A finishing school for politicians

There are schools, colleges, institutes and even universities grooming candidates for different careers, but none for politics. Time is opportune for India to think of establishing Schools of Politics at all levels

This decade is finding politicians in India running for life (sometimes literally!) facing severe charges on moral, legal, ethical and financial grounds. What has gone wrong? It may be argued that the deterioration in the quality of political leadership has been a gradual process and no one noticed the decay till it reached the present terminal stage. This writer is of the view that our country has an inherent strength to come out of catastrophes like the present one.


Historically, our political leadership owes its roots to the country’s freedom movement. Till recently, all political parties in India had a sprinkling of honest and patriotic individuals who had benefited from the guidance of leaders like Gandhi, Nehru, Sardar Patel, Vinoba Bhave and several others. Many of them had no formal university education or exposure to the kind of information deluge now available to political workers. But they knew what was good for the village, taluka or district they were working. Now, political parties are trying to make up for this class which is becoming extinct, by ‘recruiting’ businessmen, lawyers and individuals who have graduated from or spent some time around the premises of Harvard, Cambridge, Delhi School of Economics or such other campuses. This article focuses on the need to provide political education to individuals across political parties and age groups.


There are schools, colleges, institutes and even universities grooming candidates for different careers and providing opportunities to take up serious study/research in the area of specialization in which they have an aptitude. Time and resources permitting, one can reach an acceptable level of professionalism by undergoing courses of one’s choice before taking up any career, except one in politics. For a political career, with the exception of some small leftist parties, which have few career openings, major entry point considerations include family background, net worth, public speaking skills and last but not least, organizational capabilities (read fund-raising or mob-mobilization skills depending on the circumstances). Literacy or knowledge of the subject matter they are expected to handle seldom get the priority they deserve in political recruitment. Time is opportune for India to think of establishing schools of politics at all levels, starting from graduation, across the country, to take care of the educational needs of people  taking up politics as a career whether in political organizations or in legislative bodies or government.


This time around, the entire responsibility should be shouldered by the private sector. The initiative too must come from the private sector. Because, the ‘babus’ in the government and executives in the public sector have a vested interest in having less literate people in politics and government, which dispensation suits them as it enables them to manipulate things in their own way with ease. Also, private sector bosses do not have much faith and are not too happy about the timely and successful completion of any task by the public sector. It may be recalled that just before the inauguration of the Commonwealth Games (CWG), veterans in the private sector placed much of the blame for initial hiccups in organizing of CWG squarely on the public sector. The loot turned out to be a joint sector venture.


To start with, as usual, a national level working group may be asked to put together a model syllabus for political education at various levels starting from graduation and work out the modalities for integrating the same into the mainstream education system. The working group may have nominees of major industrial houses, national political parties, central government, state governments and other stakeholders. The cost of the working group may be borne by those who nominate its members. Industrial houses, which are magnanimous in giving donations to universities and business schools and government that fund research and development efforts of IITs and IIMs, will not find it difficult to find resources for financing this initiative.


To ensure that the benefits of political education reach the target group, a reverse reservation system through committed campus recruitment of cadre by political parties and transparent remuneration arrangement for full-time political work will have to be thought of. A corollary would be a smooth exit route and rehabilitation scheme for the sick, aged, disabled, illiterate and tainted lot of politicians holding various positions in political parties, governments and legislatures. They should be paid pension to maintain the lifestyle they are entitled and they should be retained as resource persons to support and mentor the new generation entering politics and government.


All these, naturally will take time to materialize. In the interregnum, schools, colleges, professional institutions like IIMs and law colleges should hold short-term orientation programs both in-house and postal (with contact programs of convenient durations). The target group may include sitting legislators, office bearers and activists of political parties and youngsters intending to take politics as a career. 


(The writer is a former general manager, Reserve Bank of India, Mumbai. He can be contacted at [email protected])


Economy & Nation Exclusive
Black clouds over coal

Coal India as a monopoly, has grown far too big to handle its operations. Perhaps, the time has come for Coal India to be split

Black clouds are gathering over the anticipated heavy storm conditions in the capital this week, as opposition parties, spearheaded by the BJP, chant the ouster mantra for prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh to take the rap and resign on the coal block allocation issue. They demand that he takes the moral responsibility for this great lapse.
The only peace pipe offering seems to be the urgent and immediate need to cancel all the coal licenses issued, some 142 of them, and then arrange for a thorough investigation; only then, they will let the Parliament function and that too after ensuring a detailed and perhaps a volatile debate on the issue.
Unfortunately for the government, as details surface, there are lapses and errors of judgement.  The most prominent case, unearthed by Times of India (Times Now?) refers to tourism minister Subodh Kant Sahay’s admission that the allocation sought for his brother of two coal blocks, where he is an ‘honourable’ executive director does hold any water.  
It is presumed that assistance sought from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), would in all probability get a stereotyped letter, recommending to the concerned department/ministry to take ‘appropriate’ action. No more, no less. The PMO probably releases several such letters in a day!
Though coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal has initially stated that no licenses will be cancelled; later, he stated that the allottees have been asked to explain why they have not made any progress in the blocks allocated to them. Chances are, at least some of them will come up with lame but plausible excuses of being unable to make any progress due to their inability to get the required clearances. Eventually, some licenses will have to be cancelled, without question.
However, if the licensees had any sense of responsibility and seriousness to work on the blocks, why did they not raise the issues in public? Why were they squatting on the allotted work without practically doing even the basic spade work?
Let those allottees of these blocks who have made some progress come out to the media and detail the areas where they are stuck and also say whether the work is held up at the state or MOEF (ministry of environment and forests) level. Simply passing the buck to lack of clearances will no longer be palatable.
Coal India (CIL) itself is in a mess with so many pending applications and the fact remains that as a monopoly, it has grown far too big to handle its operations in India itself, forgetting, for the time being, its keen interest to branch into foreign territory.
There have been reports in the media that perhaps, the time has come for Coal India itself to be split into various units covering different aspects of its operations of its business, so that this sort of balkanization help to improve the overall performance of the coal industry.  We must remember that CIL has a vital role to play in ensuring fuel supply to meet the growing demand of the power industry.
In fact, the UPA government must now set a time-frame of say three months to complete its investigations and new system to be in place latest by the 1 January 2013 for effective functioning.
No more excuses; no more marathon meetings on FSAs and the government must direct the state, MOEF and Coal India to sit across the table and sort out their problems in a marathon session. It should not even leave the meetings until the agreement is reached and time frame set for execution.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US. He can be contacted at [email protected].)


Bad loan risk looms large over Chinese banking sector

According to market analysts, the might worsen as local governments have attempted to unleash a new round of stimulus packages amid the current economic downturn

Beijing: China's state-run banks are facing increased bad loans partly due to a lending spree to support massive economic stimulus three years ago, the official media said, highlighting for the first time concerns about economic slowdown following a fall in exports, reports PTI.


That risk might worsen as local governments have attempted to unleash a new round of stimulus packages amid the current economic downturn, market analysts have said.


The concerns rose as seven out of the 16 Chinese listed banks reported a rise in their non-performing loan (NPL) ratios in the first half of 2012, according to their interim reports.


Though many managed to keep the ratio below 1%, bad loans in some particular sectors and regions were more significant.


According to the interim reports, Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, Minsheng Bank, and China Everbright Bank saw overdue loans grew by 81.6%, 63.2%, and 62% in the first half, respectively.


Some analysts believe that the sluggish economy will erode the huge profits made by China's banks, once called the most lucrative sector in the world. The 16 listed banks still earned a profit of 545 billion yuan ($86 billion) in the first half, nearly half of the net profits made by China's listed companies combined, the reports show.


Loans extended to businesses in Wenzhou, a city in east China known for its entrepreneurship, went bad most notably for Ping An Bank and Bank of Communications, the Xinhua report said.


Qian Wenhui, vice president of Bank of Communications, said 90% of the bank's 887 million yuan ($140 million) new default loans in the first half of this year were from Wenzhou.


Since late last year, Wenzhou had been embroiled in a debt crisis caused by unregulated private lending that boomed with stimulus following the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.


As weakened overseas demand continued to dampen demand for exports, many of Wenzhou's small and medium-sized businesses went bust, their loans to banks or private creditors invalidated.


"Past experience has taught us that a bad loan crisis usually came three years after a period of abnormal credit surge," Wei Guoxiong, chief risk management official with the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China said, adding that "there will be a notable rise in bad loans in banking sector this year".


China's external debt this year crossed $751 billion, the highest since it embarked on economic reforms in 1985.


Analysts say banks should learn from the experience that loans to solar panel manufacturing, ship-building and steel, which later suffered from over-capacity, notably went bad three years ago.


"The banking sector is extremely sensitive. We can't overlook the risks even though the overall NPL ratio remains low," said Zeng Gang, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.


He said banks should ramp up measures -- including by slashing dividend payments -- to be better prepared for bad loan risks.


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