India needs War Cabinets (Part 7)

India’s politicians and bureaucrats represent the institution of government of the nation. It is very instructive to know what Lee Kuan Yew said about them. I have excerpted these quotes from the book “Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World.” Lee Kuan Yew said this many decades ago – and yet, the words ring so true even now.

India has wasted decades in state planning and controls that have bogged it down in bureaucracy and corruption. A decentralized system would have allowed more centers like Bangalore and Bombay to grow and prosper…The caste system has been the enemy of meritocracy…India is a nation of unfulfilled greatness. Its potential has lain fallow, underused.

There are limitations in the Indian constitutional system and the Indian political system that prevent it from going at high speed…Whatever the political leadership may want to do, it must go through a very complex system at the center, and then even a more complex system in the various states…Indians will go at a tempo which is decided by their constitution, by their ethnic mix, by their voting patterns, and the resulting coalition governments, which makes for very difficult decision-making.

The average Indian civil servant still sees himself primarily as a regulator and not as a facilitator. The average Indian bureaucrat has not yet accepted that it is not a sin to make profits and become rich. The average Indian bureaucrat has little trust in India’s business community. They view Indian business people as money-grabbing opportunists who do not have the welfare of the country at heart, and all the more so if they are foreign.

More from Lee Kuan Yew on leadership and societal transformation:

Civilizations emerge because human societies in a given condition respond to the challenge. Where the challenge is just about right…the human being flourishes.

There are three basic essentials for [the] successful transformation of any society. First, a determined leadership…two, an administration which is efficient; and three, social discipline.

It is a very tough job, especially in political leadership. Being a CEO or the general of an army is different. You do not have to persuade people who can say “boo” to you to get them on your side. When campaigning, no one has to listen to you at all. And when the campaign is over, people have to believe that you have got something for them that you can do that will make them cast their vote for you. It requires a totally different set of skills. Those skills can only be developed if you have a natural urge, a natural interest in people, in wanting to do something for them, which they can sense and feel. If you have not got that and you just want to be a great leader, try some other profession.

I have spent 40 years trying to select people for big jobs…I have gone through many systems, spoken to many CEOs…I decided that Shell had the best system of them all, and the government switched from 40 attributes to three, which they called “helicopter qualities”…What are they? Powers of analysis; logical grasp of the facts; concentration on the basic points, extracting the principles. You score high marks in mathematics, you have got it. But that is not enough…They must have a sense of reality of what is possible. But if you are just realistic, you become pedestrian, plebeian, you will fail. Therefore, you must be able to soar above the reality and say, “This is also possible”—a sense of imagination.

How many in India’s present political leadership and bureaucracy fit what Lee Kuan Yew has outlined? Yet, they are the ones we have got. And that is why it is important for us to get in the best talent from the outside – people who can imagine and create a new India. These are the war cabinets India needs – at every level.

Tomorrow: India needs War Cabinets (Part 8)

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.