Succession plans in India need a makeover

Indian industry has by and large put in place systems and procedures for ensuring smooth transition of stewardship at the top. This advantage is not available for the political parties which decide the direction of governance and the legislative and executive hierarchy of India
 

Two changes at the top in India Inc in recent years drew worldwide attention for the care with which the individuals in charge of the companies chose their successors. I am referring to the way in which Ratan Tata and NR Narayana Murthy handed over their batons to their successors. Remembered this while reading Ratan Tata’s following observation on Cyrus Mistry:
 

“I have watched him at close quarters, he possessed the ability to analyse businesses. I consider myself to be more of a numbers person than JRD was. I believe Cyrus is more of a numbers man than I am.”

 

Do “We, The People” who have adopted, enacted and given to ourselves a Constitution which is unique in several respects and is envied by other democracies, not deserve the same care and sense of belonging, expressed vividly by Tata, while filling the top constitutional positions that define the course the nation’s growth and survival path should take from time to time?

 

In fact, such care was taken by the people of India during the early 1950s which ensured Jawaharlal Nehru becoming prime minister, Dr Rajendra Prasad being elected as first president and various positions in the first Cabinet and slots at the top of several statutory bodies getting filled by individuals eminent in respective fields. But, looking back, one feels that the Constitution did not provide, and the incumbents did not foresee, the need for explicitly providing for smooth and appropriate succession plans for filling top positions in governance in India. Partly, this missing link could be attributed to the leeway the then leaders would have thought necessary to retain some freedom of choice in selection. Also, it is possible that the kind of developments in the fields of industry and technology, monetary expansion and globalization which have taken the country to the present day’s growth phase was unimaginable in the 1950s.

 

Read: Solutions for reviving India’s manufacturing sector lie in undoing government policies

 

These are not excuses which should allow the present leadership to shy away from realities. As mentioned at the beginning, Indian industry has by and large put in place systems and procedures for ensuring smooth transition of stewardship at the top. This can be attributed to the fact that there are “Business Models” available elsewhere in the world for them to “cut and paste”. This advantage is not available for the political parties which decide the direction of governance and the legislative and executive hierarchy of India (Indian judicial hierarchy did not suffer from this deficiency, though they too have problems of volumes and inadequate manpower to handle that) which had a growth path entirely different from that obtaining in other countries.

 

Put it bluntly, the Indian industry, trade unions and the intelligentsia gives an impression that they are comfortable with a ‘weak’ decision-making infrastructure in governance which can be influenced easily. The advantages are obvious:
 

  • Concessions ‘managed’ by India Inc in the current Budget are estimated at over  Rs5,73,000 crore which is 10% higher than the total fiscal deficit of the Central government and would be, perhaps, adequate to provide for meeting the entire pension liability of Central government, as on date (according to a 2008 estimate, the net present value of the pension liabilities of central government now being met on a Pay As You Go basis was Rs3,35,628 crore—6th Pay Commission Report,2008). If the Government of India had management experts who can bargain with India Inc on a level playing field, a substantial portion of this amount of Rs5,73,000 crore would have flowed to the country’s treasury.
  • Democratic process and professionalism are bad words in politics and for trade unions which are, by and large, managed by political parties. Beyond some media gimmicks and occasional “stoppage of work”, there are no serious efforts from the side of trade unions to study issues and fight for solutions. Democratization of and infusing professionalism in trade union leadership can bring sea changes in the wages, prices and income policies of the country. Political leadership will resist this as the present dispensation is easy to manage and workers form the captive human resource for election work.
  • The intelligentsia who claim to be the spokespersons of public opinion and fill the media space, pretend to be ignorant of all these, as they, like old time teachers, do not have to do much homework, if the status quo continues.

 

These are some stray issues, if debated and churned in a dispassionate manner, may take us to some changes in the approaches to governance, which could help us in viewing issues like poverty, healthcare, literacy, financial inclusion and generally economic development from a different perspective.

 

Other stories by MG Warrier

 

 (The writer is a former general manager of Reserve Bank of India.)

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