Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Laloo and Leadership ??

I was watching NDTV Profit last night, Prannoy Roy was discussing the Railway Budget with Rahul Bajaj and Tarun Das. Both these distinguished gentlemen were endorsing the Railway Budget and the work that Laloo Prasad Yadav and his team in the Indian Railways has put in the last three years . While I was listening to them with great attention, I recalled a guest lecture from Mr Vivek Sahai , Additional General Manager Western Railways , the context of the guest lecture was the transformation of the Railways in the last few years .

A die hard Railway executive Mr Sahai spoke of things that one could never imagine would happen to the Indian Railways . After the lecture of Mr Sahai , I was left with a series of questions:

a) What really has happened to the Railways in the last few years ?
b) How did the government recognize the reason for change and more importantly drive the process of change with passion and conviction
c) How did a lethargic government suddenly become so customer focused and technology savvy

I knew the answer lay in transformation leadership across all levels of the Indian Railways but I found it very difficult to imagine that Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav would be part of the processes, least lead such a process. The mental image that I carried of Laloo was that of a village bumpkin , an illiterate politician a person who has always used caste equations to be successful in the polls , and a corrupt individual (remember the fodder scam) . I was convinced that people like Laloo are the cause of the nation’s misery and hoped that Laloo could be somehow removed from public life permanently …….. I was biased against Laloo and could not really believe that he could be an icon of any meaningful change ............

However if we take an unbiased view and look at the achievements of the Indian Railways in the last few years , I am now convinced that Laloo is a new age liberalization icon and here are some things that would bear testimony of that fact :

1.The last 3 railways budgets are in all in the direction of commercialization, process improvements (both customer and operational processes…) and higher accountability across the rank and file of the railways. He started small in the first of his three budgets and build up the momentum with the one that he presented yesterday.

2.It would be uncharitable not to acknowledge the set of processes that the new regime of the railways has designed to make the process of railway reservation transparent , the processes of online booking , checking your ticket and reservation status online are amazing process improvements. In addition to this he has announced that all TT’s would be given PDA’s from this year to make the process even better

3.The freight management processes and the creation of freight corridors has made transportation of goods seamless and efficient. This has made a great impact in the industry and also made the railways much more commercially viable

One could always argue that the performance of the railways has nothing to do with Laloo , it’s a function of the general buoyancy in the economy (resulting to higher freight realizations) and a great team , Laloo just did nothing ..he is not capable of doing anything good ….

Trust me , I am also a great Laloo critic , but I cant help but giving him credit of managing the Railways like a CEO , who drives profitability hard and empowers his people . Mr Sahai has been a distinguished officer in the Railways for a few decades and am sure he has worked under multiple Railway Ministers, but Laloo must have empowered many people like Mr Sahai to take the Railways to a different level of performance ….is that not leadership…..!!!

Indian politics has always debated the cost of development and our Left wing parties have always espoused that the development in this country is not inclusive (the gains of development do not percolate to the weaker sections of society..), but here is Laloo the icon of the underprivileged, leading a transformation and ensuring that development of the railways leads to sharing of gains with the underprivileged (more efficient railways networks, cheaper tickets..etc etc)…does that not make him the new avatar of inclusive development ,……is he not a leader that we all need……can we afford to write him off just because he is not urbane and sophisticated …..would love to hear your thoughts on the same ………do write in ….


Kumud said...

maybe Laloo needs to be viewed without our educated jaundiced eyes. personally i still find it difficult to believe in the laloo renaisance. is it the punjabi saying "laloo kare kalaliyan, rabh sidiyan pavae"
Laloo needs to PROVE that HIS PRESENCE has been a catalyst.

Niladri said...

Well you are right in your own way . Laloo is indeed quite a phenomena , need to grant him that . One could safely say that Laloo's presence has made some impact , which is for the better (hopefully) ...and was not there in the case of our previous Railway Ministers

Shreyasi Deb said...

I have personal memories of this gentleman and at one point of time was extremely disapproving of his ways. His past was that of a typical Indian politician riding on the ‘under-privileged pillion, making it big illegally on the voters’ money and being completely unapologetic of his ways.
However Railways is definitely a high-point in his career. We have experienced the changes as consumers and while I agree with you that it is a side-effect of ‘India Poised’, one can’t help but notice that Leadership alone can put such a behemoth on the right track.
I think Laloo’s charm lies in his able to show the world what he is and carry it off well. Who wouldn’t be inspired by that even if one doesn’t align with the personal values/lifestyle of the leader?
By the way, Laloo Prasad has always been a favourite with NDTV and Prannoy Roy could bring out his wit, self-mockery, drama and people skills like none other over the years.

chikom said...

with half India's people living in vllages, the 'urban elite' cannot discount any grassroots politician.
profits, optimisation, etc. can come from "trimming the fat", i once read the railways own the most real estate in India.
what happens when this fat is trimmed, will the profits keep coming?
or will quality upgrade costs overrun them? e.g. bringing all bridges and signalling systems up to safety standards can bankrupt the ministy if done together!
laloo knows that ministers hardly stay around long enough, is he focusing only on short-term successes through media-friendly measures? remember, when he ruled bihar, he started a hundred unofficial "halts" which drivers passed at their own peril!
i would be cautious enough to wait until year 5 to comment......
in the meantime, at least we do not have a minister who only thinks of new trains from his hometown !!

chandra said...

i admire laloo cause he is the only one who can dare to dream about bullet trains, and he is a politician from Bihar!!

Koushik Mukherjee said...

To be very honest, I don't think Laloo ever was a rustic, uneducated bumpkin. It was a disguise that suited him to the hilt, as the image of being a commoner from the cow-belt helped him to ride the emotions of people, & garner power.
Behind all these, he always possessed keen intellect, to get out of trouble for corruption in umpteen situations.
The stupendous success he has enjoyed with a behemoth like Indian Railways shows the managerial qualities of this man & the innovativeness he possesses, & it is a part of the case studies of more than one of the leading IIMs.
This also shows that there is more to what meets the naked eye, about the deplorable condition of Bihar. It's, perhaps( or surely?? ) a case of lack of will for vested interests, than a lack of way.