Thursday, May 21, 2009

WOULD YOU.......................?

Have you also felt that we Indians are very negatively biased towards systems that we have in India? In our personal life too, we are very demanding of our own; be it our cricket team or our children; we always tend to compare our own with the best. We tend to believe that irrespective of the circumstances, we have to compare favorably with the best, and tend to become critical of our own if this does not happen.

Whatever be the system, we always tend to denounce/ denigrate it - whether it is our democracy, our politicians, our government or any thing that we have created over the years. It is difficult to fathom the reason why this is so. Do you have any idea?

The recent elections and the posts and comments on various blogs bring out so many negative things about our democracy and politics, and makes one wonder, "we must be doing at least somethings well to continue growing and prospering in spite of the many handicaps and challenges that are unique to our country". Why do we always tend to focus on the negative rather than the positive? Does any one have an answer to this question? Is it a mind set problem? How can we change this mind set?

This dilemma reminded me of a situation where a majority of the young officers in my squadron had major grouses against our system of annual appraisal. Every officer felt that extraneous factors played a major role in the annual appraisal and that the guidelines for appraisal are generally never followed.

The year was 1991 and the day was a Monday - maintenance/ training day. On this day, all my officers were invited to a seminar in the squadron, and were sitting in a semi-circle trying to explore the answer to a question, "Is our annual appraisal system fair"? In slang, it is variously called; the most common being 'number banana'. Nobody likes to belong to this category and thus most people would not do things that would even remotely bring them close to earning this epithet. This has very negative consequences for the individuals and the service. It is also felt that the whole appraisal exercise is farcical and that only people who 'number banao' get ahead in the service. Have you noticed this tendency else where too?

My experience has been totally opposite of the above statement and thus I wanted to separate the chaff from the wheat, as far as my squadron officer's were concerned. The seminar continued for a long time with every one expressing negative sentiments towards the appraisal system, and how only non deserving people get the benefits of the appraisal due to extraneous factors. I just sat as a mute witness to let my squadron officers resolve this very vital dichotomy on their own. This was not happening and I was slowly getting frustrated. After nearly two hours of seemingly endless discussion, T's voice asked an open question, "If you were the appraising officer would you base your appraisal on reality and performance, or would you base it on extraneous factors"? There was a hushed silence, and I was elated to have finally got my clincher. This question was then asked to each of the 25 odd officers in turn, and everyone replied that he would complete the appraisal as honestly as possible, without any consideration for extraneous factors.

This was heart warming for me, as also for the person who had asked this question. After this round, he finally summed it up by saying, "If each one of us sitting here would do the right thing when in the chair, then how do we feel that the people senior to us are not doing the right thing too. They have been through this same system a few years before us and have the same value system". This was the turning point that I had been waiting for and I waited for the message to sink in - it took some time for the effect of this message to sink in. It was also pointed out that the appraisal form had to assessed based on certain skill and attribute criteria, and if done honestly, like everyone finally believed, there was no way extraneous considerations could alter the assessment.

The IAF appraisal system is one of the finest - it has the best - numerical grading for skills and attributes that are vital for the IAF; it has a subjective pen picture; and a three consecutive level appraisal to rule out biases. Can it get better than this? but somehow the Indian mind does not perceive the system to be any good. We tend to over estimate our own, or we are not sure of ourselves, and feel let down when we do not measure up to the best. Does the answer lie in getting to know ourselves better?, or as far as our country is concerned - getting to know our country and its history, geography, handicaps and challenges better?

Majority of the individual Indians believe that they would do the right thing, but always believes that the others would not. Have you too noticed this? Why is it so? How can we get out of this mind set? I believe only positive thoughts about the state of our nation can change our nation because it is our collective thoughts that create our reality as a nation.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


The news channels on the TV held centre stage at our home yesterday. It was the day of reckoning, and the day when it would be known what our nation of over 1.1 billion people thinks; and what over 700 million eligible voters believe is crucial to this nation. This was even more important this time, than hitherto fore, considering the happenings in our country and abroad, in terms of political upheavals, economic downturn, and the overall security environment. It was even more interesting for me to watch the results as I had stuck my neck out on various issues in my post on 05 Apr 09. Relevant excerpts reproduced below.

"In case one of the major parties gets over 200 seats in the 546 seat Lok Sabha, then we have a chance of seeing progress on projects that have led to our recent growth rates. This scenario is the more desirable and feasible too. The major party would then be able to cobble a coalition and have a major say in deciding on national priorities. Looking at the present situation, I would be sticking my neck out to say that I have a gut feeling that the BJP would be able to come up with 200 + seats in the coming elections. I am neither a supporter of or against BJP, but am pro-India. Congress has put all its eggs in its own basket by deciding to go it alone in their national convention, and has ruined its own chances in the short term. What should the average urban educated do in such circumstances? One has to go for development and not against some issue or party. One has to try and make a national party gain over 200 seats in parliament (which seems tough this time) other wise there is more pain in store, with all regional parties colluding to make a joke of the office of Prime Minister (we have seen it at the state level in Karnataka and J&K), and the functioning of the government. No party with 200 + seats and running a coalition can take random and thoughtless decisions, that much is for sure. I would go with supporting a national party, than the regional ones in this election."

I had stuck my neck out about the BJP winning 200+ seats and have been PROVEN WRONG. I am very happy to be proven wrong, as the results are definitely pro-India. The reasons for the BJP's debacle could be many but what seems decisive to have tilted the balance in favour of the Congress are: firstly, there was a visible mismatch between the personal ambitions and the job dictates of the PM of India between the two main candidates - L K Advani and Manmohan Singh; secondly, projection of Narendra Modi as PM in waiting at the last minute; and lastly of course the BJP not distancing itself categorically from the virulent election speech of Varun Gandhi.

The election results have proven that at the macro level, the Indian people believe and want that India be secular, as envisaged in our constitution. The majority of the people have through their electoral verdict indicated that they do not support divisive politics on the basis of religion, and caste. M J Akbar in his article in TOI dated 17 May 09 has very beautifully expressed this thought when he says that, "India is not a secular nation because Indian Muslims want it to be secular. India is a secular nation because Indian Hindus want it to be secular".

So wisely said Mr Akbar - I admire, and value, your thought that the onus always falls on the majority community to be liberal in their outlook to give a sense of belonging to the minorities. This fact is so blatantly clear if we only look to our twins across the border where the majority community did not defend liberal thought and belief in the formation and growth of their independent nation-state - leading to the distressing state of their own nation. I had written about this in an earlier post, "News from Pakistan...Lessons for India".

Religion aside, caste factors have also been ignored by the people this time creating upsets in UP, Bihar and other caste conscious states. This augurs well for India.

I am happy though that India voted to give this mandate to the other national party. I am sure a lot of good will happen because of this mandate, without the stranglehold of the Left parties. India's primary concern is with poverty alleviation and this can only happen if we can grow our wealth - because one cannot distribute wealth without first generating it. This was covered in one of my earlier posts dated 11 Jan 2008. Our left parties are stuck in a time machine which has since been abandoned by most nations around the globe. The electorate have understood this fact clearly and have thus given a thumbs down to the Left parties.

The more I think about it the more I am impressed with the Indian people: the ones who consider voting to be their right and responsibility, and take pains and effort to discharge the same every time - majority of them seemingly illiterate and ill informed, and also backward and poor by our standards. The electoral results this time have taught me another valuable lesson and that is to never underestimate the wisdom of the Indian people, as also the wisdom of our founding fathers who gave us our Constitution. I have reaffirmed my belief that our foundations are strong and our people are wise. The challenge now lies in getting the seemingly better informed (like me), and the younger people in understanding India, and what it stands for. This election to me represents the winning combination to be one that can live up to the saying, "Act regionally and think Nationally". All parties that went against this dictum have suffered losses. 'Jai Ho' to the aam aadmi on thinking beyond himself.

In the end, I believe that elections in India are an affirmation of liberty and equality and "There’s an amazing grace and beauty about the way India goes to elections every five years" - TOI editorial, 17 May 2009. Pray and believe that this 'amazing grace and beauty' is generation proof in India, and spreads to other troubled parts of the world, including our neighbourhood.



WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:

JUSTICE, social, economic and political;

LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;

EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;

and to promote among them all

FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation;