Sunday, November 21, 2010

Democracy Vs Progress

I was recently attending an AGM [Annual General Body Meeting] of my housing society- My society comprises of 1000 apartments and each apartment has got a building representative. Each building is labelled from A-Z; so its kind off a centralized-decentralized structure when it comes to maintenance et al.

The purpose of this blog is not to enumerate about my building society but to talk about “consensus building decision making” and “how to take responsibility without authority” and whether “democracy is really good”.

I have been to all these meetings and the key take-away is as follows:
• Everyone wants to make a point
• Everyone has an opinion about everything that they know partially, fully or none!
• Everyone wants to point a problem [seldom do people point a solution]
• Everyone feels the housing society core committee are their employees [I wonder where from this notion is coming as these are honorary jobs where core committee does not take any salary or bill by the hour]
• Everyone wants ROI
• Everyone feels that they need to push hard and feel that there are areas of improvement all the time- I am okay with this but at least the good work has to be recognized some time!

Coming to core committee- They have a challenge to please all the owners of 1000 apartments without prejudice or conflict of interest! They have to get consensus for each and every thing; otherwise it will be labelled as dictatorial and people in India don’t like Hitler in general.

Secondly the core committee are constantly taking responsibility without any amount of authority. This is slightly tricky because in any responsible role, you have to take a decision and if this goes wrong, you will be penalized by 1000 apartment owners and if it goes right, nobody will even acknowledge. That’s the beauty of this job. I feel this is slightly similar to the vertical-horizontal split in a typical Indian IT services firm. Indian IT services in an effort to sustain the scale; created industry based verticals and capability based horizontals. These capability based horizontals will operate on a shared service mode and someone who is in a vertical has to take responsibility without authority as s/he has to constantly collaborate with the horizontals keeping the end customer expectations in mind. Getting things done when you are NOT a boss is relatively easy in a professional set-up but in this type of honorary or public service set-up, I think it’s a nightmare!

Finally coming to my pet peeve which is “democracy”- Is this really good for us? I feel that in the name of democracy, some of the progress is getting stunted across board. I see this in a silo-ed version for this board meeting. During my final pass out year at BITS, pilani we had T.N. Seshan [ ex- Chief Election Commissioner for India] as a speaker and he was articulating about “benign dictatorship” instead of democracy. Mr.T.N.Seshan was passionately advocating benign dictatorship for India as he wanted progress in many areas. I distinctly remember folks talking about the utopian nature of this idea and also some folks who did not understand what he was even talking about [ I was in the latter part as I never comprehended why we are talking about dictatorship when we are supposed to celebrate democracy]. There were some folks who were talking about why democracy is important for India blah, blah. After this AGM meeting, I am completely convinced of Mr.Seshan’s line of thought- I pity Mr.Manmohan Singh sometimes as he has to balance between consensus building, keeping the job, make hard decisions, tell politicians NOT to be corrupt [that is a big ask given the 2G spectrum allocation or the Mumbai Adarsh housing scandal], ensure security etc. This list is endless and progress in a democracy is a real challenge- It is definitely NOT impossible but a real hard nut to crack!

On a tangential note, we are all fairly democratic with our better half to progress in life! Looking at this optimistically, there is progress at least in personal life if one follows true democratic principles! :-))


Ram said...

Crystal clear writing!! Like it.

percer said...

Interesting observations. I see a lot of merit in Seshan's advocacy for benign dictatorship in India...I'm sure it was founded upon Singapore's read Lee Kuan Yew's 2-part writings when you get a chance.

Anonymous said...

hey another good one prakash. i have a point though - the problem statement is well explained but the solution deserved more elaboration


Prakash Gurumoorthy said...

Thanks Karthik!

@Percer- I will certainly read Lee Kuan Yew. Have not read so far- Thanks for suggesting!

@Raghu- Yes, your point is valid. I certainly dont have a silver bullet on the solution. I was alluding to the "beningn dictatorship" as one possible solution. It may be effective but again needs to be validated!

Anonymous said...

good blog entry.....sometimes I feel a good person with dictator attitude might take u faster towards ur goal....else life ends up convincing the whole group for the sake of democracy :-)"

Vikram Ramadoss

Guru said...


I should say I am starting to become a fan of your blog given the varied topics you write about. Nice to read the perspectives...Interesting read..Have shared couple of them (Excellence one and the one on housing society) with some of my colleagues and with my society members :)


Guru (Ram's cousin if you are wondering)