Friday, January 20, 2006

I Dare! - Kiran Bedi A Biography by Paramesh Dangwal

In a 2002 poll, Kiran Bedi was adjudged by "The Week" magazine to be the most admired woman in India. After reading this book, I was not at all surprised. For a woman who starred at tennis and managed to get fame even as a traffic cop, her achievements spanning crime prevention, police training and being an advisor to the UN have only become greater.

The popular myth - that nothing can be done about the inefficiency, lethargy and corruptibility of Indian government service - gets powerfully dispelled. Throughout much of her career, Kiran Bedi has done nothing but get more service and productivity out of the staff that were assigned to her. From changing the traffic situation in Goa with a mere 25 cops to getting the respect of the outsider-unfriendly state of Mizoram as Police Commissioner, her ability to marshall her resources shines through. What's amazing is that it often took just this one person, and maybe a few others to cause massive changes in the police systems and operations. I began to believe at the end of the book that the critical mass required for change - even in a system that can be as rotten as the indian civil service - is not so huge after all.

This is basically a book about leadership. Leaders basically act as catalysts for positive change. While today leadership in literature is mostly about CEO's, the magnitude of social change that Kiran Bedi has started is (to me) much more impressive than that. One of her famous postings was as Inspector-General of Tihar Jail in Delhi. Before she arrived, it was known to be a hellhole. Drugs, physical abuse, corruption, disease, prisoner deaths were common. In the short span of two years, she converted the prison into "virtually an ashram" in the words of the press - which in involved man-management of over 8000 prisoners and hundreds of staff - all of whom were beset by common problems. The book tells the story of the innovative methods - mostly rehabilitation and correctional efforts managed to change a place like Tihar in such a short span of time. Another aspect of undaunted leadership is that Kiran Bedi often found huge opposition from politicians and others who didn't like her making changes to the system - and she manages to accept these realities and still carry on her work at the same time.

Kiran Bedi herself is the author of four books and runs two voluntary organizations - Navjyoti and India Vision, and has a PhD from IIT Delhi in Social Sciences.