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Dear Mr Prime Minister...

July 01, 2009 11:24 IST
Your first moves soon after the President appointed you exactly fitted the requirements of the situation. Except in one avoidable respect: Inclusion of some ministers in your team whose integrity was widely suspect or who, as per their own affidavits while filing their nominations as candidates for the Lok Sabha election, were going through various stages of investigations for criminal offences.

As a former top civil servant, you know that any government employee in whose performance appraisal record, his superior has expressed even the slightest doubt about his honesty and integrity, is either barred from promotion and sensitive posts or even retired compulsorily from service before his time.

Ministers who wield power and authority over thousands of crores of rupees worth of public assets and whose decisions can make a whole lot of difference between progress and disaster, need to be, like Caesar's wife, above suspicion. It is surprising how you overlooked this fact while constituting ministries in both your terms of office.

Age-old excuse

You will agree that a reputation for personal integrity alone may not cut much ice if the working ambience at the highest level of governance is seen to be polluted or tainted.

'We, the People,' the acknowledged sovereign masters in democracy, can only hope that your own vigilance and the idealism and acute sense of right and wrong of the young blood you have inducted into the ministry, as also of the 226 newly elected MPs who are below 50, will help nip in the bud any acts of malfeasance and misuse of power.

Occasionally, though, to our dismay, you also take recourse to the age-old excuse of politics being the art of the possible. This has been serving as a handy cloak for unscrupulous politicians to cover a multitude of sins.

Ideals and principles are not incompatible with clean politics and good governance. In India itself, there have been leaders -- alas, all too few in number -- who have proved that transparent governance is possible.

Actually, there was, and is, no need for you to make the kind of compromises that are the bane of the country's politics. Unlike your first term when you became prime minister by sufferance, courtesy Ms Sonia Gandhi, and your role paled in public estimation before hers as the Congress president, this time you are the prime minister in your own right and by virtue of the people's mandate.

Accursed black hole

The respect and trust in which you are held by the people of the country have in fact contributed to the impressive gains made by the Congress party. The parties in the Opposition are in disarray, and are unlikely to pose any problem in the foreseeable future. You, therefore, are in an unchallengeable position to give a determined drive to the formulation and execution of policies that you judge as the best for the country.

By now, you would have received, and are no doubt continuing to receive, a plethora of suggestions and solutions to take the country forward in all directions that matter: Political, economic, social, scientific, technological, fiscal, monetary, budgetary, what have you. India has never suffered from any dearth of bright ideas on what needs to be done.

And India's policy makers are unbeatable in expounding in elegant language all the things that need to be done, but have a shaky grip on the methods of getting them done within the proposed time frames and cost estimates.

The result is that all the promises held out to the people at large vanish into the accursed black hole of failure of implementation.

In other words, lack of attention to know-how makes a surfeit of know-what purposeless.

All who go through India's ills and cures enumerated in the President's Address, for instance, will find themselves in full agreement with each one of them.

For the laudable intentions contained in the Address to become a reality, and reach their benefits to the aam aadmi, it is essential for you to inculcate in your ministers a work culture that places the highest premium on adherence to prudence, propriety and probity within their spheres of action.

The observations that follow are to help you to that end.

Independent committee to evaluate tenders

There is a persistent and growing belief among all sections of aam aadmis by whom your government and party swear that huge amounts are demanded and given as bribes for award of contracts for purchases and sanction of projects. Indeed, the moment any new project or purchase is announced by the government, the aam aadmi presumes that its purpose is not to serve his interest but to enable high personages in authority to make money.

With a view to making all financial transactions absolutely transparent, you will do well to entrust evaluation of tenders above, say, Rs 100 crores, to an independent committee of former officials of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) nominated jointly by the CAG and the Chief Vigilance Commissioner, and go by its findings, besides giving them wide publicity in the Web sites of the respective ministries.

Relentless follow-up

Effective leadership consists in relentless monitoring and follow-up of orders without remaining content with merely issuing them. It will be a good idea for you to regularly devote a couple of hours to review pending matters with ministers.

If you can prevail upon your ministers as well as the chief ministers to adopt this practice, there will be an immediate spurt in the tempo of action leading to fast service delivery and timely completion of projects. It will also put officialdom on notice that there will be zero tolerance of its perceived heartlessness and arrogance towards the aam aadmi.

Ministers of and for the nation

Until about 40 or so years ago, Central ministers used to regard themselves as the servants of the people of the entire nation and visited every part of India to have a personal idea of the prevailing conditions and mingle with the aam aadmis to hear their grievances and profit from their suggestions.

Nowadays, whether it is the central or state minister, either because he lacks self-confidence or because he is uncomfortable with English, Hindi or the local language, he is visible only within the narrow confines of the constituency from which he is elected and rarely, if ever, does he venture into the rest of the country. His obsession is mostly with channeling funds and jobs to his constituency or his native state.

Accustoming ministers to think of the nation as a whole will help rid the polity of political pettifogging and fissiparous tendencies, and strengthen its social and cultural fabric.

Reviving orientation camps for ministers

Rajiv Gandhi conceived the brilliant idea of a retreat in which ministers, elected representatives, bureaucrats, officers of the police and defence forces and eminent achievers of the civil society would spend a couple of days engaged in informal and friendly exchanges of views, ideas and experiences.

This helped in their cultivating a better understanding of their spheres of action and built up a better rapport standing them in good stead in forging a collective front on issues and problems facing the country.

I would earnestly urge you to revive this practice for developing a synergistic approach which may also be conducive to effective and expeditious implementation of projects and schemes.

Reviving Inter-State and Zonal Councils

Mechanisms like zonal councils and the inter-state council, envisaged by India's far-sighted Constitution makers for mutual reinforcement of the Centre and the states and contingency planning, have remained unused and ad hoc responses to situations have become the rule.

It is high time they were made into potent instruments for forging a common front, regardless of parties in power, against present and future challenges.

I shall continue to be in touch with you as and when necessary.

Yours sincerely:

An Aam Aadmi

B S Raghavan