Friday, 23 November 2012

Kasab: Terrorist for India, Gunman for USA and UK!

What I have always thought to be the inherent bias in the west - and especially the US and the UK is finally confirmed in my mind and out in the open. Not that it is a surprise: most of us already suspected it. But some sensitivity from them was expected, given that their citizens perished as well. But no... the west has proven its total inability to rise above its own jaundiced, prejudiced and selfish world-views by this display of crass insensitivity. Thank you is all that comes to mind: for coming out into the open with what certainly seems to be bias. The media reports have left me speechless with rage... media reflects the views of its people; and the media reports speak for themselves! 

As the firstpost notes : "The words we deploy reflect our latent  biases, and on occasions media megaphones lose their perspective, particularly when they operate on alien turf. Sometimes, it’s just a case of echoing the official political line of their home countries. The same Mujahideen in Afghanistan, who were valorised in the international media as “freedom fighters”, so long as they were being armed by the CIA and taking on the occupying Soviet forces in the 1980s, became “terrorists” the moment they began to bite the hand that fed them." 

I could go on and give several more links... most of which refer to Kasab as a Gunman! If it was only about that, it would be merely bias, not offensive. What takes the news coverage offensive to me is the open anti-India bias that seems to be evident in the news. That makes the coverage appear highly offensive... the man had been caught on live camera feed, proven beyond all doubt to be a Pakistani, killed dozens (of the total toll of 166) of people - and you can only call him a gunman? Then what is a terrorist attack? Do tell! What else can I conclude except bias? What do I as an Indian citizen read into this except bias? This has done great and incalculable harm only to the west, and caused heartburn and rage in India... it is our country which has been at the point of a gun for some 65 years - with no appreciation of this brutal reality anywhere

The articles focus on hanging moratorium, on Indo-Pak relationship, Human Rights groups observations. The general impression one gets is that the case against Kasab was far from concrete! There is even a not-so-faint suggestion that Pakistani involvement has not been proven, that Kasab may have been Indian... words fail me. And this is after a transparent trial involving copious evidence and irrefutable proof being provided. There is precious little admission of the Indian Position, and in its place Pakistani responses have been given inordinate emphasis. "The Washington Post went with the headline "India hangs lone suspect in 2008 attacks -!". There is only 1 newspaper that I have come across in the west that  refers to Kasab specifically as a Pakistani National! That speaks volumes of the western attitude!

The news coverage incurred the wrath of huge numbers on social media, leading a couple of newspapers to change their headlines, and leading Nirupama Rao to tweet an acerbic and pretty damning comment. The question that comes to mind is what prevents the west from seeing Kasab as a Pakistani Terrorist, as a man fairly tried and convicted, as a killer, and as a criminal against humanity? Why is one man's terrorist another man's "gunman"? Why is the coverage giving undue weightage to frankly offensive and insensitive Pakistani viewpoints, referring to Kasab albeit obliquely as Indian, denying Pakistani role, anaylsing in far too great a depth the impact on Indo-Pak relations, using words like "suspect" etc?

The articles seem to be damning proof of the bias of the western media, and another nail in the budding relationship with India that the west is now enjoying. This stupidity has done more to damage the image of the west in India than any other single event in recent memory. People like me are now of the firm belief that USA and UK cannot be political allies, and that they will always favour Pakistan - even if it means the deaths of Indians. What else can it mean - supplying arms to a state like Pakistan?

What else can I conclude from the above? I guess it isnt Terrorism until it happens to us.... 

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Rajat Gupta... Outsider, or...?

In a 2-part series, the author has - very convincingly to me - ripped apart the Rajat Gupta case, and proven how he was victimised. The Author is the Vice-Chairman and Managing Director of First Global. The Author makes a simple point and proves it: Rajat Gupta was an outsider. After reading it, and recalling Rajat Gupta behaviour throughout the case, (he submitted himself to the authorities, trusting the US Justice System which started the entire affair, his overall approach etc) I am convinced... excerpts are given below... 

"Of the many things I don’t like about this Rajat Gupta affair, one is the Indian media’s sickeningly fawning portrayal of the American justice system as one that “doesn’t spare the rich and powerful, unlike ours where the well-connected get away”, and “how justice is dispensed speedily in the US”, and so on.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. The US protects its own rich and powerful better than we can ever do. Paulson got away clean. Not even an investigation. No investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission into the trading by these attendee hedge funds. Nothing. Just a conspiracy of silence.

Then, we have the strange case of David Sokol. He was Buffett’s No. 2, and was widely tipped to take over from the old man. Sokol bought shares of Lubrizol, prior to getting Buffett to buy the company outright. After the deal was done, Sokol told Buffett of this purchase. Buffett waved it aside, saying it was no problem. No problem? Sokol traded on inside knowledge of material, non-public information, and Buffett joined him in keeping this a secret.

When the problem came out, Sokol resigned, Buffett shrugged. And, that was it. The cover up had happened. Because any serious investigation would have led to Buffett himself becoming a party to any offence, since he chose not to report this to the authorities. Consideration for his old age? Well..."

"The American International Group (AIG) case was even more egregious. It was proven after investigation that AIG had manipulated its accounts for something like 20 years. Hank Greenberg, another American idol, presided over AIG during this entire period. So, what happened to him? Was he arrested for accounting fraud? Or, convicted? Not a chance. Criminal charges were dropped. He settled with SEC, and merely stepped down. That was it."

"And, closer to present day, it never fails to amaze me how in the entire sub-prime scam (a true scam, if ever there was one), not even a single senior executive in any Wall Street bank has been held culpable, arrested, or convicted. Even civil proceedings have been non-existent. The white-shoe investment banks have got away once again (while flimsy cases against Mike Milken brought down the upstart Drexel Burnham Lambert). All cases against the Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch cabal are always conveniently “settled”. None of credit rating agencies have been prosecuted for gross negligence or outright lies, but one Deven Sharma had to resign as chief of Standard & Poor’s because he dared question Uncle Sam’s pristine rating."

"As it should be clear by now, America exemplifies crony capitalism, and protects its own. And, contrary to what Indians would like to believe, Rajat Gupta was hardly part of the “rich and powerful” set. In fact, he was really a nobody in the American context. Just another former CEO of a consulting firm. That’s hardly a ticket to stardom. He was an Indian idol, not an American one. In fact, that was precisely Gupta’s problem: that he didn’t belong to the echelons of the high and the mighty and desperately wanted to belong to that club (this is revealed in Raj Rajaratnam’s transcripts), for which he was currying favours for Rajaratnam, much like the young Bud Fox supplying the Blue Star Airlines tip to Gordon Gekko in Wall Street"

"Another interesting and unnoticed fact about the Gupta trial was that the judge prevented the defence from presenting voluminous evidence to prove his innocence, saying, “Keep this short… the jury doesn’t have that much time to go into all this pile of evidence.” Such a thing would be unthinkable in Indian courts, where even if a judge is biased against the defendant, he will give him any amount of time to mount a credible, comprehensive defence."

It is not my position that Rajat Gupta was innocent; I simply have no idea. I do not possess enough knowledge to present an opinion as to that. But this entire case has always bothered me from the start, including the almost vindictive targetiug of Rajat Gupta, the indecent haste and the media trial.  Something did not gel, but I could not place precisely what. Experience has shown me that in such cases, the truth is almost always with the victim. The man's behaviour was quite simply astounding, and clicked with me. Something did not seem right. He may have been guilty for all I know, but it seems quite certain now that there is plenty more dirt hidden underneath all this. Was Rajat Gupta railroaded? The articles in question certainly seem to indicate that. Especially if you consider that the people who caused the greatest crash in modern economic history got away scot free. In that light, it seems fishy, to say the least. At best, an effort to show the world "we are doing something", and at worst, an attempt to stem the rising influence of outsiders and especially Asians / Indians in the American context. Time will tell... but this case is a warning to all Indians to my mind. This is the second case (perhaps third) in the recent past where Indians have been very effectively sidelined.... am I being too fanciful? Seeing shadows under my bed?

Pataa nahi. I dont know. Par samay sab kuchh bataayegaa. Time will tell.. it always does. Kudos to Business Standard for this article! Well done, BS!

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Book Review: The Janus Reprisal by Robert Ludlum / Jamie Freveletti

The latest in the Covert-One Series

If the series copyright holders are not careful, the Covert One series franchise will be altered beyond all recognition... wish they were more careful towards the aspects of characterisation. The characters are common with the original series in only the name; rest all - their habits, personalities have changed beyond all recognition in this latest version of the series. For an ardent fan of the series, this is a little disappointing, to say the least. One looks forward to a Covert One novel for its unique combination of bio-hazard threats, combined with the tough but human Smith, the equally tough but hard-nosed Howell,  and the rebel Randi. All are missing in this novel. Sure, the names are there; but that is all. In a nutshell, that is my opinion of this novel. 

This Novel differs from the series in almost every way; the series usually has a world hot-spot at its epicenter, with the action being based largely outside the USA. This is absent. Then there is a clear bio-hazard threat with a well-defined strategy right from the beginning of the book. This, too, is absent. The hazard, while present, becomes clear only in the end of the Novel. Klein has been reduced to a powerless paper-pusher, unlike other novels. Marty seems a normal person, unlike other novels. Castilla is nearly absent, featuring only on one or two pages. Randi Russell is now a tame office girl (!!!!!), and refers to Jon as "Smith". As I seem to recall, Randi has always referred to him as "Jon"! All in all, every defining feature of the series has been lost in this novel. For ardent Covert One fans, this is a novel to run far away from. Cant even give it 1 star out of 5.... sorry; but I am an  ardent Covert One fan. 

The book itself, once you forget it as a Covert-One, is a good book. Rapid paced,  relentless, with breathtaking action, clean writing style, free from any sidelines or sub-plots. One single plot that follows through to the end. The opening passage of the book is based on the Mumbai Hotel attack, when an attacker tries to eliminate Colonel Smith. This man has the photographs of Smith, Howell and an unkown woman to eliminate. This is the start of the book, and from this point the book just takes off with its superb taut narrative. 

The same hotel is also the target of a massive terrorist attack, which is used as a foil to cover the escape of a dreaded terrorist. The Hotel is also the location of a massive science conference, wherein various scientists are presenting the latest developments. It is at this point that the first crack shows: would any scientist working on a hazardous chemical or virus bring a sample to a hotel? I dont think  so! Furthermore, Klein - with all his resources - is not able to identify the third targeted woman; who, as it turns out, is quite famous - not only that, she was a guest at the very hotel where Smith was attacked!!!! Unbelievable! But it pays to ignore these small bloopers, as the pace of the novel compensates for them. 

The terrorists manage to escape with the bio-agent, leaving Smith, Russell - and very late in the novel - Howell to hunt them down. Howell is also unrecognisable; gone is the dry humour, the cold calculaton, the concern for Jon etc. As I said, the characters are different. But that does not mean the book is not good; it just means that I as a person did not like what was presented. It is upto each of the readers to analyse their own motivations, and determine the comfort levels with this style of presentation...

Saturday, 3 November 2012

We the shameless : Chetan Bhagat's blog-The Times Of India

"But more important than venting about the two-faced nature of some organisations or blaming Gadkari and a few other politicians is understanding why all political parties back their corrupt members despite massive allegations and enough circumstantial evidence. The answer lies in the way Indians think. While it is easy to blame politicians, the fact remains that our politicians are not ethical because we aren't ethical.

The simple, bitter truth is that the electorate just doesn't care much about financial impropriety. Sure, we bicker, moan and fuss about politicians looting us. However, it is not that high up in the hierarchy of wrongs a politician could commit. A moderate amount of corruption is almost expected and accepted. It is only when graft is done in an obvious, large-scale and arrogant manner that Indians get somewhat upset — and that too for a short period of time.

Until we, as a society, really feel graft, unethical behaviour and nepotism are huge problems and start to truly care about all of it, politicians will not change" 

Spot On, Chetan! Well Said indeed! As stated earlier on my blog, as well as on several other blogs and anti-corruption platforms, the real problem lies within us. Corruption is a reality in India simply by virtue of our acceptance of and tacit as well as overt participation in corrupt practices. It takes 2 parties to any suspect transaction: the bribe taker, and the bribe giver. The bribe-taker is emboldened by the reality and the simplicity of coercing a willing person, thus generating a bribe. This is a hard truth, and is it very heartening to see this being highlighted in mainstream media.

This is a massive social problem, and requires a movement for social change. It is a foregone conclusion that any agenda for social change cannot be taken forward without adequate support from the media, and the attendant high-decibel coverage. This is a needed contribution, and it is very, very heartening to see the media also showing the willingness and the courage to take this forward. Now I wish more such coverage can happen - not on individual blogs like Chetan Bhagat, but on mainstream articles, editors opinions etc. This will not solve the problem; but it will generate awareness... perhaps we, too, can contribute by concentrating on the family, and advocate teaching the child the proper lessons during the critical ages of 1 - 10. If there is this focus on giving the children proper values, perhaps this endemic scourge can be eradicated within a generation... tall hopes, I know. But I cant help but feel optimistic with the advent of this ever-increasing focus on all aspects of corruption. We have to make corruption socially unacceptable; this means driving the point home to children. It also means changing our own long-held attitudes towards and acceptance of bribes as a way of life in India. It is we, the people of India, who need to change...

Friday, 2 November 2012

Book Review: The Bankster

For the first time in the several years experience of reviewing books, I find myself at a total blank wall... I just do not have an idea on how to start. This is a book that has stunned me beyond comprehension with its plot, attention to detail and writing skills. In short, this is not a book to be missed if you are above 25, and if you have corporate working experience - or any working experience. But more of that in the analysis part...

The Characters

Vikram Bahl: I, Me, Myself... 
Tanuja: Undefinable
Krishna Menon: A man with a task, and the commitment to carry it to the logical end
Nikhil: Commpliant... but to whom or what is the question
Anand: Achievement / Target * 100. Period. Sure, he is clean... but he also knows when not to look...
Harshita: Sincere, Committed, Honest... but is this enough?
Zinaida: The Mystery
Raymond: Blunt, Straightforward
Karan: Digger extra-ordinaire
Indrani: Busy... Too Busy... Way Too Busy... until too late for several lives in the bank...
Joseph Berganza: The Start of the book... but dont forget him!

The Plot
The plot of the book revolves around the banking sector, and the linkage of funds to be used for illicit purposes through normal banking channels. That is the core of the plot; this is embellished with the back-channel of the funds and their front-end usage schemes to undermine India. At the core of the story is the bank Greater Boston Global Bank (GB2). The story starts with a blood-money diamond trade, moves to The Trikakulam Nuclear Power Plant issue, and only then goes into its core phase. The entire story thereafter revolves around the systematic breakdown of all systemic controls within the bank, and exactly how these breakdowns transpired. The front-end and the back-end stories are skilfully intertwined with the main thrust of the story  till their logical meeting point

The Analysis
First off, lets get one thing straight: this is not a book for the college student. This is a book targeted at the working professional as it delves deeply into the normal humdrum routine in an office, the political powerplays, harmless byplays, flouting of norms etc. It also refers to the question of success at any costs vs process-driven, honest and strategic working styles. In fact, in my opinion, that is the core of the story. Without an exposure to work experience, it would be difficult to get into the skin of the story. You do not need to have financial sector exposure, but yes - work experience is needed in my opinion for a full enjoyment and understanding of this book. For the others, the story would seemingly meander from around page 40 to page 100. In reality, the story does not meander at any point; the book is the fastest-paced book I have read in a long, long time.  

Students (and especially MBA students) who read this  should try to tolerate this part; once you cross page 80 or thereabouts, the book takes a sudden  turn into one of the most brilliant detective novels you are likely to find. Secondly, I would also nevertheless advise all college students to read this book, as it represents what can happen when processes and common sense are ignored, what can happen when you chase success at all costs. For the record, the 2007 crash happened precisely because processes and common sense were ignored. Treat this book as a lesson...

Coming to the book, it is one of the fastest paced books I have ever read in my life. I read it in one reading... till late at night. It is quite simply unputdownable, a page turner from page 1. The attention to detail is awesome, and very very believable. The part where stage is set has been dealt with great care. and is very practical. You get a chill in your spine, as you think "yaar, yeh to waakai ho saktaa hai. This can actually happen... ". 

Character development is flawless, if somewhat cliched. Cant say more, read the book. The author has used stereotypes superbly well in order to create the proper effect and impact. Further, note that this book has some 12 central characters - in a fast paced book. That indicates that the flow of the story, the character development and the plotting is par excellence. A few story turns also depend upon the personality of the character and the background. In other words, the author has used the character's personality to carry the story forward in places, leading to a scorching pace. The writing style is clean and effective, and enjoyable. All in all, 5 stars to the book...

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