I agree with many of the points mentioned in Namita Bhandare’s “We need more than just a rash of jingoism”, Mint, 25 December. But I am surprised the author chose the example of M.F. Husain and not Taslima Nasreen. As a mainstream centrist American who subscribes to the rising threat of Islamic terrorism, I believe you do your country a disservice by picking and choosing examples that you perceive as causing indignation to the people of India. The greatest threat to the Indian brand perception is not the poverty or politics that India may represent, but its alarming vulnerability to Islamic extremism and the rising cases of extreme intolerance by certain sections of Islamic society on free speech.
—Ann Taylor Smith
This refers to Tamal Bandyopadhyay’s article, “Who will fill the hot seats?”, Mint, 4 January. Here’s a thought that arises on reading about these exemplary bureaucrats retiring from service.
Given that freer markets and globalization are creating great amounts of wealth in India, we can’t ignore the role that the government and bureaucracy has played in regulating business interests with the common good in mind. We cannot let the pendulum swing from the bureaucratic licence raj era to a “corporate raj era”, where capitalistic interests alone would determine policies—global warming is a stark example of how capitalism has failed in pricing the true environment costs into many products—from PET bottles to energy—due to parochial business interests of keeping a product affordable.
So far, the transition has been smooth, thanks to bureaucratic stalwarts who were equal in calibre to their counterparts in corporate India. One might wonder, when one side promotes talent based on seniority/recommendations, etc., and the other side solely through performance, how there could be a?matching?of?minds.?I?would attribute the present match of talent in bureaucracy and the private sector, to the greater attractiveness of the civil services up to the early 1980s as a career compared with professional options such as chartered accountants, engineering studies at IIT, or management at the IIMs. That was a time when job opportunities in the government and public enterprises were much sought after due to a dearth of corporate sector jobs. This ensured the entry of potential leaders such as Damodaran and Reddy into the bureaucracy.
From my generation (mid-30s) the best of brains have moved into the private corporate world, and one can say that mainly second/third attempt candidates who were generally average, or below, have taken to the Indian Administrative Services (IAS). Except, of course, for a few northern states where a bureaucratic career is still the most attractive—indeed, often for “incentives” such as status in the marriage market, political clout, etc. When this crop of bureaucrats (as top policymakers/regulators) meet their corporate counterparts in another 10 years or so, they could be outwitted. Inferiority and power does not go well together. And the situation would harm the quality of governance.
Policymakers need to consider drastic steps to infuse talent into the bureaucracy by: (i) correcting the ridiculously low compensation level for top bureaucrats, which can put them at the mercy of the private sector after retirement— creating a conflict of interest during their tenures. (ii) carving key positions out of the domain of IAS hierarchy and allowing corporate managers to openly compete. Many have earned their fair share of corporate wealth and are looking for areas to help the country with their knowledge.
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