Suresh Prabhu to launch Book titled ‘An Upstart in Government: Journeys of Change and Learning’

Journey Book Suresh Prabhu
In his new book, former Planning Commission member Arun Maira talks about the system that shackled him

New Delhi: Union Minister for Railways, Shri Suresh Prabhakar Prabhu, will address the book launch of “An Upstart in Government, Journeys of Change and Learning’, by Arun Maira on Wednesday at the Federation House here.  Naina Lal Kidwai, Chairman India and Director HSBC Asia Pacific will also be present at the event.

About the Author

Arun Maira is a thought leader and author of several books on leadership, institutional transformation and the future of India. He was a member of India’s Planning Commission from 2009 to 2014. Prior to that, he was with the Tata Group in India and abroad for twenty-five years, consulted in the USA for ten years with Arthur D. Little Inc. and was the chairman of the Boston Consulting Group, India.

For five years, 2009-14, Arun Maira sat in India’s cockpit, as a member of the national Planning Commission. From this perch, the panoply of India was visible. These were years of great changes in the country ending with the decimation in the national elections of the Congress party that had ruled India since its Independence and the emergence of a new political configuration in government. The Planning Commission, a hoary old institution, was also set aside, a change in which Maira played an important intellectual role, as explained in An Upstart in Government, his latest book.

Arun Maira has an unusual combination of extensive experience as a hands-on leader of organizations, a consultant to leaders and an author of books on leadership and transformational change. He brings all three disciplines into An Upstart in Government.

The principal challenge for the governance of India is to develop policies and implement change democratically. The country is incredibly diverse. It is passionately committed to democracy. The combination of the two results in contentions and conflicts that retard rapid improvement in its physical and social infrastructure. India must develop processes to convert contention into collaboration and confusion into coordination. Maira explains how this can be done.

The Planning Commission, now reborn as NITI Aayog, doesn’t usually make for interesting reading. The idea that planning can bring about change—with five year plans, red tape and bureaucracy—is a romantic one. Arun Maira’s ringside view of the affairs may not be the stuff that thrillers are made of, but the facts are starker than fiction. He writes frankly about a chance to make a difference that never was, of the frustration of working within a system and the truth about planning—that sometimes systems are hard to change. And sometimes, even with good intentions and the blessings of a prime minister (Manmohan Singh), the one-size-fits-all way of functioning doesn’t work. For the first time, this is an account of an insider, an apolitical well-meaning man, who reluctantly allocates blame for why things went wrong in India under UPA 2.

Extracts: Dr Manmohan Singh met the Planning Commission, of which he was the chairman, only once or twice a year. The meetings were short, never more than an hour and half, and very formal. The Members were seated in their order of seniority, which was the date on which they had joined the Commission. Each was expected to speak for six or seven minutes in turn though some would take longer. The prime minister would ask some questions directly to the Members, though not often. Having heard all, the prime minister would make brief concluding observations.

Arun MairaNarendra Modi… was openly critical of the shallowness of the participation in the meetings of the National Development Council, and the arrogance he perceived in the annual meetings of the chief ministers with the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission.

In the first months of 2014, the chief ministers of the states came for their last round of meetings to have their annual plans approved by the Planning Commission.

…. Montek Ahluwalia, asked Mr Modi the question that he had asked all the chief ministers. The UN had recently published statistics of the numbers of malnourished children in the world and India had come out very poorly, as it had for many years. Montek’s point was that the statistics about India were a few years old and India must have made progress since then. He was compiling the latest numbers of the actual status on the ground from the states so that the Government of India could counter the poor impression created by the UN report…. Mr Modi said that he would have the numbers sent to Montek immediately after the meeting.

…. Two Members contested some information presented in the Gujarat video, saying that the Planning Commission had different information.

Mr Modi turned to Montek. He said that it was odd that, on one hand, Montek wanted the state government’s information to know what was really happening on the ground, and on the other hand, members of the Planning Commission did not trust that information and said they had better information! ‘In which case,’ he said, ‘you should know what the state of malnutrition is and should have no need to ask the chief ministers.’

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