Monday, 31 October 2016

Understanding Democracy - Can We Ask Questions?

ASKING QUESTIONS – IS IT UNACCEPTABLE?


Two articles that appeared on social media today have led me to ask everyone a couple of  simple questions : Firstly, can we, in a democracy, not ask questions / give guidance / point errors without being accused of being unsupportive, or taking political sides? Asking questions and critical analysis is the very basis of modern democracy – and it is also the foundation stone of Indian Democracy; asking questions and critically appraising performance is the hallmark as well as the key to a functioning democratic system.


The second question that occurs to me is simply this :  a) Who is responsible for Performance in a democracy? And leading to b) How long can we or should be continue to apportion blame – deserved or otherwise, makes no difference – to history? These two ( or if you so prefer – three ) questions are the key to any functioning democratic system. You have to allow space and freedom for questioning and critical appraisal; you have to understand the metrics of system performance as they are relevant to a proper democracy, and you have to learn to take some responsibility.


Both these articles concerned the Armed Forces and its issues as highlighted lately in the Media, and can be found in the Bibliographical links; I use these articles only as a starting point of my article; which isn’t about the Armed Forces at all. These articles only provided the kick-start to my mind, and led me to ask these relevant questions and note these observations and trends, which I have been noting earlier as well. I am seeing, off late, a polarization in the Social Media trends, with a distinct reluctance of the supporters to this current government towards accepting any critical analysis even by people who take no sides – like self; this must change – although that is easier said than done.


The first is a hard hitting letter / article by a former Lt Gen... Anyone listening? Perhaps not, as anything that criticizes the GoI or seeks to ask questions is shouted down by the Bhakt Brigade... But these are real questions, asked by a retired General, and cannot be brushed away... But in India today, it is not done, asking questions, not due to the Govt, but rather due to its blind supporters. No one is saying this Govt is bad, but asking questions, expert giving opinion, which is not acceptable, leading to silence all around, and a belief that sounds like
 we all know this Govt is perfect, even though we know perfection is a mirage. Any answers to the questions asked by a General? {Refer the link  given  below in Reference Section}

The second is a typically blunt and soul-searching analysis by the redoubtable Shashi Tharoor, also on the topic of the Indian Armed Forces, an analysis which spares on one – in typical Tharoor fashion. In this second article, Shashi Tharoor takes apart the political establishment for progressive downgrading and CPC issues... again, the point is that there has now been a consistent series of write-ups coming on social media by more and more experts who are beginning to ask questions; the sad lack of interest in these questions, and an even sadder avoidance is the core issue in my mind at least.


Jai hind / praising Indian Armed Forces is dead easy... Bahut aasaan hai. Far more difficult to face these questions and seek answers, and even harder to face reality that even this Govt is {or may not be} not doing enough, not doing as much as it can and should for the Armed Forces. And if it actually is doing all it can – then the way forward cannot be shrill ostracization, selective presentation, or complete avoidance of those people who are asking these questions, with hard data and proof – people who are experienced in the relevant field, and can be reasonably called experts.


Again, asking all of us social media experts, consistent Modi Govt Bhakts and praisers, any answers? And are we ready to face these brutally hard questions based on hard facts presented? It is easy to write Jai Hind, Bharat Mata Ki Jai, and all that stuff. Far harder to have the guts and onenness to face the reality and look for a solution. Jai Hind likh Kar apni deshbhakti kaa daayitva pooraa Karna bahut aasaan hotaa hai, yaaron. Naa paisa lagtaa hai, naa koi knowledge, naa kuchh kar guzarne ki chaahat. Sarkar acchhi hone kaa kyaa yeh matlab huaa ki sawaal bhi naa pooochhein, guidance bhi naa Karen? Such hi kahaa gayaa hai, Aainaa dekhnaa bahut mushkil rehetaa hai.


THE FIRST QUESTION : CAN WE ASK AND CRITICIZE OR NOT?
Why should the very simple task of pointing errors – or even probable errors – amount to not supporting the Government? Is it not a better way to meet allegations with proof that the things are getting done – which is what is required? And, if they are right – is it not far better to talk and find a way out? How long can we afford to just  ignore and continue blind praise? Especially when no one doubts the quality of Governance being delivered by this Government? No one is perfect; and everyone needs course corrections now and again. In fact, midway corrections are the best source of excellence!


And yet, I find, repeatedly, opinionated discourse, and one-sided presentation of facts – not by the Government; but by we the people. Normal everyday people like you and me. And a complete refusal to engage with emerging issues and problems, coupled with hero-worshipping & a lop-sided understanding of the authority-responsibility matrix as it applies in a functioning democracy. That is the truly scary and terrifyingly sad part; good part is that there is another side to it – a small but increasingly vocal set of people with the right intentions, criticizing where due and asking the right questions, acting as a systemic and professional check and a benchmark for the Government.


WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR PERFORMANCE IN A DEMOCRACY?
The answer, to be blunt – is you and I; we, the people of India. A Democratic system  is one which is of the people, for the people and by the people. The layman understanding of this translates to one word – “Vote”. This understanding is frankly, conceptually flawed from the outset; the Vote is the Term-End Examination, the Performance Appraisal System conducted by System HR : The Election Commission. Democracy isn’t, wasn’t and will never be about the vote alone!


 Democracy means freedom of speech {within limits}; freedom of the press; freedom of opinion; freedom of political, religious choice; or, in other words – democracy is about our freedom and the rights we enjoy. Which  brings me to the Authority-Responsibility Matrix I was talking of above – Democracy also means being responsible for the Governments performance; and acting in a timely fashion to communicate to the implementors – our Government – of the needs of the people through democratic means like Press, Social Media, Newpapers and Communication with community and elected leaders both.


In other words, Democracy implies and includes criticism of the Government- again within prescribed limits; asking questions of the Government, and guiding it along the required / needed direction. This direction is the one that is expressed by the people as a collective whole, not of any individual. This cannot happen unless you ask questions in public fora, which earlier used to be fairs, temples, etc – and now includes all these as well as social media, which together modulate public choice and opinion.


Legacy issues cannot be avoided by referring to earlier past mis-performance; would  that excuse be acceptable in our jobs? Obviously, this is not an acceptable excuse anywhere. Sure, you cannot be held accountable for those mistakes; but so long as the eventual targets are within reach and justifiably drawn up, past performance is never an acceptable excuse. And this is the prime excuse used in Social Media. The current incumbent is now responsible for performance; don’t blame them for past excesses – but that does not mean that you can forever state it was like this earlier, so will take time!


Thus, we as a people have to now start measuring the gains made by this Government; what steps is it taking correct errors; how they are being implemented {as opposed to vacant and vacuous talk and chatter}; are the implementation in line with direction; what more can be done to make our country a better place; and stop celebrating small achievements. We all grant this Government is excellent – high time that we started analyzing – not as political opponents, but as concerned citizens and helpful well-wishers of this Government. This needs to be done by all of us, including the Media, without whom can never be effective. And we all need to stop being armchair praisers, and start asking hard questions… 




Bibliography / References :


Friday, 28 October 2016

Movie Review : Shivaay

SHIVAAY
BY AJAY DEVGAN


Image result for shivaay


Shivaay… one of the most awaited movies, thanks to its mesmerizing and tantalizing trailers plus word of mouth publicity; and a movie that has got some, shall we say, not-upto-the-mark reviews in some publications that I perused; reviews that, in my humble opinion, don’t really do justice to the movie. Hence, I have made, in my own small way, an attempt to place the other side of the movie, through this review; a review that is unabashedly  gushing  in praise, for the reasons outlined below…




THE NEGATIVES
But first, let me state the negative, or attempt to analyse where it might have miffed some people. It is a movie that is a victim of its own publicity which might just have built up the expectations to a level which the movie fails to reach; or, to be more specific, it raised expectations along a path that the movie does not fully touch upon or justify. The name – Shivaay, or the repeated references to verses of the Lord in the trailer, or the song “Jaa Jaa Kailaash Jaa Kar Vinaash”; or the overlaid dialogue in the trailer.


There is, in my opinion, only one plot weakness; if you ignore that – this is one of the most spine-chilling, or rather, to be more accurate, fast paced thrillers to come out of India in a very long time indeed. That is the development of the central character, Shivaay; either there should have been some proper justification for the references in the paragraph above, or some clear linkage – which is absent.


The character development in slightly weak only of the central character; the difficulty is that, this movie actually has only two characters : Shivaay, and Gaura. There is no one else of note in terms of relevance.  A word here for the Child artist portraying Gaura – she won my admiration for her performance, in a movie dominated in Salmanesue fashion by one single character played by Ajay Devgan…

 Image result for shivaay
THE PLUSES
Notwithstanding the negatives that I have fairly pointed out above, this movie is, from the first frame to the last, a production of sheer class. I could not find even one irrelevant scene in the entire movie; the plot is well defined, the character development, one negative apart, splendid with clearly etched characters, the story is tightly woven and completely logical from start to finish – right till the last frame when the titles begin to play on the screen.


The narrative is taut, and does not deviate from the plot at all; not only that, there is no attempt at any sideplay, sub-plots etc of any kind. Every scene carries the story forward, and is relevant to the movement of the plot in some way; including the songs. That took some doing in a film of this genre. There is not one single wasted scene whatsoever; had anything been deleted, the movie and its story would seem jerky, with no clear connect.


One scene effortlessly blends into the next in an uninterrupted sequence, including the much-criticised scenes, which  are in reality, central to the forward story! Shivaay could not have reached his destination without the Girish Karnad scene, for example; neither would an embassy staffers support to Shivaay seem logical otherwise.


The story proceeds at an unbelievably frenetic pace; so much so, that in order to keep track of the incredibly rapid progression of events, one is forced to remain glued to the seat, not even being able to leave for a loo break – and that is one incredible achievement, any which way you look at it. Saying more would give away too many details of the plot, so let me leave it at that. The pace has nothing to do with the action sequences – the speed of the story has been achieved by a combination of mind-boggling action sequences {which could have been slightly better choreographed, to be perfectly honest} – and rapid progression of the core plot in between, leaving one gasping for breath almost.


The music ably supports the story and the plot, as well as the overall movie; haunting tunes and melodies, well choreographed song sequences and a decent enjoyable score: given that you don’t feel the need or the freedom to leave the seat even during the songs – there is undoubtedly a pulling factor in the songs, which are ably complemented by some riveting photography and beautiful location shoots that draw your breath away; this is ably supported in the entire movie with the tremendous special effects throughout



All in all, this is a fantastic and enjoyable movie, a thriller set at an unbelievably frenetic and break-neck speed, with decent music, great photography, a taut narrative and a decent plot. What more could you ask for in a movie? Given that nearly all movies in Hindi and English {not so far in Marathi, luckily}, require some level of suspension of logic, the negatives are bearable. The negatives mean that the movie will not score ten on ten, but a more realistic 8 on a ten-point scale. But that does nothing to negate the overall movie’s positives, neither does it mean the movie isn’t enjoyable; it is a fantastic and captivating watch! Don’t miss it this Diwali is my considered opinion… 

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Book Review : Saving Capitalism From The Capitalists

SAVING CAPITALISM FROM THE CAPITALISTS
Raghuram G Rajan & Luigi Gonsales


Image result for saving capitalism from the capitalistsThis is one book with the most inapplicable title; and, yet again, I find myself in wholesale disagreement with western research. Once – just once, I would like to read a Western research that is unbiased and well-thought-out in reference to the east; the east remains, for them, as indecipherable today as it was 300 years ago, despite the modern information age etc. The east remains as much a mystery to the great research houses and brains of the so-called  Great West then, as now.


IRRELEVANT CONTENT IN A TOME ON ECONOMICS
Harsh words, I know; especially when I am talking about a book co-authored by the redoubtable Raghuram G Rajan. But when I run across such inaccurate beauties as on Pg 289 wrt to India, my take is justified. That said, there is more than enough in other aspects which justifies my low impression of the book, which has completely failed to answer even one question in my mind; a book that is a theoretical tome with little or no real-world applicability in the real world in the East at least. Sorry – blunt, frank and straight.


The book alludes to the India-Pakistan standoff of 2002 after the Parliament attack and Kaluchak massacre {What is this incident doing in a tome on Economics, by the way?}  - and implies that businesses on both sides put pressure on the Governments on both sides; and that both nations were threatening nuclear war! The reality is different – only Pakistan was threatening Nukes, and no one in India was cared about it! The de-escalation was a result of diplomacy, with no known hint of business involvement. In fact, if anything, Indian business has stood by India in times of distress – a prominent Indian business personality even refused to trade with Pakistan; this is on record.




THE REVIEW
The above paragraph about sums it up; this is a largely theoretical research, a research on the history of the Western economies from the Great Depression and the steps taken since then, and an analysis of the pluses and minuses of those steps. So far, the book is on firm grounds, and is worth 10 stars out of 10 for its analysis and its exemplary approach with real examples from the Western world. It traces a full history exhaustively, but, in my personal opinion, falls short of my previous book review on Economics – The Wisdom of Ants by Shankar Jaganathan, which does an admirable and exhaustive analysis of the rise of economic thought in all schools, prominent or otherwise.


This is where the problem in this book lies – it takes a quasi academic approach; or rather, a theoretical construct and tries to apply it to the real world. Throughout the book, terms like Free Financial Markets, Flow of Capital across Borders, Developed Financial Markets abound; just what, specifically, is implied by these terms by the authors remains unsaid! Just what does a Free Financial Market imply – does it mean no controls, or does it mean basic controls? If you say basic controls, what do you mean? Do you mean convertibility on the current as well as the capital account? Exactly what do you mean?


I am from India – and it is only of academic interest to me what you have done in the USA, beyond a certain point of remaining worldly aware, so to speak. Thus, when you analyse USA, or Italy, or Germany, it is of near-zero relevance to me as an Indian  - not because of the level of – aah – freedom of our financial markets or their development, but due to the structural difference between the economies the book discusses, and my own Indian Economy, and the vast difference in their stages of development.  That said, to those interested in the Western Economies- this is a decent resource, to be  perfectly frank. To those interested in the Indian Economy, Mihir Sharma’s book or even the book by Ruchir Sharma is a far better bet.


The book advocates flow of capital across borders, and the benefits to be had from competition from abroad; while this is actually beyond debate – it isn’t the panacea it is made out to be by some Western Economists, who, it seems to me, speak from their own interest points. What do you mean when you say flow of capital? How is it an aid in development for a developing nation if it is only trading, and does not involve investing in the host nation’s capabilities in terms of state-of-the-art manufacturing abilities? Readers will recall the brouhaha over the 30% local sourcing clause in the retail FDI mash-up.


It is fine for a Westerner to speak of free flow of capital and developed financial markets {please define “developed” – yet to read a definition of this amorphous concept so heavily  bandied about in pink papers, especially from abroad! -  Also, do remember it from these very – aah – developed markets that subprime sunk the global financial world}  ; but remember the West is where there is excess investible surplus, and it is in their interests to open markets in the east. That is pretty much a no-brainer. The question we need to ask is which capital is good for us, in what terms and conditions, and in which focus areas and industries. There is no single rule – there cannot be; for economics isn’t a standalone discipline, regardless of how much the theorists would like it to be. Economics exists in the real world.


This lack of real-world connect becomes doubly apparent when the authors talk of those left behind, or those whose jobs get laid off in the modern world. It becomes even more apparent when they talk of international competition leading to benefits in developing nations. What happens to domestic industry  or old industries when large-scale job losses happen due to so-called international / new competition – and what will be the impact on the internal social structure and the law and order situation of the concerned nation? One can easily recall a series of incidents…  


Frankly, these – and many more -  aren’t questions that can be answered by theoretical economists in rarified top university environs; these are the subject matter of behavioural economists working in tandem with the society and the prevalent political structure; it is upto these real world experts of each country to devise the right, or the optimal approach to economic issues that  each nation faces, One size fits all doesn’t work in the real world, to be completely frank… 

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Book Review - Agniputr : When Agni First Spoke



BOOK REVIEW – AGNIPUTR : WHEN AGNI FIRST SPOKE
BY VADHAN




About the Author
IMG_3423Bommadevara Sai Chandravadhan, ‘Vadhan’ is in Transactional law practice, advising Indian MNCs on compliance frameworks for their business in India and ten other countries in North America, China, Asia Pacific and Europe. His company, Sand Legal Services Private Limited, is ranked amongst the top 20 compliance service providers in India and is recipient of two international awards. He writes novels, sometimes with poems in them and can sketch reasonably well. His first published book is Shatru, Kronikles Book-1… {Source : Bommadevara Sai Chandravadhan}



The Book – Agnuiputr
bookThe plot is an intriguing one spanning 6 decades in its entirely, starting with the disappearance of a person from a village in South India… a man who apparently gave up his life to protect the village and the people form a terrible evil force. His sacrifice succeeded only in holding and limiting the evil force to a large mansion, waiting either to be unlocked – or till it became powerful enough to grow out of its controls imposed by the sacrifice.


This sacrifice is known to one or two people – one of whom goes into politics. The owners of the mansion migrate from the village and settle in the cities, where one of them becomes a top lawyer. Complicating matters is a local scientist, on the payroll of one of India’s top research places, who investigates a strage phenomenon – and promptly disappears; but nor before alerting his superiors, who send a team to investigate – a team which walks straight into a massive political and lethal game of power and control, as rival forces fight – one to harness the force for self; the other set to destroy the force, for only he can…


The Review
The book is based on science-fiction plus science plus Indian Literary History plus Fantasy theme plus thriller genre, which is pretty unique, at least in my reading experience. And that is what makes this a fun read; this is from the first page, a riveting read not just because of its other parameters, but due to its newness and freshness. You have to suspend reality in some ways – but that happens automatically, as you are pulled into the intriguing concept right from the first page; this is a hold that lasts, and continues for the entire book.


It is a rapid, fast paced book which manages to hold interest throughout the length, without slipping on its pace anywhere. This is something we expect from a thriller, but the way this has been handled in this book is remarkable. At no point does disbelief come in, you are too engrossed to think  of the real world. And therein lies the real power of the book and the concept; this has been done in the way the plot has been entwined across multiple genres, and quite effortlessly.


The author has successfully married hardcore science, Indian History {I don’t consider it fictional – having read many ancient documents myself, so will not use the term mythology}, fantasy and science fiction is quite a treat, and has been effortlessly done. And the setting, the backdrop of the story being in politics and the Army has added a flavor of thrill to it. The race of the good and the evil has been set in contemporary settings, with plots and counter plots from both as each team tries to best the other.


The characters are sufficiently well-etched, with detailed background development of the principle characters involved, which is in keeping with their actions as the story unfolds. This is another strong point of the story – as the supporting case just has minimal and functional character development, which makes for a very nice and rounded story. Characters and their optimal development are central to writing great fiction – and here we have an author in full control of that faculty, and that is a definite plus.


That is the gel, the holding power : the plots and counter-plots, and the rather unique treatment of the central characters and the way they move from being a part of the evil team to the good, and succeed in fully supporting the family member of the mansion in his quest to stop the evil from overcoming all is frankly breathtakingly done, and very adroitly handled. That makes for not just rapid reading, it also pulls you further into the story as you are glued to the book, not wanting to give up or stop reading until you see what happens to the characters in the book.





This also helps you in continuing to suspend your views and beliefs – which is critical in the enjoyment of the fantasy genre, wherein you have to perforce keep aside all known science almost! Quite simple, you are too absorbed in following the intriguing interplay among characters and the plot twists – which have nothing to do with either science or fantasy or fiction. In simple terms,  this a highly skillfully crafted book that deserves good shelfspace in retail as well as consumer interest both.