Srijan Pal Singh
Srijan Pal Singh
You have co-authored three books with Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. What was the experience like?
Dr. Kalam was a hero to most of my generation while we grew up. He was the story we often heard and told to inspire faith in hard work. So, the opportunity to have co-authored three books with him was an honor and perhaps the most cherished moments of my life.
I remember him asking one question often while we were writing – “After the reader spends a few minutes reading this paragraph, would he or she feel enriched and happy with the knowledge.” This was our golden rule, our acid test.
I found him to carry within himself the curiosity of a child to explore new ideas and facts when and also the humility to be, sometimes, corrected or appended in his thoughts by a person who was one-third his age.
How can we weed out corruption from our system?
Corruption is a multi-system issue and needs a holistic solution.
In the book, Black Tiger, I have focused on this fundamental truth – corruption in the nation is a systemic issue and it stands on multiple pillars – a compromised governance, crime-infected politics, a tardy hence, ineffective judiciary and often for-sale media. However, in my opinion if we really need to start somewhere, it is by reforming corporate governance and making businesses ethical. It is the enterprise which eventually converts resource to wealth and hence,corporate- corruption leads to thegeneration of black wealth. Free competition, reduced governmental control, eliminating crony capitalism and maintaining a water-tight accountability for financial disciplines needs to be followed in this respect. Technology will play a great role in levelling down corruption from the roots.
But all this is in vain if we do not change the way the next generation is brought up. Education, both in schools and more so, in homes, needs to be carefully planned to ensure that the children of today grow up to be honest adults who do not seek shortcuts in life and are prepared to work hard to achieve their goals. We need to create an atmosphere where one needs to be enterprising to be successful and not a sycophant of those in positions of power and where talent can vanquish nepotism.
Do you think the Government is doing enough to prevent this deep rooted evil?
I do believe that the government realizes that corruption is a cancer, but then it seems like there is a lack of organized surgical plan to strike at the roots of corruption. We need an organized inter-ministerial unit with a long-term plan to weed out corruption. It would need faster court procedures from the Law Ministry and rapid law enforcement action including seizure of properties from the Home Ministry. We need to engage the Foreign Ministry to form treaties of mutual extradition of financial criminals who find haven in other nations. Corruption in police, politics and judiciary should be treated with the highest forms of punishment as these are clear abuse of positions of faith and power. Immediate family of those convicted in corruption should be forbidden from contesting polls and people need to be given the option to reject all candidates and not just an inconsequential NOTA button. We, as citizens, should be given the right to recall elected representatives, much like it exists in nations such as USA.
If needed, we also need an overt legal cell, along with a covert intelligence unit to operate on foreign grounds, to operate against those who flee India after committing major financial frauds. Often, they find a life of opulence in Thailand, UAE, Pakistan, UK and even USA. We are aware of their whereabouts but yet, find a nation with excellent military strength tied down to act against its worst criminals. The ones who commit crimes of such magnitude destroy the nation’s present and the future, and should be treated no less than a terrorist and even if they run away from the nation, they should never be allowed to feel safe and enjoy their wealth.
There is plenty to learn from experiences of other countries. It took a single state court of USA to bring the Swiss banking system to its knees and get information on account holders of suspects. It took a few years for a highly corrupt nation, Hong Kong, to establish a special unit against corruption called ICAC, and destroy the backbone of corrupt officials and seize their property. Hong Kong is considered amongst the least corrupt nations in the world today.
What is your writing routine?
I am not a full-time author, so my writing schedule is not fixed. With regular working hoursduring the day, I am able to find freedom from phone and mails only in the night – so much of the writing can only be done in rather unearthly hours.
My writing is non-fiction, so needs substantial research. Usually, I pick a piece or section at a time, do extensive reading and discussions and then write all that which sticks in my mind. I feel it is worth expressing only if it finds an automatic space in my mind, hoping it will then also find space in the reader’s mind.
How has the feedback been to the book? Any favourite feedback from a reader?
I did receive several comments to the ideas expressed in the book. I found that each reader was able to connect with a certain set of ideas from the book based on their own personal life. Often in their feedback, they shared their anguish and pain and yet a sense of hope that we can see a corruption-free India within our lifetimes.
One feedback I particularly remember was from a 75-year-old retired government officer. He wrote to me on Facebook, stating “I lived my professional life in government. I followed a life of ethics and principles and never resorted to corrupt means. After my retirement I was not appreciated for this but I was called a fool for not making money while I could.” I could see the agony he faced. Then it became worse, “Even my sons accuse me of being stupid. They say because of you we had to go cheap government schools and government hospitals, and hence, we never got a good life.” He asked, “I read your book. I could relate to it. You have rightly said that many a times people resort to corruption only because they want a better education for their children and better healthcare for their parents, and government facilities are incapable to provide this quality. Corruption is first induced by depriving basic facilities and then it becomes a habit. I could see my life in it. I have high hopes from you. I know I was not wrong to be clean. Now, I have been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Tell what I can do to make India corruption-free before I die?”
It is not often that a reader has the author thinking. This was one such feedback. Often we read and grumble. We blame the system and point fingers at the fate of the nation. But here was a man, of 75 years of age, who had the youthful energy to stand up and say – What can I do for India? I believe, this energy and zeal, even when in the face of accusations from his own family, is exemplary and gives us all hope.
What were your favourite reads from last year? Any recommendations for our readers?
I read this wonderful book Homo Deus by Noah Harari a few weeks ago. It is a heavy read but very captivating. I recommend all of you to read it. It will give you an indelible insight into the future.
About the Interviewee: Srijan Pal Singh is a gold medallist MBA holder from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and has worked with the Boston Consulting Group. He is a social entrepreneur who has been involved in studying and evolving sustainable development systems with a thrust on rural areas. From 2009 to 2015, he also worked as an advisor and an officer on special duty to Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam on promoting the concept of energy independence and Providing Urban Amenities in Rural Areas (PURA), and co-authored with him three books, Target 3 Billion (2011), Reignited (2015), and Advantage India (2015). He has been named as one of the Global Leaders of Tomorrow by the St. Gallen Leadership Symposium in Switzerland in 2014. He has also co-authored Smart and Human (2015) with GRK Reddy