Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Aam-aadmi and Demonetisation

Latest Blogpost: 

The aam-aadmi must be rewarded for their travails and support of #DeMonetisation by lower taxes, interest rates and social security schemes:

Read at: Right Angle by Clicking Here:

Thursday, December 01, 2016

My new address:

This blog has now shifted to: Right Angle. Please visit my new website under construction and send me your feedback Click here.

Many thanks for being such loyal readers. Looking forward to seeing you often in my new home.



Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Arnab Goswami - the meteoric rise of a media outsider

Photo: +The News Minute 

Article first published in +The News Minute Click here

Arnab is a rare media personality, who from being a news anchor has transcended the professional "Lakshman Rekha" to become news himself. Much of that has been the contribution of his former colleagues, who first turned rivals and finally adversaries - trolling him relentlessly. Though Arnab too studied in Delhi (Hindu not Stephen’s) and also went to Oxford as some of his celebrity contemporaries, not being a Delhi or Mumbai boy (coming from Assam) he was not considered part of the inner circle. At NDTV - the alma mater of so many news TV stars - he was always under the shadow of not only Barkha and Rajdeep but also the next rung of starlets and wannabe stars.

When Arnab moved out of NDTV, no one took either him or Times Now seriously. The battle ahead was expected to be primarily between NDTV and TV18 CNN-IBN. The unconventional decision to have a news channel out of Mumbai, instead of Delhi, which was the place of action, was itself frowned upon. The initial years were trying for Arnab (as has been chronicled at fair length in a number of hatchet jobs in other publications) and there were rumours of the Jains even starting to look out for his replacement at one stage. Finally, he found his mojo in The Newshour and the rest is now history.

Arnab not only became his competitors envy, even those who criticised him clandestinely watched his show. The only other parallel in Indian media this columnist can think of is the Bengali Daily - Anandabazar Patrika - that everyone trashes but loves to read. This gave rise to the advertising slogan - "what does Anandabazar have to say (on a topic)?" Similarly, no matter how much people dissed Arnab and The Newshour, even his most vocal detractors were keen to know his position on key issues of the day. Often, Arnab was the one who set the agenda for others.

Another distinctive style of Arnab was that he preferred to be the quintessential Anchor and Editor instead of an Anchor-Reporter, which is more common in television journalism. Therefore, Arnab did not step out of the studio except for his face-to-face Frankly Speaking interviews. Also, being stuck before the camera, practically 365 nights of the year, he had little time for schmoozing in the capital's power circuit. So, he continued to remain the "outsider". Distance gave him an enigmatic and maverick image, which he seemed to enjoy.

In many ways, Arnab changed the paradigm of Indian news television. Contrary to popular perception, while he was not afraid of taking positions on issues, he did not bring personal bias or prejudice against individuals on his shows. This is more than what one can say about many of his peers. He provoked and intimidated - in an adversarial mode of anchoring - to bring out the counter point of view but never tried to surreptitiously sneak in political or personal agenda. I am inclined to believe he is politically agnostic and much of his posturing is for effect (On the few occasions, I have met Arnab socially, found him to be soft-spoken and polite to a fault).

To many who had followed his meteoric rise - the question was not whether he will ever leave Times Now, but when. It is humanly impossible to maintain that maniacal pace and tenacity month after month. One has seldom seen him take breaks and a few times he has even returned cutting short his leave if there was an important news-break. He had clearly peaked at his game and from hereon it could only be a plateau at best till youngsters displaced him from the top slot. There were already his clones copying The Newshour format to create a poor man's Times Now. While others after trying to put him down - with snide asides (example "You don't have to shout to be heard") went back to their old ways of slanted journalism.

Clearly Arnab had to reinvent himself. But, it is doubtful if he could have done it at Times Now. If he stayed on forever - his core audience and fans would expect more of the same from him - which would be a recipe for professional disaster. Now, if he makes a fresh start he has a better chance of creating something new for himself. The best part of that will be, this time around he shall own "the brand" not someone else.

For the Jains too, it will be a good opportunity to get off the Tiger that they had inadvertently mounted. They can now get fresh talent and also relaunch the product in a new avatar - something that BCCL is particularly good at. One would not be surprised if they make it into a newsroom-based channel rather than an anchor-dependent channel (just as they have done for their print and digital publications). It will be a "win-win" for both.

I for one do not subscribe to the theory that Arnab has resigned due to differences on editorial policy. Knowing how commercially driven the BCCL group is, TRP is what would matter to them most. However, being independent will certainly give Arnab much more room for play. It is also possible that over the past few months Arnab was raising his jingoistic pitch and displaying an incipient right-wing inclination as a build up for his next jump. But, I am willing to bet Arnab and the Jains would part as friends without rancour.

Finally, it was amusing to note that some Times Now staffers actually cried after he made the announcement. This is somewhat at variance to the impression outside that Arnab is a monster of a boss who everyone loved to hate.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Why ain't anyone talking of Governance and the Small Shareholder in the Tata-Mistry saga

Photo Courtesy +ABPLIVE 

Article first published in +ABPLIVE (Click here)

The Cyrus Mistry saga has been done to death. Normally, fatigue would have set in among both the media and the public. As someone remarked, it does not even have any gossip value like, say, the sacking of the chairman of a liquor company. But the aftershocks of the sacking are still continuing.

Though the epicentre of this quake was Bombay House, the headquarters of Tata Sons, it has shaken entire corporate India and the tremors were also felt in the capital’s corridors of power, especially the Finance and Corporate Affairs Ministry and, some suspect, even the PMO. Per public perception, the Tatas were considered the gold standard among Indian business conglomerates. Now some fundamental questions have been raised about corporate governance in India.

First, on a positive note, it establishes the supremacy of the board. But, at the same time it also makes it loud and clear that in the final analysis the promoters are the ones who call the shots.

Having conducted a silent board room coup the Tata PR machinery went on an overdrive. In a rather intriguing move, they had a slew of top gun lawyers defend their action on television with a series of “exclusive” interviews rather than waiting their turn in court. This was probably triggered by rumours of Cyrus Mistry contemplating legal action (given that Mistry’s father-in-law Iqbal Chagla, son of the famous MC Chagla, is a renowned and respected legal luminary) which also explains the rush to file caveats in courts. But, it was a rather curious way of addressing stakeholder concerns — especially the stock market where the Tata stocks tanked.

In contrast, Mistry’s reactions were both restrained and dignified. Other than what is being popularly called his “letter bomb” (it is not known for certain who leaked the contents) he has not made any public utterances. In fact, his office went out of its way to scotch rumours of potential legal action.

Returning to the root, none can deny the Board’s prerogative to sack or appoint a Chairman. The rest is surround sound. Mistry certainly knows this and it would be surprising if he chooses to pursue a protracted legal tussle that will be a drain on resources and time. He wanted to have his side of the story to be known and has more than achieved that objective through his letter that mysteriously found its way into the public domain. Notwithstanding their self-righteous fulminations, it has clearly put the Tatas on the back foot with a lot of explaining to do and simultaneously put the onus on the Government, tax and regulatory authorities to investigate the charges.

The real battle, however, lies in the Board Room. It should not be forgotten that at the end of the day Mistry represented the interests of Shapoorji-Pallonji who hold 18.6 per cent of Tata Sons’ shareholding. The Trusts, no matter how powerful they are, cannot steam roll over the interests of minority shareholders.

In many off-line conversations it has been remarked that one of the cardinal sins of Mistry was not keeping the Tata Trusts informed of his moves on divestments and acquisitions. A fundamental question that one has not heard being asked is about the legal propriety of sharing “price sensitive” information with majority shareholders. If the Trusts are expected to be kept informed, what about the public shareholders of the concerned companies who are directly affected by these decisions? This is where the ‘Corporate Veil’ has been sharply pierced. It remains to be seen what view Shapoorji-Pallonji takes on similar situations in the Tata Sons board going forward.

At one level it will test the corporate governance framework in the country, in which the role of independent directors will also come under a spotlight. The obligation of the board is not limited to just the promoters and shareholders, but also the larger universe of external stakeholders. It is for this unrepresented constituency the independent directors are expected to act as conscience keepers. But how far the average director is either inclined or equipped to discharge such responsibilities is a matter of debate.

Till the time of writing Mistry has not been dislodged from his position in the Tata flagship companies which were either affected by his decisions or might be impacted by the contingent liabilities that he has highlighted in his letter. Will the ordinary shareholders who had elected Mistry as the Chairman of their companies go along without a whimper if the respective Boards recommend his early separation? If the Tatas try to bulldoze their way through, it will be another travesty of corporate democracy.

It will be interesting to see if after all this corporate paper shredding, what kind of external talent the Tatas are able to attract to replace Mistry. Many are betting that they will have to settle for an “insider-outsider” like TCS’s N Chandrasekaran. If there is even a grain of truth in Mistry’s allegations, the task of his successor is already cut out. It will be a miracle if he/she is able to achieve the turnaround painlessly.

Meanwhile, the coming weeks will be a test of credibility between Cyrus Mistry and Ratan Tata. If one were to treat the initial stock market reaction as an ‘Opinion Poll’, the Tatas have reasons to worry.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Curious Case of Bombay House

Picture from Internet
Article first published in +DailyO India Today

When Ratan Tata talked of “intolerance” rising in the country — at the Founder’s Day function of a public school — he was certainly not referring to what was brewing in the corporate empire that he presided over till a few years ago.

Even in hindsight — it could not have been a diversionary tactic. As the media went on an overdrive trying to interpret the political import of a generally apolitical Tata’s statement and was busy reporting the feud in the ruling political family of Uttar Pradesh , the young chairman of Tata Sons, appointed less than five years back with much fanfare, was removed unceremoniously in a bloodless boardroom coup.

Cyrus Mistry can enjoy quiet meals in dhabas with his chauffeur without the paparazzi chasing him.
Not much is known — or will probably come to light in a hurry — as to what might have preceded such a momentous decision by one of India’s largest (and arguably, the most well known, internationally) business conglomerate, though theories and conjectures are bound to surface.

However, from a lay external observer’s view, the following come across as interesting:

- The move obviously took Cyrus Mistry by surprise just as it apparently caught corporate India and the financial press unawares.
- If there were performance issues , they would have come to the table at board meetings and in a highly porous corporate culture of this country, there would certainly have been a whiff in the air;
- Over the years, despite having started on a tentative note, Ratan Tata had acquired a larger-than-life image and he not only remained the public face of the group, his personality undoubtedly held sway in the Tata empire not just because of his surname;
- While the internal Directors would have easily fallen in line with the group’s thinking, it would have required some very compelling reasons to convince the eminent external directors on the board;
- All things said, Mistry was the nominee of the largest shareholder of the Group (Shapoorji-Pallonji). For the Independent Directors to endorse such an extreme action, there must have been some overriding “ethical” (not necessarily integrity but “governance” related such as “conflict of interest”) considerations; it would be unfair to assume they would have gone along with the majority view.
- In a somewhat intriguing move, it seems Ratan Tata wrote to the Prime Minister apprising him of the Board’s decision. Whether the change of guard in a major corporate house merits such an intimation can be a matter of debate;
- Any shareholder tussle would normally be thrashed out first at a different fora before coming up to the Board — which is normally the place for stakeholders’ dispute resolution;
- Surely, the Tatas would have been alive to the possibilities of legal fall-out, especially with Mistry’s father-in-law being one of the very eminent jurists of India — Iqbal Chagla, son of the legendary MC Chagla. Not surprisingly, there is already talk of Mistry approaching the Bombay High Court for relief;

That brings us to a new development in Corporate India — when aggrieved senior executives are increasingly taking their former employers to court. This can be attributed to a number of factors.
First, high-stake CXO appointments are now stitched with elaborate legal contracts with severance conditions explicitly spelt out. With multi-million paycheques, head honchos are easily able to pay for expensive legal help that their poor predecessors could not afford. In an increasingly litigious society, law firms too are much more willing to take briefs against potential corporate clients.

Mistry’s appointment was prefaced with a much publicised “global search” by an international head-hunting firm stretching over two years. Finally, when Mistry — the scion of the largest shareholder — was brought in from the cold, many felt it was an elaborate charade. Now, that again a “hunt” has been insituted — one wonders what surprise it will throw up this time.

Finally, leadership transition in professional organisations is as prone to withdrawal afflictions as indeed it is in family-owned enterprises. And, it does not help to have a charismatic predecessor keeping a benevolent eye over one’s shoulders.

No matter how the drama plays out in the coming weeks — Mistry can enjoy quiet meals in dhabas with his chauffeur without the paparazzi chasing him.

But, the question people are asking is whether this was Tata Sons’ Samajwadi Party moment — and who is the Amar Singh in Bombay House?

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

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Emami Gurukul

Book Review: Business the Emami Way

Article first published +BusinessToday Click here 

As a child one heard of an allegorical tale of a village barber. He used to carry out minor surgeries for the villagers. Then came along a crafty quack who said to the barber: "You are so naturally gifted; now if only you had a formal training you could become a top surgeon." The simple barber swallowed the bait and asked the quack to teach him. And that was the end of his practice. Each time he picked up the implements he got scared at the thought of what could go wrong. He could no longer trust his intuition and native skills; the burden of medical theory paralysed his craft. Reading Business The Emami Way reminds me of that fictional barber - for reasons I shall come to in a bit.

R.S. Agarwal and R.S. Goenka are the stuff legends are made of. They are phenomenal entrepreneurs who started small by moonlighting while still working for one of the largest industrial groups. From there, they went on to build an empire taking on formidable FMCG multinational giants. They did with FMCG personal care products what Karsanbhai Patel of Nirma achieved with detergents; then gradually expanded into other FMCG categories like edible oils and retail pharmacy chains. To deploy the surplus of the low capital intensity consumer products business, Emami made lateral forays through joint ventures into healthcare and real estate. Nirma had, on the other hand, ploughed back its cash for upstream industries like Soda Ash and Linear Alkyl Benzene. It may not be sheer coincidence that both Nirma and Emami will soon be battling it out in the cement markets of Eastern India.

What could have been an enthralling saga of their fascinating journey from bean counters to business tycoons - gleaning management and life lessons along the way - has been marred by adopting a guru-shishya dialogue format. The "gyan" that is dispensed may sound to an evolved reader rather elementary, often laced with cliches and time-worn quotes like "Time and tide waits for no one". On how to conduct effective meetings, it is advised that "secretaries of the top bosses should collect all related facts and information for the department or departments and present it before the bosses". To check interruptions, it is suggested the boss hang a 'Do Not Disturb' sign outside his office. But if friends drop in announced, one needs to make time for them (so as not to appear "downright impolite"), but "do not go overboard".

Discourse about market segmentation, socio-economic classification and attitudinal difference between rural and urban consumers are in the same simplistic vein. But, all of it is grounded in strong earthy wisdom, cutting the chase - which is something professional managers and fledgling entrepreneurs can imbibe from the Agarwal-Goenka Gurukul.

The most interesting part of the book lies in "a leaf from my life's book" at the end of each chapter, which by itself could have been a rich read if chronicled in some more detail and depth. There was, perhaps, no need to laboriously plod through management theories like teaching human anatomy to the barber.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Tragedy at Uri

Keep the cheap shots — stand behind the government at this hour of crisis

Photo Courtesy +India Today 

Article first published in +Medium Click here

There are hardly any words to describe how heinous and reprehensible were the #UriAttacks. Surely, it could not have been the act of just any terrorist group without the active support of the establishment across the border — be it the #Pakistani Army and/or the ISI.

The tragedy for the families of the military personnel, who died in the attack can never be appreciated by civilians like us. It is a huge burden on the collective conscience of the nation that so many of our valiant soldiers have to lay down their lives fighting a war — that appears at least in the short run — to be a ‘no win’ battle.

Even without being a defence strategy expert — one can conjecture the attack was a ‘tit-for-tat’ move at India raising the ante on #Balochistan and isolate #Pakistan in recent engagements of the Prime Minister at a number of international fora.

Contrary to what our wrestlers and jingoists may have to say — everyone knows war is not an option between two nuclear powers — especially with one of them being a borderline rogue state.
We also have a flock of “doves” — advocating “political solution” without spelling out what that could be. Under the circumstances — the only option is trying to increase the “costs” for the other side. In that — India is at a handicap. That is because — unlike our neighbours — we do not have “non-state” actors like the Taliban and fanatical religious groups working for us. Covert intelligence operations cannot match the determination of suicidal Zihadis.

But, as a lay citizen, one wonders what can be done to minimise the damages on our side. Uri and before this Pathankot gives the impression of gaps in our defences and lapses in intelligence. Some reports seem to indicate that much more can be done to protect our forces and establishments in the border areas with better hardware and physical deterrents. That is the least we owe to our brave-hearts .

It is unfortunate that politicians and critics of the present government are trying to score points at this hour of crisis. Some are quoting (the letters — missing the ‘spirit’ of those comments) Narendra Modi’s indictment of the previous government for its failure to act against cross border terrorism. Snide digs are being made about the Prime Minister’s stop-over in Lahore last year. One senile and unemployed Congressi-Royalty even recalled the IC 814 Kandahar episode as the genesis of the current situation.

Temperatures are soaring in TV studios. Media is adding heat with alleged “leaks” from within the system. But, surely no one expects the government to carry out air-strikes in enemy territory or even drone attacks.

The only way forward is to systemically and concertedly isolate Pakistan on the international stage and build up pressure on the global biggies to bring them to the book. On that — the Narendra Modi team has done much more — within a short span of 2 years — than any other government (including Vajpayee’s) in the past. It is time people recognised that and stand firmly and unitedly behind the PM rather than having cheap pot-shots at him.

#Uri #Pakistan #UriAttacks #NarendraModi #Kashmir #Baramulla

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Birthday Blues

Article first published in +Medium Click here

When young, Birthdays are occasions for having fun. As one grows older — they become days of reflection. Whether that is a sign of age or maturity is difficult to say — but most certainly there are intimations of mortality at play in the sub-conscious. Perhaps, it is the same realisation of days being numbered that once again make people look forward to birthday celebrations as more years go by. But, even then there must be those undercurrents of reflections and reminiscences.

I am probably at the cusp of such a transition — because I found myself more in the zone of looking back at the year that has gone by than really thinking of what lies ahead. Partly, it may be because — the last one year has been one of the most rewarding and enriching for me in many ways (not just materially — though bit of that too, to be honest). Most importantly, I experienced personal growth — which makes me feel that I am in a better place in life today than a year ago.

This triggered two trains of thought. Rewinding slowly the last 20–25 years (may be called the prime period of my life) — I was remembering some of the miserable periods that I have gone through. In retrospect — it seemed amazing that I could get past those turbulent phases without losing total equanimity. At the same time — it was instructive to ponder upon when the ride was smoother, what helped — circumstances or effort ? Tried gleaning some lessons both from the rough and raisin patches, which I felt like sharing more as a mark of gratitude and tribute to those from whom I imbibed them overtly or subliminally. I will not mention any names. They are people living or long gone, some characters from fiction, lives of people read in books — biographies of the great or memoirs of people who have achieved or seen a lot in life but had feet of clay.

  • Turning inward — In the ultimate analysis we all have to dive deep within ourselves to find answers and strength. It is imperative to create what is now fashionably called  “me time” — so as not to lose touch with one’s inner self. Each one has their own way of doing this — through internal or external means. Some achieve it through — reading, meditation, prayer. Others through activities — be it sport, workout, listening to music. Visiting temples, listening to spiritual discourses or devotional music may be another way. But, it is important to check that the activity itself doesn’t take over the purpose becoming an end in itself rather than a means to finding something more meaningful. Self-nourishment is not just a prescription for sustenance but also a tonic for self-renewal;

  • Self-awareness: How little attention we pay to ourselves — be it our health, thoughts or emotional states. We become aware only after — we are hit by unpleasant outcome — be it illness, anger outbursts, negative thoughts. Successful people are supposed to be high on self-awareness. I have lost out a lot in life — both personally and professionally — for not being conscious of my own feelings and sensations (emotional and physical) as they arose before going out of hand or 'losing it' as they say. “Mindfulness” is the fashionable term these days — thanks to the Cambodian Buddhist Monk — Thich Nhat Hanh. But, it is a concept that has been there in all religions since the beginning of time — yet so difficult to practice. Far from having mastered it even to the first degree — I have found that simply being aware does help to deal with the feelings and emotional responses. Wish I had discovered this much, much earlier.

  • Confront the feelings and Seek Help: A natural extension of self-awareness is confronting the issues. Just like we do not hesitate to see a doctor for physical ailments — problems of the mind should not be left unattended either. Over time — I am a great believer in therapy (psycho) and, won’t hesitate to say, I have personally benefitted from it. It not only helps to improve the quality of our own lives but also those around us. If therapy has to be accompanied by medication — so be it. Shying away from treatment can be foolish. I know of many a tragedy among friends and family which could have been averted by timely professional (health-care) intervention.

  • Re-engineering the self — Life is not just about self-improvement. While there is no end for self-improvement — after a while it not only starts yielding diminishing returns but also becomes boring. Ultimately, most of us are not in the race for Olympic Gold Medals or Wimbledon Championship — in our chosen calling in life. Those who make it to the top — high fives and best wishes to them. For the rest of us — it is ok to fall short and yet possible to live happily. But, we can’t push ourselves to a dead end and withdraw from life — which would turn us into losers. Therefore, as we go along it is important to re-engineer ourselves even if in small doses. If at 60 — we remain the same as when we were 40 one has wrong somewhere and need course correction. I have always admired people who have been able to reinvent themselves over the years. The most remarkable among them have managed to do it more than 2 or 3 times — and they are simply awesome.

  • Invest in yourself: Typically — not sure if it is an Indian middle-class mindset — we feel guilty of investing in ourselves, not just in terms of money but also committing time. We have been conditioned to think that anything we do outside or work-space or home-front — we are short-changing either our employers or the family. I think Westerners do it much better. Picking up a new skill — be it a sport, language, hobby or craft — can be not just a liberating experience but also an self-empowering one. I did take up a course recently — my first in 30 years after leaving college — and I do feel a sense of internal rejuvenation already. When one thinks about it — it was just a matter of forcing myself to find time for it;

  • Relationships: Friendship and Socialising are at a discount in my book. In my view, it spreads our emotions too thin and make us superficial. However, it is important to cultivate a few strong meaningful relationships. Never mind even if they are just a few. And, it is ok if those do not last forever — as both should have the freedom to move on, which is a part of growth. Often, relationships are confused with attachment and dependence. Those are limiting factors and ultimately lead to claustrophobia and suffocation. Space is essential for souls to grow. Ultimately, relationships are more about the soul than the mind or body. It is important to realise, and more importantly, to accept that.

  • Keep a journal : A journal serves many purposes. It is therapeutic and cathartic. Cleanses the muck from the mind as well as distills experience. Also serves as a Ledger for counting our blessings and keep a gratitude tally.
Finally, it is indeed all about me. But, without the “me” the rest does not exist. So, we need to sort out ourselves first before we think of helping others or changing the world.

There is a thin line of difference between being selfish and mean. This I call — the art of being benignly selfish.

Thanks for being there.

Delhi's real threat is not Dengue-Chikungunya but Kejriwal and AAP

Photo Courtesy: +ABPLIVE 

Article first published in +ABPLIVE Click here

In India, it is not news until it happens in the national capital. They say in the last two decades more people have died of malaria in West Bengal than the great famine of 1943. However, little has been written on it.

Similarly, one does not see too many statistics on the number of dengue and chikungunya deaths across the country. But, one death in Delhi and boom – the national media jumps upon it like the country is on fire. This is not to in anyway to discount the tragedy or the seriousness of the health scare that looms over the National Capital Region.

Arvind Kejriwal understands this better than most politicians and he has successfully manipulated it to his best advantage since the days of the Anna movement. He realised that an anashan in Jantar Mantar or Ram Lila Ground can get him a thousand times more mileage than a flop-show in a 100 acre Mumbai Maidan.

As a result, Kejriwal has managed to get disproportionate amount of airtime on television and column centimetres in print media, thanks to lazy journalism, than many more accomplished Chief Ministers and seasoned national leaders of long standing. No wonder he fancies himself as the virtual shadow Prime Minister with a licence to comment on anything and everything under the sun – including foreign affairs.

There are two issues at stake here, both affecting the residents of Delhi. First, of course, is the threat of a virtual epidemic which needs to be tackled on war footing. The second is the larger debate about governance in Delhi.

No matter what Kejriwal’s views may be about the powers and responsibilities of the Centre for the civic administration of Delhi, the Union Health Ministry cannot be rushing SOS teams to tackle local health issues of every State.

But, in its enthusiasm to trade blame with AAP, the BJP has missed a huge opportunity to retrieve the moral high ground from under Kejriwal’s hospital bed. It was like the BJP spokespersons trying to shoot mosquitoes in the air when it were the drains that needed cleaning up.

Where are the AAP volunteers who symbolically swept Delhi clean with “jhadus”, the BJP should have asked while hitting the streets with their own workers and RSS swayamsevaks to get MCD and NDMC do their job. That would have earned the BJP gratitude from the people of Delhi and exposed Kejriwal, not just in Delhi but also in Punjab and other States where he is contemplating an entry by AAP.

That Kejriwal is a shirker should have been known to any politically aware observer since he threw in the towel in AAP’s first term in Delhi. This impression was further reinforced when he chose to become a Chief Minister without portfolio.

He has spent his time blaming the Prime Minister and fighting with the LG when not travelling around the country to build a national image for himself as PM-in-Waiting or taking off for Vipasanna and naturopathy retreats. He did all this under the indulgent eyes of the media which for some inexplicable reason has developed a huge soft corner for him.

On his part Kejriwal has assiduously cultivated the media at large and some so-called five-star journalists in particular. Many media worthies have been favoured with coveted positions in educational and other institutions of the Delhi administration and there are rumours about one former editor becoming AAP’s Chief Ministerial face in a coastal State. Therefore, it came as a shocker when Kejriwal tweeted gutter muck at arguably one of the most formidable journalists of our times, Shekhar Gupta, and got into an unseemly spat with a TV anchor.

In the past Kejriwal has not always followed decorum or political etiquette in public life. He has hurled abuses at the Prime Minister. But in using a word like “Dalal” he has gone well beyond his own past record. At one level it reveals Kejriwal’s opinion about journalists, even very senior ones. Whether this has been formed by his own experience and how many “Dalals” masquerading as media doyens he has encountered or done business with, one cannot comment. But, it does smack of there being more to the implosion than can be seen on TV screens.

Here too Kejriwal is singled out for kid-glove treatment by his friends and admirers in the fourth estate. Imagine what the reactions would have been if another Chief Minister had made such a comment. Hell would have broken loose and would not have subsided until the person, however, high and mighty, apologised or expressed regret. The silence of the fraternity is intriguing, to say the least.

There are jokes doing the rounds on Whatsapp about how Kejriwal beat Pinocchio in a lying contest. Kejriwal seems to be on the path to disprove Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote, “You can’t fool all people all the time”.

One can understand if Narendra Modi is giving Kejriwal a long rope to hang himself. But, why is the media soft on him is not only “mushkil” to explain but almost “namumkin” to fathom.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Decoding Didi 2.0

Mamata Banerjee has hit a ‘sweet spot’ in her political career, but maintaining the momentum will be a challenge

Photo Courtesy: HBL and PTI

Article first published in (Click here)

A young female foreign tourist with a backpack in Kolkata’s Maidan area incredulously watches an approaching tramcar. Next moment she is transported in a trance inside the tram — finding herself tangoing with Shah Rukh Khan with Tagore’s “Chini go, chini tomarey — ogo bideshini...” (I recognise you my lady from an alien land) playing in the background. As Shah Rukh drops her in a silhouette movement on his arm — a motley bunch of passengers in the tram clap and cheer them.

It is a commercial being shot for Tourism Bengal’s campaign — ‘The Sweetest Part of India’. But, seeing the rushes Didi is not impressed. She thinks there is too little of Sharukh in the film. Turning to the secretary, she chides him — “Meye ta ke kaat hotey dekhe tumee nijey o kaat hoye geley” (seeing the girl drop — your jaw dropped too) and orders the ad agency to go back to Mumbai and shoot some additional footage.

One cannot vouch for the veracity of this account. Possibly one of those many apocryphal stories. But it sounds quintessentially Mamata Banerjee. It is her grass-root sensibilities talking. Even if Sharukh is doing the commercial for free — the production company is charging a bomb and she wants value for money. As a consummate communicator she knows what the audience wants but now also understanding the importance of slick packaging.

In another talked about instance, the CM landed at a newly refurbished Government Tourist Lodge in the Dooars forests of North Bengal. Though she liked the changes carried out, the tariff bothered her, which she thought was too steep for the regular Bengali tourist. She at once called the chief of Tourism Corporation from her mobile and asked him to reconsider the rates — who dropped it pronto by a thousand rupees. Mamata knows the Bengalis love for travel and she also understands their budget constraints. More importantly she is clear — it is this socio economic segment, rather than the affluent urban elite, who form her second largest constituency after the rural poor.

The new avatar

So, what is different about Mamata Banerjee 2.0? First, she has read the victory as an unequivocal positive mandate for herself (unlike in the first term — when it was largely a backlash against the Left). She nipped the potential anti-incumbency factor of local Trinamool satraps by declaring herself as the virtual candidate in all 282 constituencies — making it a “Mamata Vs. the Rest” election. Her strategy was paid off by the phenomenal win. The message was clear: people still trust her and she cannot let them down.

This is reflected in the self-assured confidence she displays. Much of the old volatility is missing. Though there is the customary criticism of the opposition and centre — it is sans venom and vitriol. There is the willingness for pragmatic cooperation as seen during the GST voting. Scores are settled with adversaries (like a media baron) through silent signalling. Limits are being set for party strongmen — reminding them no one is indispensable.

Second, she also sees the second-term as an endorsement and shot in the arm for her larger national ambitions. The days of being a regional ally in a larger coalition are behind for her. She is not the one to remain ensconced in Kolkata as Didi to her “Maa, Maati, Manush” leaving Delhi to the big boys of the cow-belt in lieu of a few meaty portfolios for her party in the Union Cabinet like a DMK, RJD or SP. Now, she is ready to play for bigger stakes. As some of her close associates have already indicated – “do not rule out” her being a serious contender for the top job.

However, for making that audacious bid — she needs to establish at least two strong credentials. First, is a track record of good governance and development — a la Modi’s “Gujarat model”. The second, would be a presence — however token — beyond West Bengal. For both, she has less than three years in hand.

Instant redress

Bureaucrats close to Mamata Banerjee claim — the work done in the last five years, especially in the villages, is underestimated. Banerjee thinks that has been the main plank of her victory and it is the administration – rather than the politicians – who ensured delivery. Therefore, this time round she has increased her reliance on bureaucrats over politicians. Much talked about in government circles are her Saturday “classes” at her Kalighat residence — where she is known to often read the riot act to errant party members.

Taking a leaf from the book of neighbour Nitish Kumar — she travels to the districts with secretaries in tow. Issues raised by local constituents are assigned to concerned departments — who are held accountable for execution of projects. Decision is instant. Officers are enjoying the new empowerment.

Banerjee realises – quick wins will come from services. Hence, the emphases on sectors like tourism. But, she also knows people would like to see new industries on the ground. Attracting industrialists to come from outside and inviting FDI may be fashionable but not going to be easy. Many expect her to “bite the bullet” on land acquisition in her second term but, doubt if she will risk it before 2019.

Besides, land alone will not solve the problem of industrialisation. The introduction of GST may further whittle the incentive for setting up manufacturing base in Bengal. On software, Bengal has missed the bus long ago. Possibly, the Kerala model could also well work for Bengal — where the economy thrives on repatriated earnings and service industries like education, healthcare and tourism.

Add to that tea, food processing, handicrafts and fish (both sea and inland pisciculture) and one could have a winning formula. With investment in education — West Bengal can become a major exporter of skilled and knowledge workers. Health-care can attract medical tourists. These are areas where local entrepreneurs may also be more amenable to putting their money.

Ramping up tourism

It may be argued that some of these are already happening. Sadly, today West Bengal is a source of low-skilled manpower — among them a large number are just transiting population moving from across the border. Young Bengalis go to other states for higher education in engineering and medicine — then settle in new employment hubs like Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune and Gurgaon. Older Bengalis flock to Chennai and Vellore for Medical treatment.

In tourism statistics Bengal claims to get higher number of Foreign Tourists than Kerala. But it is not difficult to guess where they come from. Domestic tourist numbers are high, too, but even they are largely intra-State budget travellers and pilgrims.

High-end tourism too will need investment and infrastructure. But, there are some low-hanging fruits — Sunderbans, Dooars and the Hills. Well marketed with a proper tourism policy and quality assurance process — Sharukh’s tango just may work.

Whether Bengal is the Sweetest Part of India or not Mamata has certainly hit a ‘sweet spot’ in her political career and she knows it. Renaming the state from West Bengal to Bangla is a declaration of her ascent.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

It's now The Rest Vs BJP everywhere

Photo Courtesy +ABP NEWS 

Article first published in +ABP NEWS Click here to read

On arrival at Patna Airport on Friday, the notice of prohibition in the State at the entrance of the baggage claim area was a stark reminder – not of the day of abstinence lying ahead, but the reports of the Gopalgunj hooch tragedy arrests that were in the morning papers. There have been more than 30 reported deaths by illicit liquor since declaration of prohibition in April. In the light of this news, Lalu Prasad Yadav’s advice to drink toddy did not sound appealing or amusing at all.

After a few initial misadventures that invited exemplary consequences (like some well known businessmen arrested from a leading hotel in town where they had checked in for a private tippling session) the city gentry has largely reconciled to the reality of a long dry spell at home. But, what seems to bother them more are these incidents, which they see as symptoms of underworld resurgence in the State, where law and order is on a visible slide with political killings, shootouts, kidnapping and rape making a rapid comeback.

Oddly, among the people I met, mostly from the business community coming from upcountry towns and the rural belt, one sensed more a spirit of sad surrender to their fate rather than angst on the Government or any political party. The spirit was one of “yeh toh hona hi tha” (it had to happen). They blamed the situation on circumstances, saying it was a product of an alliance of disparate ideologies with the sole purpose of keeping the BJP out of power. It is the same motivation that will keep JDU, RJD and Congress together till 2019 despite their inner conflicts and contradictions. No one I came across expected a disintegration of the Government even if it continued to under-deliver on governance.

How would that manifest in BJP’s prospects in 2019? Much would depend, of course, on how “Brand Modi” fares in the second half of his term. If his ratings continue to remain high, Biharis may be inclined to vote very differently from how they did in the Assembly election, overriding caste equations. That is when the role of local dons and warlords will become critical. With Nitish Kumar making no secret of his ambition to shift court from Pataliputra to Indraprastha, it is doubtful whether his administration can come down too heavily on them as they had done during his first term.

Coming to Awadh, driving down from the new Chaudhary Charan Singh Airport (swanky in comparison to Patna’s modest Jai Prakash Narayan Hawai Adda) one cannot miss the election billboards and poll-kiosks already heralding the elections. Considering the polls are still at least six months away, one may think the political parties are peaking too early.

The most visible are of course Mayawati’s BSP (who have declared majority of their candidates) and Samajwadi Party. While the BSP hoardings prominently feature their supreme leader with the local candidate, Shivpal Yadav vies for space with Mulayam and Akhilesh Yadav in Samajwadi Party signage. Congress too is seeking its share of voice with Sheila Dikshit’s photo tucked below the foursome of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Raj Babbar and Ghulam Nabi Azad. Significantly, Priyanka is so far absent in the deck.

Compared to the other three parties — BSP, SP and Congress — BJP’s visibility is practically nil. One can attribute it to two or three reasons. First, it is yet to finalise the CM face of the party. Second, it could be that it is keeping the powder dry for later use. Third, may be it is waiting for the dust to settle down after the Dalit controversy. Till now, BJP is making more news for defections from the BSP to its fold.

One common thread running through the three campaigns (of BSP, SP, Congress) is all have an eye on the Muslim vote. Among them, Mayawati has replaced a large number of her “upper caste” candidates with Muslim faces, hoping to dent into Mulayam’s stronghold. Congress has tried to add a further twist by ‘importing’ the “Brahmin Bahu”  Sheila Dixit, which many people scoff at as a declaration of political ‘bankruptcy’.

What this connotes clearly is that as in Bihar, BJP is also the common “Enemy No 1” in Uttar Pradesh.  Even three months ago, people were unwilling to bet on the BJP. Now they feel BJP’s prospects have perceptively improved. What has shifted the needle is the likely division of the Samajwadi Party’s Muslim base in favour BSP and at some places even the Congress.

This will not only result in greater consolidation of the upper caste vote but also create cracks in the core constituencies of BSP and SP for a number of reasons. First, voters are beginning to see through and become wary of the number games of caste and community in which they feel “used”. Second, there seems to be a fatigue in five-year cyclical rule of SP and BSP. This could go in favour of SP too, especially given Akhilesh’s publicity over drive on the performance of his Government – claiming transformation of ‘Uttar Pradesh’ to “Umeed O Ki Pradesh” – but some of it could accrue to BJP as well with appreciation in Narendra Modi’s political stock in coming months.

But, six months is a long time in politics and much can and will change in the coming days. A crucial decision point will be the declaration of BJP’s CM candidate, if and when they chose to go public with a name. But, there are also many surprise elements– such as flash points among Dalits or minorities – that can dramatically change the course of the match in its slog overs. Though it is still wishful thinking that a section of the Muslim vote will switch to BJP in the bargain.

Finally, in Jaipur one senses a clear change in mood of BJP from incipient despondency to renewed determination. The party has recognised the challenges of incumbency and decided to take it head on going forward. There are enough indications of Nagpur weighing in favour of the current leadership, starting with mega RSS national meets held few months back in Nagaur and to frequent visits of Nitin Gadkari to the State.

In contrast, Congress has so far been banking upon the disenchantment with Vasundhara Raje’s second term that has earned it some wins in recent elections of civic bodies and panchayats. But it still does not have much of on-ground traction to speak of. Finally, there will, as usual, be the question mark on who will lead the charge from the front – the gen next Sachin Pilot or an Ashok Gehlot called back from retirement, like Sheila Dikshit in UP, which will keep it a divided house.

Whether they win or lose, it is now decidedly BJP versus the rest across all these States. Prohibition may or may not last beyond three years in Bihar but BJP is in for the long haul and no one can wish them away in a hurry.