Indians! Wake Up to Demand Quality
(Indian Attitude towards Quality and It's Impact on Corruption)

by Prem Kamble


Added on Date 24.7.2016:
Exactly 25 years back, Indian Industry was liberalized with the budget presented by the then Finance Minister on date 24.7.1991. This article was first written in the late 1990s. Not much has changed with the Indian mindset of tolerating low quality, particularly with the quality services that we get and expect from the government.

Why have Indians developed a pathetic attitude towards quality of products and services, particularly services from the government? How does this attitude impact corruption in Indian society? What does this attitude have to do with the Great Indian Apathy - a belief that "Nothing will ever change in India!"? And the typical Indian mindset of idolizing people? Can we ever change this attitude? How are Corruption and Poor Quality inter-dependent? This article analyses Indian Attitude towards Quality and It's Impact on Corruption.

This article illustrates how there is always a need to re-engineer policies to tune them over time and make them more relevant to the current time and circumstances. Prime Minister Nehru made certain policies immediately after Indian independence suited for his time and conditions. Did the later leaders do their jobs of tuning them to suit changed conditions? We tend to either glorify the past or blame the past. The need is to re-engineer the past.

The same is true about religion - discussed in another article "God in Two Minutes".


Today businesses are going global. The internet and e-commerce are shrinking the world so that the world market is now made available to the consumer. Obviously the consumer has greater choice and would go for the best quality. In this scenario, quality is the key to survival for businesses.

So far India was itself a big market to the Indian producer. Now the country is moving towards open markets.

Indian producers are under severe threat from the global market and unless they produce quality, they will be extinct. When it comes to the issue of quality, we Indians have been fast asleep. We need to be jolted out of our slumber, and that is what this article attempts to do. This article attempts to analyse the Indian Mindset to bring about an awakening for quality. The article also analyses the interdependence of Quality awareness and Corruption - how corruption impacts quality and how demand for quality can cut corruption.


The average Indian has been conditioned to accept anything and not demand quality. Most Indians have resigned to the fact that nothing will change with respect to quality of service and corruption in governments and government offices. The conditioning is so strong and deep that most Indians are not even aware that their actions are (or rather inaction is) driven by this firm belief. Let us dig into India's industrial history to understand what is responsible for this typical Indian mindset.

Three important decisions, which were good for their time but were prolonged beyond their "productive life" have contributed to this pathetic situation. This article also demonstrates how old good decisions need to be ruthlessly dumped and new decisions relevant to the changed conditions need to be made over time. Certain decisions may be good for their time and become so dear to us that we resist to change them. We forget that good decisions which bring about positive change also cause changes which make the same old good decisions irrelevant to the changed conditions.

  1. Protected Market:   We had been living in a protected market where anything could sell. The quality of goods produced has been anything from mediocre to bad. This situation of protected market continued for so long that we Indians got quite used to mediocrity and poor quality. We stopped expecting quality, leave alone demanding quality. Our expectations were low and there was no consumer awareness.
  2. Government Monopoly:   Moreover, with most of the services like transport, utilities, etc. under government monopoly, bureaucratic processes led to extremely poor services.  We developed a mindset of apathy - the belief that "Things will never improve in India" firmly took root in our mind.
  3. Over employment, Lower pay:   In the formative years, employment of masses was a priority. Large number of people were employed in public sector units. When you over employ, obviously you need to pay lower salaries. As these officers grew in power because of the monopoly, lower salaries and higher power pushed them into corruption. As corruption grew, quality of goods and services dropped.
Let us look at each of these factors in details. Each of these decisions, though appropriate for their time, have caused havoc as new decisions were not made and old ones dumped at the right time.


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When India gained independence, Indian government had to rebuild its economy by supporting the infant industry and building a strong infrastructure. Mr. Nehru, the then Prime Minister, created large public sector firms as the private sector was not in a position to invest in the capital intensive core sector. Most of the services like transport, postal service, railways, etc. were retained in the government sector.

Indian Infant Industry Apart from nurturing the infant industry, the government had a secondary objective of providing employment to the poor masses. As a result, more persons were employed where one was required. The salary was split amongst more people, so obviously each one got low salary. For the poverty-ridden masses, low salary was better than no salary. Each one could at least make a living.

To protect the nascent Indian industry, its market was protected by imposing high customs duty. Otherwise, high quality imported goods would have flooded the Indian markets and nipped the Indian industry in the bud. The policy was appropriate for that time and for the conditions prevailing then. The infant Indian industry needed support, just as a child learning to walk would need hand holding.


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If Nehru's Policy was Right for his Time, What went Wrong?

If what Nehru did was just right for the time, where did we go wrong? There were expectations of the Indian industry becoming a strong force to reckon with. Why were the hopes belied?

Where we went wrong was that the policy was continued for too long. The child was learning to walk, but we continued to hold the hands so that the child never attempted to walk on its own. The Indian industry never matured. And who was to blame for that? Most of us tend to blame Nehru, or the subsequent governments and the stream of politicians who followed. According to me, the finger points not to them, but to all of us Indians - we all need to share the blame.

Indian Mentality of Idolizing People

We Indians have a strange mentality to idolise people. We see people either as Ram, the God who is an ideal and is idolised, or Ravana, the devil, who is condemned. We don't look at people as people. We tended to idolise Nehru for long years and continued his policy just because it was Nehru's Policy. Politicians of course did not have the courage to deviate from the policy of an idol for fear of popular vote. I remember having seen discussions on TV of eminent economists talking highly of Nehru's policy and justifying its continuation much after his demise.

We mis-interpreted his policy as one of supporting public sector and opposing private sector. Due to our foolishness and our inability to go against an idol, we kept on protecting the infant Indian industry with closed market much after Nehru's demise, not realising that the infant industry was growing up and needed to walk on its own without support. Prolonged protection and support even when it grew up prevented the Indian industry from becoming strong enough to fight competition from foreign goods.

What we Indians should have done was not blindly revere Nehru and his policy but analyse it objectively. Long back, we should have asked ourselves these questions - "What was the justification for his policy then? Are the conditions still the same as they were when the policy was conceived?" As the baby (Indian industry) was growing up, we should have gradually tested its strength and capabilities in more and more trying situations. There was need to bring in competition to the Indian goods from foreign markets much earlier. We were blindly following a leader without understanding the objectives of his policy. Much later, Rajiv Gandhi had the courage to say, "What Nehru did was right for his time, what I am doing is right for our time."

We Continued Nehru's Policies for too Long

We should have introduced competition in small doses through imported goods and privatisation long back. This would have let the Indian Industry gradually improve quality and stand the competition. As the consumers would have got a taste of quality, they would have started demanding more quality. In order to survive, Indian companies would have been forced to modernise, to run efficiently, to produce quality goods, to cut costs, improve processes, improve employee productivity, upgrade technology and to improve management style.

Much later, after years of protection, when we suddenly woke up, we have opened the floodgates and allowed foreign goods in. The Indian industry was swept off its feet.

This one mistake of not introducing competition early has cost us dearly. It has had an impact on the Indian mindset and bred corruption in the ranks. This has in turn affected the quality of products that we produce and the quality of service that we Indians have got so used to.


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Great Indian Apathy - Indian Mindset

Great Indian Apathy We saw in the previous sections how an unduly prolonged protection of the Indian market led to deterioration of quality of products and services. Let us see what impact all these developments have had on the Indian psyche and Indian mindset.

Each Indian got used to mediocre quality of goods produced by the Indian industries and poor quality of service from the government (as government was a monopoly service provider). Particularly, people are so used to inferior government service that they don't complain. They know that the protests were falling on deaf ears and have given up. They know that it is absolutely no use complaining against government. That's what I call the Great Indian Apathy!

I remember an incident long back when private bus services were few, and I was travelling in an inter city bus run by the government run state transport. The bus broke down on the way where there was nothing but wilderness. To my surprise, everyone got down quietly and waited on the forlorn road to catch another bus which may (or may not) come. There was not a word of protest. On the contrary, I heard one of the passengers say as he got down, "It is after all a machine, and a machine can fail any time". Can you beat this? Why should a machine fail on the road? Why can't there be preventive maintenance? Why can't the government make immediate alternate arrangement in case of failure?

We have become extremely tolerant. We have stopped demanding. Today I know that the private banks give me much better service. But I shout at the top of my voice for small problems demanding service and teaching them a lesson or two on good customer service. Whereas with a public sector bank, I know I would be a fool if I were to demand service. The average Indian developed an attitude of apathy - a mindset when one resigns to fate and says, "Things will never improve in India." We have stopped complaining, stopped expecting service and obviously stopped demanding. That's the Great Indian Apathy!

Corruption Prospered

As the public sector was over staffed, obviously the salary was also divided and each employee was therefore paid low salary. Soon the employees started feeling the pinch and found it difficult to sustain on low salary. Need for more money for sustenance coupled with the power of monopoly led to widespread corruption. Corruption has a direct impact on the quality of goods and services. We Indians have learnt to live with it and stopped complaining. We have developed an apathy towards both poor quality and corruption.

Lethargy Developed

Just as our policy has had an impact on the quality of goods and services, it has also affected the efficiency levels in all walks of our life and particularly our workplace. As the public sector was over staffed in order to provide employment to the multitude, the work got distributed and each employee had more than enough time to do the work. Lethargy prospered and efficiency suffered.


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The Effect of Indian Apathy on Quality

Indian industry almost had a monopoly of Public Sector and a few private companies. They enjoyed a protected market. It soon became a sellers' market. People took anything, which was offered. People had just not seen quality. Indians got so used to mediocre products that they did not know what was quality. They were satisfied with mediocre goods.

For the Indian industry, it was a happy situation. There was very little competition, no threat to survival, so no pressing need to improve quality to survive. As Indians did not demand quality, the industry never had to tighten its belt. Anything they made, of any quality and at any price, they could push down the Indian consumer's throat. In the process, industry never had a need to run efficiently, or to improve quality. It continued to produce sub standard material which was lopped up by the Indian consumer.

The Effect of Corruption on the Quality

When there is corruption in the ranks, goods are purchased from (and contracts are offered to) parties who can pay and not necessarily those who provide quality. Poor quality of raw material may be accepted and incompetent people may be hired to work as employees or contractors. Survival then is not by quality but by money power. Thus corruption directly proves to be a breeding ground for poor quality of goods and services.

Most of key services in India, like public transport (road, rail, and air), entertainment, power, etc. were provided by only one agency - the Government. There existed no alternative to the Indian consumer. There was no need for service providers to give quality service. The government servant enjoyed such monopoly and such security for his job that he has been extremely rude to the consumer. In fact the consumer has to almost beg to the government servant to get anything done.


I strongly believe that, it will certainly help if all of us could realise that we were fast asleep so far - and asleep for too long. We need to wake up to the fact that our attitude and mindset has been moulded over the years in an atmosphere of mediocrity and now we need to break the shell of our closed minds and come out of it. We have been conditioned to accept poor quality of goods from industry and poor quality of services from government. We need to change our mindset. We need to start demanding quality. With this change in mindset and with this awakening, I am confident we can do it!

Indians! Wake up to Demand Quality.

Added on Date 24.7.2016:
Twenty five years have passed since the Indian Industry was liberalized on date 24.7.1991. This article was first penned in the late 1990s. Conditions have not changed much with respect to the Indian Mindset of accepting low quality, particularly with respect to the quality of services that we expect and get from the government.

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Top   Contents        Home


Interplay of Corruption and Quality
The Indian Mindset: Great Indian Apathy
A Look at History of Indian Industry
Where did we go Wrong?
      Nehru's Policy was Right for his Time
      We Stretched it for too Long
Impact of the Costly Mistake on Indian Society
     Great Indian Apathy
     Corruption Prospered
     Lethargy Developed
Impact on the Quality of Products and Services
     The Effect of Indian Apathy on Quality
     The Effect of Corruption on the Quality
How Can We Produce Quality?