Thursday, 10 November 2016

Trumped!

TRUMPED!

The title says it all : the whole world, it seems, has been trumped, or rather, to be accurate : Trumped. That capital “T” is rather important, you know. And thus it is that one of the most idiotic, amusing, divisive, unfathomable and surprisingly illogically logical elections comes to its conclusion, the swansong of what I can only call “The Trumpection”. For this wasn’t a normal event, this beloved “Trumpection”; it was an event unto itself, a roller coaster, amusing and hilarious event. {Sorry, my American friends, but from where I stand, it was, well, Hilarious!} I know that at least I looked up Trumpection at the end of a hard day for a barrel of laughs. I enjoyed it, and will certainly miss the entertainment provided by Trumpection! But, sadly, all good things must come to an end; there are only so many slices you can cut out of a Chocolate Cake, you know.


My regular readers will by now have no doubt noted a marked shift from my normal analytical, factual, annotated and researched writing style towards a seemingly disrespectful and flippant style. But when words fail me, and yet thoughts flow – a curious combination, that : this rambling style is the only possible, feasible result, as any writer ought to confirm. What else can I do, how else can I react, as an Indian, when I am treated to a pantheon of rib-tickling episodes interspersed with racism, xenophobia, manufactured along a seemingly strong skeleton of development, social emancipation et al? I was of the confirmed belief that no one, but no one, could ever top us Indians in the sphere of elections for sheer drama : boy, was I wrong! And how! The USA – please accept my sincere apologies; Trumpection was an event unto itself, and mighty fun it was too, absolute tops in the Electiodramatics school of entertainment!


We have some Indians Celebrating on the streets {!!!!!}, we have images from across the world in varying shades of shock and delight, we have the scenes from the USA… but, for me, a Citizen of the magical and beautiful land of India, it is Indian  responses and the impact on India which is of greater concern; and that is what I found the most rib-ticklingly sad of all. The general consensus is that Trumpidency would be  good for India {Trump + Presidency + Assumptions = Trumpidency, please excuse the flippancy here – I mean no insult; using it to highlight a point}. Amazing conclusion, that – given that the man himself, like as not, has precisely no idea of how to go about dealing with us, as he is yet to occupy the Oval Office!



You are in a moving Vehicle, going along at a nice clip of 60Kmph {Americans, excuse – but you really should get to  using standards all of  us do – pl divide that 60 by 1.62 to convert to Miles; for mathematically challenged people – meaning all of us – it is that “/” character on the Calculator in the Tools section of your UI on your Cell} . Now where was I?? Aah, yes : doing 60Kmph. How do I turn – always assuming I want to in the first place – do I just twist the round thingy called steering wheel 90 degrees? Do that, and a nearby hospital gets one case closer to its annual target. That is pretty much a guarantee, my dear friends.


DO I – OR RATHER TRUMPIDENCY – WANT TO TURN?
There are two points raised above : do I want to turn my Vehicle? And two – if I do, how do I turn, always assuming I want the Vehicle continue moving at a healthy rate after executing the turn? Let me take these two assumptions head-on. {Head-on as in metaphorically, meaning let me get to brass tacks, which in turn means dealing with real issues. Confused? Sorry, USA, so am I} Now this is a moving vehicle; with people in it. The driver cant just twist that round thingy all by his sweet lonesome. The decision to turn or not is most often an issue of common consensus among those who matter. So where is the evidence that there is a desire to turn?


Let us examine in the only meaningful paragraph in this entire article. We have had statements, and they are a dime a dozen; we cannot assume policy decisions basis empty statements. When taking policy calls, views of all impacted interest groups are called for; and thus, we have to look beyond this Trumpidency towards the ground reality as it currently exists. There is already a strong pro-Indian tilt in the USA along some lines; thus, is it any surprise that a new President would not factor that in to his calculations? So where is the change here? It doesn’t exist, not in the realm of business & trade at any rate!


That leaves the second aspect- strategic policy, which in the real world in independent of Trade decisions, for the constituent factors are not common, bar one or  two considerations. And in that sphere, though the new incumbent may want to change a lot – he will be constrained to taking calls basis the current ground reality. He may want to come far closer, call Pakistan’s bluff, but the situation should allow it. He will  not allow any fundamental change if it in any way impeded US interests- neither should he


The ground reality is firstly, there is more than a small share of support for Pakistan in the USA corridors of power; there is a strong presence in Afghanistan that can only be catered through Pakistan, there is a prevalent incorrect belief in the Americans that Pakistan has to be dealt with my humoring  it & not calling its bluff – and so on and so forth. {Yes, that is a second meaningful paragraph. I said one, wrote at least two. I can bluff too, cant I? And you believed me, right? Does that tell you something?}  


HOW DOES ONE TURN?
Short para, I promise you. Then this boring lecture can conclude. There are two ways – sudden, and gradual. Sudden – not the western character Sudden – I mean sudden as in an overnight change – you really want that? I don’t think so. Have we adjusted ourselves to the idea of a genuinely close {please stop ROFLing, my Indian friends} USA? Do we have the systems, people, the trust and the ideas in place to take advantage? I think not. And a gradual change, which will give both sides the time to place the right people in the right places, develop trust and so on and so forth takes time. The question is, will there be a gradual strategic shift in US approach under the new regime? {Note – here I say new regime, not Trumpidency. Refer Trumpidency Definition above}


THE CONCLUSION

For that, we have to wait. We have to wait for the flippant term Trumpidency to become redundant, and be replaced by Mr Donald Trump, POTUS. Then and only then will the cards be opened. Trumpidency implies a set of speculations basis statements, based on subjective desires as per individual readings; a Trump Presidency implies decisions basis the long-accepted science of proper decision making in a developed system of Governance


Till that time, we have to wait.  A lot has been said, both on Strategic and Trade Aspects; I don’t visualize a dramatic change in Trade realities, given the commitments, investments in place and the Economic Scenario; but on strategic aspects – USA, read as “Pakistan’’ for most India {some will say Chinistan – as I do} – we can only speculate. And it is always a bad idea to speculate on strategic aspects. Let us wait and watch…. 

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

UNDERSTANDING THE 500-1000 BAN – WHY IT ISNT ABOUT CORRUPTION ALONE

UNDERSTANDING THE BAN – WHY IT ISNT ABOUT CORRUPTION ALONE


MY THOUGHTS ON THE PEOPLE OF INDIA
The Indian capacity for hero-worship at times surprises me; it is one thing to hero-worship without cause; this can be  easily dealt with by speaking facts. But it is quite another to hero-worship when a) the personality in question is very good at what he-she does; and b) the hero-worship has basis in facts, albeit incompletely understood. This was proven yet again, as there arose a deluge of praise – most of it deserved – on the 500/1000 note ban. That by itself is fine; but going through the comments frankly left me speechless, as I saw an amazing capacity to not think in the light of cold reason, but rather react in a classic response from a strong emotive viewpoint


TACTICAL GENIUS
That is critical; if responses arise from emotive regions of your brain, the capacity to fully analyse diminishes. And that was in full evidence yesterday, as people went ballistic, not asking questions, not trying to fathom the move, not trying to connect the dots – but rather, going ballistic in praise. This admittedly excellent move has many parameters to it; few people and publications picked out the finer nuances of this stunning strategy. The most critical aspect is not the Ban per se; it is the tactical execution of the Ban; the secrecy – nay, total secrecy of the step; the way little to no time was given; the way hard decisions were taken. Not one person in my circles stated this, appreciated this. I just hope they understood, but didn’t state it explicitly.


NO SPACE FOR ANALYSIS?
Even  more worrying was that there was no space, quite literally, for conflicting opinion. People were just not willing to listen to reasoned voices, and going gung-ho ballistic, which was a genuine shocker. It shows us people in a very poor light indeed – for reasons I shall point out in the following paragraphs. Let alone the people, this move exposed the Media as well – as their emerged a clear cleft between reporting Media, and Analysing Media. One publication, which I expected, emerged tops, as it correctly analysed the move and its associated problems and full parameters. Just one in my reading at least – if there are others, shall update as and when I read them in follow-up articles.


When I state conflicting opinion – I don’t mean that I disagree with this move – I support it wholeheartedly. In fact, I am full of praise -  not just for the ban, but the way it was implemented. For it to be successful – surprise had to be total. It was. There should have been no time given to anyone, regardless of rich or poor. No time has been given. Full marks to the Government of India for this – and NaMo, who has clearly spearheaded this excellent move. I criticize where due; and praise effusively where due – and this move deserves nothing but praise. These are the kind of hard decisions that this nation needs; these are the kind of hard-headed, hard-hitting reforms that we urgently needed. Good to see some action at last!


UNDERSTANDING THE BAN
Now let us understand the Ban : first, large denominations account for 84% of the money in circulation. I shared this yesterday immediately, few responded, being more enamoured by the externalities of the Ban, not the nitty gritty involved or understanding the full. Now add this data to the total lack of time given – it clearly means difficulties lie ahead in terms of money in circulation, and money available in our pockets. That is why the limits on withdrawals. Going forward, just as in the case of GST, where I noted that everything hinges on implementation – I state the same here. Now, this is the real test for the GOI – how efficiently it can manage cash replenishment in a diverse nation such as ours. That is why I reserved judgement, and still do, knowing fully well the fickle nature of the Indian Electorate. Let us see.


Second, Corruption. Yes, it will be a temporary and massive setback for corruption; and is to be welcomed wholeheartedly. Again, everything hinges on the implementation and the follow-up; not all corrupt money is held in cash – and not all cash transactions are corrupt. The entire retail trade, for example, depends on Cash transactions, and most retailers do daily banking or thrice a week banking, and normally use a mix of 1000, 500, 100, 50 and 10 notes to deposit, which represents their retail collections from customers over the day. The Indian Economy is mostly cash-based, like it or not.


And that is why this is a hard decision – it will like as not impact roll-over of trade, as over the short term the trade adjusts. People will be inconvenienced, there could be a panic like situation – for proof, note the rush to ATMs. All I did was check if I had enough to tide me over  for 2 days in 100 and lower denominations, and forgot about going to the ATM. How fast logic prevails will entirely depend on the CMS wings of the banks {CMS is Cash Management Services}, and the Government planning. This is the real test going forward – their implementation skills. All the best to them; we need this initiative to succeed, and need it badly.


This is being touted as a move against corruption; that is only one small aspect of this – as I was at pains to point out in several whatsapp conversations yesterday. It will not do anything to prevent the further accumulation of Black Money; that is an entirely different story altogether, one which no doubt is being attended to. It will also not to anything whatsoever against small-ticket corruption; the corruption that confronts us normal people is the 10 and 100 rupee variety which is rampant. This Black Money will remain until systemic reform is implemented. This variety is also a significant aspect of the Black Money and Corruption conundrum confronting us as a nation.


It will only impact the big-ticket moves, and held-up cash that is stored secretly. Some portion  of the 500 and 1000 rupee variety corruption will have been invested, or put into circulation – this will not be affected. The nationwide Hawala Network operates on all currency denominations; this network will be inconvenienced, not put out of action. How they take this is something which the authorities will no doubt have planned for, {digitization programme is one such example}  so let us wait and watch. What is happening is phenomenal, and let it be implemented first before we can draw any conclusions.


It will also give a fillip to mobile money, online and cashless transactions, mobile wallets – all of which are traceable monetary mediums, and which will be a welcome move. It is said that a large part of India’s Economy is in Cash Mode – not necessarily all of it illegal. The impact on this segment will only be known over time, given the deep relationships, networks, business interdependencies, and norms and practices of operation – which are primarily based on Cash as of now. It is hard to dismantle this structure overnight; and thus cash will continue, especially since new 500 and 1000 tender is being introduced over a period of time. But yes – now,  there will be further motivation to shift towards non-Cash and online methods, improving traceability and reducing transactions costs.


THE MAIN PLANK
Which brings me to the main plank of this wonderful move : this is a move that, in one fell swoop, finishes the entire counterfeit cash network and makes it redundant. This was, increasingly, becoming a major problem, as has been previously highlighted in various news articles. The finger was pointed at Pakistan, and was a major thorn in the flesh. In one overnight move, the entire network right from Pakistan to the last points in India has been rendered valueless; this fake money has been flushed out of the Indian Economy in one move, in a matter of hours so to speak. This is the primary objective



The second aspect is Terrorism – funding terrorism also has been made far more difficult, and is a brutally hard smash into the entire terror machinery. In fact, this move is one of the hardest hits the Pakistani terror factory will have ever suffered; now financing terror for them is going to be bloody hard, near on impossible – unless they use traceable transactions, which are easy to monitor. Their options are now highly limited, and poses serious logistical difficulties for them. That is the second objective of this entire matter – which has three prongs. The major one – counterfeit cash; second – terror, and minor objective – Black Money flushing. Ek Teer Se Teen Nishaane. And that is why this move deserves a standing ovation from all India – well done, Mr Prime Minister, as well as every member of the team that made this possible!  

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Book Review : She Walks, She Leads

SHE WALKS, SHE LEADS
WOMEN WHO INSPIRED INDIA
{Life stories of 24 women from 6 categories of life, from Business to Sports, from Entertainment to Media}

By Gunjan Jain



FIRST, THE ONLY BUT SMALL NEGATIVE

Image result for she walks she leadsThis is a book of women who inspire India : and while it is perfectly permissible as well as logical & feasible that Ex-Indians can inspire Indians; my personal opinion is that we should not highlight the success stories of people who left India behind, and took other citizenship – not when  there are innumerable stories of local successes – many superbly chronicled in this book itself. And given the quality and research of this tome which is no less that monumental, I thought lets brush the irrelevant and the negative out of the way before getting to other more relevant and positive matters. And in that, my belief is that Indra Nooyi and Mira Nair {The latter lives in the USA, though her nationality status is not clear to me} do not belong among this august list of people

This is not because of their performance – which is quite stupendous; but they have their own people who can praise them in the USA; God Bless them is all I state. I, being an Indian, find no relevance in their stories, which are more US-Based or Africa/US based. This view isn’t parochial; there may come a time in the future when these  will become relevant; but now, when our GDP is low, when female emancipation is questionable, when  we are growing, when we have serious social, economic, cultural and other problems – we need local talent to stay in India, not run away for whatever reason. And that is why we consistently need to focus on local success stories, not US ones! There can be no justification for quitting your nation; while on the one hand we have people willing to die for our country, on the other, we have people who go away… I know who I support, and who I don’t!


AND NOW… THE POSITIVES
Image result for she walks she leads
And that is where this book has made a stupendous start;  a fantastic chronicle of success stories of Indian ladies from  various aspects of life, a cornucopia of struggle against all  odds, of living a dream, and yet balancing it with family, with social work, with studies, and all the rest of it. You should read this book for that alone – for the lasting lessons it leaves in balancing life in the modern day, of not wasting time, and utilizing not just time, but resources as well as opportunities, of taking calculated risks and of creating your own luck through sheer dint of hard work, sacrifice and deep insight borne out of reading, study, teamwork and experience!


All this, and more – you can see in the sacrifices of Sudha Murthy, whose story is a must read for all Indians in my opinion; or that of Chanda Kochhar. These are the two stories I loved reading the most; stories of true Indians, highly qualified, yet who stayed; two Indians from humble beginnings who went on to become world leaders in their respective fields, two Indian ladies who fought hard and fair, who gave a perfect family balance, and yet earned their reputations the hard way, two tough and doughty fighters… their stories give you hope for a modern India, for the way they crafted themselves, and for the way they fought and the way they made their choices – and for the tremendous value they added to our lovely country, and the way they contributed in many fields.


There were others – the story of Anu Aga will bring a cheer of admiration to your lips, of the way they {she and her family} built and then rebuilt Thermax, or the story of Naina Lal Kidwai – or best of all, the story of two Indians who have arguably done among the most for the health scene, and should be household names & inspirations : Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, and Swati Piramal. Of these, the most stunning story is that of Swati Piramal, business professional, Doctor – and social worker who actually campaigned door-to-door for a cause... did street plays etc for vaccinations programmes. Now that, sir, is truly inspirational, and makes for a riveting read, especially her transformation from a doctor to what she has grown into now…


The other stories are also well crafted – but these are ladies from the upper strata of society, which is why I highlighted the few above first. The others, though from moneyed families – are nonetheless impressive; my point is that I wanted to highlight in my review – that ladies from a not-so-rich background can also make it if they have the opportunity and the education; which is why I sorely missed examples from the field of eminent educationists. Being from a family where 100% of ladies are professionals, and being related to lady educationists, I am aware that such  examples exist; I sorely and deeply missed these examples… for if there is anything this book teaches us – it is the simple fact that education is the only answer, period.


Other reviews will no doubt look at the equally impressive story of Yaseen Premji, of the redoubtable Zia Mody – whose story is stunning {you have admire her guts, manna padegaa}, of PeeCee {look up the book to know that is, I shant tell you}; and especially Jyotsana Darda and her social work in particular; of Nita Ambani, of Rajashri Birla {with a touching love story to boot} and of the one and only Sania Mirza; but  a short  book review just cannot do justice to this monumental and phenomenal work of back-breaking hard work, and unstinting commitment, and I will perforce have to pick and choose.  





THE TAKEAWAY FOR US AS A SOCIETY
Having seen working women all my life; a working women does not carry either admiration, or comment, or observation from me. Just as I don’t see it as anything special if my best friend does a job, I see nothing to comment if ladies work and succeed; have seen it since the day I was born. But, and this is vital – for our society, or some segments – this is not the case. These stories tell you one thing, and one thing only : the only way out for us as a people, as a nation, for our ladies, for our GDP, for our economy – is education. There is no other solution.


With respect to ladies, once they leave the home  and the hearth {leave as in get into employment}, their horizons improve and widen, leading to learnings and automatic growth. In a couple of cases, there was a hint at international exposure leading to confidence- in my opinion, we can strike off the word “international”; what matters is exposure to the world, to situations and experiences outside the protected homestead and hearth. That is what kindles growth : be it Gentlemen, or be it ladies; whether that exposure is local or international is completely beside the point. And that is what India truly needs – for it society to accept this. All in all, an excellent book, rated 4.5 stars out of 5. The only other point I make about this book – I would have loved to read more stories of ladies from poor, and lower middle classes who made it…