An extract from the Indian Railway Gazette, 1 January 1908.
Taken from source material made available by the Institute of Railway Studies and Transport History, of the University of York. The material is believed to be out of copyright.
If there was one point brought out with greater force than any other by the recent East Indian Railway strike, it was the absolute necessity for the presence, - on every railway in India, - of some individual, possessed of a strong personality, on the side of the employers and more than this the need which exists for railway officers to be not only experts in their own technical line, but also possessed of administrative ability of a definite order. The instance we have cited and the satisfactory outcome of what might have been a very serious disaster both to the Railway Company and to the travelling and commercial public, support our contention and is evidence of the fact that on the East Indian Railway such a personality does exist.
It must be remembered that in the country in which we live, men of many races are to be found, and, as a very natural consequence, men of these races are to be found gathered together in railway service. Scattered in one branch or another, in this department or that, of the average railway in India, the European from England, Sweden, Germany, Italy, in fact from half the nations of Europe, will be found working cheek by jowl with the Anglo-Indian, the Eurasian, ,the American or the Australian. On many lines the Parsee element is conspicuous by its strength, on others the native Christian or the heathen Chinee, while every line in the land is served by large numbers of Hindus and Mussalmen. West Indian and African negroes, as well as Goanese and Arabs are to be found, and these by no means complete the detail of the numerous and diverse races which railway officers are called upon, in one position or another, to command, to control, and, above all, to satisfy. It would be difficult, if not a matter of impossibility, to find on any other railway in the civilized world such a miscellaneous collection of the human race.
It is, therefore, sufficiently apparent that in the first place, it requires an official endowed with no small amount of ability to be able to handle men of such various nationalities, castes, creeds and customs at all, while to be able to handle them capably, that is, in a manner which renders them efficient servants of the Company and also leaves them satisfied employees, demands more than the mere possession of ability, - it demands that the official shall be possessed of (and exercise) tact, common-sense and discrimination, in short, that he shall be an administrator, in the sense that his personality shall dominate his command, extracting the utmost value obtainable from it for their common employers, but leaving it secure in the feeling that as a mediator between it and the higher official world above, its members may be certain of having their desires and wishes listened to and conveyed to the proper quarter with impartiality and justice. It may sound a lot and it may seem a lot to expect a railway officer to be able to do this, but there are many such who can, and who do. There are, also. unfortunately, many who, doubtless through no intentional fault of their own, cannot and do not. The whole trend of the railway officer's training in India has hitherto been to make him a technical expert in the branch in which he serves. The administration of staff has, apparently, been a point overlooked, a vital omission as events have proved. Has not, we venture to suggest, the time arrived when the question of promotion crops up in this period or that of a railway officer's service, for giving serious consideration to the administrative ability he possesses, as gauged by the manner in which he has managed the staff directly under him in the different grades he has occupied during the successive stages of his career? It must be remembered that we live in an age that has discovered the force and the value of unity, in a day that is well aware of the power of concerted action and in an age the depth of which, there can be no denying, is actuated by a mild form of Socialism. The warning emitted by the signs of the times cannot, nay, must not, pass unheeded, and he who can gauge them, can probe them, can control them, and, above all, gently guide them is the man for the moment, the man who should have the direction of affairs.
The need for perfect frankness exists and a little plain speaking does no harm at any time. We very much regret to say that we have, from time to time, found that in more than one station not only distrust, but definite ill-feeling exists between railway officers and their subordinates. These latter. speak freely, and, much as we regret to have to record it, we have frequently heard them applying names, the reverse of pleasing, to their immediate superiors. It is pleasant to be able to turn from this, and to say that we also know of many stations where the utmost good will and friendship prevail on both sides - officers and men pull together and the result is, and can be, nothing but good. One suggestion we offer, and we venture to think in our own minds it contains at least the elements of what is necessary to solve the problem. Let there be less transferring of both District Officers and men from district to district and station to station at frequent short intervals. Let the officers and men learn to know each other and, so to speak, grow old side by side in the service. To our certain knowledge the headquarters of the recent disaffection during the strike oil the East Indian Railway - Asansol - has been under the control of at least a dozen District Officers in half as many years. This kind of thing cannot be good, and we suggest it is harmful to that camaraderie which, as we have pointed out, should exist if matters are to run smoothly and the interior mechanism of the line to run in well oiled grooves.
The aspect of the case as it appears to us, and, as we know, to many others, has been given, and there is little more to be said. Let thepersonnel of the superior supervising establishment of a line be characteristic, and let that characteristicness be administrative ability marked (which if it be present at all it must be marked with) with a genuine desire for the the good of all - irrespective of caste, creed or nationality. The result will be the steady and sustained growth of a better all round feeling of affection and good-will than appears to have existed in the past, and, we are afraid we must say, than is existent at present.