realise that all our challenges, whether it is unemployment, national security, deteriorating environment, terrorism, intolerances, social violence, self-reliance etc. are deeply interconnected. Just as a human body cannot live with some healthy parts while others are cancerous, a nation cannot address complex issues in discrete isolation. We need to appreciate this interconnectedness and address problems across a broad front instead of chasing chimeras of solving massive problems with band aids like bullet proof jackets or odd-even dates or strident postmortem analyses. We need to start keeping our promises to ourselves. We need to become credible India before attempting to become incredible India.
The author is former CEO NATGRID & President in Reliance Group of Industries. Views are personal. He can tweeted at @captraman.