Thank you for the welcome. Lion Reena Roy, thank you so much for the peace prayer.
The president and the charter chairman, in their respective addresses, have listed an impressive number of achievements of the Lions Club of Calcutta (northeast). I commend the members for displaying such keen interest in the welfare activities of the club. I would also like to congratulate the recipients of the rolling trophies and the 14 charter members, who have been felicitated today.
This evening, what I wish to talk to you about is something off the beaten track. It has something to do with your motto of integrity and transparency. As you are aware, both these qualities are in short supply across the world. It is, however, unfair to single out India for indulging in dishonest practices and scams of various kinds. Western countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, all stand exposed today and the greed for wealth and the willingness to take shortcuts have exposed the hypocrisy of the west as far as ethical practices are concerned. Has not the time come for you to seriously think about expanding your current mandate, which mainly focuses on meeting the needs of local communities, providing valuable assistance to those affected in the aftermath of natural or manmade calamities, providing assistance and succour to the needy and the less privileged sections of society? Would you not consider enlarging the scope of your activities and moving into areas that have hitherto been considered taboo.
In this respect, I would ask you to throw your minds back to yesteryear, and recall how organisations such as the Lions International and the Rotary International created an entirely new ambience, which was subsequently to pave the way for what is now often referred to as corporate social responsibility (CSR). Today, CSR has become the new mantra for many companies, and I doubt whether this would have been possible, but for the pioneering work done by bodies such as the Lions and the Rotary.
I may be permitted to digress a little here on CSR.
I am old fashioned in my thinking. I believe that the principal responsibility of companies is to their shareholders — that of ensuring maximum return on their investment. When companies get seduced by public acclamation to constantly expand their CSR, the danger is that this often leads to a dip in their profit margins. It would be much better, hence, if there was to be an optimal redistribution of responsibilities, with companies making available the needed funds to these established organisations, which have several decades of experience and expertise in regard to socially ameliorative tasks. Companies should do what they are charged to do, that is, make profit.
With 1.35 million members committed to ideals such as transparency and integrity, these organisations can certainly make a difference as far societal attitudes and conduct are concerned. I feel particularly encouraged to put forward such a proposition at this time. We just saw during the recent Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu how the electorate, despite promises and blandishments of various kinds, and being showered with gifts, refused to be enticed and comprehensively voted out one of the most corrupt governments in recent years.
I dare say no one political party can claim responsibility for bringing about such a result. No single organisation can also, similarly, claim to have achieved this. Clearly, there were forces at work and several voluntary bodies, more indirectly perhaps than directly, contributed to building up public opinion against corruption and corrupt practices.
What I am urging you to do is to engage in tasks of this nature in a structured manner, given that in your ranks you have highly responsible and well-heeled leaders of industry, as also senior professionals, who could effectively channelise the energies of citizens in a positive direction. This has far better prospects of lasting success, if this were to happen, than actions such as the impromptu fast by Anna Hazare and the tantalising prospects of a Jasmine revolution that a section of the middle class appears to clamour for. This is a suggestion I would like all of you to consider with the seriousness that it deserves.
Edited excerpts from the speech of West Bengal Governor M K Narayanan on the occasion of the Charter Function organised by Lions Club of Calcutta (northeast) on May 22