Stem the rot within

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Stem the rot within

Monday, 13 May 2019 | Vinayshil Gautam

It is disheartening that the credibility of our institutions stands eroded today. There’s a need to restore what’s lost through informed effort

The state of many Indian organisations at best verges on being unprofessional and dubious. There was a time in the national arena when in popular psyche a public institution was trusted and the entry of the private sector elicited reactions of “nationalise them.” There was also a time when similar rumblings affected some Government organisations, too, and the cry went out, “privatise them.” In this merry-go-round of “privatisation” and “nationalisation”, the intensity of the disease only worsened. Many NGOs as also registered societies fared no better. The fate of educational institutions almost caused universal regret but no dramatic turnaround was visible. It was assumed that somehow, the system would cure itself. But it didn’t.

A famous story about a sinking ship, one of the biggest in the ocean, goes: When it was hit by an iceberg and began sinking, it had a stray cyclist on its deck. When the ship tilted to the side, the cyclist almost fell over. Out of idle curiosity, he asked a fellow seafarer: “What’s happening?” The fellow replied: “The ship is sinking”, to which the cyclist said, “You must be joking” and he continued pedalling on. Many Indian organisations fit into this analogy. The brewing crisis is not even being recognised in suitable measure.

Among all institutions, banks have been the first notable victims, both private as well as public sector ones. The only gainer seems to be the defaulters. The working of these institutions seems only to lurch ahead. If the ignominy of a CEO or identification of a scam were to cure the malaise, almost all institutional problems would have been curable. A CEO would have been inept. His kin and friends would have profited out of an unsavoury situation. But what sentiment makes them take liberties? This is only the tip of an iceberg. If one bank scam is unearthed, it is equivalent to catching one rat in a field infested with rats. The CEO may come and go but the overall inefficiency inherent in the situation is corrosive. Killing rats may be a temporary solution but rat holes have to be plugged and the fields have to be sanitised.

Analogies in other sectors exist, too, because perhaps very few realise the gravity of the situation, which threatens to be endemic. Take the case of the education sector: Irrespective of the category or the type of university, in most cases, the moment the post of a vice-chancellor falls vacant, people make a beeline to get on  the crease to bat much like the way school children vie with each other for their turn. The pathetic situation of the institution is not unknown to the aspirants of the vice chancellor’s post but that does not affect the number of entrants to the race. This situation, which is repeated across various sectors, has led to institutional degradation, which the best of talent at the top may not be able to contain, let alone expect a turnaround, without taking some drastic steps.

Our institutions are allergic to drastic steps. Then enters the new dramatis’ personae on the stage. Concerns of equity, caste and religion are new issues for them to negotiate. Rules of the game can anyway be changed. Nobody wants to speak about reforms because they will cause a furore. The media, with its chat shows and printed word in its columns, creates a clatter which confuses any clear hearing.

All this is eating the vitals of economic stability. There is a need to take a step back and look carefully at the situation before it becomes  graver than it is today. And it did not begin with 1947 but since 1935, when institutionally, the sub-continent passed into the self-governance mode. Several institutions were established for many good reasons and sometimes not so good ones and even today their historical evaluation is coloured with pre-conceived notions.

Putting it in simple terms, all institutions need a clarity of functioning. They require an effective communication flow. They must also have clear decision centres, complete package of objective data, suitable financial flows and above all, balanced and educated decision-makers, who can see emotion for what it is and objectivity for what it should be.

This will not happen on its own. It needs conscious and informed effort. India needs a nation-wide movement to bring coherence and further strengthen the credibility of our institutions. Else, there will always be doubts about the credibility of the Election Commission, the Supreme Court and the Parliament — some of our most prized institutions. A conscious effort must be order to stem the tide.

(The writer is a well-known management consultant)

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