Friday, 25 September 2015

THE ACR OF GOVERNENCE

   The organisational structure of a typical governmental ( bureaucratic) organisation has been famously visualised as a tree with officials perched at every level on it. Those at the top of the tree look down and see monkeys. Those at the bottom look up and see arseholes. It is this difference in perception, depending on your position on the tree, which dictates the essence of OB ( Organisational Behaviour) though this is not something you would be taught in a management institute ! And it is this peculiar dimension of OB which has spawned that most ubiquitous and interesting of HRD tools- the Annual Confidential Report or ACR as it is known.
   The ACR, as we are all aware, is an annual assessment of the performance of the monkeys by the aforesaid arseholes, and is the former's weapon of last resort ( or so they would like to believe). In actual practice, however, the ACR is more alike a bikini in a  beach-side beauty contest- it is a mere formality and not to be taken seriously, for the real action, as it were, lies outside its confines.
  No one in the government( except perhaps our gullible courts) takes the ACR seriously. For the Reporting Officer its a chore because he has to write up a few hundred of them every 31st March ( but its also an opportunity to settle scores with the underling who didn't proffer that box of sweets last Diwali). For the Reviewing Officer its a more agreeable task because he simply has to scrawl " I agree". The Accepting Officer ( or Minister), the alpha male at the summit of the tree, doesn't even have to do that- he simply signs and goes off to play golf ( or inaugurate a bridge that hasn't yet been built) while his PA puts a sovereign stamp on it.
  The ACR is supposed to determine the officer's postings and promotions. But since 95% of all officers are rated as Excellent and Outstanding ( another monkey trait- you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours) the actual promotions etc, are based on seniority and which political camp one belongs to- for example: lower Himachal or Upper Himachal, green cap or red cap, outsider or insider, present Chief Minister or ex-Chief Minister, apple belt or kinnow belt and so on. The curvature of the spine also plays a part as also one's yogic skills particularly a mastery of the SIR NAMASKAR, a bureaucratic variation of the SURYA NAMASKAR, performed every morning when the Chief Minister is entering his office. The SHOVE-IT ASAN, a variation of the SHAV ASAN also helps, on the premise that if your attitude is to say " Shove it" every time a problem arises and do nothing, you can't be accused of taking a wrong decision can you ?
  One would expect from the above, therefore, that a typical ACR would be a dreary desert of drab prose signifying nothing. One would be right- most of the time, but not always. For occasionally these ACRs contain rare gems of wit and expression that can compare with the best in literature. Its like wading through a desert of persiflage and suddenly coming upon a cool and refreshing oasis. Over the years I and a friend have been compiling some of these " mot juste " and " suggestio falsi" comments: my friend will have to remain anonymous for he's still perched on that tree and vulnerable to the apes above him. However, this is as good a time as any to share them with the readers of this blog post. Here then are some of the comments we have compiled over the years :

*  He has a fine mind- in fact so fine that no mere idea could ever penetrate it. ( I detect shades of TS Eliot over here- author).

* His men would follow him anywhere, but only out of curiosity.

*  He is a very quiet officer. He opens his mouth only to change whichever foot was previously there.

*  Since my last report he has reached rock bottom- and has now started to dig.

*  He sets low personal standards and then consistently fails to achieve them.

* He has carried out each and everyone of his duties to his entire satisfaction.

*  [ About a PWD engineer]: The roads built by him are like the road to hell- paved with good intentions only.

* He has the wisdom of youth and the energy of old age.

*  This officer should go far- in fact the farther the better.

*  This man is depriving a village somewhere of an idiot.

*  He tours a lot, visiting his office occasionally.

*  He has a highly developed sense of right and wrong; this helps him to invariably choose the latter every time.

But my own personal favourite is this comment by a District judge in the ACR of his Reader :
"A very competent Reader- he writes beautiful judgements."
Now, surely, this is one bikini that reveals more than it conceals!   

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

OROP--THE MESS GETS BIGGER

   In my thirty-five years in government I have rarely seen an explosive issue being mismanaged as amateurishly as the OROP conundrum has been- and I've seen quite a few goof-ups, believe  me! Considering that successive governments have had forty years to consider the issue, one would have expected that they would have prepared a blue-print for their response-the give and take of all negotiations- and defused it long before the almost mutinous situation we have now reached. As someone said-sitting on the fence for too long makes the iron enter your soul ( and if the fence breaks other, more substantial things can enter places other than the soul !). This is what has happened to Mr. Modi's government, and to the Ex-servicemen Movement( ESM) too, for the latter's over vaunting ambition has messed up matters for it also.
  To begin with, both the Congress and Mr. Vajpayee's govt. were right in not touching the OROP demand with a barge pole- its a financial monstrosity which can, and will, bankrupt the country, has no parallel anywhere in the world, and defies logic. They were dead wrong, however, in not addressing the underlying issues and grievances which confer a semblance of justification in the demand for OROP. These include: anomalies in salaries/scales/promotions as compared to the civil services( of which the IAS is the generally accepted hated face!), not all of which can be justified, though some can; the deep distrust between the military and the political/ executive establishment; and most important of all, the plight of the ordinary jawan who retires at 35 with no other future prospect than to become a security guard in some agency, his years of training and fighting skills consigned to the dustbin.
  Mr. Modi had a chance to address this Herculean challenge, with his majority and unquestioned hold over both the party and the government. But he proved that at the end of the day he is just a politician, after all- better packaged and clothed, certainly, but with the fatal weakness of all politicians viz.-open your mouth first and think later. His thrice reiterated promise of sanctioning OROP immediately- on a battlefield, on an aircraft carrier and at the Red Fort- put the fat in the fire which has become a conflagration now. He forgot the cardinal truth which all politicians would do well to remember, one enunciated by Mario Cumo many years ago- " You can campaign in poetry but you have to govern in prose." The tragedy with Mr. Modi is that he didn't have to open his mouth at all because the campaigning was long over when he did so!
  As I had suggested in an earlier blog Mr. Modi should have ignored the OROP demand and done an outflanking manoeuvre by tackling the underlying issues. He should have asked himself the following questions:
*  Why is it that OROP has been allowed to only the elite few in the Apex scale? Since this is the main heartburn its abolition should have been considered seriously across the board, including Judges,CVC, CAG, UPSC Chairman, Cabinet Secretary, three and four star Generals and other entitled bureaucrats.
*  How do we compensate army officers for their restricted promotions due to the pyramidial structure of the armed forces? Why not allow some form of NFU to them also, that does not interfere with the chain of command- say, allow the next higher scale after a specified number of years even if it is not a promotion to that post ? This would have ensured that a Colonel. for example, retired in a Brigadier's scale even if he could not be promoted to that post, with all the ensuing pensionary benefits of the higher scale.
* Is it not a gross injustice, and a waste of a valuable national resource, to retire highly trained and disciplined soldiers at the age of 35 ? Why can we not absorb them against the 50000 odd vacancies in the para military forces every year, with their pay and seniority protected? There would be self serving opposition from vested interests within the PMFs, naturally, but this can be handled with a mixture of tact and firmness: of what use is an absolute majority in Parliament, after all ? Is it to be used only for the purpose of hiking the allowances of MPs ?
  If Mr. Modi ( and a suddenly silent Mr. Jaitley) had addressed just these three issues immediately on assuming office the current agitation under the able but inflexible leadership of Major-General Satbir Singh would have been a non-starter. There would have been no raison d'etre for any agitation, because correction of the anomalies listed above would have resolved 90% of the GENUINE grievances of the armed forces, and the assumed grievances should have been dismissed firmly. And all this would have been achieved at a far more bearable cost to the nation, and without creating the anomalous mess we are now saddled with.
  The government's short-sighted and hasty announcement of a truncated OROP  last week has satisfied no one. The ESM's agitation continues, General Satbir Singh draws more TRPs and eyeballs than Sunny Leone ( a bright political future undoubtedly awaits him), the ESM has splintered into different factions, making the task of negotiation that much more difficult, civilian employees through their apex body the NCJCM have submitted a memorandum to the 7th Pay Commission demanding OROP for all civil employees, the exchequer is poorer by 20000 crores this financial year and God only knows by how much in the coming years, the distrust between the government and the military has become wider, the armed forces appear to have mounted a disturbing challenge to the government. In an article in the Business Standard today Col ( Retd.) Ajai Shukla has stated that the ESM has " tasted blood" and will not back down. He has predicted that their next demand is already on the anvil- NFU for the military. The bureaucracy is no doubt preparing its own charter, including canteen facilities( termed OROB- One Rate One Bottle !), rank pay, Difficult Posting Allowance, free rations, and what not. Its going to be a hard winter of discontent for Mr. Modi's government and he has only himself to blame.
  Administering the right medicine at the right time is what wise governance is about. What Mr. Modi has done instead by his inept handling of the situation is to convert the HEAP BIG CHIEF into the HEAP BIG SHIT, and its about to hit the fan.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

A ROAD BY ANY OTHER NAME.............( With apologies to the Bard)

  History, it is said, is written by the victors, and therefore Mr. Modi probably feels justified in rewriting the history of India, or ( to be fair to him) overwriting the rewriting the Congress has been doing for the last forty years. But all this literary calisthenics has left the ordinary citizen quite confused, to the point where we don't quite know whether we are a nation on the ascendent or on the decline, whether we are descended from the apes or the Gods, whether we are Aryans, Dravidians or just contrarians.
  The Congress has done its bit about rewriting history, but it has not so much rewritten it as ascribed it to a certain family- at least the more glorious parts of it. What the BJP- RSS combine is doing is much more dangerous: it is distorting it to align it with a particular cultural/ religious dispensation and censoring large parts of it in the hope that it will gradually disappear over a period of time. It began with the demolition of the Babri Masjid in the eighties and today is manifesting itself in the packing of national institutions with RSS ideologues, selective editing of school text books, and reworking the charter of 34 museums and memorials to incorporate current governance initiatives and Mr. Modi's achievements. This is specious at best and malicious at worst because museums are repositories of the past, not think tanks of the present. To serve the latter purpose Mr. Modi has enough institutions at his disposal- starting with the NITI Ayog- where he can legitimately gold plate his ideas. Why can't he leave the museums to professional historians and academics to document the past as it was, not reinvent it in the image of the BJP govt.?
  It is in this context that the recent renaming of Aurangzeb Road in Delhi as Abdul Kalam Road acquires significance. This is not an innocent faux pas, of the type we have come to expect of all Indian governments. It is a trial balloon. (There are, I learn, 177 other roads, towns etc. named after Aurangzeb in the country, and they would be next on the chopping block if the current experiment succeeds).
  Roads, buildings, institutions over time become part of a country's collective consciousness, and by naming them after historical personalities we embed the latter more firmly in that consciousness and sense of history. Unlike the artifacts in museums and the text in books these buildings/ roads become part of our daily lives and living culture- just think of our associations with Khan Market, Lodhi Gardens, Victoria Memorial, Chhatrapati Shivaji terminus, Gobindsagar, to understand what I mean. The sheer eclecticism and diversity implicit in these connotations from the past is what makes a country's history rich and fecund. Unfortunately, it appears that the present govt. is hell bent on replacing this diversity with a mono-cultural vision of the past and Abdul Kalam Road is the thin edge of the wedge.
   Apologists for the govt's action argue that Aurangzeb was was a mass murderer, a violent proselytsing Muslim, destroyer of Hindu temples: not a role model to commemorate. Aurangzeb is admittedly nobody's idea of a boy scout but any dispassionate historian will readily acknowledge the exculpatory factors in his bloody record. Any ruler has to be judged by the social, ethical and behavioural standards of his times, not by the values of 500 years later. In Aurangzeb's times it was sound real politic to put to the sword all rival claimants to the throne, just as today it is acceptable for Mr. Modi to exile Mr. Advani to the Margdarshak Mandal or for Mrs. Sonia Gandhi to have literally thrown the hapless Sitaram Kesri out of his office, all in similar circumstances: they just did things a bit differently those days. And haven't we also been doing our proselytsing bit with the Ghar Wapsi programme, also demolishing a few masjids and vandalising a few churches along the way? And this in spite of the Courts, Human Rights Commissions, Minorities Commissions and Arnab Goswami to rap us on the knuckles- conscience keepers whose benefits Aurangzeb certainly did not have. Who really are we to judge this grand Mughal who ruled over a realm larger than any of his predecessors?
  The BJP has further exposed its real intentions and thought processes by its choice of the replacement for Aurangzeb. It probably calculated that replacing one Muslim with another was a master stroke, leaving no scope for any criticism. In the process it has revealed its concept of what an ideal Muslim should be. Mr. Kalam was, to coin a phrase, a " secular" Muslim: he did not wear his religion on his sleeve, studiously kept away from any controversies on the subject, was not ostentatious about either his religious beliefs or practices, was not seen publicly to be pushing for any " affirmative action" on behalf of his community: his true religion was science. To that extent he was, according to the BJP's line of thinking, a model Muslim, the polar opposite of an Aurangzeb- and it is this model the BJP wants to promote. Not for it the raucous, constitution spouting, politically aggressive, justice seeking Muslims of Kashmir, UP and Hyderabad. ( Incidentally, not for it also the gentle, erudite Hamid Ansari, our Vice President, who had the temerity to suggest that the govt. needed to do more for the upliftment of this community) Which better way to promote  this model than by renaming the road ? The capital qualities of Dr. Kalam deserve to be emulated by adherents of all religions, but to obliquely hold them up as a yardstick for just one community is to diminish them, and the man himself.
  By this misplaced action the govt. has done great dis-service to Mr. Kalam: it has brought this gentle, humble man of science and letters to the centre of a controversy and a strategem he would have had no time for. How much better it would have been if the govt. had instead named a space mission, or an institution of higher learning, or a series of scholarships after the late President. The govt. would do well to stop tampering with either history or the memory of a man like Abdul Kalam, perhaps the last of a vanished breed.