Friday, October 21, 2016


PTI Pic Courtesy +ABPLIVE 

Article first published in +ABPLIVE Click here to read

The lay voter in Uttar Pradesh is flummoxed by the recent developments in the Samajwadi Party. The Yadav Parivar drama has all the elements of a feudal fight and struggle for control in a family-owned enterprise.

First, they are at a loss to figure out where it will all end. Will a settlement and truce be worked out in the larger interest of the family after a good deal of brinkmanship? Or are the cracks too deep to be repaired in a hurry?

While some subscribe to the theory of an elaborate drama (or “Nura Kushti”) being played out in several acts, others are speculating on possible scenarios of Akhilesh Yadav breaking free and returning with the support of the Congress or aligning with the BJP.

Second, what will be the political fallout of these differences? Will a chunk of the Samajwadi Party’s traditional Muslim vote-bank move away to the BSP to give Mayawati an edge?

With the strong possibility of a February election being announced immediately after Diwali, these are questions dominating chai and paan shop conversations in Lucknow.

Simple arithmetic would tend to indicate any division in the Muslim votes will go to the BJP’s advantage. Adding to that the spike in nationalist sentiments after the “surgical strikes” and the soft revival of Ayodhya, one is able to explain the BJP’s improved score in the latest opinion polls.
But electoral reality is seldom so straightforward and in Uttar Pradesh the triggers of mood swing can be many between now and February to change the equations. Far too much is at stake for any party to allow another a walk-over.

In all this the most interesting phenomenon is the evolution of AkhileshYadav as a leader in his own right coming out of his father’s shadow. When Akhilesh was anointed Chief Minister five years ago, people thought it to be another dynastic succession. But pretty soon Mulayam Songh Yadav made it clear that he was nowhere close to retiring to “Vanaprastha” or playing the role of Bhishma.
At the same time, Akhilesh asserted his mind to show that he was no proxy or puppet of his father. Almost from the word go the dynamic tension between father and son surfaced for all to see. There were occasional flashpoint in the equation which were contained even if they continued to simmer underneath.

Akhilesh started on a slightly disappointing note. He was unable to at once live up to the promise he had shown as an educated young politician of the next generation. There was a visible slide in law and order and development did not take off as expected. People feared a return to the old unruly Samajwadi era. Then came the setback of the 2014 Lok Sabha election and signs of anti-incumbency began to show.

Akhilesh was smart to pick up the signals early and in 2015 he shifted gear to speed up visible progress with his “Ummeed-o ki Pradesh” campaign. It would appear that he took the challenge manfully.

Successive by-elections showed the sheen had began to wear off the BJP and being a divided house they were yet to get the act together in Uttar Pradesh. He, therefore, began to prepare for a return on a positive mandate based on performance and delivery.

However, the hard-core and the pragmatic elements were not so convinced about Akhilesh’s strategy. In a way, it was a “no win” situation for them. If Akhilesh came out on top on the sheer strength of his self-built charisma, it would mean further marginalisation of the old guard. If he lost, that might put them in the wilderness for a long time to come.

With the almost certain polarisation of the Hindu votes in favour of the BJP (along with some Shia and OBC support) Mulayam could not afford to splinter his core base of Muslims and Yadavs. That would be an irrecoverable loss. Besides, both the manpower and the resources to fight the election are still controlled by the veterans like Shivpal Yadav. So, there is no way he can afford to alienate them.

The choice before Akhilesh is stark: Whether to accept his earlier position of being the “face” of the Samajwadi Party and continue in a relation of uneasy calm with the patriarch and the uncle. If he settles for that the threat of the younger Yuvraj being propped up to dethrone him will continue to haunt him.

The alternative is the bold and honourable option of setting out on his own and consolidating his personal political equity for the longer run, even if it means biding his time in the opposition for one term. He has age on his side to take that route. It would be a pity, both for Uttar Pradesh and Indian politics, if he does not.

Tags: #akhilesh yadav #BJP #Congress #mulayam singh yadav s#amajwadi party #shivpal yadav #uttar pradesh

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

All that is wrong with modern Durga Puja in Bengal


Photo Courtesy +ABPLIVE 
Article first published in +ABPLIVE Click here to read

Durga Puja in Kolkata depresses me. I am probably an odd Bengali, but for me present day Puja celebrations reflect much that is wrong with the State.

As children we used to look forward to the Pujas which were a right blend of festivity and solemnity. Today, it is a circus. But, it is not nostalgia alone that makes me sad.

Not that Bengalis, contrary to popular perception, are an overly religious lot, but mega “Theme Pujas”, as they are now called, have wiped out all traces of piety and spirituality from the celebrations.

As corporates jostle with awards, the para Pujas compete with one another on opulence and scale. There lies the rub.

Earlier a few big Barowari Pujas were linked with some local councillor, MLA or the odd goon (like Phata Keshto’s Kali Puja). Today Ministers freely flaunt their association on large billboards, thus setting in motion a battle of one-upmanship: “my Puja is bigger than yours”.

So far so good, as we Bengalis say. But, where does this money, running into crores of rupees that some of the top puja committees are known to spend, come from?

With the busting of chit funds, the traditional sources of funds have dried up and one no longer sees the old familiar names of sponsors. Now the milch cows are the ubiquitous ‘promoters and developers’ who cannot possibly operate without the blessings of the local ‘bosses’.

Alas, liquidating old ancestral homes is the last resort of the ‘bhadralok’ Bengalis with unemployed or under-employed children (unless they have already left the State in search of jobs) with dwindling resource. As the old gentry gets pushed away to the suburbs, leaving prime localities, trading communities, earlier living in chawl-like tenements in Burrabazar, move into the new high-rises that are coming up on their properties.

However, these new residents, who are not particularly interested in traditional Puja, are known to be more generous with their chanda (paying as per a separate ‘rate card’ as it were), thus contributing to the pomp and glitz of the pandals. Ordinary Bengalis today have to depend on commercial interests to underwrite their most important socio-religious festival.

Some years ago I did try some ‘pandal hopping’ or ‘thakur dekha’, to use the local phrase. While the Pujas had grown in affluence, the surroundings around them were pathetic. Nothing has changed in the last 40 years. There are the same make-shift food stalls selling rolls, chow-mien or other items that, in my view, should carry a statutory notice “Jaundice guaranteed, Typhoid optional” — such are the appalling standards of hygiene.

There are no public conveniences or hardly any provisions for emergency services. The entire city takes a mofussil look or that of a massive village fair where the masses descend to blow away their year’s savings (sometimes dipping into the domestic chest kept for rainy days, borrowing money or even selling family jewels in some cases) to buy five days of enjoyment for the family.

Durga Puja has been reduced to a form of escapism for the common Bengalis who have little left to celebrate or look forward to in life. I suspect the politicians know this and, therefore, play up the carnival spirit.

There is a specious logic about redistribution of wealth (which itself is highly questionable) as there is no real wealth creation happening in West Bengal. Similarly, one hears of how the Pujas are a boon to the artists and craftsmen of the State. There may be some truth in that, but that is nullified when one reads about the abject condition of artisans in Kumartuli, many of whom survive on orders from outside Bengal and overseas.

The celebrated Bengali writer Sankar had written some years back that the real planning for Durga Puja actually happens in the commercial centres in other parts of the country, where they gear up for the Puja business in Bengal. One could add Bombay to the list as one sees advertisements of leading brands with photo-shopped images of leading stars and models in Bengali attire.

Similarly, tourist destinations popular with Bengali budget travellers, like Nainital, Himachal Pradesh, Puri, Goa and now Kerala, Madhya Pradesh etc, gear up for their ‘Bengali Season’ between Dussehra and Diwali. Yesteryear’s film actors from Bollywood, well past their sell by dates, look forward to paid junkets to Kolkata for inaugurating Pujas for an appearance fee to add to the glamour quotient.

For me the true celebrations will be when there is Economic Resurgence, which may also see a new cultural renaissance for the State and a real intrinsic rather than just artistic evolution of Durga Puja. Till then I have no mind to settle for chalk in place of cheese.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

PV Narasimha Rao - PM of Destiny

Just finished reading Sanjaya Baru’s new book — on 1991 and P V Narasimha Rao. (Article first published in +Medium click here to read)

In an increasingly polarised (and biased) world of journalism — Baru is from a fast vanishing tribe, who are able to keep facts separate from opinions and loyalties. He is one of the remaining few — who believe in research and corroboration through reading and interviews and do not pass off anecdotal evidence (read gossip) as “inside knowledge”.

Being an economic journalist and a seasoned political observer — Baru was particularly well placed to write this book that is as much about Narasimha Rao as it is regarding the economic watershed in India’s post-independence history. 1991 could have been a turning point for Indian politics as well had the Dynasty not struck back with vengeance — reducing PVNR from a man of destiny to a footnote in history.

It is divine retribution, perhaps, that after 25 years — there is a reassessment of his contribution restoring in small measure his rightful place as one who has significantly steered the country onto a new trajectory despite odds.

I have already tweeted a lot of snippets from the book as I was reading it. It is a serious chronicle of a very important period that may not interest a lay reader looking for juicy tidbits of the PVNR years. Therefore, it may not become a best-seller like his previous book The Accidental Prime Minister — which had a lot of ‘masala’ as it were. But, this is serious stuff for the archives.

Finally — the question that I was left with when I put down the book — was a counter-factual one: Where would India have been today — if it did not have the Nehru — Gandhi Dynasty ruling it (directly or via proxy) for the better part of 70 years ? My simplistic conjecture in hindsight are as follows:

If Patel or someone other than Nehru had become the first Prime Minister — it is most likely he would have still followed the Soviet model of Planned Development with a dominance of Public Sector, while paying lip service to the concept of Mixed Economy. But, where they would have most likely differed is on Nehru’s policy on Kashmir and China and probably not made the same mistakes.

Besides, we would have seen stricter enforcement of both economic legislation as well as general law and order in the country — arguably with lesser corruption. Most importantly — as PM they would have been the “first among equals” and not created a cult like Nehru — to lay the seeds of four generations of Dynastic Rule to follow.

One common thread in Baru’s recent works — are two Congress Prime Ministers, who achieved whatever they did despite the Gandhi family (specifically Sonia Gandhi)’s shadow.

There is little reason to believe — if Lal Bahadur Shastri could take Pakistan head-on in 1965 — someone else in his place would not have acted similar to what Indira Gandhi did in 1971. Also, probably, there would not have been the Emergency of 1975.

Going by Baru’s account — the country would have been better off economically if guided by professional economists and not suffered from the compromises of populist policies for the survival of a single family.

Finally, just to please the Left Libs on my time-line, it might have prevented the Hindutva backlash and, therefore, the rise of a Narendra Modi.

#SanjayaBaru #PVNarasimhaRao #SoniaGandhi #NarendraModi

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Is trust over-rated at the workplace ?

Trust begins with one's own self

Pic from Net

Article first published in +Medium Click here

Trust as a function of leadership — is a current flavour of the season. It is not really a new concept or discovery. But, as in life so in organisations ideas keep coming back. There is, probably, a larger existential reason for it. Over time – values wither to a point of being dysfunctional – that is when nature’s own correction mechanism sets in to restore balance.
Corporate culture was never selfless. Dog eat dog is an old adage. Far from eschewing canine meat in favour of healthier alternatives — the pressures of quarterly results and investors breathing hot air through the ducts of the Boardroom have made organisations more ruthless. Consequently. – professional shelf-lives are shrinking putting ambitious youngsters on an overdrive. In an age of fitness mania – the proverbial rat-race has changed into a sprint up the stairs of a high-rise. In their frenetic rush to reach the sky – there is little time to cultivate deeper personal values for most. Andy Grove of Intel wrote “only the paranoid survive”. Doubt if by that he meant personal paranoia and insecurity — which frequently manifest among today’s C-suite executives.
The result of course is not difficult to predict – fast burn-outs, messed up personal lives and relationships, psycho-somatic ailments and personality disorders. The bottle, sedatives and in some cases substance of abuse (read drugs) are just an arm’s length away. Along the way it wrecks havoc in organisations and families.

So, where does trust come in all this ?

Pic from Net
Was chatting with an old friend and once colleague — who is hanging up his boots from active corporate life after fairly long and illustrious career — that took him quite close to the corner office but not inside one. Since this was a day after his farewell he was in a somewhat reflective mood. In the past 30 years our professional paths had crossed a few times and we did travel together as co-farers on the some stretched of the lonely road. Therefore, we had several data-points to exchange.
We talked of leaders we both admired and even those we did not — despite, in some cases, their truly outstanding successes. We also discussed colleagues — some who had moved ahead and others who were left behind or remained stuck. He shared a few recent snippets — that left me a trifle disturbed as it briefly shattered the image I had of some people. That led me to ponder over worlds like trust, betrayal, loyalty and gratitude.

Here are a few jottings in no particular order of importance:

  1. Trust is what everyone expects from people but not many are able to place it on others;
  2. Both developing trust and feeling the need to trust (others) comes with age and (life) experience; As we grow older — the illusions of invincibility get toned down and we become aware not just of our limitations but also — albeit at a sub conscious level — mortality. But, those with higher Emotional Intelligence tend to mature faster and realise that these softer human values are the true and enduring differentiators of leadership.
  3. Like most human traits — trust is part nature and part nurture. It is important to strike a balance between the two. Sometimes nature has to be corrected or compensated by nurture;
  4. Don’t be naive; But, don’t be cynical either. And, certainly don’t become bitter if let down or betrayed by someone you trusted;
  5. Do not expect anything in return from trusting people; Most importantly do not look for loyalty from people you trust. People are loyal to their needs and not to individuals;
  6. The rewards of trust does not come by way of gratitude or even accomplishment — but through internal growth that takes one to the next level of self-actualisation;
  7. Not everyone can bear the burden of gratitude; Being grateful requires genuine strength of character — to accept one’s own vulnerability and weakness which is not easy;
  8. Remember the number of times others have trusted you unilaterally; how that made you feel and how it shaped your attitude towards them; How often did you go back to thank them?
  9. Trust is not weakness it is means strength; It is about taking risks, making mistakes and preparedness to accept failure (for trusting the wrong person); That is the hall mark of true leaders — that sets apart the stars in a crowd of wannabes and losers.
  10. Never look back — if you trust someone and he/she has delivered say ‘thank you’ and move on.; if they have failed to deliver despite best efforts — say thank you all the more and if they have betrayed or let you down — buy them a drink as in the process made you wiser and a better human being;

Finally, trust is all about us. Before trusting others we must learn to love and trust our own self. Once we are able to do that — the rest becomes easy. Does not matter if those you once trusted think you are hallucinating — because the joke will then be on them.

#Trust #Leadership #Gratitude #Coaching #Psychology

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Uri and after


Picture Courtesy +ABPLIVE via AFP

Article first published in +ABPLIVE (Click here)

It has been ten days since the Uri Attacks and much water – and thankfully not blood – has flown down the Indus since then. The Prime Minister made a telling speech in Kozhikode and Sushma Swaraj, arguably one of the most articulate and effective External Affairs Minister India has had in recent times, was nuanced yet firm in her statement at the United Nations General Assembly.

Love him or hate him, if there is one thing politicians can learn from Narendra Modi it is how to chose his own time and place for response without getting bullied into premature reactions. If Manmohan Singh’s silences were called deafening, in contrast Modi’s deferred responses are calibrated for impact.

Discussing war room strategies and counter-terrorism options in television studios may be good for TRP, but that is not where or how the national security agenda is decided. In fact, intelligently used, public debates can be useful decoys for diverting public attention from real work that happens behind closed doors. It also helps in dissipating public angst, jingoistic rants and motivated criticism while the Government gets on with its job.

Only the uninitiated or those motivated to mislead would peddle the thought that the Government is blind to its own lapses and will not be subjecting itself (which includes the military and intelligence establishments) to critical scrutiny after such a major setback. Indeed, there is bound to be a major reappraisal of policy. But, it would be fanciful to expect public consultation on its security and intelligence report card.

Thus after a week more or less everyone realises that declaring ‘war’ with a politically unstable and militarily irresponsible nuclear neighbour cannot be the first course of action. While covert retaliation may be considered, on the surface diplomatic isolation and raising the international ante against the terror credentials of Pakistan are, perhaps, the most pragmatic way forward.

Prime Minister Modi threw the symbolic gauntlet of “war against poverty” to Pakistan at his party’s Kozhikode conclave. Though it may have sounded like glib rhetoric to change the discourse, there was a deeper political thought beneath the Modi’s fervent plea.

By all accounts after a bountiful monsoon and massive infrastructural spends ready on a platter the economy is poised for take off. This is precisely the moment when many detractors within and outside the country will try to derail the Government’s agenda. Frittering away an opportunity of a lifetime that could potentially place India at the high table of world commerce by a military adventure is not a trap that anyone can expect Modi to fall for.

Much is written and talked about India’s over-estimation of its own clout in the global geo-political arena. If we are being taken more seriously than before by the international powers it is largely because of our growing importance in world trade. Who will understand that better than a Gujarati?

Comparisons are drawn with how America’s resident Jewish population influences its policy towards Israel. It will be some time before Indian expatriates start wielding similar sway in the US Congress but that NRIs are a rising force is there for everyone to see. Therefore, it is not without reason that Modi has been wooing them so assiduously since becoming Prime Minister.

War would have been a tempting choice for Modi if he were in the last leg of office. The world over (including in India) military offensive has been used by many leaders with waning popularity or insecure standing to consolidate their position. But Modi should have no such insecurities and, therefore, can stay the course with confidence.

That a reference to Balochistan in the Prime Minister’s Independence Day address could rattle the world, including his opponents at home, goes to show how policies are beginning to make a difference.

Many would try to spoil the party as India inches slowly but surely towards its golden hour. Some would do it deliberately and others (who have little understanding of economics and go around making populist promises of loan waiver within 24 hours of coming to power) naively.

At the end of the day even Kashmiris understand which side of their bread is buttered. That is why it is all the more important not to get distracted from the larger economic and political agenda while biding our time to pay the enemy back with compounded interest but, perhaps, in a different currency — US Dollars or Chinese Yuan, not Indian Rupees.

Tags: #army  #IndianArmy #kozhikode #Pakistan #sushma swaraj #Uri attack