Monday, January 28, 2008

Honour me!

It was yet another republic day, another parade at Rajpath, an expressionless new President saluting the marching soldiers, colourful tableau and a new list of people being awarded highest civil state honours. Of course the state honours lists and the debate on it, did not start on that day. This time people from various political parties started quite early in demanding the honour be conferred on their party leaders. Speculations were ripe whether the government will give in to political pressures or not. The list had some expected names and some surprises, much like every year. Our ‘breaking news’ media started its day’s business by taking exclusive bytes and quotes from those getting felicitated and those who couldn’t. Everyone had an opinion to give .Some wanted their favorites to be in higher categories others ridiculed the entire concept of state honours.

This entire hullabaloo reminded me of a similar occasion, on a much lower scale, which is repeated in Government offices each year when the list for honorarium is to be prepared. As per rules it should be only for work performed which is occasional or intermittent in character and either so laborious or of such merit as to justify a special reward. But this rule is known more for its violation than practice. In government offices, much like our political circles, these honours are ‘demanded’ “rallied for” and are a matter of power balancing. Last year I consciously left out few names from the list and my goodness, what a scene it led to. Someone very senior was sulking that his name is not included; someone else was agitated that I am biased; others expressed their grievances to their colleagues which were dutifully transmitted to me via informal channels. In some cases on my boss’s advice I had to give in. (“You can’t change the world in one go! You have to take work out of these fellows only” ) In others ,I stood firm. People continued cribbing whole year through. After all they were denied their ‘right to be honoured’.

Much like my office , even for award of Padma shri, Padma Bhushan etc –we need to pause and think. Are we honouring only those who are shameless enough to come and demand it …either themselves or through their patrons? And what is the criterion? What is the contribution of these people for the nation? Madhuri Dixit for example….she may be an able actress , a good dancer and a very talented person...but what is her distinguished contribution for film industry? Perhaps it will be fully justified if a film federation honour her for her abilities but why is our state honouring her? Did she ever consciously created opportunities for others ...was her being there beneficial/uplifting /encouraging to others in a great way ? Was she not just concentrating on her career ...much like most of us ? Then there is Vinod Dua who after decades of fearless journalism will get the same honour as Ms.Barkha Dutt….just because of the latter’s good political connections. I don’t think Barkha Dutt by any standard deserve to get Padma Shri so early in her career. I have nothing against her age but what is her contribution? Is it significant enough for such a state honour? Same is the case of Rajdeep Sardesai. I know at least a dozen other newsmen and newswomen who are far more committed to news and public service through news, than these well known vendors of yellow journalism. But what they lack is the political connections of these hi-profile journalists.
Sachin Tendelukar is definitely a hero. A youth icon par excellence. But by playing good cricket for India – for which he was suitably (if not too generously) rewarded, he committed the similar stature of service what Ratan Tata did though his business and charity!...Sorry I disagree.Sachin's success needs to be recognised but his contribution in his field is no way near to Ratan Tata's in his. Excellence in public life and other areas of activity should be recognized, of course. But who is deciding that and how? For me Dhirubhai Ambani is more of a Bharat Ratna than Rajiv Gandhi is. Dhirubhai was the first Indian industrialist to cater to the needs of the small investor. He introduced the equity cult in small towns in India. He also single-handedly revitalized the Indian capital market, by focusing on capital appreciation instead of dividend, which was the norm .His companies are globally admired for their rapid and time-bound implementation methods . Dhirubhai was also the first industrialist in India to build factories comparable to the best in the world. Narayan Murti deserves it much more than many politicians for tuning the young India on the right track of IT revolution . Ratan Tata deserved Bharat Ratna much before the names which were being coined by various political parties. He not only worked for his own profit but also showed a new way for an entire generation of businessmen on how business and ethics can go hand in hand. Today when his companies are in more number of countries than Indian Embassies are- creating employment opportunities for millions of young Indians , why can’t this nation acknowledge that he brought much more wealth to India than one reluctant son who inherited the Prime Ministership from his mother and concentrated more on bribes than his job. O yes, Rajiv Gandhi was killed in terrorist attack…but was it not his foolish decision that killed hundreds of our soldiers at Sri Lanka ? The highest civilian award of the country, the Bharat Ratna, has been trivialized with politicians throwing their weight around and demanding the honour be bestowed on their party leaders. Today all these state honours are simply a reflection of populist choices and not the prudent ones.
State awards today are a hangover of monarchy. Kings gave away titles to various people as recognition of their loyalty to the throne. But, should democracies continue with this tradition that gives fancy titles to a few privileged citizens? Privileged -because either media or their political connections ensured their inclusion in politicians’ good books .
I was writing this post when I saw that all news channels are going gaga about the Bachchan Family’s great contribution for Education of girls .They were going to start construction of a Girls’ College near Lucknow in the name of daughter in law Aishwarya . Oh, what a showoff it was! One college….in one district from a family of country’s two highest tax payers , stars who earn hundreds of crores in a year and our media is impressed. It was a full fledged drama where no one spoke about girl’s education…. not even the sitting MP Jaya Bachchan …it was all about the family – and friends like Amar Singh and their great deeds.The Bachchan parivar, of course, put in a virtuoso performance. Clad in saris and heads draped demurely, Jaya and Aishwarya played UP bahus to the hilt. I quietly remembered the man who is today spending maximum amount of money on education in India –Azim Premji. The one who has humility enough not to climb these podiums and cry out his own greatness. I thought of several other traditional business families who open schools , dharamshalas and old age homes in the memory of family members but never bother to boast of it except for a plaque in front of the institution . Media is not interested in them. They are not interested in media either . Tomorrow if you hear the Bachchan family members being given Padma Bhushan for their contribution in the field of girls’ education …do not bother to get surprised, we live in the country where self marketing is the buzzword of success and well only greatness that matters is what you see on your TV screen .
Talking of office honorarium again , one of my senior at Jaipur was constantly harassed by the inefficiency of her peon. The old bugger will come late, will crib if asked to do even a small job and was not even polite to her. While finalizing the list of honorarium for that year , I was surprised to find the peon’s name recommended by this lady . I asked her why she is recommending his name. She looked at me wide eyed and screamed – “Do you think I will be able to survive one day, if I don’t? This fella will kill me by his 24 hour cribbing .” Now if at this small level ,people can create such pressures, I am sure for Padma awards pressures will be tremendous .The message is clear, honour in public life these days , is demanded not earned. It is political decision and not a rational one.


Want to remain a Stranger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Want to remain a Stranger said...


The dilemma that you are facing reminds me of a management lesson. It would be very useful to you to take decisions when you face such dilemmas.

The story given here is quite interesting and really gives us an insight into DECISION MAKING
A group of children were playing near two railway tracks, one still in use while the other disused. Only one child played on the disused track, the rest on the operational track.
The train came, and you were just beside the track interchange. You could make the train change its course to the disused track and saved most of the kids.
However, that would also mean the lone child playing by the disused track would be sacrificed. Or would you rather let the train go its way?

Let's take a pause to think what kind of decision we could make................

Analyse the situation………….

Think and reflect…….

Decided your answer !!!!

Now … read ahead

Most people might choose to divert the course of the train, and sacrifice only one child. To save most of the children at the expense of only one child was rational decision most people would make, morally and emotionally.

But, have you ever thought that the child choosing to play on the disused track had in fact made the right decision to play at a safe place?

Nevertheless, he had to be sacrificed because of his ignorant friends who chose to play where the danger was.
This kind of dilemma happens around us everyday.

The child who chose not to play with the rest on the operational track was sidelined. And in the case he was sacrificed, no one would shed a tear for him.

If the train was diverted to the track, we could put the lives of all passengers on board at stake! And in your attempt to save a few kids by sacrificing one child, you might end up sacrificing hundreds of people to save these few kids
While we are all aware that life is full of tough decisions that need to be made, we may not realize that hasty decisions may not always be the right one. "Remember that what's right isn't always popular... and what's popular isn't always right."

Everybody makes mistakes; that's why they put erasers on pencils

Wonder what relation it has to the situation in your office!!

As far as one great saying goes, there are three kinds of people in any office:

1) Who work for the organization.
2) Who work for themselves and their boss, no matter what they have been doing might not be in the interest of the organization.
3) Who work only enough to save their job.

When it comes to giving honorarium, its the second category, which shouts the most and succeeds.

Now let’s relate it to the story.

The first category of people corresponds to the lone child on the disused track. They don’t ask for honorarium because they work for their own satisfaction and pride.

The second category of people corresponds to the kind of people you have mentioned in your blog. The third category of people corresponds to the people in the train. Its ultimately them who too are sacrificed. How? One big purpose of honorarium is to encourage these people to work more than they are. The kind of politics that you have mentioned goes in your office deters them and gives them an excuse.

Sorry for the length of the story as you seem to be on an important post and so there must be dearth of time.

Tell this story to your Boss in such situations and see if he is convinced.

Atoorva said...

For want to remain stranger : Thanks for the story but don't think decision making in any organisation is that straight . Even people who work for their own satisfaction/organisation need encouragement ...or else in a few years time they may also join the other side (second group). I think it is the duty of a leader/boss to stand up for them ....if encouragemnet through formal channels is not possible that through informal ones.
But I agree with the last bit and let me add....managers and leaders are not there to win popularity polls.

Want to remain a Stranger said...

Sorry but you misunderstood what I said in my comment. I too wanted to say the same thing. "Even people who work for their own satisfaction/organisation need encouragement ...or else in a few years time they may also join the other side (second group)." It is this group that needs to be honoured but because they don't work for honour or in your words they don't shout "Honour Me" and don't rally around their boss, they are left behind and the second group wins.

In the office, community, in politics and especially in a democratic society, the minority is often sacrificed for the interest of the majority, no matter how foolish or ignorant the majority are, and how farsighted and knowledgeable the minority are.And obviously the first group is always a minority.