Thursday, November 09, 2006

Cheer up, Narendrabhai

The Indian Express reports [link] that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is upset about the large number of state bureaucrats resigning from their positions to join the private sector.

For someone who is trying hard to promote Gujarat as an industry- and business-friendly place, Modi shouldnt be alarmed. After all, the out-migration of bureaucrats to the corporate sector is merely a testimony to the success of private enterprise in Gujarat.

Which makes me think of the unusual status of babudom in Gujarat. Historically, youth from the state have balked at careers in state and central bureaucracies, opting instead to engage with businesses as enterpreneurs or employees. Newspapers and commentrators in Gujarat continually fret at the nearly negligible number of Gujaratis who enter the 'services'. Governments too have acknowledged this and consequently the Sardar Patel Institute of Public Administration (SPIPA - a Gujarat government institution) runs a special program to train aspiring UPSC candidates from Gujarat.

While there might be certain fringe benefits of having more Gujarati babus, I think that having better opportunities outside Gandhinagar is a cause for celebration, not worry. After all, the millions of young Biharis and UPites who pit their life's worth on IAS attempts do it less out of choice, and more because of the lack of choices. My friend Avinash, himself a Bihari, once related to me the dispiriting story of his compatriots who spend the best years of their lives attempting the UPSCs; after they have exhausted all their permitted attempts, many end up as struggling journalists or lawyers in Delhi (they even have a name for these types - the 'IAS bimar'). While these youth look up to District Magistrates and ACPs with their red beacons and personal bodyguards as role models, most Gujaratis would be looking up to Dhirubhai Ambani (and Harshad Mehta) for inspiration.

Sometime in 1998, I heard Keshav Verma, Ahmedabad's dynamic ex-Commissioner (by that point of time, he had quit the IAS and was working for an international bank), daydreaming about developing Indian cities into 'centers of excellence' and having cities managed by professional managers instead of babus. I dont remember myself agreeing then with much of what he said, but now I think that if matters reach a point in Gujarat when districts have to go out and hire its own managers from the open market, it wont be such a bad thing. Narendrabhai should stop worrying about the flown birds.

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