“I had great plans for Dadar Station” – Dinesh Trivedi, Former Railway Minister to IIM Calcutta Students

IIM Calcutta students have approached former Railway minister Dinesh Trivedi to seek guidance on popularising Politics and Public Policy as a career option for MBA students.  Trivedi interacted with the Public Policy & Politics (PPP) SIG of IIM Calcutta and is set to visit the B-School on 3rd October 2013 to address the current batches of IIM Calcutta on “Country before Self”.

Interview with Dinesh Trivedi

by IIM Calcutta Public Policy and Politics SIG
dinesh-trivedi

 

Q: You presented a radical Railway Budget in 2012, could you share with us the thought process behind the whole proposal and how did you piece everyting together.

I felt that our government doesn’t have enough resources and railways requires a lot of them. Another thing was to address safety for which we have to modernize. I got in touch with the best of the business minds including Warren Buffett and we realised that our operating ratio is too high. It was very close to 97% and the idea was to bring it down to 84%. If you see the budget document, I started with this target by the end of this current year. All we have to do is ensure that we decongest the tracks.

I had broken down the plan not in terms of which train will go in which area, but broadly into three areas. First is the signalling automation. If we have automatic signalling, can afford to have many trains on the same track in an optimum way. Second is the rolling stock, the coaches and wagons and the tracks. And third comes the stations. We have got close to about 65000 route kms of tracks and all the 64000 route kms cannot be high density so we narrowed it down and found out that surprisingly, 80% of traffic is handled by only 19000 route kms. So I said that I am going to 80% of the resources on this 19000 route kms. I have majored in Operations and I heavily used Operations Research techniques

 

“I have no illusion about it – I know that I don’t know and I don’t want to pretend that I know stuff. I let the professionals in my team teach me”

 

Q: What role did bringing in Professionals and Experts play in your plan.

According to me, the only way to work is through professionalism. And I was very clear that I am not an expert in railways. I have no illusion about it – I know that I don’t know and I don’t want to pretend that I know stuff. I let the professionals in my team teach me – how it happens – I will apply my common sense. We worked hard and that way the guys who knew their stuff gave in their best. And nothing can happen without team work, you can’t even run a house-hold unless until you have a team work.

 

“you have to be very clear that you are working as a custodian for the country”

 

Q: What were the guiding principles of your Railway Budget

One was that you have to be very clear that you are working as a custodian for the country. Our railways has a huge impact on the villagers and people in the cities and whole idea is to add to an half per cent to the GDP, which railways can easily do. Second was that you have to work as a team, everybody is equal. Somebody is the captain of the team which you need and you behave as you are the captain but all are equal. So the guy who has the best bowling ability bowls and the guy who is a great batsman will bat first. And the third was discipline. So if you have all these ingredients for the plan, you can never go wrong!

And I must tell you that railways are a very good organization with the best of engineers, best of professionals but they are all falling apart. We can reach a stage where we can build railways for many countries. Mamata Banerjee’s – Vision 2020 for the Railways was also a very good document and I also said in my budget speech that I am going to implement this Vision 2020 since there is a lot of professionalism in that as well.

 

“travelling by train should always be a very romantic experience”

 

Q: How do you think we should modernise our Railway Stations?

I feel that we can get 30% of revenue from stations, from real estate. Say you want to go for the best Japanese food, you will say lets go to the Howrah station. All stations should look like the most modern Airports of the world and travelling by train should always be a very romantic experience. For catering I was in touch with EuroStar Railways. I was also in touch with Singapore’s SATS. There has to be top most hygiene for which we are going to need lots of investments and these guys were ready to invest.

I had great plans for Dadar Station. The entire entry of Dadar would have been from the roof which would have been green gardens, and people would go down to their designated platforms. The whole idea is to keep the platform free of people  See,all these ideas are given by experts. I mean there are people who are into various designing profession, greatest architects of the country who are building the world class infrastructure, there is no dearth of them. I was working with your National Institute of Design, I also visited the top IIMs to get ideas. I have enjoyed myself  in the process and I have interacted with the best minds. And and I tell you, this country can change in five years.

 

“I have enjoyed myself  in the process and I have interacted with the best minds. And and I tell you, this country can change in five years”

 

Q: Don’t you think these are best-in class services and most of the people in India are middle class people or lower class people. How does one ensure affordability?

That is what is surprising. People are ready to pay provided you give them value. Now these guys who travel, somewhere they are eating, they are spending some money but they are not getting its worth. Like when you are travelling by Shatabdhi or Rajadhani, your food is already charged. Why should we charge the food? We let people decide what they want. You need hygiene and good food and when it is large scale it is not even that expensive. But catering is run by Mafias, if the tariff is 2 rupees they are charging 5 rupees. And if we don’t pay then there is ‘maara-maari’ So you are paying in any case.

Q: Were your thoughts about professionalism and ‘country first’ in any way inspired by the US Political System?

No. One’s ‘thought’ is inspired by common sense – it is not a rocket science. First of all there has to be fire in you to improve – your will and your intention. If your intention is not there then nothing happens. Whenever I used to go to any station to find out that how come this station is dirty ? I was told in a defeatist tone ‘Sir, Paisa nahi hai’.

To find a solution, I spoke to corporate houses of India and asked them if supposing I let you adopt a station like Chandini Chowk, would you spend 100 crores to maintain it?. They said ‘Yes,  but what will I get in return?’. I said that I will not change the name of Chandni Chowk but I will add your brand to that. They were very happy, we would have gone to so many corporate houses. I would have gone to public sector undertakings since as it is they spent so much on advertisement. So you already have that money. If government can’t give money there has to be some idea, there is no dearth of ideas.

 

“Your country is above your party, party is a structure which is very important; and you have to be a disciplined soldier. The party also should work for the country. So your idea, the party’s idea and everybody’s idea should be the Country”

 

Q: You mentioned that this country can change in 5 years, is that only by bringing in the best minds to the top?

Indeed, in five years, this country can change. First of all we need a Paradigm shift and a Generational shift of the political which must throw the best minds minds who are only going to work for the country. And your slogan has to be very clear that ‘Country First’… Nothing else matters. Your country is above your party, party is a structure which is very important; and you have to be a disciplined soldier. The party also should work for the country. So your idea, the party’s idea and everybody’s idea should be the Country. There has to be a larger picture. Today , the picture is ‘Me, Myself.. How do I win the next election and who is going to give me a ticket and which are the goons which will help me in winning the elections’. With this kind of a narrow approach, you will be where you are today, this system will only encourage the mafias and will ensure that the good guys stay out.

 

“you will not find a single person  in the parliament who can be a role model. It’s a shame, in spite of the best of brains being born in India”

 

Q: Right now it is ultimately the party leadership’s wish that is being reflected by the behaviour of the cadres. One option can be we have no parties but we don’t know whether that system will work or not. Secondly we could have party leaders who are solely dedicated to do something for their country and which seems unlikely.

The time has come even to review whether the present form of parliamentary democracy in India is working or not. I think there has to be a churning, there has to be a great discussion taking place,  only then we will throw up ideas. This system, to my mind, has failed. If you go through our constituent assembly debates, they are amazing. If you shut your eyes and put your finger on any one of the members of the constituent assembly, he/she would be good enough to lead the country as the Prime Minister or as the President. Now in today’s parliament, even if you open your eyes you will not find a single person who can be a role model in parliament. It’s a shame, in spite of the best of brains being born in India.

We are very proud of our heritage but we donot know our worth, causing frustration. Now that we have reached that stage, where there is lot of churning taking place amongst the youth like you students from IIM Calcutta because you are concerned. I am absolutely positive that something good is going to happen and this status quo cannot carry on. This structure need to go through a paradigm shift.

Q: What would you suggest to a Student who wants to bring this paradigm shift and wants to join Politics?

At the moment, honestly there is no structured system system of getting into the political mainstream. You hang around with somebody  in poltics you know or the local goons and the local thugs and stuff like that. Now that doesn’t mean that everybody in politics is a goon and a thug. They are very good people in politics, there are very good leaders also in politics but there is no system. It always the blood relation who inherits the party leadership. And this is where I think we all collectively have to apply ourselves as to what do we do. In USA, one of the oldest democracy, anybody can get into primaries. And that is how the best people are chosen from ground level.

 

“that is where I go back to the freedom struggle when best of the brains sacrificed their professions and mind you, lot of people from business background joined the struggle”

 

Obama and Hillary were from the same democratic party and they fought like hell. But the moment it was decided that who won, they started working together. Hillary has not started a new party called Democrat Hillary sort of thing you know. They fought a transparent battle, democratically one guy got elected, the other guy lost, doesn’t matter. Because they are not doing it for their own self. And that is where I go back to the freedom struggle when best of the brains sacrificed their professions and mind you, lot of people from business background joined the struggle.

I have fought an election and I can tell you that you do not need so much of money. Unless and until you change your electioning system, you are going to encourage black money and mafia both such as the use of liquor. So I think there is a room to discuss with a very clean clear cut objective perhaps time has come that the political system needs a change to  encourage good guys to be on the top.

 

“The one basic thing required to be a good politician is – concern for the country”

 

Q: What are the skill sets a person should have to become a good politician?

The one basic thing required to be a good politiian is – concern for the country. Money is required for livelihood but politics its beyond that. In politics you have got to be concerned for the country.  Today in any village there are poor people with no money – they can’t even go to a doctor, so many dropouts, no hygiene. You just drive down any street at night, people are sleeping on the road. It has to… It has to hurt you, somewhere down the line. How can you accept this? And I don’t think you require any extra-ordinary qualification to get into public life. Public service is not just politics, one could start a consumer organization, some NGO etc.

 

“I personally feel that politics is one of the Noblest occupation. Politics cannot be a profession, it has to be occupation”

 

Q: Politics has a negative connotation in the minds of the youth of today. Is politics eally that bad? If not, How to remove this mental block from the mind of youngsters?

Developed countries respect their politicians as they know that this is a necessary system. For example, in Singapore the best guys come to politics and he is respected. The reason that politics is looked down upon in India is because of all the goons and mafia have come in. If you look at Gandhiji, Netaji, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Dr. Radhakrishnan, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Nehru, Jagjivan Ram, they were all respected and still are. Even Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Aung San Suu Kyi are great politicians in the world history. Even in the present political system, you will always find some leaders who are respected and they are the ones who have dedicated themselves to the cause of the country. I personally feel that politics is one of the Noblest occupation. Politics cannot be a profession, it has to be occupation -I always distinguish between the two. And there is no school which can teach you politics, unlike public policy. It has to come from within, like spirituality. It has to come from within the quest for knowledge.

Q: Are you putting spirituality and politics on the same platform because both involve selflessness and sacrifices?

Both involve dedication. In Spirituality you are dedicating yourself to learn about yourself – why are we here, what are we doing, what is our objective, where are we going to go and that is a pure science. To my mind, spirituality is a pure science and when you apply spirituality in the real world, it becomes applied science which is known as religion. Similarly in politics you have to dedicate yourself to the cause of the people and have no illusion that you are doing it for the people because you are finding satisfaction. So at the end of the day one should have no such notion that ‘Oh My God! I am working for the people’, no you are working basically for your self satisfaction, nobody has asked you to perform sacrifices.

Politics should be something which gives you lot of joy. If you see a beautiful flower ot if you see a sunrise, no matter where you are, immediately you will tell the guy next to you.. ‘Look at .. the sunrise’ even if you do not know that the person. Human mind is basically there to share happiness and today we are going against that, that is why we are all suffering.

 

“The commissioner of Police in London told me that in London we work for the people by statute, we are responsible for the people, but in India the police is responsible for the government.”

 

At the moment, the biggest employment exchange is politics in India, if you have nothing else to do then join politics, harass the police,  harass the neighbours, give and take ‘choona’… is that the job of the politician? Even the police and the administration has totally being politicised. I just had gone to Oxford University to give a talk and then on the last day we had a grand dinner where I asked their police commissioner that what is is the difference between London police and Delhi police? He said that the basic difference is by statute. That here in London we work for the people by statute, we are responsible for the people, but in India the police is responsible for the government.

 

“If I were you, I would form a federation of universities and have some kind of a minimum program as to what you want to do. You have to have clarity of thought and a road map – don’t be shy to join the political system. there is a huge vacuum of a political party with a difference”

 

Q: What can we students do as a starting step for joining politics?

I think first of all you must have network of like-minded people. The bad guys, the mafias have fantastic network the good guys have no network. It is not a brilliant idea that you risk your personal self,  you should go as a group. The strength of a group is mighty. Again I go to the freedom struggle, the wars they have fought against the might of British and despite the divided society in India. It was not easy. If I were you, I would form a federation of universities and have some kind of a minimum program as to what you want to do. You have to have clarity of thought and a road map – don’t be shy to join the political system.

And if need be, form a party. Congress itself was formed like this, there is a huge vacuum of a political party with a difference and that can happen only if you guys get together. It’s not easy but it is not impossible and don’t give up.

If you can’t form a party now then then you have to influence political parties as to what all is in your manifesto, what is your economic programme, how are you going to give jobs, how are you going to deal with mafias. I went to the Honourable Supreme Court in mid-nineties on the Vohra committee for the the issue of criminalization of politics.

 

“We know Bhagat Singh, but there are so many Bhagat Singhs whose names we do not even know of”

 

Q: After your budget, you appeared on TV and the first questions bombarded on you were ‘Will you have to resign’ amidst headlines like ‘Right Man Wrong Party’ , ‘Will he care for honesty’ etc. You replied with “For me the first thing for me is my country, then my family, then my party, I have full faith in Mamata Bannerjee and she will take the final decision.” It was probably for the first time we heard a politician completely rise above his party, was it difficult?

No, it was very easy for me. I had no problem at all. Because my mind is very clear on why I am in politics. If I was very clear about what I did, perhaps because it was not my individual decision. It was a collective decision of all the experts, all the MPs. All the people, I spoke to a lot of people. And I was also very clear that it was my party and Mamata Banerjee who had put me there.  So it was here prerogative. Whether the Prime Minister would accept my resignation or not, that was again his problem not mine, you do your work and then carry on. A lot of people have died in our freedom struggle. We know Bhagat Singh, but there are so many Bhagat Singhs whos names we donot even know of. Everyday soldiers are dying in Siachen…

At the same time let me also convey that there is no dis-respect for my party or Mamata Banerjee. They will do their work, I will do my work. I will respect them, I will always be obligated that it was because of Mamata Banerjee that I could become a minister.

 

“Otherwise you who have achieved so much in your academics, why would you waste your time with me here? That itself gives me all the hope. The journey is difficult, the ship is all wrecked up, there is no captain, there is no canvas, there is no direction, but it is going to happen – you are going to build a new ship, you will have to have a new captain, you will have to have a new team. It’s going to to happen”

 

Q: Would we be able to see you again as a cabinet minister?

Interviewee: I am not working towards any of such goals. If the country needs it, then it will happen. All I can tell you is that I get lot of love, affection and respect from everybody, wherever I go across the country. Whether it…it is a subedar in the army or constable in the police, I get lot of respect. What does it mean? It means one thing, that this country is not for power. We respect people who have done their part of the duty and don’t give a damn whether they are in power or they are not in power. And that is a great sign that the basic material in this country is fantastic. But people are caught in a system where the value is in the basement and the only way you can change it is to live value rather than lecture value. We see that even the guys who are in the so called ring of spirituality are doing corrupt business and they also are found in jails.  So somewhere down the line we have lost out but we will get our bearings back because this country is full of knowledge. Otherwise you who have achieved so much in your academics, why would you waste your time with me here? That itself gives me all the hope. The journey is difficult, the ship is all wrecked up, there is no captain, there is no canvas, there is no direction, but it is going to happen – you are going to build a new ship, you will have to have a new captain, you will have to have a new team. It’s going to to happen.

Q: Do we have more people in politics who are willing to put country before self?

There are good guys in politics also, good guys in bureaucracy, good guys in police as well.

I am reminded of a funny story with a meddage. A new IAS officer went to a cycle shop in a village to get a carrier fixed to his cycle. In the evening when he received his cycle, there was a carrier but the cycle stand was missing. The officer was furious and confronted the cycle shop owner who retorted, “you are a new IAS officer here, you should learn one thing – Either you take a stand or have a career. If you are worried about your career, don’t take a stand”.

Today the bureaucrats and the police have to understand that they are IASs and police for the country. Leaders will come, parties will come, governments will change, but they must know why they are there. If you’re transferred.. so be it. How does it matter? They should take a stand.

Q: Does excessive public gaze and trial by media decrease the risk appetite of these well-meaning people making them reticent to take bolder decisions?

Media will do their work and media is also in the business of making money – they are not coming to change the society and things like that. Politicians shouldn’t worry about getting good or bad publicity because truth will always prevail no matter where you are. The role of media is important because they are the ones who are the source of information for the common man.

What is demotivating is the false cases on the bureaucracy. If decisionmakers are answerable about every little thing to the CBI and the agencies, then they don’t take a decisions and we are going into policy paralysis because of that. Too much of trial by media is not good. Even going to the parents of a girl who has gone through so much of torture and keep asking them, ‘You think usko phaansi lagni chahiye..’ etc… Media should leave them alone. They have suffered so much and just for TRPs, don’t bother them. It has become very insensitive.

But media is also throwing up a lot of things which otherwise would have been hidden under the covers and that is good.

So I think it is both sides but there are still more plusses for the media. Otherwise the common man would never have known about many things.

 

as told to the Public Policy & Politics (PPP) SIG of IIM Calcutta –

Sachin Gupta , Sarthak Saxena, Siddharth Malhotra, Tutan Ahmed

 

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