Friday, December 25, 2009

Daring to Dream beyond Third World!

It is the season for pundits to pontificate on the decade that has gone by and appear suitably magisterial while predicting what lies in the decade looming over the horizon. I never wanted to be a pundit and will never be able to appear magisterial. So, I will restrict myself to suggesting some basic mindset changes in our country if we are to finally discard the Third World tag by the end of 2019.

The mindset change that we need is to stop thinking of India as a former colony and a victim of global myriad conspiracies. We as a nation are becoming so prickly that it is oft en laughable. If George Bush signs a nuclear deal with India that is truly historic, we whine and crib and proclaim that America wants to colonise India. If China arm twists the World Bank into not giving a loan for a project in Arunanchal Pradesh, we see dark conspiracies and start revisiting 1962. Ditto for the Doha round of WTO, for the Copenhagen Round of climate control talks and permanent membership of the UN Security Council. As a nation, we must become less prickly and more practical in pursuit of national interests. And what is our long term national interest? Growing at 8% a year and finally eradicating poverty. For that, we need to reform ourselves; not blame America or China.

The second mindset change that we need urgently as a society is to become more generous and charitable. Sure, we have examples of generous individuals and institutions in India. But what they do is not even a patch on what greedy capitalists do in America. I humbly request each one of the 200 million middle class Indians to make a pledge that they will voluntarily contribute Rs.5,000 a year towards primary education of poor children. Believe me, if middle class individuals and corporate entities make and implement this pledge, India will eradicate illiteracy by 2019 – even if successive governments are inefficient and corrupt.

The third mindset change that we as a society and nation need to urgently implement is to raise our sense of civic pride and responsibility. I know it is a tired cliché, the one about the Indian keeping her home spotlessly clean while nonchalantly dumping garbage on the streets. Indians desperately need to learn more civic manners and work ethics. It is wonderful to gloat about the beauty of our chalta hai mindset, but we will never cross the threshold of Third World scorn unless we change our ways as citizens. And please don’t blame politicians for this; it is you and I who are squarely to blame.

The last and most urgent mindset change is related to our education system. Our education system is geared to mass manufacture unemployable morons who only know how to follow orders, rules or a set pattern of work. Innovation, free thinking and initiative are ruthlessly discouraged – by schools, by parents and by peers. India will always be condemned to be a Third World nation unless we change this.

Here is to fond hopes that at least half these mindset changes do happen in the next decade!


Friday, December 11, 2009

Smaller States can be Bigger problems

I was waiting for a flight the other day at Mumbai airport and watching a news channel. There was a Russian woman with her face covered who was on screen, plaintively saying how she was raped by an influential politician of Goa and how the cops there were doing everything possible to hush up the case. Then I recalled frequent stories of how Goa has now been completely hijacked by criminals, mafia and politicians who think committing a crime and getting away with it is their birthright. That story was followed by a report on widespread agitations in Andhra Pradesh for a separate state called Telengana. And then I thought about the long standing demand for smaller states in many regions. I thought of Gorkhaland to be carved out of West Bengal, of Harit Pradesh in Western U.P., of Vidharbha in Maharashtra, of Koshal in Orissa and many more.

In each case, citizens demanding a separate state have a seemingly fool proof logic: their needs and concerns are not addressed by existing state governments and only a ‘state’ of their own can lead to better development and delivery of developmental benefi ts. Th e logic is that there wouldn’t be so many farmer suicides in Vidharbha if it becomes a separate state; or that sugar cane farmers in Harit Pradesh would get a better deal than what they are currently getting from Lucknow. On the face of it, the logic appears impeccable. But will this work in reality? Will smaller states genuinely lead to better welfare outcomes for citizens; for better governance and stronger democracy?

I look at the examples of Jharkhand and Goa and shudder at what might happen in reality. You and I already know about how Goa is rapidly descending towards hell; it became a state back in 1986. Then, in 2000, three states called Chattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand were created. Almost 10 years down the road, can anyone say with even an iota of confi dence that freeing Jharkhand from the clutches of Bihar has led to more prosperity for citizens? In fact, exactly the opposite seems to have happened. Chronic political instability and relentless Maoist violence have become the signature themes of the state. It is a unique state where an independent MLA became Chief Minister. And now, we read about how Jharkhand was plundered by the same politicians to the tune of about Rs.40 billion? Development, economic growth and a better life for poor tribals of the state have remained illusions. Chattisgarh and Uttarakhand have not performed as outrageously as Jharkhand; but they haven’t excelled either.

So how do people of Telengana expect a miracle in terms of growth, poverty eradication and prosperity once it becomes a state? And will the creation of Vidharbha lead to a stop in farmer suicides? My fear is that things might worsen. The problem in India is not about smaller states but pathetic governance. With pathetic governance persisting, creating smaller states will create more Jharkhands and Goas.

I know it is a tall order, but it is really time for citizens – and the media – to more aggressively confront the ruling class with hard questions. And keep asking those questions till governance improves. Creating smaller states will be like wishing away the real problem.


Friday, November 27, 2009

So Indians now dislike President Obama!

Many months ago, in mid March to be precise, when Indians were swooning over the rock star Barack Obama, I wrote an edit for this magazine with a headline: Why Indians Will Hate Obama. As Manmohan Singh comes back virtually empty handed from his state visit to Washington, let me just reprint the same edit below. Honestly, this is not chest thumping:-)

Very soon, you might have Prakash Karat and fellow comrades crooning, ‘I told you so’, as the Indian media slams Barack Obama and Uncle Sam for once again ‘tilting against’ India. You can already hear murmurs of protest as protectionism gathers momentum in America and young Indians find their dream jobs disappearing in the United States. Then there are those hawks who are now convinced that America is absolutely not interested in genuinely helping India when it comes to battling cross border terrorism. And rest assured, the Obama administration will take many decisions and make many choices that will anger, dismay and even outrage urban Indians who haven’t stopped fantasising about the emerging strategic partnership between India and America. For this breed of Indians, Uncle Sam would follow up the nuclear deal by doing everything that is anti- Pakistan and anti-China if they have a conflict of interest with India. Sadly such delusions always get shattered. They will inevitably get shattered by end of this year. So after the Indo-US euphoria of the last few years, get prepared for a phase of disappointment and rage at the perfidy of Uncle Sam. And don’t be surprised if Obama becomes one of the most criticised personalities in Indian media (in any case, even his honeymoon with the American media is on the verge of collapsing).

The brutal fact is: both the media and the middle class Indians will be wrong when they rail at Obama and his policies. The reason behind that is another brutal fact: India still behaves childishly and naively when it comes to the pursuit of national interests, foreign policy and geo-politics. No wonder, the discourse on foreign policy in India oscillates between triumphant and childish optimism and naïve pessimism. When India signed the nuclear deal, optimism reached a feverish pitch; when a few Indians don’t get American jobs, the pessimism plunges into depths of despair. That is because most Indians confuse between cold blooded pursuit of national interests and the feel good buzz around emotional bonding. There will always be some occasions when America and India’s national interests do not converge when it comes to dealing with Pakistan. That does not make America anti-Indian. There will always be some occasions when the head will rule over the heart and Uncle Sam will choose China over India (China happens to literally propping up the US economy at the moment by sending surplus dollars to America). That doesn’t make America anti-Indian. There will always be some occasions when political compulsions in America will hurt India Inc. Again, that doesn’t make America anti-Indian.

But beyond these simple facts, there is another brutal fact that would hurt many Indians. We tend to think that India is more important than it actually is. Let us first grow at 8% a year for a decade at least before we start nurturing Great Power fantasies.


Friday, November 13, 2009

All Hail India’s Great Banana Democracy!

Some recent developments have now led me to wonder about the state of Indian democracy. A school student is taught that a functional and successful democracy rests on four pillars – executive, legislature, judiciary and the fourth estate (media). Each one of the pillars now seems to be infested with termites, threatening their very foundations. Just consider the following:

• The Income Tax Department and the Enforcement Directorate insist that former Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda and his associates have squirrelled away close to Rs.4,000 crores.

• The CBI insists that the Minister of Telecommunications A. Raja could be involved in defrauding the exchequer to the tune of thousands of crores by doling out telecom licenses in gross violation of all norms. Telecom is one sector that has been bedevilled by corruption and scams ever since mobile phone licenses were first auctioned in 1995.

• A couple of mine owners of Karnataka shepherd dozens of MLAs like ‘cattle’ and declare war on the elected Chief Minister of Karnataka who seems to be trying hard to curb brazen corruption and patronage politics. The central leadership of the BJP caves in cravenly to this blackmail and forces ‘their own Chief Minister’ to weep in front of TV cameras.

• The electorate gives a mandate to the Congress-NCP alliance to rule Maharashtra by almost giving it a majority. It takes the MLAs and leaders of Congress and the NCP two full weeks to squabble and haggle over ministerial berths before a government can be sworn in. R. R. Patil, the man who was Home Minister of the state during 26/11 is back as the Home Minister.

• MLAs of the Raj Th ackeray party Maharashtra Navnirman Sena heckle, abuse, jostle and assault another MLA Abu Azmi because he wants to take an oath in Hindi instead of Marathi. The MNS MLAS are far from remorseful; they have declared the assault as a kind of V-Day and have threatened worse.

• A Collegium approves the appointment of Justice P. D. Dinakaran as a Supreme Court judge. There are protests everywhere and accusations that Justice Dinakaran has misused his judicial authority. Things come to such a pass that lawyers in Karnataka paralyse the functioning of the High Court there; even locking up two judges who refused to heed their boycott call.

• An enquiry has found that the Rs.2 million that was delivered to the residence of Justice Nirmal Yadav was not meant for her. She has been exonerated of any wrong doing. But no one seems to asking: who the money was meant for.

• Ashutosh Asthana, an accused in the multi-thousand crore PF scam allegedly involving many judicial authorities, dies mysteriously in jail. The news disappears even from the inside pages of newspapers.

• It has now been credibly established that news outlets in Maharashtra brazenly ‘sold’ editorial space to politicians who wanted coverage. Clearly, only the moneybag politicians could benefit from this ‘auction’.

• Many journalists seem to be involved in the Madhu Koda scam – many belonging to big media brands. What do you and I make of these pillars of Indian democracy?


Friday, October 30, 2009

How India Inc. Can Decimate the Maoists

Images play a powerful role in creating and nurturing perceptions. This is what I thought while watching television footage of the ‘hijacking’ of the Rajdhani Express by Maoists barely 150 kilometers away from the crumbling Red Citadel called Kolkata. And I couldn’t help ask myself a simple question: Are the Maoists also winning the Propaganda War? You need only common sense to know that terrorists and Maoists try to gain strategic advantage in two ways: one is through bullets, bombs, beheadings and bestiality; the other is through images, words and rhetoric that justify cold blooded violence as an “insurrection against injustice”. On both fronts, the Maoists seem to be doing rather better than the State. When you put an articulate person like Arundhati Roy, who is armed with a clever choice of words and a visceral hatred for India, you will get propaganda of the type that any red blooded Maoist would die for.

This is clearly not good news for India and Indians. And anything that spells trouble for India and Indians will spell trouble for India Inc. It is time business leaders, entrepreneurs, CEOs and market mavens started thinking of the number of consumers and the extent of possible business and profits that they will lose if one-third of India is gripped by an unending night of Red Terror. It is time for India Inc. too to pitch in with its bit of help in what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rightly describes as the most serious threat to India’s internal security. Sure India Inc. cannot fight one part of the war that deals with bullets and bombs; that is for the State to do. But it can do something really concrete and dramatic. And India Inc. has a huge advantage over diatribe a day do gooders like Arundhati Roy who only have hatred, rhetoric and angry words to throw. India Inc. can – if it really wants to – walk the talk with money and also unleash a powerful propaganda war that can unhinge the very foundations of Maoists.

The market capitalisation of the Indian stock markets is now about $2 trillion. It could be much more if you add personal, private and private equity wealth. Why can’t industry leaders decide that 1% of this market cap be used to create a corpus to provide education and employment opportunities to poor people living in the 200 districts of India infected by the malignant virus of Naxalite violence? We are talking about a corpus of $20 billion (and it will be a unique public-private partnership since many public sector companies in which the State has a majority stake are listed!). Create a trust and have people like Nandan Nilekani be the trustees. The Trust can comfortably generate $2 billion a year in profits. That works out to about Rs.10,000 crores. When distributed with the right checks and balances, it means Rs.50 crores for education and employment opportunities for youth in each of the 200 Naxalite infested districts. And imagine the positive signals this will send when India Inc. unleashes a ‘propaganda’ war to highlight the positive power of this corpus to transform lives.

Utopian? Surely less Utopian than the ideas of grasshoppers like Arundhati Roy who jump from cause to cause? And who knows? Maybe she will be inspired to contribute a small fraction of the millions she has made by peddling poverty, injustice, state terror, exploitation and corporate greed!


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Here are the real Nobel Prize winners

You would think that the Nobel Prize has been given to Osama instead of Obama; such has been the ballyhoo and brouhaha generated over the act of edifying the first Black President of a country that historically treated blacks as slaves and chattel to be traded in the American version of Mandis. But then, surely Obama deserves it more than the now deceased former Prime Minister of Israel Menachem Begin who was once designated a “terrorist” by the British! And much more than another deceased soul (may his soul rest in peace) named Cordell Hull who – as American Secretary of State – refused exile to God knows how many Jews who wanted to escape from Nazi Germany. All of them subsequently died in concentration camps. But for whatever it is worth, here is the Business & Economy list of Nobel Prize nominations for next year across categories:

peace: This was a very, very close contest. In one corner stood two brothers who have completely redefined the concept of brotherly love. In the other corner stood a ‘brother’ who has completely redefined the very concept of ‘neighbourly’ love. In one corner stood Mukesh & Anil Ambani and in the other corner stood the Chief of Lashkar-e-Taiba Hafiz Saeed. Ultimately, it was clinched by Saeed for his actual demonstration of ‘peace’ and ‘love’ during 26/11

economic sciences: Yes, the prize is not for ‘economics’ but ‘economic sciences’ since virtually all economists across the world have been mesmerised by the delusion that the study of quirky human behaviour is an exact science. There were many contestants for this prized prize – most belonging to the political and corporate class who understand ‘money’ like no one else. After much deliberation, debate, wrangling and mud slinging, the nomination was conferred upon the honourable Sharad Pawar for taking economics even beyond the frontiers of science. How else can you explain an inflation rate of zero percent and less when the prices of sugar, oil and vegetables have soared by more than 100%?

literature: If you believe that great literature transcends wretched reality in a sublime manner that borders on fantasy, then this one is a no brainer. The unanimous verdict was The Draft Direct Tax Code that has been circulated for debate and discussion. This masterpiece contains a sparkling gem that says that the market value of the plum houses that bureaucrats occupy in VIP Delhi will be added to their taxable income. Now if that does not border on fantasy, I don’t know what will.

chemistry: This one too was a no contest and was given unhesitatingly to the Marxist Boss Prakash Karat. The comrade will win the Nobel Prize for discovering a new DNA molecule that can be found only in unreconstructed Marxists. The molecule is famous for letting comrades acquire opaque blinkers when reality stares them in the face. And this molecule cannot be cloned.

physics: Absolutely no doubts about this one. It goes to the venerable Loh Purush L. K. Advani for gifting the Fourth Law of Motion – apart from the three gift ed centuries ago by Newton – to the world. This Law states that every action must invite swift and savage reaction in the form of expulsion; particularly if the agent is Jaswant Singh.

medicine: We nominate Raj Thackeray for this award, for his discovery that migrants really need ‘strong medicine’.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Indian habit of clinging on stubbornly

After a gap of ages, I somehow psyched myself to watch the recent One Day match between India and Pakistan. Believe me, it was not only a painfully gut wrenching experience, the manner in which the Blues lost told me a lot about what is wrong with both the political and corporate sectors in India; more political than corporate. Sure a game is a game and no big deal if India loses the odd match to Pakistan. Besides, haven’t M. S. Dhoni and his band of boys been delivering a string of famous victories in recent times? I accept all that; nor did I sink into despair when Pakistan won. What despaired me was the sight of Rahul Dravid trying to justify his relevance even though he is long past his sell by date in the One Day and the T-20 format. It was truly painful. Was this the same Dravid whose stirring Test match knocks in Kolkatta (2001) and Adelaide (2003) delivered India its sensational victories against Australia? It was all the more pathetic to watch Dravid batting along with Gautam Gambhir. Gambhir was all aggression and a ‘play hard’ attitude that was palpable. Gambhir was on a song. And then the poor man was run out because Dravid preferred to be ‘circumspect’ and India saw its chances being sacrificed at the altar of caution. Of course, even Dravid was run out in that match; and even in the match against West Indies that followed!

Many of you will argue that Dravid was playing his role to perfection. That his job is that of being ‘The Wall’, the sheet anchor who will hold one end up as the other more aggressive batsmen smash the ball around. Sure, you will say that being ‘circumspect’ is what a sheet anchor does. But then, there is a very thin line between being ‘circumspect’ and being plagued by the fear of losing both your wicket and your place in the side. Was Dravid really playing as the quintessential team man or was he playing like an ageing and insecure performer who knows deep down that his salad days are over and that he is in the team because of ‘other factors’? I mean, was Dravid – a batsman never known for his match winning prowess in the one day format – the only ‘sheet anchor’ available? If you were watching the match and saw the disgusted expression on Ganbhir’s face when he was run out, you would have instantly realised the huge gulf between the ‘old and circumspect’ India and the ‘new and never say die’ India? Poor Dravid was not even able to rotate the strike by taking singles!

This habit of clinging on to something long after your relevance and sell by date have vanished into thin air is also a classic habit of Indian politicians. Is it surprising then that despite the best eff orts of leaders like Rahul Gandhi, ‘realpolitik’ ensures that really old leaders hold the most important posts in the government? And mind you, ‘old’ is not something to do with age alone; it is about mindset and your ability to adapt to changing conditions. Look at how the ‘old’ Sachin keeps re-inventing himself!

Mercifully, India Inc now witnesses less of this problem – that of people clinging on long after they have stopped being relevant to the times.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Please get real about China

It is very rare for top Indian politicians holding important positions in government to bell the cat when it comes to China. When it comes to dealing with the dragon, the Indian tiger prefers to metamorphose into an ostrich. So what George Fernandes (then Defence Minister) and Atal Bihari Vajpayee (then Prime Minister) said and wrote about China more than 10 years ago is actually a historical milestone in India’s strategic posturing. Defending the nuclear tests, both had cited China, rather than traditional foe Pakistan, as the real strategic threat to India. That brave departure from traditional meekness and whining soon melted away and was replaced by the usual “let’s not off end China” stance. This strategic confusion is painfully clear now as sections of Indian media go ballistic with reports of Chinese belligerence while our policy establishment tries damned hard to play things down.

Sure: this columnist is a neophyte compared to the myriad pundits who ponder, pontificate and preach over China. But like an ignoramus, let me ask two simple questions and frame them in a language that you and I can comprehend. First: Is China a strategic threat to India? Second: Can India do anything about it? If strategic threat means that Chinese troops will thunder down the Himalayas and capture Ladakh and Arunanchal Pradesh in a swift blitzkrieg before ponderous India can react, then that is indulging in fantasy. Mind you, as things stand today, the Chinese military can actually pulverize India – just as it did back in 1962. It is a different matter that party bosses sitting in Beijing will not take that decision since the ‘opportunity costs’ will be unacceptably high. So if there is no immediate military danger, how is China a strategic threat?

It really boils down to common sense. You cannot have two ‘dadas’ in a neighbourhood. As of today, China is the undisputable dada of Asia and will go to any extent (short of a nuclear attack or a military strike) to prevent India from emerging as a rival dada. Do remember, the real dada in this is America and it will go to any extent to ensure its dadagiri is unchallenged. When you see things from this folksy perspective, you understand why China props up the Pakistani military and why it is ‘investing’ in strategic bases across the Indian Ocean, East Asia and Central Asia. And yes, this dadagiri is not about ego. It is about getting a lock on energy resources. If push comes to shove, the dragon can even reluctantly go for a small military adventure to show India who the real dada is.

Can India do anything? For one, it should not be obsessed with China and the threat it poses. Obsession of any kind is bad; just ask Pakistan where its obsession with India has taken it. The only choice for India is to grow as fast as possible over the next two decades. A high and sustained rate of growth will do two things: it will prompt countries who don’t like China as a hyper power to look at India as a ‘credible’ ally; more important, a rapid rate of growth can enable India to invest heavily in the military. The world respects both economic and military might. It laughs at ostriches and cry babies.


Friday, September 4, 2009

Finally, some really real good news!

For almost nine months, I have been waiting for this single press release even as two pundits offered five opinions on when India will emerge out of the latest 'recession' (Ask the pundits how a 6% plus GDP growth rate can be categorised as recession!). Even in July, 2009, when it was reported that industrial growth grew at an unexpected 7% or so, I had my doubts. Even when the Prime Minister, the Finance Minister, the RBI and sundry other oracles pronounced that the bad times are finally over, I was sceptical. And yes, even when the automobile industry reported higher sales of two wheelers and cars month after month since January, 2009, I wasn't very sure. But finally, a press release of September 2, 2009 has cleared all my doubts and I can add my two bit of pseudo-wisdom and say decisively that the bad times are finally over. For the second consecutive month, Tata Motors has reported a positive growth in the sales of medium and heavy commercial vehicles. In July, 2009, they grew at a modest 5.5%. And in August, 2009, they have registered an almost double digit growth rate of 9.6%. Yes, I am talking about the sale of trucks – the mini and maxi monsters of Indian roads that carry two thirds of goods transported across India. Don't ask me to explain the esoteric theory and jargon of how a growth rate in truck sales means that the Indian economy is back on track. It is. Suffice to say that when businessmen buy more trucks, they are confident that more goods will be produced, transported and sold across the country. Equally important, when businessmen buy more trucks, it means that banks and financial institutions have again started lending money to them (Even billionaires don't buy trucks by paying cash down). Even during the last two 'recessions' – after the East Asian meltdown of 1997 and the dot com meltdown of 2001, economic recovery was confirmed and gathered momentum only when actual sales of trucks started growing. And yes, the Indian Railways did miss freight targets for the first five months of fiscal 2009; but freight traffic actually grew by close to 10% despite a crash in iron ore business. In fact, railway freight grew almost 12% in August, 2009.

There is a little more than truck sales and railway freight to confirm my hunch that the economy is now well and truly bouncing back. The cement industry reported an 11% growth in despatches and sales in July, 2009. The steel industry reported a 6% growth in despatches and sales. What does that mean if you ignore the jargon and the number crunching? It means that more roads, houses, plants and other things that need cement and steel are being built across India. It means that, in spite of the poor monsoon, there is simply no way that the economy will grow at anything less than 6% in the current year. And do remember, this is despite both exports and imports shrinking by almost a quarter as compared to the last fiscal year.

So does that mean the Indian consumer will start splurging again and we are heading back towards the heady days of 2006-08? I won't bore with analysis, apart from providing a small piece of statistical evidence. In August, 2009, India imported just about 12 tonnes of gold – 98% less than the amount last year. Yes, 98% less! What does it say about consumer confidence in India?!


Thursday, August 20, 2009


God knows how many pundits and their barely concealed benefactors would have passed judgments on the issue. Frankly, as I write this, I haven’t read even one chapter of the book, nor have I done Google search to steal a few phrases, paraphrase or rephrase them and pass them on as words of wisdom. I have just seen a few snatches on TV and couldn’t but immediately think what if top BJP leaders go on 'Sach Ka Saamna' on this issue? I also saw a tearful Jaswant Singh describing how his book on Jinnah has transformed him from Hanuman to Ravana (Dr. Karunanidhi of Tamil Nadu would surely object to the analogy). And then I faced the simple and stark question: Is all this hysteria not related to the persistent failure of the political class, the ivory tower academics and the ideologues to honestly deal with the question of Muslims in India? Or, for that matter, the world to deal honestly with the “Muslim” issue? Or to tackle the “delicate” issue of minorities across societies?

If honest efforts had been made, the following would not have happened: The French President Nicolas Sarkozy would not have denounced the veil; a swimming club in France would not have prohibited a woman from using a more modest bikini; half of India would not have forgotten about swine fl u and spent hours debating whether Shah Rukh Khan was humiliated by a racist immigration officer in America because he is a Muslim; American President Barack Obama would not have been forced to call for a beer summit to settle a hugely controversial racial issue.

But it is really India that one thinks about at the moment. If you ask yourself honestly and get honest answers, they will be one of the three written below: Sure people like Jinnah demanded partition and a separate homeland for Muslims; but who cares about all that when India is an exciting place to be in; Most Muslims did not follow Jinnah to Pakistan, but you know – though my best friends are Muslims – and think that there is something wrong out there with so many of them becoming terrorists; Or of course, Muslims are a clear and present danger to the ‘Indian Civilisation’.

I know, if you are honest to yourself, you will fall in one of the later two categories. And if you are in the third one, there is no point in having a dialogue with you in any case. But a dialogue the rest of us must have. More importantly, we Indians must rescue the debate from the crass opportunism of politics and the even worse opportunism of perversion in the garb of ideology. The Indian Mujahideen farce is just one example. The fact is, some Muslims from Azamgarh decided to become killers of innocents. One set branded all of Azamgarh as a terror area. The other set compared them to Red Indians being slaughtered by a fascist Hindu state. Surely, Muslims deserve to be described as human beings first and ideological labels later?

Perhaps it is time for Jaswant Singh – now that he will have so much time – to start research on another book that will describe how Pakistan descended from Jinnah to Jehad. Or, am I revealing my barely concealed prejudice against Muslims by using Jinnah and Jehad in the same breath? I really don’t know.


Friday, August 7, 2009

Three strikes for the Indian Fat Cats

In recent weeks, India Inc. has witnessed two resounding calls for 'strikes'. The first, the stillborn one, was masterminded and spearheaded by Vijay Mallya and Naresh Goyal. Their plan was to stop all flights by private airlines on August 18 to "highlight their demands". The second one is on even as this magazine goes for printing. This one is by employees of public sector banks who are demanding better salaries and perks. Being highly patriotic, the union leaders of the Bank strike have deemed that ATM machines will function during the two day strike. Similarly, a late upsurge of patriotism in the hearts of Mallya and Goyal made them cancel (Or defer?) their planned strike to 'respect public sentiments'. Of course, both the Mallya-Goyal duo and the bank union leaders insist that they are victims. But I would rather call them the fat cat aristocracy of India Inc. who are greedy, myopic and brazenly arrogant in their quests to protect their turfs and vested interests. And I think it is time the mainstream media shamed them into admitting as much; by persistently highlighting their willingness to blackmail.

Nobody asked Mr. Mallya to personally select air hostesses or buy out Air Deccan or offer 'gourmet' cuisine on full service flights to economy class passengers. Nobody asked Mr. Goyal to blithely ignore the danger posed by low cost airlines or gamble by buying out Sahara in an expensive and messy deal. And now that competition is beginning to hurt them; they are clamouring for government bailouts. The fact is, almost all their claims are specious. The charges imposed by new airports are paid by passengers; the high costs of fuel are paid by passengers. So why are they cribbing? Imagine a situation where manufacturers of TV sets, soaps and shampoos start demanding government bail outs when input costs rise while smarter and cheaper rivals eat into their market shares and margins. Have you ever heard small entrepreneurs – responsible for almost all the growth in jobs in India – making similar demands?

The 'strike' called by the public sector bank employees is something similar. They are part of the 'labour aristocracy', belonging to a tiny minority of the working class population of India. A newly recruited officer in the State Bank of India gets about Rs.25,000 a month as starting salary – not accounting for perks. How many workers in India without any professional degrees start their careers earning more than Rs.25,000 a month? There are youngsters armed with professional degrees who are struggling today to get even Rs.10,000 a month. Really, it is time the media started highlighting these facts again and again. It is really time for us to shame these fat cats.


Friday, July 24, 2009

Abject apologies to our CEO!

Sorry Abhimanyu. I know you will come after me with all guns blazing after reading this. After all, I am committing heresy by daring to point fingers at some holy cows (Yes, yes, I know… also BIG advertisers) of India Inc. Just in case heresy doesn’t become hara kiri, I have decided to join Lalu Yadav, Mulayam Yadav and Varun Gandhi and demand more security. But believe me boss, what I write below is not criticism; but humble supplication and earnest request to Chanda Kochhar (ICICI), Marten Pieters (Vodafone) and Ratan Tata (Tata Sky).

Being downwardly mobile, I decided to relocate to a cheaper house. Along the way, the magnetic strip in my ICICI credit card got damaged. My wife volunteered to take up the huge challenge of calling up the ICICI call centre. Aft er god knows how many minutes, I managed to request a duplicate card and a change of address. Within three days of my request, the credit card bill arrived. The card has not arrived, though it is almost two months! Just the other day, an early morning call jangled my nerves, I decided not to pick it up. But persistence pays and I was forced to. The caller wanted to know when and how was I planning to pay my outstanding dues of Rs.10,000 something. I told him a cheque of Rs.11,000 had been deposited in the ICICI drop box a few days ago. Two days later, the amount has been debited from my account; but my favourite ICICI man calls up again demanding payment. Madam Kochhar: I have taken three loans from your most esteemed bank and (touchwood) have never delayed or defaulted on any installment. Surely, with the marvellous technology at your disposal, your colleagues could identify me as a decent sort of chap and stop harassing me for payments after I have paid? Anyway, au revoir to that marvellous ICICI Platinum Credit Card.

And Marten Pieters sir. Welcome to India. I am very emotionally attached to your company because I bond with a pug called Chris in our house. He has been around with us much before Hutch unleashed that lovable campaign. Why, I am even thinking of adopting some zoozoos as pets. But I have a problem sir. Every month, a lady with a rough, grating and exasperating voice calls up and demands payment. For the last four years, I have been unsuccessfully trying to tell her that my address has changed thrice. But she refuses to budge. You know, I actually dreamt last night about number portability and Sunil Mittal and Anil Ambani chasing me with new Blackberry handsets!

And the most venerable Ratan Tata sir; hats off to you for taking customer delight to new heights. Our life has been totally jhingalala since we took a Tata Sky connection. We have no clue how and when some channels disappear. When wifey makes a valiant effort to contact the call centre, she is invariably asked to pay more. Like with ICICI, she also called your call centre when we moved house. We of course paid the relocation charges. Last week, my wife decided we had practiced enough austerity and bought an LCD TV. When she called up your call centre, she was told that we will have to pay relocation charges to move the set top box from the drawing room to the bedroom. But what the heck, the LCD TV came with a free Airtel Digital connection. I am now your humble customer too, Mr Mittal!

And Abhimanyu, I am taking unscheduled leave till your tempers cool down.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Why Blame Unions for the AI Mess?

As I read and watch the whole shindig about the free falling Air India, I just can’t help but go back to 1987 when I was a young Bombay based hack (Yes, it was called Bombay back then!). Rajiv Gandhi was still hugely popular and corporate India was delighted with his efforts to help India Inc. Rajiv Gandhi wanted to improve the performance of state run organizations and the most prominent initiatives were directed towards Doordarshan and Air India. A young, dynamic Rajan Jaitley who had a successful stint in ITC was made the MD of Air India and given the job of revamping the ailing (yes, it was ailing back then too!) carrier. A young Ratan Tata too was inducted to the Board as a sentimental gesture; after all, Air India was the brainchild of J.R.D Tata. Back then also, there were strong rumours of a rift in the Board and allegations of mismanagement. Yours truly had even written a story that-if my memory serves me right-started off by asking: “What was Ratan Tata doing when Rajan Jaitley was busy redesigning air hostess uniforms and changing the crockery at Air India?” Last known, Jaitley was operating out of London and Delhi, running a financial services consultancy. Around that time, another young high flier called Harsh Vardhan was running the ambitious Vayudoot, the third state owned airline after Indian Airlines and Air India. Vayudoot claimed to service more than 100 destinations and I recall how everyone was going gaga over this wonder boy and his Vayudoot magic. Most hacks talked of the “close relations” Harsh Vardhan had with the sons of a certain Union Minister who then lived near Hotel Le Meridien. Of course, Vayudoot crashed into extinction very soon after that hype. Last known, Vardhan was a consultant for the private airline MDLR.

Why am I on this nostalgia trip and what has the past got to do with the present controversy that rages around Air India? Well, the point is, the more things change, the more they remain the same. It was natural then for those privileged enough to fl y to curse the shoddy attitude and service of “unionized” employees of IA and AI (Only the brave dared to fl y Vayudoot whose aircraft oft en had doors suddenly opening in mid-flight!). And now, the Civil Aviation Minister is peddling the same arguments blaming the “unionized” employees and the crisis facing commercial aviation for the disaster looming at AI. Most in the media seem to be lapping up this argument.

But hang on for a while. How can you blame employees for gross mismanagement that has persisted decade after decade? How about the politicians and the clutch of IAS officers who now routinely head the carrier? The simple fact is: Air India is unluckier than its public sector counterparts. In other public sector companies, it usually only one cabinet minister, a few state ministers and their cronies who have the privilege of financially raping and pillaging the company. In the case of Air India, every M.P, every senior bureaucrat and most state level politicians of India enjoy that freedom to rape and plunder. And they do it brazenly in the form of free flights, lucrative contracts and what not. That is why Air India is on its last legs now. Why blame only the employees?


Friday, June 12, 2009

Revisiting Ten Indian Gospels

Back in February, the Indian media had acquired a hysterical edge, dishing out story after story of a looming economic Armageddon; of collapsing growth and of a meltdown in India Inc. This magazine had taken a contrarian view and listed out ten reasons why the India growth story will continue despite bad news from across the world. Now that good news is pouring from across the country, it is time to once again list those ten gospels that define India. They are:
  • Since FDI accounts for less than 1% of GDP, a fall in foreign investments-even if that were to happen-will not make much of a difference.
  • Falling exports will become a fact of life for a while; but again with minimal impact since India has the lowest exports to GDP ratio of major economies.
  • In India, consumption accounts for 65% of growth while investments account for 65% of growth in China. So falling investments will impact India far less than China.
  • The largesse doled out by the Sixth Pay Commission will ensure that millions of middle class Indian families will keep buying goodies. Sales figures across diverse sectors like electronics, auto, telecom and tourism bear this out.
  • We talked about how the myriad welfare schemes launched by the then UPA government will have a strong impact on semi-urban and rural India despite corruption and leakages. The election results have shown that these schemes made the Indian voter happy-the way only money can make you happy!
  • India continues to have the highest real rate of interest in the world and the magazine had clearly predicted-not that it needed any rocket science or wisdom that interest rates will fall. They are falling-though not by as much this columnist would like.
  • Even as banks in America and Europe teetered on the edge of bankruptcy, Indian banks – with a few rare exceptions – were boasting of incredibly good balance sheets. Financial figures for 2008-09 bear that out with a vengeance.
  • Even as others saw gloom and doom for India Inc., this magazine said that good Indian companies will in fact emerge stronger and maybe even make more overseas acquisitions. Look at what Bharti has done just recently with the South African telecom giant MTN. Look at the results announced by India Inc. for 2008-09. And look back again and eat your words for being needlessly alarmist and hysterical!
  • Expectations in India are so low that even bad news is accepted with famous Indian equanimity. Barring overpaid fat cats, most middle class Indians have an almost genetic ability to do more with less. And they have been doing that since October 2008!
  • The last ‘Gospel’ that this magazine had mentioned was the simplest and yet the most complex one to comprehend. It is called democracy and the innate ability of the Indian voter to prove all so called pundits, experts and psephologists wrong. India badly needed a stable government and at a time when doomsday prophets talked of multiple Prime Ministers, democracy delivered what India needed – a stable government that will not be blackmailed by “allies”.
    I rest my case.


Friday, May 29, 2009

You have again written off a loser

One of the biggest shortcomings of hacks like me is the unwavering ability and willingness to jump to conclusions and mistake hindsight for foresight! Something similar can be seen in abundance in newspapers, television channels, news portals and magazines across India. As Rahul Gandhi is hailed as the new messiah and Sonia the new Gandhi, self styled pundits, hacks, experts and assorted doomsday prophets are tripping over themselves in a rush to write gleeful obituaries of the BJP and the Left . It is as if the new King Singh and the Indian voter have delivered such a decisive and brutal knock out blow that both the BJP and the Left are presumed down for the count. Pundits say that the BJP, till recently an alternative to the Congress, has no future. And the Left , kingmakers till recently, are history. Of course, the pundits also say that assorted regional chieftains like Ram Vilas Paswan, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad Yadav can now start looking for alternate careers.

I humbly disagree and present a few footnotes from recent history to show how breathless, shallow and shortsighted hacks and mass media can be.

Back in 1971, Indira Gandhi swept the Lok Sabha elections with her slogan of Garibi Hatao. So complete was her sway and dominance over the country that even opposition leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee praised her as Durga! The same Indira Gandhi was routed by the voters aft er the Emergency in 1977, losing even her own seat. A fractured and fractious opposition, which was totally written off in 1971, swept to power as the Janata Party. In 1984, Rajiv Gandhi won a mandate that even his grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru was never able to win. In the same elections, as India celebrated a “Youth” renaissance under Rajiv Gandhi, the leader of opposition party, the BJP, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was staring at a complete loss of face.

The BJP won just two seats in 1984, and you guessed it right, hacks and pundits instantly wrote off both him and the BJP forever. We both know what happened to the BJP in subsequent elections and what happened to the Congress. Cut to 1999 and you have pundits singing an entirely different tune. The NDA under Vajpayee is given a decisive mandate by the voters to rule India for the next five years and the Congress under Sonia Gandhi sinks to an all time low number of seats. There are titters galore about the complete failure of Sonia Gandhi as a leader. There is measured rah rah about the long term decline of Congress as a political party. There are even objectionable whispers about how Sonia Gandhi is planning to leave India for good. Suddenly, the BJP is the party of the future and every word spoken by strategist Pramod Mahajan is lapped up by the media as gospel. Honestly, do any of you remember any hack or pundit saying in 2004 that the BJP will lose the elections? Mamata Bannerjee is the latest example of how the mass media almost always gets it wrong! When the Left swept back to power in the 2006 assembly elections under Budhadev Bhattacharya, nobody gave a ghost of a chance to Didi to stage such a spectacular comeback in 2009. And now, we are busy saying the Left will never come back in West Bengal!

Let's face it. Both the BJP and Left are down, but not yet out. And India needs opposition parties!


Friday, May 1, 2009

The Congress Chimera

Just a few days ago, I was in Lucknow arguing vociferously with my father-in-law. He is a die hard supporter of Congress and would have cast his vote in favour of Rita Bahuguna Joshi. I personally think the chances of her winning are about as high as Shah Rukh’s Knight Riders winning IPL 2. But then faith and optimism are eternal. In fact, my father-in-law, who is a middle class Bihari settled in U.P is convinced that there is a strong undercurrent in favour of Congress this time in the Hindi heartland. He is almost wistful when he talks about how the glory days of Congress can come back with Rahul Gandhi by the time the next Lok Sabha elections are organized. I have come across hundreds of such Congress well wishers who are sick and tired of regional parties ‘holding the nation to ransom’. I empathize with them, but can’t help pointing out some hard realities that make the challenge of reviving Congress so formidable for Rahul Gandhi and his well meaning earnestness.

Here is a list of major states where the Congress can hope to win a lot of seats on its own: Assam, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarkhand, Orissa and Karnataka. That works out to about 230 plus seats. Here is a list of states where the Congress cannot hope to win even a few seats without strong regional allies: West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and J&K. That works out to almost 300 seats. The last time Congress won in Tamil Nadu was in 1967; it was 1967 in West Bengal; 1984-85 in Gujarat, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh; 1991 in Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. In the states where the Congress can win many seats on its own, the party already has about 110 out of 130. In the second category of states, the party has about 50 out of 300.

Even a school child will know that it is the second category of states that will be the biggest challenge for Rahul Gandhi and his so called youth brigade. To be able to cross even 200 Lok Sabha seats, it needs to at least double its tally in the second category of states. More importantly, Rahul Gandhi needs to plan and execute a strategy which can help the Congress have even a decent chance of winning a large number of seats on its own in Maharashtra, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand which send almost 225 M.Ps to the Lok Sabha. Currently, the Congress has just about 50 representatives from these important states.

Sure, many of us wish Rahul Gandhi well. But we also realize that as of today, the revival that my father-in-law talks wistfully of is a chimera. Perhaps the one most important thing the young Gandhi needs to do is nurture powerful and popular state level leaders like Y.S.R Reddy, Sheila Dixit and Ashok Gehlot in the states where the party is in a shambles. But will the Congress courtiers allow such leaders to emerge?


Friday, April 17, 2009

Why the Third front is Good

After a flurry of plaintive laments from pseudo pundits and crypto analysts, the words have finally been repeated by the Prime Minister. Dr. Manmohan Singh feels that the Third Front is a bad idea, because it will promote ‘regionalism’ at the cost of a national vision. The pseudo pundits have, of course, labeled even the possibility of a Third Front government as an unmitigated disaster for India. Everybody says that coalition governments are messy, unruly, incoherent and consumed by centrifugal forces. History perhaps supports this contention with prime ministers like Morarji Desai, Charan Singh, V. P. Singh, Chandrasekhar, Deve Gowda and I. K. Gujral leading notoriously fractious and unstable governments. Pseudo pundits even claim that the era of coalition politics that descended upon India since 1989 is singularly responsible for preventing the country from emerging as a genuine World Power. They lament that coalition politics that sacrifices the ‘national’ for the ‘regional’ is singularly responsible for India not clocking double digit growth rates and falling way behind China in the global sweepstakes.

The arguments are surely logical and persuasive on the face of it. But, really, the caveat is: On the face of it. For, the shrill cry against the Third Front and regional chieftains reveals a disturbing streak of feudalistic elitism. As long as regional chieftains of the Congress party ran notoriously corrupt governments in major states of India, there were hardly any complaints about the absence of governance. That was till the late 1980s when the intermediate castes and the Dalits really had no say either in elections or governance. It also helped that the Congress regional chieftains knew how to tackle the ‘national’ media. Do you seriously believe that states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were islands of good governance and prosperity till the ‘Third Front’ type of regional chieftains empowered the backward classes and rode to power?

The fact of the matter is: good governance depends on both institutions and individual leaders; not on elitist distinctions between ‘national’ and 'regional’. Tamil Nadu has been ruled by regional parties since the late 1960s and Madhya Pradesh has been ruled by national parties forever. Where would you like your kid to grow up – given a choice? Given good leaders and a strong civil society, even national parties deliver good governance. Shiela Dikshit and Congress are a classic example in Delhi.

But I am happy that the Third Front is growing because it will lead to more chaos and more instability. It is only then that we Indians can finally accept the fact that our Constitution is a great document; but perhaps urgently needs some tweaking. And please don’t talk about precedents and the sanctity of the Constitution. Remember, out Constitution talks of a ‘elected’ Prime Minister. Our current PM is an ‘appointed’ one. Also remember, the same Constitution was used to impose the Emergency. So for heavens sake, at least talk of how to deepen democracy, rather than cursing emerging backward caste leaders.

Jawaharlal Nehru had unparalleled knowledge and experience of foreign policy and diplomacy; something no ‘regional’ chieftain can acquire. And yet, he gave us lemons like Kashmir in 1948 and China in 1962. I rest my case.


Friday, April 3, 2009

The Consumer Always Comes Last

A pril 1, 2009 could well turn out to be a red letter day (due apologies to Prakash Karat) for Indian consumers. Following a directive from the Reserve Bank of India, you and I can withdraw money from any ATM anywhere in India without having Rs.20 to Rs.50 deducted from our accounts. Banks opposed it fiercely, even issuing threats that they will be reluctant to expand their ATM networks if they can’t impose ‘transaction’ charges. For a change, their lobbying efforts with the RBI have failed, and the latest move will be a huge convenience for Indian consumers.

This is a rare victory for the Indian consumer. Even now, banks have surreptitiously imposed such crazy conditions that an average bank account holder will, more often than not, pay extortionate charges. Take the little known policy whereby a bank account holder cannot access her own bank’s ATM more than thrice or four times a month without paying ‘transaction charges’. The banks say this is to discourage unnecessary crowding at ATM counters. Years ago, the same banks used the same logic to deny account holders access to a bank branch. Account holders were encouraged to use ATMs and actively discouraged (sometimes even prohibited) to use their own bank branch for basic transactions. Consumers were told then that unlimited access to ATMs will be better than waiting in a queue at a branch. But then, unlimited access to ATMs was soon restricted. This is just one example of how banks routinely fleece their consumers. Anyone with a credit card or a deposit in a private or multinational bank will have horror stories.

It is not just banks. Telecom companies, passenger car makers, FMCG companies, commercial aviation companies, insurance companies… just about any enterprise in India with an interface with a consumer ends up fleecing her. Sample a few more examples. A study found that more than 80% of the new electronic meters installed by a private electricity distributor in Delhi were so hi-tech that they ran faster than actual electricity consumption! Of course, the hapless consumer has to first pay an inflated bill and then argue because his power will be cut off otherwise. From out of the blue, private airport operators in Bangalore and Delhi started charging a Rs.200 plus fee from every passenger. This was never a part of the lucrative deals they had signed with the government. And yet, the Civil Aviation ministry – tasked with protecting the interests of the Indian air traveller – connived with private operators to loot the Indian consumer.

In theory, the Indian consumer can approach a consumer court for relief. But in practice, large companies and their battery of lawyers have made the process a frustrating grind for the consumer. Consumer courts were formed to ensure that cases can be settled without lawyers. That basic philosophy has become a joke. In any case, even if a consumer court passes an order favouring the consumer, other Indian courts now promptly – and distressingly – provide relief to the company. Very soon, consumer courts could resemble the average Indian court, where a case might be settled after the litigant has died.

Sure free access to ATMs is a great move. But without much, much more, it could well be an April Fool gesture!


Friday, March 20, 2009

Why Indians Will Hate Obama

Very soon, you might have Prakash Karat and fellow comrades crooning, ‘I told you so’, as the Indian media slams Barack Obama and Uncle Sam for once again ‘tilting against’ India. You can already hear murmurs of protest as protectionism gathers momentum in America and young Indians find their dream jobs disappearing in the United States. You must have read some pundits suggest how India must adopt tit for tat measures by denying contracts to companies like Boeing. By now, many defense pundits, too, have expressed shock at Uncle Sam denying some key technologies to the Indian armed forces. Then there are those hawks who are now convinced that America is absolutely not interested in genuinely helping India when it comes to battling cross border terrorism. And rest assured, the Obama administration will take many decisions and make many choices that will anger, dismay and even outrage urban Indians who haven’t stopped fantasizing about the emerging strategic partnership between India and America. For this breed of Indians, Uncle Sam would follow up the nuclear deal by doing everything that is anti-Pakistan and anti-China if they have a conflict of interest with India. Sadly such delusions always get shattered. They will inevitably get shattered by end of this year. So after the Indo-US euphoria of the last few years, get prepared for a phase of disappointment and rage at the perfidy of Uncle Sam. And don’t be surprised if Obama becomes one of the most criticized personalities in Indian media (in any case, even his honeymoon with the American media is on the verge of collapsing).

The brutal fact is: both the media and the middle class Indians will be wrong when they rail at Obama and his policies. The reason behind that is another brutal fact: India stills behaves childishly and naively when it comes to the pursuit of national interests, foreign policy and geo-poltics. No wonder, the discourse on foreign policy in India oscillates between triumphant and childish optimism and naïve pessimism. When India signed the nuclear deal, optimism reached a feverish pitch; when a few Indians don’t get American jobs, the pessimism plunges into depths of despair. That is because most Indians confuse between cold blooded pursuit of national interests and the feel good buzz around emotional bonding. There will always be some occasions when America and India’s national interests do not converge when it comes to dealing with Pakistan. That does not make America anti-Indian. There will always be some occasions when the head will rule over the heart and Uncle Sam will choose China over India (China happens to literally propping up the US economy at the moment by sending surplus dollars to America). That doesn’t make America anti-Indian. There will always be some occasions when political compulsions in America will hurt India Inc. Again, that doesn’t make America anti-Indian.

But beyond these simple facts, there is another brutal fact that would hurt many Indians. We tend to think that India is more important than it actually is. Sample this fact: Obama's Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has visited Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing soon after taking over. New Delhi was never on the agenda. And who visited India? It was Richard Holbrooke who is officially supposed to look after Afghanistan and Pakistan. Touché.


Friday, March 6, 2009

A shameless nation of freeloaders

Many of you must have barely read or heard about the latest shenanigans stalking Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) – the Mecca, Medina, Vatican and Chaardham of Left wing civil service aspirants mas¬querading as activists and wannabe academicians. One student even earned his 15 minutes of fame by threat¬ening to jump to his death. Many student leaders have been rusticated for disrupting the sale of prospectuses for the academic year 2009-10. They, and their sup¬porters, have declared war on the JNU administration. Why? Three ostensible reasons. First, JNU wanted to 'commercialise' the campus. Second, it wanted to install electricity meters in hostel rooms. Third, it increased the cost of the prospectus by a 'staggering' Rs.80 to Rs.200 each. This hike comes after 10 years. When student leaders launched an agitation, JNU announced that there will be no electricity meters and no 'commerciali¬sation'. It also announced a free prospectus for a candidate below poverty line. But the student leaders were adamant. They insisted that 'poor' students cannot afford Rs.200. The stalemate continues.

This brouhaha reveals two deeply disturbing things about India – the farce that is higher education in India and the shameless manner in which middle class Indians crave for freebies. Of course, the political class happily exploits both to suit its ends; ensuring that 'quality' higher education becomes a slave of 'patronage' and the real poor of India get lemons; while the middle class and the rich walk away with all the freebies (subsidies). Take JNU as the clas¬sic example of these symptoms. Are the student leaders serious when they say that aspiring students cannot afford to pay Rs.80 more for a prospectus? Out of curiosity, I went to the JNU website and checked out the fee structure. Hold your breath; even you can't believe this happens in India!
If you are a B.A (Hons), M.A, M.Sc or M.C.A student in JNU, the total annual fee that you pay is about Rs.330 – inclusive of fees for sports and cultural activities, I-card, Library use, et al. That works out to less than Rs.30 a month. If you are an M.Phil, M.Tech or Ph.D student in JNU, the total an¬nual fee is a princely Rs.355 or so; still less than Rs.30 a month. This island of 'academic excellence' and bastion of socialism also has many fine hostels where the admission fee is a mind boggling Rs.5. The annual fee, including electricity, water and other facilities for a student opting for a single room is about Rs.700. That works out to less than Rs.60 per month. So you have a JNU student pursue higher studies at less than Rs.100 per month – including a stay in the hostel use of library, newspapers, electricity and what not.

Sure, many poor students come to JNU for a degree. But then, JNU offers them an array of fee exemptions and scholarships. What about the thousands of middle class Indians who come to JNU? Are you telling me that they can¬not afford to spend more than Rs.100 a month on higher education? That's akin to middle class Indians saying they can't afford to pay Rs.150 more per month for an LPG cylinder. Is this the 'freebie' demanding middle class that will Lead India? You must be joking.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Get set for the 16th Lok Sabha polls

Most religions thrive on miracles. In India, it is a miracle that Indian democracy itself thrives on miracles; rather perhaps it is a miracle that Indian democracy survives and thrives despite the political system and politicians. As the nation gears up for the Lok Sabha elections, you don’t need to be a pundit to realise that the polity and voters are hopelessly fragmented. The next Lok Sabha will be peppered with regional and local parties with 5 or 10 or 15 seats dictating terms and blackmailing their way to pelf and plunder in a fractious and incoherent coalition government. Ever wonder why India gets unstable coalitions in times of grave economic crisis? It was a joke led by the late Charan Singh in 1979 when OPEC dealt the second Oil Shock. It was the sham led by the late V. P. Singh in 1990-91 when the Indian economy virtually collapsed. It was the farce led by Deve Gowda and I. K. Gujral in 1996-97 when East Asia faced a meltdown. Who will lead the next farce? Here is my choice of probable candidates:
  • Chand Mohammed aka Chander Mohan: He will fulfil two crucial criteria: unity between Hindus and Muslims and the importance of dynasty in Indian politics. Besides, like Manmohan Singh, he can’t even hope to get elected!
  • Raj Thackeray: No one else can revitalise democracy the way he can. Imagine goons of MNS chasing MPs from Bihar and UP through the Central Hall of Parliament.
  • Mani Kumar Subba: This gentleman too will fulfil two crucial criteria: India is open to outsiders and democracy is a gamble. This man is allegedly a citizen of Nepal on the run; so at least he will ‘run’ a government. More importantly, he will use his famous lotteries to allocate portfolios to coalition partners.
  • Pramod Mutalik: If democracy can be fun, this will be the ultimate thing. Imagine a debate between this staunch defender of Hindu culture and the redoubtable Renuka Choudhry. TV News channels need only do live telecast of Lok Sabha proceedings to get record TRPs.
  • Pinarayi Vijayan: He will achieve what no Prime Minister in modern India has ever been able to achieve. This committed Marxist will issue a decree that will completely ban commissions from foreign companies for winning contracts (Of course, the ‘cause’ will be exempt).
  • Ajit Singh: This gentleman represents the ultimate fantasy of Indian democracy: the innate ability to tie up with any party and individual, and change the tie-up in a few days. Why, he can even tie-up with the Chinese Communist Party if that can ensure he will be Prime Minister for 14 hours.
  • Ramalinga Raju: These troubled times for the Indian economy need a financial whiz. Who better than the esteemed Raju? He can actually make trade and fiscal deficits, inflation, rising unemployment and farmer’s suicides disappear. Just imagine him presenting the next Union Budget!
Some readers might have read the headline and wondered if there is a typographical error in it. You see, the next Lok Sabha elections will be the 15th. But rest assured, the miracle that is Indian democracy will ensure that it will only be a year or so before we start voting in the 16th Lok Sabha elections!


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Time to snap all ties with Pakistan

The whole damn thing – like as always in the past – is fast descending into a farce and a bloody masquerade. Close to three months have passed since the 26/11 carnage in Mumbai and we now get ‘credible’ reports from investigators in Pakistan that those who planned the brutal attack were not from Pakistan. By the time you read this, the Pakistani Foreign Minister or Interior Minister would have almost certainly officially informed India of the same. Indian citizens and the Establishment would be outraged at the duplicity and perfidy of Pakistan. But then, in a response that is typically Indian, the Mumbai carnage would be a fading memory and the media would be more preoccupied with the love story of Chand and Fiza. There will be some chest thumping because the American Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, will announce that Pakistan needs to do much more to curb terrorism. Bleeding hearts will keep up their rant that Pakistan is as much a victim of terrorism as India. More bleeding hearts will preach that only ‘people to people’ interaction will lead to lasting solutions. And of course, there will be those disposed towards misplaced bellicosity who will keep insisting that only sustained attacks on training camps based in Pakistan will teach ‘them’ a lesson. But eventually, one more bomb blast will kill and maim dozens or hundreds in another Indian city and the whole cycle of accusations and denials will resume; only to end again in a farce.

I completely agree with level headed and sober analysts that launching a military offensive against Pakistan will not necessarily result in an end to cross border terrorism. That could have been a risk worth taking if the Indian military had the power and punch to decisively knock out and decisively defeat the Pakistani military in a short and swift conflict. The unpalatable reality is: the Indian military doesn’t have that kind of punch. In any case, the powers that be know that the Big Boys will force India to go for a quick ceasefire and a stalemate. Pakistan will again make promises to stop encouraging jehadi attacks against India. It will again break that promise with impunity. So, is India to sit impotently and not be able to do anything about it?

I strongly suggest that we simply cut off all ties and relations with Pakistan. I don’t mean just the recall of the diplomats; I mean the complete works. No people to people contacts, no cultural exchange programmes; no cricket matches either in India or Pakistan or even in another country. No Indian artistes in Pakistan and vice-versa. All embassies, consulates and the likes must be shut down and there should be a complete and unequivocal ban of travel between the two countries. This will anger the bleeding hearts sure. But the least that India and Indian citizens can do is to express how utterly disgusted they are by the brazen duplicity of Pakistan that it is no longer interested in any relations with that country. I know, the terror attacks will probably still continue. But for heaven’s sake, rather improve internal security than have anything to do with a State that is bent upon destroying India.


Monday, February 2, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

Are indians so blind as to praise a movie that insults hinduism and india? sutanu guru examines

Dear ‘Secular’ Indian,

Imagination, pride and a sense of legacy and heritage are the bed rocks of a civilisation. Replace that with voyeurism, self-loathing and destructive denial and you land up with a wounded civilisation. And what else is India but a wounded civilisation? And what else is Hinduism but the oldest religion of the world that secular Indians born often as Hindus are bent upon trampling, denigrating and destroying?

I know why you are going ga ga over "Slumdog Millionaire". Since most of you are familiar with Hindi, I am sure it should have been titled ‘Jhopadpatti ka Crorepati Kutta’. Why should that offend you? After all, the movie supposedly very movingly portrays reality, isn’t it? But I am sure you are gloating not just because Danny Boyle has successfully peddled poverty, grime, squalor and hopelessness that surround much of India. You are gloating because the movie is a brilliant assault on the very idea of India; the India that you so passionately hate and denounce at every available forum. You have so freely, indiscriminately and hysterically bandied about powerful words like Genocide, Mass Murder, State Terror, Fascism, Talibanization, Discrimination, Barbarism and Feudalism while talking about India and Hinduism that sometimes even agnostic Hindus like me start wondering if you may be right after all.

But having read "Q&A", the book by diplomat Vikas Swarup and seen the movie, I must protest at the desecration of India and the denigration of Hinduism. What bothers me more is that the movie is targeted primarily at a western audience, most of which has a fairly vague idea of what is happening in India. Through powerful cinematic images, sound and a forcible imposition of context when none exist, Danny Boyle will almost certainly convince the western audience that the worst perceptions they had about India are indeed true. And how brilliantly insidious and clever Danny Boyle and his team have been at the job!

Let's start with the more gratuitous assaults on the idea of India. The host of the Kutta show Anil Kapoor asks the hero a question whose answer is Satyamev Jayate. If you have seen the film, you will know that the hero Jamal Malik has a phenomenal memory and is very inventive and innovative, a street survivor, if you like. Jamal has also studied in a slum school as a child, where the standard of education is so high that the teacher asks students to memorise the names of the three leading characters of the famous book "The Three Musketeers". And yet, in that very school, Jamal is apparently not taught that Satyamev Jayate is the national motto of India. When the cop (Irrfan Khan), who is interrogating and torturing Jamal, expresses surprise at his ignorance, Jamal counters by asking the cop if he knows the latest rate of Bhel Puri on Juhu beach. Can you imagine an American kid who has gone to school and says he has no clue about what ‘In God We trust’ means? And what has Satyamev Jayate got to do with the price of Bhel Puri on Juhu beach? Clearly, Mr ( And Ms) Secular Indian, you are delighted with the question and the answer because, it so cleverly shows that the national motto of India is a hollow slogan. That’s what you firmly believe anyway.

I suppose you can call that cinematic or ‘artistic’ freedom. But, what comes after the insidious assault on Satyamev Jayate is truly shocking and outrageous. And I am astonished how serious objections have not been raised. Anil Kapoor - shame on his desperation to do a Hollywood movie that even perverts his own faith-asks Jamal a question about what Lord Ram holds in his right hand. The movie then cleverly shifts from the studio to scenes where mobs of Hindus descend from a train, chanting “Kill the Muslims,” and indulge in an orgy of murder even as Jamal and his elder brother run away along with a waif who is subsequently unveiled as Laitka. Twice during this dance of hatred, death and destruction, viewers get a close view of Lord Ram - rather a boy dressed as Lord Ram who stares malevolently at Jamal, his stance conveying violence and his eyes spewing hatred. Now, I have since numerous portraits, ‘photos’, illustrations and sketches of Lord Ram since childhood. Never, ever have I come across a pictorial version that shows the deity as a vengeful God with fearsome eyes. In fact, this Lord Ram looks more like Lord Shiva on the verge of performing the Tandava. From where did Danny Boyle and his team pick up this portrait of Ram? Would he have shown images of a vengeful and hate filled Jesus Christ when racist whites are slaughtering American Indians or black slaves? And what is his clever juxtaposition of images saying??

That Lord Ram is vengeful. That in Boyle’s India, Hindus habitually kill Muslims. That such is the nature of Hinduism. I request Anil Kapoor to look again at this image of Lord Ram and ask himself honestly if this is ‘realistic’. Does his conscience allow him to watch the image again and not feel ashamed that he is part of this denigration of Lord Ram? I have no such expectations from fellow ‘Secular’ Indians since they think Ram is associated only with the loony Hindutva types. Now, comes the even more sinister part. After Hindus have butchered Muslims ( including Jamal’s mother), a group of alleged do gooders pick up Jamal, Salim and Latika. The good guys turn out be monsters who maim, blind, cripple and otherwise exploit poor children so that they can earn a ‘higher rate of return’ while begging on the streets of Bombay. Nobody in India will have any problems with that since that is the reality. But what disturbs non-secular and agnostic Hindus like me is the manner in which the song “Darshan do Bhagwan…” is repeatedly drilled into the ears and minds of viewers even as the gang leaders prepare to blind yet another child. The song is associated intimately with devotion towards Lord Krishna. And what the images and sounds keep conveying after artificially putting a false and misleading portrait of Ram when Hindus are killing Muslims - is how Hindus maim and blind children by invoking Lord Krishna - yet another sacred deity of Hinduism. I have heard some fellow seculars say that since the question involved Surdas who was blind, it was ‘artistic’ freedom used by Danny Boyle to portray the grim reality of Indian slums. But all Indians must ask themselves another honest question: how many street beggars – blind or not – sing Darshan do Bhagwan? Aren’t Bollywood songs more the stereotype? Then why deliberately inject yet another symbol of devout Hinduism while portraying barbarism and savagery?

That’s not all. Once the kids land up in Agra, there is more India bashing. Jamal becomes an impromptu guide and tells a ‘white’ couple that the Taj Mahal was actually a five star hotel along with a swimming pool that was left unfinished because the builder died. When the white couple says that it is not written in the guide books, Jamal promptly says that the guide books have been written by “bloody Indian beggars”. During the Taj Mahal drama, Danny Boyle even has an American slip, a $ 100 bill to Jamal because he was beaten up by an Indian driver. Now, most whites who slip dollar bills to kids in Bombay are paedophiles of the worst type, exploiting the poverty and helplessness of poor slum children to satiate their perverted sexual appetites. Many have been caught; only to be let off because of our corrupt system. If Danny Boyle was so keen on showing reality, he could have shown a couple of ‘white’ paedophiles? As for secular Indians, who gives a damn about pedophiles when they have to chase more important and dollar fetching concepts like Genocide and State terrorism?

The most cruel and disgusting cut comes around this time in the movie. All along, the viewer has been exposed to brutality, death, torture and worse with images and sounds of Hinduism jumping glaringly out of the screen. Suddenly, in Agra, we are shown the rendition of an Opera with western classical music where Jamal looks ‘peacefully’ in love, an adult and vibrantly smiling Latika suddenly pops up on the screen and the viewer is given a few minutes of love, compassion and hope. The background music and visuals are of course the kind mostly whites in Europe and America indulge in. Sure, it is artistic freedom.

But therein lies the rub. Danny Boyle and his Indian team mates surely have every right to ‘interpret’ a book in their own way. But how have they done it? I urge readers to go through the book "Q&A" by Vikas Swarup and come to their own conclusions. In the book, the hero is an orphan called Ram Mohhamed Thomas. In the movie, he becomes a Muslim Jamal Malik who loses his mother to marauding Hindus. In the book, the hero is brought up by a Hindu priest who teaches him English. In the movie, the teacher only beats him. In the book, Salim is Ram’s best friend. In the movie, Salim, but naturally, is Jamal’s elder brother. In the book, a lawyer-cum-human rights activist rescues Ram Mohhamed Thomas from the police and does what the cop Irrfan Khan does in the movie - listen to the amazing life and tales of the orphan. In the book, the host of the show starts with the Amitabh Bachchan question. Ditto in the movie. Every other question in the movie is different from those in the books. In fact, the book has the host asking the orphan what was inscribed in the cross of Jesus! By Jesus, artistic freedom changes it into a bow and arrow held by a vengeful fearsome Lord Ram! Could the hero have been a victim of Bombay bomb blasts? Many Muslim children in India have lost their fathers to bomb blasts. Could the audition have carried a hymn or a gospel instead of a devout Hindu song? But that’s not what Danny Boyle wanted and so the ‘secular’ Indian is celebrating.

This is not new. Mahatma Gandhi had called "Mother India" by Katherine Mayo a gutter inspectors report. Movies like "Salaam Bombay" and "City of Joy", not to speak of hundreds of books and documentaries, have portrayed the worst of India and won international accolades. In fact, there are ‘secular’ authors who revel in denigrating all that is Indian and Hindu because it fetches them more dollars. I wish they-and the Indian cast members of Slumdog plus the other secular Indians who are applauding them - had the basic honesty to admit two things: First, they really don’t like the idea of India; and second, even if they felt secretly ashamed at selling their motherland as a whore, they couldn’t help resist the lure of the dollars. But then what can you do but feel helplessly outraged when you examine "Slumdog" in the right perspective and realise it is one of the more innovative assaults on the Idea of India? I will conclude by invoking just two champions of the secular brigade to highlight what I mean. One is Arundhati Roy, the Goddess of Secession who is convinced that the 26/11 carnage in Bombay was a result of FASCISM in India. The other is Prakash Karat, whose fellow comrades still insist that China was the real victim of the 1962 war.

As far as you are concerned, nothing that people like me will say or write will influence you. In fact, for you, I am already a Khaki Chaddi.

I only wish we had smarter protectors of India and Hinduism than just the Khaki Chaddis!

With Remorse and Outrage

Yours Cynically and Inimically

A Helpless Indian


Sunday, February 1, 2009

Are judges above the law?

It would have been quite humorous, were it not so pernicious and dangerous. The latest fracas between the Right to Information Commissioner and the Supreme Court is a classic example of how desperately the judicial system in India needs a complete revamp and overhaul. This is what famous lawyer and constitutional expert Fali Nariman has to say about the unwillingness of Supreme Court judges to reveal their assets under the RTI Act: “For judges of the highest court to litigate as to whether or not they should disclose their assets is as bad as judges going to the court on whether it was lawful for income tax to be deducted from the salaries they get! We have good judges, but we need more judicial wisdom." And look at the ‘Supreme’ irony of the whole matter.
Recently, the Central Information Commission passed an order that required judges of the Supreme Court to declare their assets. Rather than gladly agreeing to set an example for everyone else in India, the Supreme Court appealed to a High Court against the order. In other words, it is akin to the Managing Director of a company appealing to a General Manager of his own company against an order passed by an independent board of the company! The High Court promptly stays the Information Commission order and asks Fali Nariman to appear as a ‘friend of the court’ in the case. To his credit, Nariman has politely declined. And urged the judges to lead by example.

Here is another tale from Indian judiciary that is hilarious. The Central Bureau of Investigation is pursuing the notorious Sister Abhaya murder case in Kerala. A High Court judge, Justice K. Hema effectively stays the CBI investigations. A few days later, a fellow judge of the same High Court, Justice R. Basant, asks CBI to continue investigations and says he will personally monitor the case. Then, a furious Justice Hema passes another order a few days later stating that no other judge of Kerala High Court can ‘clarify’ her order and only the Supreme Court can do so!

Then again, honourable judges of the Punjab & Haryana High Court are at each other’s throats over the Rs.15 lakh cash scam. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court says it is better that Justice Nirmal Yadav is transferred as there are allegations that Rs.15 lakh in cash meant for her were by mistake delivered to the residence of fellow judge Justice Nirmaljit Kaur. Justice Yadav formally complains to the Chief Justice that actually there was a Supreme Court judge behind all this and he was present in the residence of Justice Kaur when the cash was delivered.

Meanwhile, investigations are going on against about 42 judges who are alleged to be beneficiaries of the PF scam that was uncovered in Ghaziabad. Though there has been a lot of talk of action against judges, nothing concrete has been done. And of course, it has been months since the Chief Justice of Supreme Court wrote to the Prime Minister recommending that Justice Soumitra Sen of Calcutta High Court be impeached. Nothing has been done yet. What conclusions can Indian citizens draw if Supreme Court judges are not willing to reveal their assets?


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Events that will shake up 2009

Dark humour has often been derided as the last refuge of the cynical hack. But look at the other side: it can also trigger a ghost of a bemused smile in these troubled and uncertain times. I plead guilty and provide you with my forecast of the major events that will define 2009.

l Ramalingam Raju will be given an award for corporate governance. After all, his company's name is 'Satyam'

l Mamta Banerjee will become the brand ambassador for the Nano. She will not charge anything and continue to wear crumpled sarees.

l Ratan Tata will launch a campaign called 'The Audacity of Hope' and Tata Motors will successfully take over Ford Motor Co. After a few months, they will approach Barack Obama for a bailout package.

l Kingfisher and Jet will merge to form a new entity and the chairman will be former Union Minister of Civil Aviation Praful Patel. Vijay Mallya will be in charge of air hostess' uniforms and cuisine.

l Mukesh and Anil Ambani will kiss and make up. They will put up a joint bid for the Union Finance Minister's portfolio in the new coalition government.

l Thanks to gifts from grateful subjects and devotees, Mayawati's assets will cross $3 billion by September 2009. Forbes will put her on the cover in a special issue on new Asian billionaires and tycoons.

l Bajaj Auto will change its ad campaign theme from ''Hamaara Bajaj'' to ''Bechara Bajaj'' with a special appeal to consumers to stop plummeting sales.

l George Bush will open a brand new petrol pump in Texas. Veterans of the Iraq war will get a free cowboy hat when they tank up.

l In the spring of 2009, terrorists will invade Brigade Road in Bangalore and massacre more than 300 Indians and foreigners. A. R. Antulay will call it a conspiracy by Hindutva forces. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will fly down to Delhi and Islamabad and insist that Pakistan ''does something''.

l Real estate companies will sponsor the marriage and honeymoon of young couples who book their flats.

l Walmart will open in India and very soon, Sunil Bharti Mittal will be offering free Airtel connections to Indian shoppers who prefer to stay away from this abiding marvel of American capitalism.

l As the bulls go on a rampage again, the Sensex will accelerate past 25,000 points by October, 2009 and then Indian investors will suddenly wake up and realise that it was a pre-Diwali dream.

Please do mail the efforts of your crystal gazing for 2009. The best entries will be rewarded in a glittering function on April 1, 2009.