Friday, June 24, 2011


It was a truly scorching night in June 2005, when we packed up the first issue of Business & Economy at around 5 in the morning. For months before that, I (a lapsed, failed, retired and or obsolete journalist in my own opinion!) had encountered sniggers from the extremely tenuous contacts I still had in the community of journalists about the imminent collapse of the yet to be launched business magazine. It is about 5.30 AM now in the third week of June 2011, as I am writing this piece and thundershowers of the previous night have triggered a soothing breeze. Six tumultuous years later, do allow me the privilege of just a wee bit of chest-thumping. I know it sounds mean, but nobody can stop me from crowing about the fact that many of those who sniggered at the ability of my Editor- in-Chief Arindam to launch even one magazine, now directly or indirectly, sound me out for a position in Planman Media which is growing at a scorching pace! It is a truly mad, mad world, isn't it?! Many have asked me how we have survived and then thrived against all odds. I believe the answer is simple: We have always called a spade a spade, and are definitely the first business magazine that dared to ruthlessly criticise corporate icons and titans if we were convinced they were wrong. Of course, we have also praised many of them along the way! And then again, we at B&E have always tried our best never to lose sight of the big picture.

Enough of self congratulatory chestthumping. What I really want to share with you all is – in my unarguably prejudiced opinion – the six big emerging trends that could have a decisive impact on the future of India. Some of these trends make me feel proud as an Indian and marvel at how we cannot possibly be a genuine superpower a few decades down the road. Some make me cringe in despair and wonder if India can ever throw off the tag of being a third-rate Third World country. For better or worse, here are the trends that I have discerned as a semi-optimistic hack who constantly fights cynicism!

Entrepreneurship: I know you will say that the entrepreneurial animal inside India was unleashed way back in 1991. But do think a little about it and look at the number of new companies and brands that have exploded across sectors and verticals in the last six years. I will just point out one example to prove my point. One of the first corporate stories we did (and our marketing and ad sales guys still curse us for it!) was on Nokia. Back then, 3 out of every 4 handsets sold in India was a Nokia. We relied on simple common sense and wrote that such a monopoly cannot be sustained and that Nokia would face massive competition. Just look at the number of nimble entrepreneurs who have relentlessly savaged and ravaged the market share of Nokia. Literally hundreds of thousands of such entrepreneurs have bloomed across India in the last six years. And I am not talking of the usual suspects who make it to the annual Forbes list of billionaires. The amazing thing is: these entrepreneurs are succeeding despite a hostile and rent-seeking business environment.

Connectivity: Not just the last six years, but the mobile phone is one of the most powerful successful stories of India in the last 60 years. Back when we launched, we did a policy story on the obstacles that could prevent India from creating 200 million mobile subscribers. I am actually happy we were wrong. India now has more than 700 million mobile subscribers and is adding about 10 million every month. India also boasts of the lowest tariff s, though service quality does make you weep most often. But then, that kind of incredible growth has to come with glitches, if you look at the big picture. Internet connectivity has not kept pace and India has just about 20 million active connections though a far larger number access the net through cyber cafes. But I have no doubt that this will change in the next six years and the number of Internet connections will also explode. I need not elaborate on how this is empowering the most hoodwinked section of India, the aam aadmi!

Activism: This is one oasis in the barren, gloomy and foreboding landscape of governance in India. You could say activism in India dates back to the days when the likes of Raja Rammohan Roy and Ishwar Chandler Vidyasagar did their historic bit. But actually the passing of the Right to Information Act (arguably one of the best policy initiatives of the UPA regime) has almost opened the floodgates of activism in India. Activism is no longer just a romantic and quixotic tilt at the establishment. It is now becoming a powerful force and a movement that the ruling class is finding impossible to ignore. It could be Anna Hazare and his team fighting for a strong Lok Pal Bill to tackle corruption; it could even be an obscure and unknown schoolgirl in Uttar Pradesh who filed an RTI application to know what happened to the funds that were allocated for building toilets in her school. The fact is: activism is now an unstoppable force. In the Alternative Budget that he presents every year, my Editorin- Chief Arindam has repeatedly argued for huge funds to be allocated to publicise RTI. But there is also a downside to this: genuine and purposeful activism is still limited and the vast majority of middle and upper-middle class Indians prefer the armchair variety. They never vote, they brazenly violate traffic rules, they routinely pay bribes and then pass sweeping judgements on everything.

Arindam Chaudhuri, Editor-in-Chief, Business & Economy and Yashwant Sinha, Former FM
Arindam Chaudhuri, Editor-in-Chief,
Business & Economy and Yashwant Sinha,
Former FM at B&E's launch on June 16, 2005

Demographic Disaster: I hate to, but there is no choice but to highlight the three trends that could destroy the future of India. I would like to call the first one the demographic disaster, a sort of take on the demographic dividend that everyone loves to talk about. The fact is, despite tall promises and massive allocations in successive budgets over the last six years, the process of abdication by the State of providing basic education and healthcare has actually accelerated. Quite simply, you will get a demographic disaster instead of a demographic dividend if the vast majority of young Indians join the labour force as uneducated, unskilled, unhealthy and unemployable citizens. India continues to languish at the bottom in the Human Development Index and worse, the malnutrition, child and maternal mortality rates and literacy rates in vast swathes of the country are more appalling than those found in Ethiopia and Haiti. One of the most talked about alternative budgets presented by my Editor-in-Chief was the one he coined as 'A Budget for Three Idiots' in 2010. Behind the catchy slogan lay the grim reality of how dysfunctional the education system in India is. There is no way we can be a power that the world respects, where more than 400 million cannot even read and write. I am afraid I see no visible signs of dramatic improvement on this front. Incremental progress will not help; it will mean India will miss the bus yet again.

Judicial Paralysis: Sure, there are islands of hope in the judiciary. But they are too few. The reality is that the judicial system in India is in virtual paralysis. Every crook in the country knows this very well. And that is why crooks and criminals operate with impunity in the country. They know they will get away no matter what the evidence against them; they can ensure that the cases against them drag on for decades. Even when they are convicted, they can file appeals till kingdom come. If corruption is a cancer that is gnawing away at the Indian economy, a paralysed judiciary is the malignant factor that adds ferocity to that cancer. Just to remind you; the last six years have seen serious allegations made against two chief justices of the Supreme Court. Were the contempt of court laws in India not so formidably frightening, the chorus of allegations would have been louder. When Caesar's wife is looked upon with mistrust by the citizen, then surely the fate of the Roman Empire is sealed. I wish I had the space to document the numerous concrete ways in which a paralysed judiciary is hollowing out the Indian Republic, but I guess you already know about it.

Crony Capitalism: Everybody talks and writes about how corrupt Indian politicians are. Hardly anybody talks about the fountainhead of that corruption. Yes, I am talking about corporate India which seems to have become a darling of the middle-class and the media. The ugly truth is: many industrialists happily, willingly and unabashedly connive with the politicians, bribe them to corner licenses, permissions or resources and then make a killing that is many, many times the bribe paid to the politician. From mining rights to land acquisition to SEZs to spectrum allocation to bidding for oil and gas fields, India is a vast crony capitalist state. There is not shadow of doubt that the trend has become even more disturbing and frightening in the last six years. Barring some notable exceptions, it is classic case of is hamaam mein hum sabhi nangey hain. When crony capitalism flourishes, the aam aadmi literally has no chance. Is it a wonder that Naxalite violence is most pronounced in regions of India where corporate houses are plundering the natural resources at the expense of local populations? Each time the media stumbles upon a scam like 2G, rest assured that even bigger scams continue to flourish. And this is one complaint I have about Indian media: while it does an admirable job of exposing corrupt politicians, it is too squeamish when it comes to exposing corporate fat cats. The result: a man of unimpeachable personal integrity running one of the most corrupt governments in India.

So where will we all be after six more years? I have no doubts about where Business & Economy will be; it will still walk the talk. But I am not so sure about India. I hope I turn out to be like those cynical hacks I mentioned in the beginning whose sniggers and pessimism were eventually silenced by millions of Indians who dared to dream!


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