Corrupt yet Competent – Oct 25 ’06

Americans make fun of George Bush’s attempts to butcher the English language. In India, we have Lalu Prasad Yadav. A rustic villager type from Bihar, he’s become (in)famous in Indian politics for his lowest-denominator, rabble-rousing political style. For the most part, he passes himself off as an uneducated man of the masses who only speaks in the prevalent Bihari dialect, and constantly touts the fact that he’s the son of a cowherd. But here’s what most people don’t know about Lalu:

1) He holds a Masters degree in Political Science from Patna University.
2) He holds a Bachelor of Law degree, also from Patna University.
3) He speaks better English than I do.
4) The man is a brilliant administrator.

A few years ago, he was made the Central Railway Minister. While people made a big deal about his decision to replace soft drinks with buttermilk served in earthen pots, they didn’t realise just how big a change he was making in the running of Indian Railways. From making losses on the order of 70 billion rupees, he turned it into a profit making enterprise to the tune of 130 billion rupees, all in a few years. He did this by making several changes to the way Indian Railways was run:

1) Increased utilisation and efficiency of the entire system
2) Instead of selling off all the scrap metal in the open market, he recycled it into the system by selling it to companies that made railway tracks. My guess is that this reduced cost in a big way.
3) He caused chaos one day by going to the Railway headquarters at 9 am, and locking down the building at 9:10 am when no one had arrived for work. From ; that day onwards, he issued an edict saying that anyone arriving more than ten minutes late would be counted as absent.
4) He eliminated large-scale corruption through the entire enterprise.

That last point is probably the most relevant, because Lalu is one of the most corrupt politicans in India. After almost fifteen years of running his state into the ground, he was finally voted out of power in the regional elections. He then decided that the only way he could regain any sort of influence was by making his presence known at a national level. Take an institution that was broken, and turn it into an inarguable success. And he succeeded to the point that the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, one of India’s premier business schools, has done a case study on the turnaround.

I guess that’s the unfortunate thing about it all. If he wanted to, Lalu could probably make some huge changes for the good in this country. And yet, the only reason he did what he did with Indian Railways is because it was in his best political interest to do a good job.

How do I know all this? Well, it turns out my cousin’s husband is one of those people that knows people, and it seems he knows someone who knows Lalu. He claims to have been in a business meeting with Lalu in Patna and seen him speak in flawless English. Upon hearing that a crowd had gathered outside his home, Lalu hitched up his dhoti, mussed up his hair, turned on the Bihari accent, and asked his servants to escort the business visitors out the back door.

George Bush wishes he was that good a politician.

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Went out for dinner with the relatives for Roshni’s birthday. We went to Little Italy, a “fancy” Italian restaurant. Food was decent. Very Indian style Italian food, if that makes sense. Also tried Old Monk dark rum for the first time, with Pepsi. Not bad, actually. Definitely worth having again in the future.

Tonight, we have falafels at my cousin’s place downstairs, then we take the train back to Baroda tonight. And then… the true Indian journey begins.

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