Friday, May 22, 2009

The Railway Minister

Only in politics, and especially in India, are competence and performance irrelevant words.

I am reacting to the sacking of Laloo Prasad Yadav as the Railway Minister of India . He was, without doubt, one of the most competent ministers of the last five years. He was probably the best Railway Minister India has ever had.

Indian Railways is one of the most complex business organisations to run. It is the largest commercial employer in the world. Its scale is incredible. It carries a staggering number of people each day. Its historically been beset with problems with various Railway Ministers treating it as a gravy train (pun intended). It has suffered from chronic underinvestment. It has suffered from gross overmanning where its not needed and scarcity of talent where it is desperately wanted. It was making a significant loss.

Into this organisation , five years ago, stepped in Laloo. The rest is history. He seemed buffoon like and expectations were low. Instead he astounded the world by turning Indian Railways into a star. The story is too well known to be repeated. Sure he didn’t do it alone ; many thousands of railwaymen did it together. But, to the leader should justifiably go the credit. He became a much sought after speaker in universities to share the amazing success story.

And the reward for this success ? He’s been sacked. Yeah OK – it wasn’t because of his performance but because he walked away from the Congress alliance before the elections. But still, shouldn’t performance count ? To hell with political affiliations. The best man in the country to run the Railways is undoubtedly Laloo. Period. When will India have the courage to place merit and efficiency above all other considerations ?

Put the best man in the job. And see what happens to the country.

In, now, walks Mamata Banerjee. I can hear groans. But there were similar groans when Laloo took office five years ago. He taught us not to judge by outward appearances or first impressions. Maybe Mamata can surprise too.

But somehow, I find that difficult to believe. Time will tell. Meanwhile three cheers to Laloo Prasad Yadav.