Friday, May 28, 2010


I was scheduled to take IC 878 from Bhubaneswar to Delhi on May 26 after doing field work for a story on the controversial Vedanta University project in Orissa (Please do read the cover story in this issue). Of course, I became one of the thousands of ‘stranded’ passengers thanks to the “irresponsible” strike called by the trade unions of Air India. I managed to get a ticket on an Indigo flight and landed safely in Delhi. Today morning, I picked up the papers and read that Civil Aviation minister Praful Patel was telling journalists that “there has to be some accountability” even as he blasted unions of Air India for suddenly going on strike so soon after the Mangalore tragedy.

I couldn’t help laughing loudly at the words and also laughing at the hysterical sanctimony displayed by newspapers and TV channels branding Air India employees as anti-national ghouls and blackmailers. I really don’t think you and I can blame the employees and the unions for the strike or for thinking that they are not accountable. Hold your breath: I hold no brief for the unionised employees. Like you and others, I am also disgusted by these antics. But then, who made these employees so unaccountable in the first place? And is accountability a one way street for employees to follow while politicians and top bureaucrats wantonly flout norms? In case you forgot, one of the more interesting items of news that came out during the muck raking IPL scandal recently was how the daughter of Praful Patel had allegedly diverted Air India flights with paying passengers to suit either her fancy or that of Lalit Modi or God knows who. Did accountability fl y out of the window Mr. Patel? Were not paying passengers harassed by these abrupt and arbitrary changes in their flight schedules? And how many journalists and media outlets since then have you seen or heard chasing the story and finding out if the daughter of the Civil Aviation minister did those things?

Frankly, our system is so rotten that even journalists like me have become used to the fact that ministers and their kin have a birthright when it comes to doing anything they want to. At Bhubaneswar airport, I was chatting with some AI employees who were still on strike. Some of them offered me an interesting piece of information which I must share with you. Thanks to companies like Infosys setting up shop in Orissa, air traffic between Bangalore and Bhubaneswar has gone up manifold. Air India used to run a direct flight between Bangalore and Bhubaneswar. Suddenly, the direct flight service was stopped. Now, the real beneficiary is Kingfisher Red, which runs a direct flight. The employees tell me with a grin that this almost certainly happened when the de facto owner of Kingfisher Red was a member of the Parliamentary Committee on Aviation!!!

Let's all grow up guys and stop hectoring only the Air India employees just because they don’t have the power to hit back. Let's just celebrate India Shining and the good times and stop this sanctimony about accountability.


Friday, May 14, 2010


Two issues have engaged pundits in recent days. The first one relates to the Supreme Court verdict that seems to have gone against Anil Ambani. Apart from furious number crunching, the verdict has also triggered a spate of stories on the role of lobbyists used by India Inc. to win battles and wars in North Block, South Block and many other blocks that stand as sinister reminders of a feudal and oligarchic India that refuses to fade away. I am not joking, but I think I now know more about Nira Radia than Nusli Wadia! And honest to goodness, I know some ambitious young television journalists who seem to be confused about who is who between the two!!!

The second debating point was triggered by the stubbornly persistent footin- the-mouth disease of Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh who trashed Indian policy and Indian policymakers while visiting China. This has led to a spate of stories on the strange ability of Indian ministers to say things which embarrasses the UPA government. Oh yes, I got to read dozens of delicious ‘recall’ stories about how the tweet about flying cattle class was the beginning of the end for Shashi Tharoor.

All the sound, fury, punditry and polemics generated by the two controversies have missed – as usual – missed the central issues that need to be addressed: What should be the relationship between India Inc. and the government? And, what should be India’s strategic posture when it comes to China? The stark reality is that there is a very depressingly familiar lack of vision and a long term plan on both counts. And both India Inc. and policymakers are equally guilty of this short-sightedness.

Not one account of the ‘lobbying wars’ unleashed by the Ambani brothers seems to acknowledge and accept the fact that the corporate sector and the government work very closely together in the US, Japan, South Korea, Brazil, Russia and China. That is a reality no amount of moral grandstanding by columnists will erase. You must be living in a fool’s paradise if you think Embraer, Lenovo, Huwaei, LG, Hyundai, Toyota, Honda and numerous others have become global powerhouses solely on the basis of entrepreneurial genius and without any active as well as clandestine ‘State’ support. In India too, the corporate sector and the government have a cosy relationship. Like elsewhere, policymakers in India oft en take decisions that brazenly favour the corporate sector – many might say unjustifiably. The problem is, India Inc. and the government are happy with short term gains in the form of tax breaks, cheap land and other freebies. Ask yourself this one troubling question – with the tens of billions of dollars of market capitalisation, how is it that no Indian business house has managed to become a serious player in the telecom equipment business? Or in the IT server business? Or in the serious infrastructure business where Big Boys play day and night? That brings us to the vexing issue of China. It is the magazine The Economist, which informed us that China does not allow wind energy player Suzlon to sell turbines in China because it wants to encourage ‘local’ growth. How many media outlets in India have reported this fact? I rest my case.