Every other day you get to see on television some controvery or the other: some genuine and some crafted!
Recent business award function held by ‘NDTV Profit’ has caused a few ripples…not because some businessman was undeservingly given the Business Leadership Award – but because a minister was conferred that award??!!
Yes, Lalu Prasad Yadav: The Minister of Railways was given ‘Inspiring Leader of he Year 2008’ award…and many objected to it; some privately and some openly – as the undisputed king of Bombay stock market, Rakesh Jhunjhunwala did in his blog (http://www.rakeshjhunjhunwala.in/2008/10/wheres-my-award-ndtv.html)
I do not want to comment on Lalu’s eligibility for this award or merit of his claim to ‘turnaround of Indian Railways’ (http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/2007/01/24/stories/2007012400150800.htm)…because I do not know the entire story – what are facts and what is a hype as some are claiming it to be (http://criticsworld.wordpress.com/2008/06/19/indian-railways-a-turnaround-story-hype-and-ground-realities/)
Of course, nobody can deny that Indian Railways has been turned around and is now raking in huge profits (Indian Railways made a profit of $5 billion in the year 2006-07: http://www.rediff.com/money/2007/feb/26bud5.htm)
But the point I want to make is something else...
It is about how people (which includes educated class and corporates) fall for financial numbers and profitability and guage performance only on this criteria!
The Change a system can bring about, the difference made to the lives of poor people, overall social impact on well-being of society have little or no bearing on judging success of an individual/ corporate or a ministry.
And this was striking because of an incidence that took place at the same award function.
The custom at the award function was: A recepient of an award (significant awards only) would receive the award from Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, and then would have a brief chat with FM and Pranab Roy, Chief of NDTV.
The recepient of award would tell minister one change he would like to seek from FM and in return FM would tell the recepient his expectations from the awardee as a representative of that business sector/ organization.
So the other award winners such as Mukesh Ambani and Sunil Mittal spoke to FM about their expectations and FM voiced his. It was different when ‘businessmen’ were talking to FM. But the case was different when a cabinet minister (Lalu – the Railways Minister) was talking to another cabinet minister (Finance Minister).
Firstly, when Lalu’s name was announced as ‘Inspiring Leader of the Year 2008’ (for the turnaround which had happened in 2004-05???) there was a huge cheer and uproar from the businesses – as if Railways was a privately held company. Secondly, most of the focus of the ‘turnaround story’ was on the profits that railways is now making.
When Lalu had to ask FM one thing he would want FM to do, he said: ‘I have already brought Railways back on track…it is now making loads of money. The next big thing on my agenda is Food that is served on trains. For us (Railways) to be able to compete with airlines, we need to serve quality food…but you Finance Minister Sir, have put a service tax on food. So I request you to remove that tax, so that we can serve good food for cheap and make more profits’
There was a wave of laughter amongst the audience, partly because of his request and partly because of the manner in which Lalu said it! The entire mood was in light vein…
But it all changed when FM P. Chidambaram replied with his expectations…
He said: ‘I don’t agree with you Laluji, that the key issue for Railways is Food. The thing that concerns me most is the state of toilets in Indian Railways…they are in abysmal conditions. The best thing to do is to find a permanent solution to the toilets in Indian Railways…the biggest contribution you can make (to Railways and the country) is to get rid of this massive pollution…’
To me this was the best answer from someone who really saw the ailment and suggested a meaningful suggestion…something that will go beyond earning profits and will touch the lives of thousands and millions of people commuting the trains.
If there has to be controversy it should be around this chat between Railways minister and Finance minister (about what should be the primary objective of a minister – to make money or to bring change) This is what should be discussed…on television, in rint media and blogs.
But I hardly found any mention of this…all the attention and space was given to whether or not Lalu was a deserving person for that award (like the one Rakesh Jhunkhunwala wrote about) …Come on, move beyond persons, individual achievements and moeny – think about change!