Thursday, 27 June 2013

Getting Back To 8% Plus: A Chimera? Or A Realisable Dream?

This is the second part of the article http://reflectionsvvk.blogspot.in/2013/06/the-indian-growth-engine-hobsons-choice.html


eruse any newpaper, online business site dedicated to India (or any other for that matter) - you will find a set of reactions and analysis posted using the words "urgent need for kick-starting reforms" or "Indian Problems are structural in nature"; apart from a rare article in business newspapers, and the odd analytical article in Business Magazines, few - if any - deal with this at any length. Reams are written on Current Account Deficit, Rupee's Free Fall, FII redemption pressures, Policy Stasis; the assumption is that certain policy matters, if corrected, can get us back on track again. Accordingly, our political classes come out with plans and schemes to attract FDI into the country by various means; as if the answer lies in that alone.

What use is a policy that cannot be implemented fully, whose benefits do not reach the people? Furthermore, what use is a policy that attracts FDI in non-core sectors, and ignores the problems facing India's core sector? What use is a policy that does nothing to encourage domestic capital formation? What use is a policy that does not improve the business environment? Granted that FDI will lead to an immediate relief; it will make things slightly more comfortable for India. Granted that policy measures in a nation growing at 5% - which is far higher a rate than the developed world will serve to attract capital; but this does nothing to correct the structural issues that are facing the economy. The danger of a relapse will remain. 

The real problems facing the nation are shortage of skilled manpower; shortage of electricity; shortage of good motorable roads; shortage of good affordable healthcare in the rural regions; insufficient internet access speeds; poor agricultural productivity; among others. What has been done - leave alone done - what intent has been stated to meet and solve these problems? Nothing. Precisely nothing. Electricity Projects are mired in Land Acquisition Problems; Coal is mired in  corruption allegations; ditto Oil; there is no focus on primary education and secondary education - which is also deeply mired in corruption allegations; Road projects are at a virtual standstill and beset with huge corruption, leading to even life threats for some decent IAS officers... in fact, virtually every significant area of the core sector has been shaken to the core with corruption allegations and lack of access to funds due to Land problems, water sharing etc issues. How anyone expects a return to those halcyon days of 8-10% growth is beyond me. 

Those lovely dreamy days and frenetic growth were in a period when almost the entire emerging markets were experiencing fast growth. The Global atmosphere was one of low interest rates, optimism, global surplus and newly opened markets with the attendant enthusiasm they brought into the global stew. This is clearly absent today; the global scenario is depressed and market after market is showing regressive tendencies. In this changed atmosphere, the requirement is a sea change in approach. And this is quite clearly missing from the scenario in India. Unless we do something radically different to change the prevailing atmosphere - confidence is not going to return. And radical changes don't happen often; the only realistic path is to attend to the serious challenges mentioned above and get back on a gradual recovery path. The alternative is now not an option anymore- with each and every sector hit - and severely hit - by scam allegations in the past 4-5 years, rebuilding confidence over the long term, and attracting domestic capital as well as stable FDI as opposed to short-term FII investments is just about the only path ahead for us. 

India has now acquired a justified reputation of being a nation of scams; there can be no argument against that. Add to this the real policy issues - Fertiliser and Oil Subsidy, Land Reforms, Labour Reforms and Police Reforms. This is a deadly combination that is throttling real growth and market performance. The Government has shown no intent on tackling these very serious and vexing issues plaguing the economy; what is worse is that there is a palpable lack of a national dialogue on these issues in the Media. No one seems willing to bell the cat - even in the media. It is not enough to state "structural problems" - please identify those problems, give a solution/s, and don't hide behind the words "political hot potato"! Does their being politically difficult mean that should not be cured? Try that in a disease in your own body! Try and ignore any disease like cancer - or even a fever! The person who does so will like as not be in an ICU 7 times out of 10! This is the perfect corollary - these structural issues have now become cancerous - and need attending to with affirmative action, not glib dialogue. It is because things are tough that we have highly paid IAS officers and experiences politicians to deal with such matters. And yet, the Media, The People, The Officers and The Politicians choose to ignore these matters, and concentrate on frankly short-term measures that will alleviate the immediate problem. 

Yes, short term measures are important - if you are a cancer patient who has been bitten by a snake, the need of the hour is treatment for snake-bite. Similarly, to alleviate CAD pressures leading to BOP problems, short term measures are needed urgently - but that does not mean we ignore the other, more pressing structural issues. Unfortunately, we are treating only the snake-bite, and ignoring the cancer. How sustainable is this model going to be? Not very. 

Even the people are in a stupor - witness this article : http://reflectionsvvk.blogspot.in/2013/06/usne-kiyaa-he-did-it-he-did-it.html.  They are either mute spectators, or willing collaborators in the dance of death that is the game of corruption. In the next article, I shall examine the causes of this stupor, and look at possible solutions to this quagmire... an ambitious task, but at least I can make an attempt


Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Usne Kiyaa... He Did It... He Did it...

Usne Kiyaa... He Did It... He Did it...


That sound familiar? No? Well, it should. That is what every media vehicle and every citizen scream every single day, Monday ho yaa Sunday. Every day, without fail, regardless of occasion, we can hear this in some form or the other. It is a ritualistic utterance in some cases; insincere in others; and unfortunately sincere in some... 

I am talking about the response to the challenges and problems facing India. From governance to corruption: for every problem, we have a staple response. Usne Kiyaa! He Did It! It Wasnt Me! I Didnt Do It! He Did It! It Was That Person! And lo and behold, the focus of the entire nation shifts to the evil uncultured political class,or the government officers, or the policemen, or... but no. It was never us; we didnt do it. No. Nope. Never. Nada. We are innocent babes, pure as the driven snow. 

Now take a step back and observe. Let us observe corruption from afar - and not that piffling and trivial 10-buck corruption that we encounter ever day. I am talking big bucks. Let us take any major scam: observe how normal everyday Indians act as mute spectators to ongoing corruption. For example, when balance sheets are inflated - as in Satyam - it is painfully obvious that quite a few respectable normal citizens would have been aware - finance managers; clerks etc. When inflated subsidy bills are prepared, again a chain of normal people must have been involved; the people who made the delivery challans, bills, claims etc. For bad roads, an entire chain - starting from the bitumen provider, the granite quarry, engineers of the construction firm, government engineers,  clerks etc would have to be aware. For Land Scams, the clerks of the office as well as others in the chan have to be aware. For any scam to successfully operate - it is a given that the silence of the normal man is also an unwitting cause.  It is also a given that any number of junior functionaries has to be involved for it to be carried forward. 

Who is responsible? Only the Government? Only the crooks? Only the political class? What about the clerk who made the fake challan? What about the sales channel that provided third-grade bitumen? What about the guy who made the balance sheets? What about the clerks in his department, some of who must have realised? What about the guy who made those lovely excel sheets?

Usne Kiyaa???? He Did It? Really? Is our moral compass so bloody skewed that we cannot see where the normal Indian has gone wrong? We routinely offer bribed to cops, to government clerks and officials - even without being asked for. We agree to give - aah - envelopes to important officers without even a twinge, a tweak of our conscience. Dont we know what is inside the envelope? Dont we know that the material is third rate? Dont we know that M/s XYZ Pvt Ltd has only been supplied 4 consignments? Dont we know that the profit cannot possibly be as high as claimed, as we are the people who prepare those damned daily reports, monitor costs and sales etc? Dont we know that the bloody building has a height of 48 feet plus-minus 6 feet, and therefore the claim of 78 feet of insulated wire is just crap? What bullshit are we talking about? Usne Kiyaa? He Did It?





Humne Kiyaa! We Did It! It Was Us! All Of Us! We Are Guilty!

As I always say - Jaago, Sonewaalon~!

Saturday, 22 June 2013

BrahMos can't be intercepted in next 20 years: Pillai

The enclosed article showcases Indo-Russian strategic partnership - as well as clearly establishes Indian capabilities; capabilities which have no need of independent proof, given that we have placed a lander on the moon! It also underlines the mutual trust and confidence each party has in the other; something which is sorely missing from the India-US partnership.

The Brahmos project, or the 5G fighter project are defence projects that are state-of-the-art, participation in which enhances Indian prestige, develops & strengthens Indian skills and give its armed forces cutting edge technology - while leveraging skills in both countries for competitive advantage. Another important point to be noted is that both countries get the technology almost at the same time: it is not in the nature of a handout from a superiour nation to a developing nation.

This is precisely what the USA is loathe to do; and expects us to respond to their overtures! If the USA is serious about engaging India in a strategic dialogue - which I very seriously doubt - then they would do well to identify areas where complementary skills can be leveraged to mutual benefit. Otherwise its runs the very real risk of stagnation in what was once a promising relationship.

What is required is a mindset change in US politicians; they need to stop viewing India as less of a supermarket where they can offload their excess production, and more of a partner in business - which can bring to the table complementary skills that can be leveraged to mutual benefit. A business relationship is give-and-take; you bring goods to be market as per needs, sell them and move on to the next day; a partnership entails ensuring the other partner develops his or her own skill sets; between nations it implies prestige, equality and trust.

Unfortunately, there is nothing that has been placed on the table by the USA that even remotely implies trust, prestige, equality and development. Therein lies the problem: to them, the nation south of China is "India Supermarket, Inc. "...

And by the time USA wakes up to this reality....India - a deeply proud and independent India - will have charted its own course, away from the USA; signs of wich are already extant! And that is the sad part - that 2 democracies will move away from each other due to the myopic policies of one!

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Are we our own greatest enemies?

Ancient History
From its Ancient History, India can learn Confidence. This is the land that gave the world innumerable scientists, inventions and discoveries; if we can do it once - we can do it again. This is the land that was known as the sone ki chidiya; the land that was quite literally an international trading powerhouse. As I said - if we can do it once, we can do it again. This is the land Charak, of Sushrut, Baudhayan, Kanad, Aryabhat, Varahamihir, Brahmagupt, Patanjali, Bhaskaracharya. This is also the land of ChandraGupt Maurya, Ashok, Rajaraj Chola, Vikramaditya, Harshavardhan. This is the land that has given birth to great kingdoms and great thinkers alike; if we can do it once- we can do it again. 

India can learn openness in Trade; this is what defined Ancient India, and indeed Medieval India as well. There is documented evidence of trading outposts outside India in locations as far away as in Central Asia - and this is before 3000BC at least. Trade is what made India famous across the Earth; Trade is what defined us - not military might. This is a theme that is repeated across our 9500 year documented history; more of it later

India can learn the virtues of education and the benefits of promoting research and science. It is a documented fact that scientific achievements dropped off after 1100 - 1200 AD as the sciences and literature both lost official partonage; a cursory look at both the fields in the period 1200 - 1500 AD is mute testimony. The temporary revival of literature due to official patronage during Mughal rule is another proof of this, 

Medieval India
The recurring theme of military might raises its head here again; India can learn the virtues of having a powerful military presence from its medieval experiences. Our open nature laid us wide open to invasion - and invade they did. In large numbers; some stayed back, and built upon existing strengths - while some came to loot - like the British swines, Abdali or Ghazni. 

India can learn to stick together as Indians rather than side with outsiders - I am deliberately using this more offensive term than the soft-sounding word "unity". We lost during medieval times due in large part to the fact that some idiot from India sided with rank outsiders, and stabbed their own people in the back. Again, this is a recurring theme, as we shall see later. 

From Medieval India, Modern India can learn tolerance; for it is here that the greatest threat to our established secular values, and the true power of Sanatan Dharm manifest themselves. Earlier, when Jewish settlements were coming up, when early Christians were settling up, when the first Muslim areas came up in the North-West - the rulers were either Buddhists or fellow Sanatan dharmis. Our secular and wonderfully resilient character and internal strength came to the fore during 1200 - 1500 AD, and more strongly during Aurangzeb''s time - and The Goa Inquisition during the colonial era. This is a valuable lesson for Modern India - the virtues of moderation and tolerance. 

Colonial India
As I noted above; in this period we find the recurring themes or Military Might and Unity raise their head. A weakened and divided - but economically powerful and culturally rich land was no match for the military might of an impoverished and backward nation like Britain. The arguments of Industrial revolution does not hold water; it is the benefits of loot from India that ignited the industrial revolution in the west. That is established history.

 The combination of scientific degeneration and internal strife created havoc in a period when coincidentally the exact reverse was happening in a backward and torn Europe. It is one of the most enduring tragedies that a backward and amoral people could overcome so easily one of the most advanced civilizations on Earth - we, who have had 9500 years of uninterrupted development behind us, could lose so easily - leading to our next lesson : A world view and awareness of developments. We were blind to the world, complacent in our status as the most advanced people and the richest... the world stepped on the gas pedal... and we were asleep. Avoid Complacency is the lesson for us!

It is colonial India that teaches us the power of collective action - which holds powerful lessons for us. It is colonial India that teaches us the that India's greatest enemy is not the outsider - but the bloody insider who cooperates with the rapists and enemies. This recurring theme appears at its ugliest in this period, with massive repercussions for Modern India... but that is another story, to be taken up on my blog in another article...

Modern India
Only one lesson here: that Modern India can and should learn from its history. Tolerance is the way of life here; the reverse lead to one Pakistan, and another Bangladesh. In the Indian Subcontinent the only way forward is religious tolerance, cultural tolerance - and this is a lesson that should be heeded by all three of us children of The Land Of Aryavarta - India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Unity, and economic trade mean nothing without military might; India needs all three. 

Modern India is living proof of how division can lead to destruction. Throughout time, our greatest enemy has always been the covert insider who sides with the outsider; in Modern India - we have an insider that is openly siding with the outsider. Pakistan and India can do wonders if we bury the hatchet; we, the children of Aryavarta could learn that. Our greatest enemy continues to be the insider... nothing has changed even after 9500 years. Now more so than ever, we need to be tolerant, united, open to trade, focussed on education and health. And above all of this, given that a section of Aryavarta is now openly an enemy - namely, Pakistan - now more than ever, we need to be militarily strong. Our history teaches us this. But is anyone listening? From the deepening contours of intolerance is rising the fear of history repeating itself; now more than ever, India - the eldest daughter and heir-apparent to the Golden land of Aryavarta - needs to be tolerant, magnanimous and humane; as Aryavarta and its children always were. That is our defining characteristic  that is our USP; that is our real power. That is what made India the most sought-after jewel in History. If we can do it once - we can do it again. 

Are we our own greatest enemies? Food for thought.


Friday, 14 June 2013

The Indian Growth Engine: A Hobson's Choice

The recent news on the economic front has brought little cheer with IIP numbers, Current Account Deficit, Inflation, Exchange Rates all being dissatisfactory. Market sentiment continues to be abysmal, and charges of misgovernment abound. There seems to be little cheer on the global horizon either with Europe in the doldrums, BR(I)CS being questioned, and the grand-daddy of them all (USA) having serious problems of its own. This, in a nutshell, is the scenario that confront our policy makers,  planners, corporates and the common man


The reaction from at least the policy makers is clear, as is evident from the Hon. FM's statements of recent days: FDI! Attract foreign inflows! The reaction of corporates is also crystal clear, at least externally - wait'n'watch. And the common man is way too occupied in meeting his own targets of meals for the family 2 times a day to worry overmuch about anything. And, at the end of it all, no one is actually doing anything, in reality hoping that this is a cyclical downturn, and the wheel of time will bring the economy churning back to full speed in the due fullness of time. 



Well, I hope they are right and I am wrong; that would be great, for it means minimal damage. But my analysis tells me otherwise. First, there are serious structural issues in the Indian Economy that are the major hindering factors. These problems - unconscionably high Fertilizer and Oil Subsidy bills, policy uncertainty, investment slowdown and flight of capital, fiscal deficit, infrastructure issues, project delays at both clearance and implementation stages etc - are not ones that will correct without affirmative action. Therein lies the rub; and all this is being played against a backdrop of corruption.



The action that is being taken currently is far from affirmative - we have been hearing talk of breakthrough reforms for time immemorial with little or no actual substance in them. Yes, the fuel price correction was a step in the right direction; but the vehicle of reforms got stuck in a traffic jam after that step. There is nothing concrete in evidence, or in the pipeline (going by news reports I have read) that indicates a genuine series of steps that tackle the structural issues relating to the economy listed above. Let alone political hot-potatoes like Fertilizer Subsidy - which is admittedly easier to talk about than actually reduce; even some of the simpler, easier structural issues lie unattended. The biggest pity is that we have in power tried and tested politicians whose skill at running an economy  is well-known by all; furthermore, given all that has transpired these past 2 years, they have nothing to lose - and consequently everything to gain - by taking hard decisions. And yet, we have a stasis in the overall politico-economic scenario. 



The issues I am referring to are policy uncertainty; flight of local capital; project approval delays; project implementation problems and corruption - all leading to investment slowdown. For investment to improve, sentiment (expectations of growth, ROI etc) will have to be positive; for it to be positive - we have to give a certainty to investors in terms of climate, and lack of hurdles. In short sentiment will have to improve if we are to get back to those halcyon days of 8% - 10% growth. And for growth, you require capital. First off, any economy that is dependent on foreign capital is not exactly a dream economy; we should be asking ourselves what can we do to  ensure local capital stays inside, and is used to generate local strengths and growth. As regards foreign capital - why should it come to India in these times, with the attendant political risk it entails - of which we have seen plenty of evidence in the past year alone? Furthermore, the lack of clarity  in policy matters - think of FDI in retail - is a further dampener. 



We can thus look at this in 2 parts - foreign and domestic capital; or to simplify matters - we can look at steps to be taken to ensure investment climate improves - which brings us right back to the issues highlighted above. For the nature of capital is such that each  - foreign or domestic - will flow to the area of least resistance and optimal returns. And for that to happen, we will have to ensure policy clarity, remove implementation hurdles and reduce red tape. 



Much has been written about policy clarity in the financial press; almost too much. But on implementation, there is little that is written that deals with the core of the issue. And that is the true sad story that is sweeping across India - Cobrapost exposed the underbelly of the Indian Banking sector, embroiling Axis, ICICI, HDFC and IndusInd banks (among others) in the resulting furore; the recent drug scandals that have rocked Ranbaxy, a slight google search will reveal other drug companies facing some objection or the other, with Wochardt, Dabur India, Hospira (to name but a few) receiving alerts or being placed on watch. Telecom is yet another case in point, which needs no details - having been covered threadbare in the news. Mining has also been exposed as a hotbed of corruption and crime. Connect the dots - and the picture that is forming is not a happy or indeed a comfortable one. All these - and more - and going to ensure that there is a negative pull on the India brand image and global sentiment. Combine this scenario with the policy stasis that is in evidence- and you are looking at trouble with a capital T. 



Now take all of this, and add to this pot-pourri the top-heavy nature of India's development with the poorer sections of society having been bypassed in the growth from the 1980s onwards - The per capita income of the bottom 20% of India's population has not changed (as a percentage share) since 1978. That means, the bottom 20% of our population has not benefited at all from our economic boom. This is also confirmed by consumption patterns: with the consumption by the bottom 20% of the population being static @ between 0 - 1 growth%, in complete variance with the 3% growth registered by the top layers. Not only are the interventions targeted at the poor not reaching them; there is also an absence of opportunities for them to grow out of their hopeless situation in terms of healthcare, education and other HDI parameters, where we are among the poorest in the world. Unless this latent potential is tapped, real growth is well-nigh impossible; but that is another story, which I shall connect up in the second part of this article.



One could almost be forgiven for assuming that we are looking at India in a state of implosion - were it not for the activities of the pillars of modern India as identified by Shashi Tharoor in his landmark work "The Great Indian Novel". I refer to the Media and The Judiciary specifically, whose activism has brought all of the above cases to the public eye. 



This is the backdrop in its entirety; in this scenario, it can be readily seen that there is really no choice in front of the powers that be; in other words, a  Hobson's choice. Steps to tackle all of these problems have to be taken; uncertainty, policy matters, corruption etc everything has to be dealt with. Working on any one parameter alone will not suffice - since the threat of exposure will remain; the hindrances to implementation will remain; the problem of bribery and corruption will remain. This is bound to act as a dampener - as corruption makes implementation of projects cumbersome. The increasing activism of US Government on their companies' bribe-giving world-wide is a case in point. To improve sentiment the requirement is making business easy in India, which will not happen unless corruption is tackled on a war footing. Not anymore; not after sector after sector of the economy is embroiled in controversy. That will only further capital flight - which already seems to have begun, if you take into consideration investments by Indian groups abroad. 



For, if the hope is that we can kindle real growth by tinkering around with some issues without addressing the real problems in their entirety, then this is a stillborn hope. Without addressing both sides of the equation - namely, policy stasis and implementation - we will not be able to take Brand India to where it was 5-7 years ago. The reason is evident- for in those halcyon days of hectic growth, we did not have the additional baggage of crippling scandals rocking just about every sector of the economy. Those were the days of a virgin territory, if you will; this is a luxury we dont have anymore. And neither can we realistically expect to shove these exposures under the carpet and hope that things will continue as before - our active pillars of Media and Judiciary will ensure that a percentage - hopefully a large percentage - of unsavory deals will get ruthlessly exposed. Furthermore, we cannot expect the global anti-corruption flair (esp US Govt) to wane. That is why this is a Hobson's Choice - we have to look at both stasis as well as implementation hurdles...



In the next part, I will take a deeper look at the implementation aspects; and why it is fallacious to blame our political class for everything... and why passing the Lokpal bill alone will not be the panacea it promises to be; and why the left-behind people need to be looked at. Lokpal is vital; but it is just one in a series of steps... 

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Pride and Prejudice... The Indian Cultural Scenario

This is the 10th article on the culture series

India is an ancient land with a rich heritage going back several millennia, a resplendent artistic and cultural tradition, a history with several glorious and resplendent chapters and a richness and uniqueness of the land and its people who have stayed together despite many challenges. These are known and accepted matters internationally- for which we do not require any approval or acceptance from anyone.

And yet, a look at the contemporary landscape of Modern Urban India would belie the above statement in its totality - the penchant of the Urban Indian of fawning over western symbols to the detriment of our own being a painful symptom of this. Anything to do with western recognition in any field is hyped up - there are innumerable examples across the cultural landscape. Be it The Booker, or be it the Oscar - any success in these is a ticket to instant recognition. There is nothing wrong with this by itself - but at the core lies a fundamental dichotomy that is strange at best, and reprehensible at worst. We Indians love to wax eloquent on our heritage, and yet pay little attention to national Indian awards. The problem is not that the western symbols are hyped up; the challenge is that Indian awards, functions and symbols are played down, and not given their due importance in the eyes of the public. The same Indian who extolls our culture and heritage, is the one who downplays these - and that is the dichotomous behaviour. This is the pull, the allure of the west, and its blind aping in  India. This is not limited to the artistic scene alone; but has spread to nearly every corner of our society, like a cancer.  Let us take movies and books as cases in study

The Indian Mumbai movie industry outsells Hollywood quite comfortably in terms of annual ticket sale, and has now acquired a following across the globe, spanning Pakistan, The Middle East, Africa, Singapore, Malasia, Thialand etc - with an increasing presence in European countries: and even the USA. The net result is ticket sales that outsell anyone else, and a global footprint that exceeds 3 Billion in ticket sales, with a covered population of more than 4 -4.5 Billion people across the globe. This is by no means or scale a small achievement. 

The point is not that the western movies and functions are to be avoided, or to denigrate them, or indeed to compare. The point is the due place to our own internal products in movies which currently they dont get. Cover and covet the Oscars by all means; but give a similar importance, pride and prestige to our own internal awards and functions - which should not be neglected. It is this lack of pride in our achievements that is the root of the problem.

The point also is that our movies do not need the stamp of acceptance from any culture or nation; they have acquired a momentum and fan following of their own across the world. In the words of Shah Rukh Khan, our movies are the only ones to have withstood the onslaught of Hollywood. Given our movies their due place. This is a statement echoed by Javed Akhtar as well : "Hollywood is such a powerful film industry that it has ruined film industries of the world. Wherever Hollywood films reach, the original film industry of that nation got ruined, except India. Our film industry is flourishing be it Tamil and Telugu films," the 67-year-old said here at the music launch ofYe Khula Aasman. "Our films are showcased in around one 30 nations abroad. The number of nations that view Hindi films is increasing and this is not an ordinary thing," said Akhtar."We have made some good and bad films. We have made some excellent films as well. I think Indian cinema is at such a point that the future can only be bright and in another 10 years it will reach great heights," said Akhtar, who has penned songs for films like Mr.India, Tezaab, 1942: A Love Story, Dil Chahta Hai andRefugee.

Read more at:http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/indian-film-industry-javed-akhtar-indian-cinema/1/185957.html

Unfortunately, you wouldnt know it from the reportage of our media - which is ultimately derived from the impressions and views of the readers. These, and other similar facts, go unreported, or get carried in small columns somewhere; whereas even the smallest, most ludicruous of achievements in the west, especially in the USA and UK get reams upon reams of media coverage. It is this prejudiced coverage, and assumptions that is the root of the problem at hand. The unsaid - and at times explicitly stated contention - that they are better and that their awards are global and ours are regional is not borne out by the facts. It is a sad lack of pride in our achievements and a prejudice that is clearly in evidence. I shall go into the details of the reasons of this behaviour in a later article - as there is much that needs coverage and detailing. At this point, suffice it to state that this behaviour represents a collosal failure for us, and is reflective of a deep-seated complex within us as a society - in addition to being a total failure in marketing our Film Industry. 


This can also be seen across the length and breadth of the cultural spectrum: let us consider books. We have a rich tradition of writing spanning millennia - but you wouldn't know it from a visit to our book stores, where I can - and have- procured a copy of Alberuni's India (reviewed on my main blog) , but cannot get my hands on a copy of The RugVed, or any Upanishad, or any Puran. I can spot an entire rack of western classics - but no Indian classic is in evidence. I can even spot Islamic and Christian religious literature on occasion - but no Indian works. Not even the famous Abhigyaan Shakuntalam. (The Strand Book Stall Fort Mumbai is a notable exception - respect, sir). I can find Shakespeare - but no Tagore. And if I cannot find Tagore, then to expect that Neeraj, Suman, Kaka Hathrasi will be present is being optimistic in the extreme. 

In the literary sphere, we are still on a learning curve - as I have noted in my earlier articles. That accounts for lesser sales and a lesser fan-following, which is in keeping with  a growing industry. Thus, greater visibility of western books is only to be expected. Curiously, it is this growing trade which is giving a fillip to its internal image by showing 2 bestseller lists: Indian, and Western. Furthermore, the explosion of literature in India in the recent past in all genres- fiction as well as non-fiction has brought this industry centre-stage. 

And it is this trade that is showing signs of a revival in pride, and abandonment of its long-held prejudice. This is evident in the increasing shelf-space to Indian writing, and the increasing fan-following of Indian writers. What is now required is a revival of the vernacular literature; but that is a different article entirely, to be taken up later. But the worries still remain - the absence of interest in our classics, and the attendant interest in western classics is just one such example.

The same can be spotted across the broad spectrum of urban life - especially metropolitan life spanning Television Serials, movies, books etc. This manifest fawning over western culture, icons and symbols has deep-seated roots, as we shall see in the next article. It is a matter of routine statement that you come across, advocating western awards on various items as proof of having arrived; as I said there is nothing wrong in  it. The issue is the disdain for local awards and achievements, which are not hyped to extent that the others are - and this is frequently when the item that gets an international award portrays India in a bad light, examples of which are in  abundance. 

This manifest lack of a pride in ourselves, and a realisation that we are a culturally unique nation that has held its own against a severe cultural onslaught which has overrun others is the fundamental problem. This has reasons -as we shall see later. But it is this discounting of our numbers, and of our cultural influence which far exceeds our borders and our realisation which is a major stumbling block in our path. 

For pride is not just a word; it is a way of doing things; it has practical ramifications, and a potential for realisation of self-worth. Prejudice prevents us from seeing our potential, of our ability to influence the world and make India a better place for ourselves; while pride opens doors for us - so long as we are in control of that pride, so long as it doesnt go to our heads...

Sunday, 9 June 2013

India - A Celebration!

The success of the concept of India, once thought to be unstable and waiting to break-up into pieces and its vibrant democracy against all odds fill me with immense pride; it makes me think that it is an honour just to be born as an Indian - despite our many weaknesses. India - the nation that was not meant to be, in the eyes of the west; India - the nation that was supposed break-up as per Pakistan and many others; India - that collection of many nations, so said people... 

It is that same India that is today an example of many, many firsts and stupendous successes that defy logic. That we are the only colonised country to be a democracy,. that we are one of the very few colonised nation to be so non-violent and relatively successful is the icing on the cake. That we are the only third world nation to have every known medical treatment in India; missile technology; space technology and moon lander; IT and Services Prowess, Manufacturing abilities that span all known product categories,  Design Prowess as shown by several products we have designed for MNCs as well as our own top companies is the cherry on top. 

But the thing that makes most sense to me, the one aspect that scores above all else, the one aspect that elevates our nationhood to one of sheer joy, the one aspect that fills me with tremendous pride is how a geographical tract of land as large as ours can become one - with a new language every few hundred kilometers and a new dialect every 50 Kilometers; spanning 3 racial subgroups; all major world religions; several skin-tone colours; innumerable cultures and sub-cultures can unite into one political entity such that there can be no doubt of our continuity and stability.

In that, we are a shining beacon to the world, a unique case where cultural unity spanning millennia can be converted into a political union, an example of how a diverse people can get together - and stay together for centuries, and finally get together to make one political entity despite many, many problems, issues, hindrances and challenges... in that, we are truly unique  - a land where you can hold your own identity, customs and cultures without fear, a land where you can live free! As I said, that is what makes me feel honoured just to be born on this lovely land... 

Hai preet jahan ki reet sada, main geet wahan ke gaata hoon
Bharat ka rahne waala hoon, Bharat ki baat sunaata hoon

Kale gore ka bhed nahin, har dil se hamaara naata hai
kuchh aur na aata ho hamko, hamen pyaar nibhana aata hai
Jise maan chuki saari duniya, 
Ho Jise maan chuki saari duniya, main baat wahi dohraata hoon, 
Bharat ka rahne waala hoon, Bharat ki baat sunaata hoon

Jeete hon kisi ne desh to kya, hamne to dilon ko jeeta hai
Jahan Ram abhi tak hai nar me, Nari me abhi tak Seeta hai
Itne paawan ho log jahan, Itne paawan ho log jahan
main nit nit, main nit nit sheesh jhukaata hoon
Bharat ka rahne waala hoon, Bharat ki baat sunaata hoon

itni mamta nadiyon ko bhi, jahan mata kahke bulaate hain
Itna aadar insaan to kya, patthar bhi poojee jaate hain
Uss dharti pe maine janam liya, 
Ho Uss dharti pe maine janaaaam liya, Ye soch ke main itraata hoon
Bharat ka rahne waala hoon, Bharat ki baat sunaata hoon


Jai Hind!

Uncle Sam is at it again...


The world starts at the US borders, and ends with it, apparently. India - just a resource; a roughly delineated zone that good ol' Uncle Sam can tap into anytime. That seems to be the view of the US' with regard to India-US relations. It seems to me that we Indians should be on our knees in gratitude at the golden chance of befriending the USA. Take a look at the wishlist:


  1. Compulsory Licencing
  2. Patent Issues
  3. Preferential Market Access
  4. Localisation

At no point in the Indo-US dialogue has the US ever given serious thought to the manifest Indian concerns and wishes; so where does the question India toeing the US line arise from? The USA has steadfastly ignored India's concerns on innumerable occasions, and only given lip-service to the same, while continuing on their pre-set agenda. 

They object to compulsory licencing and our patent rules -  compulsory licence is a provision under the Indian Patent Act which allows the government to mandate a generic drug maker to produce inexpensive medicine in public interest even as a patent on the product is valid.  Fine. Now tell us what do we do in the case of an epidemic, when your MNC drugs will be priced way out of reach of the common man? Dont the poorer sections of society have a right to medication? And what about all those third world nations dependent on Indian Generics? Of course, of course - humanity, right to drugs, right to life only apply to US citizens, isnt it? Right you are. Indian stance is amoral, indefensible and a crime against humanity. Lets initiate a Drug Crimes Trial with every Indian Citizen as a criminal. Good for you. 

Preferential Market Access and Localisation: The PMA policy recommends that 30 per cent of demand be met by products made in India achieving the desired domestic value addition, if they are technically and commercially competitive for government procurement. Thus, goods manufactured in India, by domestic or foreign companies, must fulfil required standards to receive the benefit of this policy in equal measure. Why object, dear USA? Dont we have the right to develop our own internal strengths? Why should we continue to import everything, at the cost of further disturbing our Current Account Deficit? You scream about job creation at home - well, be informed we too have to undertake job creation for our unemployed! We have the right develop our economy and ensure internal strengths are developed. Regardless of the success and failure of this policy - should we now assume that India should ask US permission for something entirely internal? Or is that only US interest matters? Is this the way to develop a dialogue? Why is this entirely internal issue being raised in far-off USA. It is our policy - accept it and be done with it. Dont cry and scream blue murder. We have a right to govern our own nation for bad or for worse, thank you very much!

And by the way, why the complete silence on manifest Indian concerns? We are in a dialogue - two sovereign and equal nations talking to each other. What about the Indian Wishlist?


  1. Visa Row
  2. Pakistan Defence Supplies
  3. Access to David Coleman Headley
  4. Solid Fuel Technology
  5. Agricultural Subsidies in the USA
  6. Lack of sufficient support and cooperation in the war on terror
  7. Technology access and partnerships in various fields
  8. UN Permanent Seat
  9. Cryogenic Technology
  10. China-US Dialogue and our concerns on it


There has been no action on any of these; and the US has not learnt its lessons either. If the general perception is that Uncle Sam can browbeat changes in Indian Policy, forget it. That is not going to happen. For we Indians understand one thing: and that is friendship is a give-and-take relationship; and as of now, there is no "give" happening from the USA. They only want to "take" - without giving. Which is precisely why they aren't getting anything either! If you want reasons for the derailed India-US dialogue, look no further than a mirror, Mr USA. Your continued reluctance on full technology transfer of space and defense technologies, vacillations on Headley, weapons supply to Pakistan, Agricultural subsidy issues, Lack of true cooperation in the war on terror and lack of appreciation for our Afghanistan efforts are the cause of it all. Without this, you can never count India as a friend, let alone an ally. I personally do not believe even one item on that list is negotiable... in closing, please memorise this hindi song:  it is self-explanatory

Koi Jab Tumhaaraa Hruday Tod De, Tadaptaa Huaa Jab Koi Chhod De
Tab Tum Mere Paas Aanaa Priye, Meraa Darr Khulaa Hai Khulaa Hi Rahegaa Tumhaare Liye...

Translation: when you realise India's true value - come to us. We will wait for you with open arms.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Corporate India: A challenge to Ethics and Morality?


This has been a tumultuous year for the corporate world - with sting after sting leaving companies and corporates red-faced, and running helter-skelter to check the damage. Ranbaxy and Cobrapost, taken together, have hit some of the biggest names in our corporate world. This is nothing to celebrate; neither is it anything to mourn. It is in fact an opportunity for corporate India to introspect and put in place systems and processes that can lead to an image improvement, as well as better on-field performance. 

Are these incidents systemic, or are they sporadic? And, if they are systemic, what are the systems and processes that are causing this? First of all, the Cobrapost sting affected almost the entire banking spectrum without exception. Something so widespread cannot be a sporadic happening. This alone forces me to painfully conclude that this is a systemic failure on the part of corporate India. The question that arises from my declaration above, is that is this constricted to the banking sector, or does this spread outside it as well? While there will be differences between industries, can we spot come commonalities? And can we spot the precise root cause without resorting to sweeping generalisations such as "falling moral standards of society"? 

The first external hint came from the Ranbaxy episode. This leads to the assumption that something, somewhere, is not right. At this juncture, it becomes important to specify, as a serving member of corporate India, that such reactions as you have seen in the above 2 cases, are not the norm; they are only the outliers in the range of responses of employees to corporate pressures and realities. These responses range from the idealistic, to the practical; from the practical to the amoral; and from the amoral to the illegal. In other words, they span the entire spectrum. We are interested in the modal response - that is, the most frequent response and the general trend. 

There is one common string that runs through both cases: the pressure to perform, the pressure to deliver results. This leads to the automatic assumption that there is a problem in the Performance Measurement Systems of corporations. Well, yes - true; there is a  very serious issue there; but that is but one factor. The pressure to deliver results hails,  in addition to the PMS, from Competition and Job Security as well; in addition - all these three factors are intertwined together. Let us now look at all these one-by-one

Competition
This word refers to internal as well as external competition. External Competition refers to the competitive scenario in terms of both competing products as well as competing product categories. This much-ignored factor is the real culprit; competition is increasing by leaps and bounds. Even a cursory glance at management concepts will tell you this is par for the course in a growing market. New competing brands will come up; competitors will continuously innovate in the product variants, brand communications, distribution etc. New categories also come up that frequently challenge that very basis of your business model, or fundamentally alter the business environment in terms of market size, obsolescence etc. The factor of internal competition and the PMS has to be seen in this all-pervading atmosphere. And, as we shall see later, it is the modern corporates' failure to effectively produce processes and systems to tackle the pressures arising out of this external atmosphere that lies at the root of the problems. The icing on the cake is that we are in a relatively young nation, with the large number of people ready to replace you (with skills comparable to yourself) - with some of them being jobless.  Taken together, this is a recipe for a pressure-cooker like atmosphere where the winner takes all. 

Internal competition refers to the pressure to get ahead, the pressure to excel, get solid increments and promotions. In a pressure cooker scenario such as exists now-a-days as outlined above, this will cascade on employees - challenging the very basis of their thoughts and their business approach. No one enters a job with the explicit intention of breaking rules; it is something that you pick up on the course of your normal duties - it is a survival instinct, a reaction taken to ensure continuity. Not every person is blessed with the obstinacy and the obduracy to avoid the pulls of a slight moral detour - esp when everyone is doing it. Each employee wants to succeed; that is a given. It is this desire that motivates actions seen above in some cases...

Job Security
The manifest lack of Job Security in the modern workplace is also another core reason for this. Threatened with the fear of a loss of a job, quite a few employees do compromise on their values, and take the easy way out. The very fact of the presence of such tactics is mute testimony to this reality. It is relatively easy to get fired, or to get replaced - even without fault. And once out, no one looks to see the base reason; getting a replacement job becomes extremely difficult. It is this cruel reality that fuels and adds fire to the already smouldering embers described above. These 2 combine in the catalysing presence of the PMS to create a full-blown fire...

The Performance Management System
Any Performance Management System should be an aid to performance, a guide-stick for a future plan, an opportunity to increase salary and perks, and a fearless chance to correct mistakes. It should also be a tool to ensure that the organisation proceeds along the right path. Given the pressure-cooker atmosphere described above, it needs to be sufficiently robust, providing a framework for the basic prevention of unhealthy activities as well as a tool, a guide towards the correct operational method. 

Most PMSs I have seen fall way short of this. Inordinate emphasis is laid on the short-term end-result; and consequently lesser emphasis is laid on the process that goes into the result. Most I have seen measure the result to the tune of 60-80% at the lower levels, while altering this only at the senior levels. This creates a lower employee base that is interested in only results; with a senior base that professes to be interested in both. Upto middle levels, this is the unfortunate reality. Obviously, when you are being measured only on results, there will be a tendency to take unethical and even illegal short-cuts. If the Key Result Areas are 60% numbers, 20% processes, and 20% people skills - then it becomes relatively easy to tweak then process, achieve the 60% at the cost of the other two parameters. Net result is that you are safe; and further, at the back of the mind is the knowledge that the corporate will prefer number achievers over the process guys. 

Summary
Thus we can see that in an atmosphere that provides the opportunity for unscrupulous  ladies and gentlemen to get ahead, the pressure to perform colludes with the external and internal pressures to create unethical conduct. Here we run into one fundamental objection: organisations exist to achieve objectives, targets, numbers and profitability, and are operating in a fast-moving and dynamic external atmosphere, which accounts for the emphasis on numbers. To this, let me clarify: numbers are the be-all and end-all of the organisation; but it is also the core task of the same organisation to ensure sustainability of performance over the long term and avoid crises, losses and damages to bottomline and image. Short term tactics cannot ensure long-term success; unhealthy practices if exposed can cause regulatory and business losses, as we have seen in the examples above.  

In conclusion, it can be said that the playing field changed- as seen by the changes in the external competitive atmosphere. And the corporates have been slow in responding with adequate changes that can reflect the new business reality that now faces them. We have seen The PMS in this article, and the lack of Job Security.  The lack of human, friendly processes that de-stress this hard reality and motivate employees seems to be at the root of this. The PMS, Hire-And-Fire, Rewards and Recognition Programmes, Employee education and training  to deal with competive stress are in dire need of updation. We shall look at these in the 3rd part. But these arent the only ones responsible; there is one other factor that needs to be considered to make this picture complete: the bedrock to which this is linked; the overall organisational and societal culture; and the secondary organisational processes like competition monitoring, employee mentoring etc. This is what I shall attempt in the 3rd part of this topic...

Not for Reproduction; please drop me a message in case you are interested in reproducing this

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Book Review: Black Friday - The True Story Of The Bomb Blasts



For  each landing we had to pay customs, the DRI and the police officials to ensure that the goods could be unloaded unhindered and transported to the city… for each landing we have to pay a fixed sum of money to customs DRI and the police”

“On Thursday evening, there were huge flashlights in the Garage and all those friends of Tiger Uncle were filling cars and scooters with a black substance. My friend Raju tried to go near them, but one of the men yelled at him and told us to go home. But we all kept looking at them from a distance

The book “Black Friday - The True Story of The Bombay Bomb Blasts” is far more than just a true crime expose; it is a mirror of our society and its self-destructing carelessness, lack of civic responsibility, corruption and is a conclusive indictment that we are our own enemies. The Indian society stands double damned and conclusively indicted through this moving and shattering expose that leaves no doubt as to how something so small as a bribe and silence can combine to create wholesale murder. This is not a Hindi movie or a Hollywood production; it is the dance of death that was played out on the 12th of March 1993 on the streets of Mumbai – a dance of death that could have been prevented or at least contained had we been less corrupt or more responsible and mature citizens.

The book traces the controversy to its beginnings in the aftermath of the 1992 riots, and painstakingly recreates the entire plot in threadbare detail. The style used is factual; there is no dramatisatoin whatsoever; it almost reads like a police case file – and yet is sufficiently fast-paced to ensure reader interest.  The story has been told from both sides – the police as well as the criminals, which makes for enthralling reading, as you are literally able to see into the criminal’s mind.

Extensive research has gone into this work, and it shows. The author has used a variety of impeccable sources to bring out the truth; the police officers who investigated the case, TADA court judges who gave encouragement, lawyers, police documents, government records, CBI dossiers, confessions, newspaper reports. The work has been checked for factual errors on incorrect reportage by lawyers as well as police officers attached to the case.

The involvement of Pakistan has also been categorically proven with corroborative confessional statements as well as forensic evidence that clearly establishes the Pakistani complicity in the entire matter. The arms, for example, have been conclusively shown to have been sourced from Pakistan. Pakistani documents, passports and even Visa numbers have been provided that prove the Pakistani hand – and these also establish the depth of the research.

The book is a fast read, is compact and short – some 288 pages only; yet is loaded with information. The pace would do credit  to any thriller writer – it unfolds precisely like a Mukul Deva thriller; except that at the back of your mind, you know that what you are reading has actually transpired. The ease with which the entire plot was carried out beggars belief; the book is a must read for every educated Indian for this reason alone. Furthermore, there is no bias of any kind that I could spot – it is impartial, as it points out police failings alongwith the successes with a minimum of fanfare in either case. It restricts its scope to the case in hand – the Bomb Blasts, and does not pass any value judgements. That is a masterstroke; it keeps the book short, enhances readability and lends to its pace.

This book also serves as a textbook case of how societal indifference, communal tensions and corruption can come together to create a lethal cocktail of death. Throughout the book, you come across cases of corruption and deliberate negligence- which would, if reported to the right authorities, have lead to the plot being intercepted. The terrorists used existing corruption-based relations to ship in explosives; proving that corruption is not benign and something to be tolerated. It can lead to death – as it has in this case. Our entire system stands indicted – and by system I mean both the institutions of our society as well as our society itself, which looks upon corruption with its typical chalta-hai attitude. Well, ladies and gentlemen of India, this once your chalta hai attitude cost 273 people their lives.

And in the case of the eye-witness case of the night prior to the attacks lies the greatest tragedy of them all. You spot someone filling cars and scooters with black substance, and keep silent? In several cars and scooters at that? And afterwards stay silent even as they loudly celebrate and drink, disturbing the neighbourhood? We saw once in the Nirbhay case how people just don’t care – no one stopped. And here, we see it again. Because of our society’s “it is not my problem” attitude…

Boss, corruption is a crime; both giving and asking for bribes is a crime,. It carries a cost- a cost that all of us our paying; only we dont realise it. You dont benefit from corrpution - regardless of the ease with which you attain whatever objective you had in mind while indulging in corruption. And if you believe that you benefit from corruption - you are a fool. Sorry, but that is what I can learn from this real-life story.

The book also covers the Sanjay Dutt episode in considerable detail and with proofs. The combination of the episode and the terror plot, when viewed through a common lens, make for pretty damning reading. On a side note, we Indians also seem to have forgotten this, and are actually on the streets demanding his release - the release of a man who kept hand-grenades and an AK-56 as he was "feeling threatened". Where are we? The Wild, Lawless West? And this guy saw 25 grenades and 9 AK-56s being delivered... beat that! And yet, we Indians  (quite a few of us, anyhow) support him... kudos to Nana Patekar, btw:



Nana: Have you ever seen me work with him? I dont watch his movies, or work with him. Awesome, Sir. Respect: you are a true Indian. Unlike quite a few among us...

As I always say…

Jaago, Sonewaalon!

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Corruption Can Kill...

"The smugglers also have informers within the agencies. Whenever the agencies organise a raid, such informers call up their masters and warn them, often foiling the strike... On 29 January. the first recepient of Bharadwaj's alert checked into this guest house at 4 pm... Customs Inspector Talawadekar and Phanse came into the room... Singh and Talawadekar, law enforcement officers, were Phanse's co-conspirators... Tiger received a call from a customs inspector..."

Excerpt from Black Friday...

The above is a true story, involving corruption. And yes, we dont need to worry all that much about corruption. Hardly any damage was done due to the series of events described above; only - only 273 Indians died. Huh! Only 273 Indians. Kyaa fark padtaa hai, bhaiyon aur behenon? World War 2 killed 60 Million, including an estimated 2 Million Indians. What's 273 as compared to 2 Million? Peanuts. Let us worry when that number crosses 2 Millon. What say, India? 

Please continue demanding and paying bribes. Makes no difference. But, at least once in your life, if you find the inclination and the time for it, just spare a thought for those 273 Indians who got killed. Or those millions more who are deprived of what is rightfully theirs, perhaps who even die, who fail, who lose everything, who incur losses, who have to pay - all because you asked for or gave a bribe. Just once; that is all I am asking.

As for me, I dont pay a bribe. Seedha aadmi hun; kuchh log aisi aadaton ko bewakoofi kehete hain; kuchh log aisi aadaton ko "inability to adjust to the atmosphere" jaise meaningless lambe lambe dialogues dete hain, kuch log isko galati kehete hain...

Bewakoof hi sahi; par kisi doosre ka huq toh nahi chhintaa. Aur haan, as Inspector Ali stated in A Wednesday - Galati Karnaa Achaa Lagtaa Hai...

And if perchance this article has touched a chord with you, try once - at least once- not to pay a bribe. Just Once. Your Mother will weep in gratitude. Mother India... or have you forgotten her? 

As I always state, 

Jaago Sonewaalon!