Lead India - A Corporate-Sponsored Circus
C R Sridhar
Splashed on the front page of the Times of India (11th Feb 2008) is the photograph of the winner of the Lead India contest R.K. Misra playing a drum and surrounded by his friends, relatives and admirers. Gushed TOI, an English daily, known for its unabashed support for Corporate India ‘Misra emerged winner after overcoming 63 other contestants and 10 gruelling rounds of scrutiny. Besides winning the favour of most voters, he got 6 of 7 jury votes.’ Implicit in the report was the subliminal message that the sternest natural selection was at work in the Lead India Contest weeding out the weak and the inefficient contestants and selecting the brightest and the best as political leaders for India.
The euphoria generated by the glitzy media event attended by corporate honchos, opinion makers and politicians was heady and infectious. It smacked of a closely held private club whose members swore by the ideals of meritocracy and sound governance. Spotted in the distinguished gathering was the CEO of a private bank, which had the dubious distinction of using goons to collect debts. Whether such practices constituted good corporate governance is a matter of opinion argue the corporate class beguiled by the seduction of moral relativism. Recently the Apex court declared such methods as illegal awarding exemplary damages against the bank.
The assumption of Lead India that Corporate India provides examples of squeaky-clean leadership requires a leap of faith and dollops of naivety. And it is not borne out by facts. While it is tempting for the middle class to lament about the bad corrupt politicians and the parasitic government servants who thwart the developmental goals of the nation, such a view is far from truth. For in the equation of corruption lies the role of big business. The nexus of big business with corrupt government officials and politicians offers us a vantage view of the complexity of Indian corruption. Mr. Shanti Bhusan, former law minister, in a foreword to the book Reliance - The Real Natwar written by Arun Agrawal, admirably sums up the position not only with respect to Reliance but the corporate sector as a whole, ‘It is the thesis of Arun Agarwal that all political parties get huge financial help from Reliance which is why they remain silent even at the most egregious violations of law by Reliance.’ Further Mr. Bhusan adds significantly, ‘Bulk of the media too compromises and remains silent.’
Other examples such as collapse of banks like Global Trust and the stock market scams by Harshad Mehta involving big private banks explodes the myth that lays the blame entirely on the Government. We must forcibly remind ourselves that the loot of public money is a collaborative effort of Big business and Government. The corporate sector as providing clean no nonsense leaders is mere fantasy as it is a part of the problem and not part of the solution.
The myth of superior governance of the corporate sector is again a self-perpetuating illusion spread by TOI and the financial daily Economic Times. Dinned into our collective consciousness is the mantra of efficiency of the private sector over public sector. The pages of the Economic Times are replete with instances of corporate honchos making rather overblown claims that they offer far superior leadership to the moribund public sector. This received wisdom that is bandied about freely in corporate dominated media deserves scrutiny. ‘One assumption underlying the dogma,’ says T.T. Ram Mohan who teaches at IIM (Ahmedabad) ‘that public sector enterprises are doomed to inefficiency, and that competitive market forces can be relied on to make firms more efficient once they are privatized.’ (Privatization in India - Going Beyond Economic Orthodoxy)
But is this really true?
Combining rigorous data analysis with case studies to provide a balanced evaluation of the process of deregulation and privatization within the overall context of economic reforms, the author demonstrates, remarkably, that, contrary to the prevailing view, private sector firms do not outperform public sector firms across all sectors.
Apples to horses
Moreover, the assertion made in the contest that people who manage their business well can also be good in government service is an extremely shaky proposition. It is like comparing apples to horses. Government service calls for different priorities such as public good while business aims at profits. Public good is often described as an unruly horse, which involves complex decision making for the public servant to satisfy the stakeholders with unequal purchasing power who cannot be turned away on the ground that they cannot pay.
In areas such as Health and Education the infusion of the profit motive can be dangerous as it can drive out vulnerable sections of society from seeking education and health facilities. Do we view patients coming for health care as consumers driving business revenue? Do we cut off travel to the poor on the ground that they cannot pay? These are the challenges confronting the government and the mantra of profit and profitability so enamored by the private sector would lead to profitable enterprises not serving the people at large.
The covert agenda of campaigns like Lead India is to spawn corporate friendly leaders who spread the gospel of neo-liberalism. The so-called free market with the invisible hand of demand and supply guiding the destiny of the nation is a figment of corporate fantasy. Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize winner for economics, points that for public good to be realized there must be a strong government enforcement of anti-trust and consumer laws to foster competition and protection of consumer interest. Without strict enforcement of the government private sector would run amuck mulcting the people. Adam Smith who is endlessly quoted by the corporate class was not such a great devotee of greed and self interest as made out to be. In his Theory of Moral Sentiments, he points out virtue and not greed was the most important standard in social life. Adam Smith was quick to point that society should be alive and vigilant to the dangers of ruthless profiteers from holding the society to ransom.
The battle for leadership in India would be fought on the dusty plains of Indian villages. Here majority of the poor Indians live who were betrayed by the state which neglected to deliver them food, shelter and protection from disease. It is this India that would make and break the politicians who failed to deliver them social justice. Here the sound bites of corporate sponsored leaders would have no resonance. The tall claims of the corporate sector that its animal magnetism would be unleashed for the good of the poor would fall on deaf ears and receive the contempt it deserves. It is this Republic of India steeped in ancient inequities that carries both hope and despair in the difficult years to come.
Lead India - A Corporate-Sponsored Circus
- » Published on February 16, 2008
- » Type: Opinion
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