India needs War Cabinets (Part 4)

Governance needs vision, will and expertise. Politicians are good at winning elections because they are able to gauge the pulse of the people and offer promises to a minority (termed as the “selectorate” by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita) that is good enough in a first-past-the-post system. But that does not prepare the winning leaders for good governance. That ends up in the hands of the bureaucrats. All one has to do is to watch “Yes, Minister” and “Yes, Prime Minister” to know how the bureaucrats play the stalling game.

In the US, the elected President comes with thousands of new staff – many sourced from think tanks and the private sector. They bring in a fresh outlook and new ideas. Many come with experience from having built and run large organisations. In India, we have no such luck. We have career politicians – many of them second- and third-generation. The only way they know how to get things done is by either fear or favour.

The politician-bureaucrat jugalbandi is ill-suited for this moment in time. What India needs is transformational leadership – and that needs new talent, which in turn requires trust.

Trust is a very important attribute for management. If I don’t trust others, I will not delegate and will constantly second-guess the intentions of those working with or for me. The result becomes extreme centralisation. Those around me will soon understand this – and therefore hesitate to volunteer their own opinion, and eventually I will end up being surrounded by yes-men. Those with independent opinions will either keep their counsel to themselves or quit.

We see this form of extreme centralisation in governments at all levels in India. Strong leaders win elections, but they do not necessarily trust others. In politics, trust is not important to rise to the top. But governance necessarily needs trust. Else one ends up with single-person autocracies (or dictatorships) with everyone else simply endorsing decisions made by the Supreme Leader.

That may work fine when things are going fine, but falls apart when crises happen. It is at those times when the leaders have to reach out to the best minds and heed their counsel. The pandemic has created just such a crisis in India. If the past two months are any indication, we have a serious vacuum in good decision-making across most governments in India. India needs the trust-talent-transformation chain. That is why there is a need for a “war cabinet” – a team formed by the best experts so decision-making can be done right through the war we are all living through and for making the big changes that India so desperately needs in the near future.

Tomorrow: India needs War Cabinets (Part 5)

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.