Elections are around the corner and the Pakistani public is desperately hoping that the next government will somehow improve both, its standard of living and the environment it lives in - a socio-economic change that puts the country back on the path of growth, safety and equitable distribution. All the political parties meanwhile are promising the moon (if elected) and to be fair to them, at least on paper carry some good briefs on the reforms they plan to adopt and improvements they seek to undertake by learning from past mistakes. While one wishes them well for one’s own sake, one remains sceptical on whether or not they even possess the necessary skills to make good governance actually happen in Pakistan. One can argue that while the intentions may also have been good in the past, success could not be achieved primarily due to management failures.

Management as we know entails the art of assembling the right human resource, delegation, professional oversight, eliminating conflict of interest, transparency and leadership. As a leader, if one needs to keep umpteen portfolios in one’s own hands or feels the necessity to induct family members in key positions or desires to control party affairs, even though one is unable to be physically present to lead one’s party in person, then surely one does not understand the science of management where the underlying focus lies on sustainability of an organisation through merit-based succession planning. Also, one needs to be careful that if traction with the public has taken more than 16 years to arrive then, perhaps, it has more to do with the failures of the competitors than one’s own attributes.

In any case, governance turnarounds in general are difficult to achieve in the complex and rather complicated societies of the subcontinent and so little wonder that related turnaround stories that come to mind are not many. However, the turnaround of the state of Bihar, India, by its Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar, is one such story from which our future leaders should learn from.

Kumar first came into power in 2006 in Bihar on the basis of the promise of sushasan (good governance). Just before he assumed power, the Economist magazine had termed Bihar as “An Area of Darkness”; an area that represented the worst of India due to chronic misrule that allowed infrastructure to crumble, terrorism and corruption to thrive, poverty to spread to the point of being inescapable, education and health systems to collapse, and law and order to evaporate. So, given that Bihar was largely oblivious to the meaning of good governance, it was especially a tall order to turn around the fortunes of this very state than of any other in India. So how did the Kumar’s administration bring about Bihar’s resurgence from being an almost failed state? Was he alone responsible for the turnaround? Can Bihar still slip back to the bad old days or a sustainable model has, indeed, been put in place whereby the state and its people can finally bid goodbye to the dark days? The best way to find answers to these questions is by looking into the revival process itself, as developed by Kumar.

Being an experienced hand in Indian politics, he well knew at the time of assuming office that Bihar called for desperate measures - everything needed fixing and that too urgently. However, at the same time, he had the prudence to realise that he cannot act like a ‘one man army’ and needed to put in place a management structure and ‘build the right team’ that could be spearheaded by him, but not entirely dependent on him. He had names in his mind he could trust vis-à-vis competence and honesty and wasted no time in approaching them.

Very soon the officers with sound reputation, who had not so long ago chosen to opt out of Bihar’s administration to avoid compromising on their principles or getting their reputation tarnished, were wooed back. The idea was to have a set of go-getters with a reputation for integrity in as many departments as possible.

Abhayanand - an erudite, soft-spoken yet firm professional with a razor sharp intellect and an inclination towards science and mathematics - was made the Police Chief; R.K. Singh - famous for arresting L.K. Advani when he embarked on his nation-splitting Rathyatra (Babri Masjid episode) - was selected for the key portfolio of planning and home affairs; Deepak Kumar, Anjani Singh and Anup Mukherji - all persons with impeccable honesty - were selected to look after the healthcare, human resource development and rural development departments; N.K. Singh - a globally renowned economic visionary with hands-on experience of running the centre’s economic affairs division - was brought in as head of the Finance Ministry and in spite of strong opposition from within his own party Afzal Amanullah (a Muslim) was appointed as the Home Secretary. The Home Ministry, however, he kept for himself so that he could take all the heat, while allowing his team to get on with the real job on hand - tackling corruption, nepotism and terror.

Ultimately, no part of the administration can function unless it is backed by a state that takes quick decisions and frames laws within which the executive decisions can function. To take care of this, he appointed a well respected and extremely proactive lawyer, P.K. Shahi, as the Bihar’s Advocate General. In months to follow, Shahi tended to be one of the busiest people in the government. Having put together a dream team, the human in Kumar was conscious that a turnaround would be meaningless unless ‘development’ takes place with ‘justice to all’. Based on this simple yet broad vision, his government quickly chalked out a four-fold mission, albeit one where results could be ‘clearly measured’:

i    Every Indian plate must have         one edible item from Bihar.

i    Bihar should produce at least         30 lakh litres of milk per year.

i    People should be able to travel         from anywhere in Bihar to

    Patna in less than six hours.

i    A Bihari should earn no less

    than Indian Rs 300 per day.

Turnarounds should never revolve around personalities and so this presented Kumar his biggest challenge - to put Bihar on a sustainable path of progress. And this is where one finds that, in essence, he cleverly based the turnaround story of Bihar on the famous eight-stages of change management advocated by the management Guru, John Kotter. The kick-off stage being: ‘establishing a sense of urgency’. This followed by the second step: ‘building a guiding coalition’. Stages three to five deal with creating and communicating a common vision and empowering people to act on it. These elements were dealt with by Kumar by crafting a vision of a transformation process. The vision linked transformation, in-turn, with a plan to restore the glory of the state by basing it on development and service to the citizenry. Step six of Kotter’s recipe comprises of defining short-term goals and celebrating the accomplishments of these goals. This phenomenon happened in Bihar through relentless monitoring by the Chief Minister’s Secretariat and by listing its detailed activities as public documents, freely accessible and challengeable by any person. This was arguably the most critical phase of the turnaround story.

The last two steps in Kotter’s scheme are about imbibing the new practices and embedding them into the culture, so as to make the transformation permanent and long-lived. These are stages the Kumar government is currently grappling with. An initiative by the name of ‘Bihar Divas’ (to project Bihari pride and identity) has already been put into place to ensure that the will to further this process becomes irreversible. However, one feels that the immortality of this turnaround may already be cast in stone, since the Bihar story has happened despite many adverse challenges (to good governance) ever present in the Indian democratic arena and, more pertinently, because it has all along been pushed and owned by the Bihari people themselves!

The writer is an entrepreneur and economic analyst.