The Indian Public Sector

(The Current Dispensation Can’t Stand it)

Think of simple deals or contracts to get something done. Like hiring a handyman to fix mosquito nets on your windows. Often you are recommended a suitable person by someone who got the job done through him. So you talk to the handyman and he explains how he is going to do the job and the material that needs to be purchased before installation. Then one fine day which you spend doing your own work at the office while in your absence the handyman comes and fixes the mosquito net on the windows. Then you return and are happy to see the new arrangement that will keep away the bugs and happily pay the prearranged amount.

A more regular arrangement is with the housemaid. She is a regular who does the dishes and keeps the floor mostly clean. The best way to continue a reasonably good arrangement is when you let her do her job in peace, without teaching her how exactly to do it. Also it won’t be nice if you thrust under her nose every little speck of dust that she missed. Since you are reasonable and value your peace you don’t do that.

Imagine also the old servant who your father hired to help around the house. He has been there since you were little. For some reason you have never liked him. Perhaps he was careful not to spoil you like everyone else was doing, rather he took care that you didn’t go astray and once reported to your father when you went to town with the friend that your father disapproved of. The old man was too faithful to your father for his own good. Now you are by yourself and he reports to you, and while you do not really like to be rude, you would really like someone smarter to help out at home.

Your friend happens to run an agency that provides help at home, among other things. The friend often sends you gifts of Laddoos on Deepawali. He has often mentioned the smart and capable housekeepers that he can provide and one Deepawali you had nearly promised that you would hire one of those. This is one guy who has treated you to innumerable drinks and dinners and it seems like such a small thing to do. You only need to get rid of the old man.

So you start picking on the old man. “Uncleji,” You address him like that because your father had insisted, “look at the dust on the floor.” Then you point out that he is not polishing the silver well enough or his eyesight is not what it used to be.

Since he doesn’t seem to be leaving for anywhere, you start asking him historical questions. Like, “Where were you Uncleji when there was the theft in the house in the year 2000? If you had gathered the courage to stop the thieves then, we would be richer still. ” I say this even though I remember well that the whole family had locked themselves inside the house, leaving a defenseless Uncle outside. Then he had shouted for the neighbors so that the thieves actually couldn’t take away everything that they wanted.

The constant querying is meant to make Uncle realise that he is quite unwanted; to make him leave. so that I can meet my obligation to the friend who treats me to drinks, dinners and Deewali sweets.

When liberalization opened up the business in India, it came as a shock to most of the PSUs. Some like Air India and BSNL couldn’t face up to the competition. But let us not forget that a number of renowned private sector industries folded up too. Kingfisher and Reliance communications did not survive.

The friends who send Deepawali sweets are not going for sick industries. They want the silver ware of Indian public sector. They were not interested in GSPC’s sick assets, nor do they want to put up money for Air India. Consequently the better PSUs of India are in a position which is not very different from Uncle’s. The government is not in the business of doing business, it says, but asks all sorts of business questions without much understanding of it. Constant jibes and grilling, including on historical occurrences, do not allow these companies time or will to perform their core functions.

Uncleji is hoping that the sooner that his function is taken over by the friend’s housekeeper, the better. But he cannot bring himself to do what his master wants him to do. He won’t resign and go.

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