Dhaka, Bangladesh
A technocrat's reminiscences

A technocrat's reminiscences

On the face of it, Karuveli, officially called Sarguneswarapuram, may appear to be yet another nondescript village of the old Thanjavur region. But, this tiny village, now part of the Kodavasal block of the Tiruvarur district, is no ordinary place. Karuveli has a Chola-era temple, the presiding deity being called Sarguneswarar. In the contemporary period, the village was the scene of the early signs of agrarian labour unrest, which was witnessed in eastern parts of the composite Thanjavur district in 1968, leading to the gruesome murder of 44 persons [mostly Dalit women and children] in Keezhavenmani village on Christmas night. In November that year, it was in Karuveli that the police had used teargas shells to disperse a group of agitators over the issues of wage hike for agricultural workers and employment of outsiders for farming. The author, V. Krishnamurthy, is a proud son of the Karuveli soil. His memoir has nothing to do with the agrarian problem but begins with a chapter titled "From Karuveli To Karuveli." It talks about his roots and the circumstances under which he had to go back to his native village nearly 35 years after his family left the place. The personal side apart, the 90-year-old Krishnamurthy, who headed three big companies - BHEL, Maruti Udyog or Maruti Suzuki and SAIL - during the 1970s and the 1980s, has done his recollections with a fair amount of objectivity. Though the book dwells upon how the organisations, during his tenure, had made a turnaround, Krishnamurthy does provide an idea of the big picture about the government. It's quite revealing how seasoned political leaders and former Prime Ministers - Indira Gandhi and Morarji Desai - had critically viewed the performance of public sector undertakings even at a time when the government had, as a matter of principle and through policy interventions, supported and promoted the public sector. The two leaders were almost identical in their assessment of the capacity of Indians to be sound and competent managers. The author, who served the Union Planning Commission in two different periods - in the 1950s and in the early 1990s - has some pertinent points to make about the now-abolished body. In the '50s, the Commission was indeed an "intellectually vibrant" place. But, what is more important is that those who were part of the Commission in the '50s were least concerned about "political correctness" while scrutinising any project. This was evident when the body considered the Durgapur steel plant project. He recalls how a member, K.C. Neogy, despite hailing from West Bengal, did not support the proposal but another member and Union Minister, T.T. Krishnamachari, backed it so strongly that the Commission had to approve it. The bottom line is that those part of the policy-making process then exchanged their views frankly and honestly, a feature not widely prevalent now. But, by the early 1990s, the Commission was no longer known to be what it was. The present President, Pranab Mukherjee was then Deputy Chairman. He nursed the idea of restructuring the Commission and asked the author to prepare a plan. Even though the idea was not to disband the body which finally happened in 2014, one could sense that the need for revamping the Commission was felt even about 25 years ago. In the brief period that Krishnamurthy had served the Commission as Member during 1991-92, he made a suggestion, which will remain only an idea in many States for years to come: the levy of 50 paise per unit for electricity supplied to farmers and the metering of agricultural pump sets. The author, who is candid about his differences with Congress leaders such as former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and former Union Minister of State for Industry Charanjit Chanana, however, has not hesitated to compliment socialist leader George Fernandes [who was Union Industries Minister during the 1977-79 Janata regime] or the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam president M. Karunanidhi for appreciation of issues concerning policy or management. In fact, according to the author, politicians have regard for "people who are demonstrably professional." It was another matter that the same Fernandes, under whom he served as Secretary for Heavy Industries, had demanded a probe into his business interests when the stock scam broke out in 1992. The book, which effectively concludes with the early part of 2014, shows how certain things in India have not changed much. The author explains proudly the work done by the National Manufacturing Competitive Council, which he headed during the 10-year-long Congress-led regime (2004-2014), and refers to a 2006 document that talks of achieving a sustained level of growth of 14 per cent in the manufacturing sector for 15 years. The present government, led by Narendra Modi, has launched the 'Make in India' programme and more or less, the same goal has been set. In the last five years or so, the showing of the manufacturing sector has not been great and there is a multiplicity of factors that have contributed to this state of affairs. The author could have been much more elaborate in his critical analysis of the sector. Though a nostalgic account, the work will be found useful by those who are keen on studying the processes behind policy formulation and management of big enterprises.

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