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Blind Side 2

Another Blindside : the 2% bureaucrat

K.P. Joseph turned 88 last week. He is a great grandfather twice over. I grew up watching him return home everyday from an office in which his designation was the organisation. In Calcutta, it was the " THE OFFICE OF THE AUDITOR GENERAL OF WEST BENGAL". He retired three decades ago as the AG of his home state.

Ten years ago I visited him after a gap of several years in his small rented flat in Trivandrum. And I asked him about when he was going to move into a permanent place. He smiled and told me about the land that he and his wife had booked. And that they were moving in soon. I asked him excitedly about where and how large. He quietly answered " 6' by 3'. In the Cathedral cemetery." He was of the belief that if you come with nothing, you also go with nothing.

Which is why KP Joseph was no wallflower. Nor a pushover.  Pilfering politicos and other dodgy demagogues worried about him everyday. He had a considered and measured view on a variety of issues. He wasn't militant about any of them. He wasn't shy of them either. He was just elegant and gracious in his convictions. And so he delivered spotlessly for three decades and a bit.

He belongs to a peculiar breed called the 2% bureaucrat. Unfortunately, our stereotype of the sleazy, underhanded civil servant is so strong that it is difficult to perceive such people as anything but accidental misfits.

Not entirely true.

We all know, that even in any corporate set up, it is the exceptional 2% that drive value. A large number of passengers and cynics make up the rest. Ask any serious HR professional.  Why should it be any different for the bureaucracy. Here's what I think: companies actively seek out, recognize and reward these 2%. Spurring greater motivation and productivity. We, as the primary shareholders of government, refuse to do as much with the bureaucracy. They are perforce left to be recognized and rewarded by their political masters. But unfortunately for a different set of KRAs!

This is a tragic waste. Because the true calibre and character of this 2% is only underscored by their ability to deliver and make a difference within the work environments they inhabit.

We normally walk into a government office assuming a wasted couple of hours. I can remember the number of times we have walked out whispering "what's a guy like him doing in a place like this". I am certain that you can think of at least a couple who could walk into any global board.

In the end we only deserve what we seek and celebrate. A great student, teacher, boss, employee or public servant can only be as effective as we see him to be. And if we are honest we will admit that we look at the entire bureaucracy through the lens of a very tinted glass.