Good people of the world must unite: Former top Indian bureaucrat Anil Swarup

Former Govt of India Secretary and the founder of Nexus of Good Anil Swarup (front, center) at the Meet and Greet at Milpitas, California

Ritu Jha–

A true admirer of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well as a critic, Anil Swarup, former secretary of the government of India, was in the San Francisco Bay Area recently and spoke about his non-profit ‘The Nexus of Good’. He also spoke about his tenure as a top Indian bureaucrat and explained why India has failed to create jobs. He also elaborated on his concern about an India divided over religion and politics. “Our nation is headed the Pakistan way,” he warned.

His fearless demeanor was evident during his talk at the Meet and Greet hosted by Indians for Collective Actions (ICA) at ICC in Milpitas, California.

“India is divided over religion, and it is a tragedy,” he said. “It’s a ticking time bomb. We all know what happened in Pakistan. We are going the same way. India was not born from any religious necessity as in the case of Pakistan. It is not necessary for India to take the same path,” Swarup said in reply to a question by indica.

Swarup is also the author of three bestselling books — Not Just a Civil Servant, Ethical Dilemmas of a Civil Servant, and No More A Civil Servant. He has also founded the Nexus of Good movement so that “good should come together and speak up to prevent evil from flourishing.”

Swarup said he is a “great admirer of (Modi), because “we had mutual admiration.” He said, “The first time I met him, I had a difference of opinion. The last time I met him, I had a difference of opinion and on both occasions, he agreed with me. The PMO got very annoyed with me because I used to speak my mind.”

Swarup said that “Modi is an amazing leader” but he changed dramatically after demonetization.

“I keep questioning myself because it’s a matter for the entire nation, why do people around him not have the courage to speak up? You can’t expect the Prime Minister to go into the nitty-gritty of the consequence of a decision like demonetization. It is the bureaucrats’ job to point these things out. That’s the whole tragedy, he’s politically so sound that nobody questions anything. It’s a tragedy because we live in a democracy where we can’t visualize a better leader than Modi. He’s probably the best that I’ve seen but the nation is missing out on an opportunity because bureaucrats are not doing what is needed,” he added.

Swarup said that when people claim that Indian can become a $5 trillion economy by FY2028, it is “far from the ground reality.” He said this statement is “like a firecracker… All for show.”

He pointed out that it is India’s per capita income that matters, not the total income of the country. India’s gross debt is equal to its GDP. “Today 50% of India’s revenue goes into servicing debt. Measures like (800 million) people being given free food are bound to be counterproductive in the long run,” Swarup said in reply to another question by indica.

He also blamed the government for being more interested in making headlines than focusing on sectors that would help generate jobs in a country that is grappling with rising unemployment. “Had the sectors given news headlines I think we would have focused on employment generation. To my mind, there are two major employment generators in India. One is the medium and small-scale sector (MSME), and the other is the real estate sector, the construction sector. IT and software don’t generate even 1 per cent of employment,” Swarup replied to another query by indica.

On his career as an IAS officer and his books, he said, “It’s been an interesting journey as a civil servant. It was not easy, but I thoroughly enjoyed every moment. And, as I wrote in my first book, if I were to be born again, I’d like to be an IAS officer all over because there isn’t a better service.”

Swarup spoke about his contribution to India’s education sector. “In the first three years as the school education secretary I used to travel every Indian state. I was not merely traveling to the state headquarters, I used to go deep inside to understand what education was all about.”

He said he once visited a village situated 150 km away from Thane (a neighboring city of Mumbai) in Maharashtra. He also went to a school that didn’t have electricity and met with 50 students who were studying with the help of tablets, without any electricity. Their ingenious teacher, Sandeep Gund, used a foldable solar panel to recharge the tablets and show them educational videos on them.

“This passion of the teacher became well-known, and an NGO reached the school to fund the tablets to scale up the initiative.”

This experience gave Swarup the idea that good initiatives can be scaled up giving birth to the ‘Nexus of Good’.

Narrating one of his inspirational stories, Swarup said: “During one trip, my wife and I visited a school and sampled their midday meal. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food and learned about a voluntary organization, Akshay Patra. I flew to Bangalore and met its chairman. Then, they were giving food to 1 million children per day. Now, I learned that Akshaya Patra was serving 2 million children until two years ago.”

He added, “Nexus of Good rides on public-private partnerships because efficiencies will come from the private domain, including the NGO sector, and scale-up will come from the government. Nexus of Good is there to identify good practices, and an attempt to replicate and scale them through public-private partnership. I have enjoyed post-retirement and I’m busier than when I was secretary government of India. But the difference is, earlier I did what the government wanted me to do, now I’m doing what I like and want to do.”

He said that the National Education Policy (NEP) is probably the finest set of ideas on education. It touches upon every aspect of education and does it very well. And that is the reason why it will not be very difficult to implement. I told them often that when you come up with such a document, you must clearly identify what needs to be done, how it will be done, who will do it, and by when it will be done. But you must understand the ground reality first. If there’s a disconnect between the ground reality and what you are ideating, then it will never happen,” Swarup said.

He added, “Whenever the government takes a decision, that body has to look at the implications of that decision. If I want children to be taught English in schools, I have to understand very clearly there has to be somebody who can teach English. Now, if the decision-maker is different than the implementer, he couldn’t care less. It’s like the National Education Policy. They say this should be done but they will not tell how. Once you go into the how of a decision implementation, you will come across such issues and then you will account for them. The real problem in our country is not decisions, not ideas, but implementation. And that’s why my obsession is with an action plan. That’s where you get to know what are the limitations of implementing a decision.”

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