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.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Narendra Modi’s Independence Day Speech 

Jor Ka jhatka dhirey se laagey

Article first published in @medium.com Click here

This certainly was not Narendra Modi’s best speech — though it was not sleep inducing either as some have criticised. Yes, it was inordinately long — lasting nearly 90 minutes (as per the CJI’s watch). I have a defense for that — but will hold it for later.

I also respectfully disagree with the Chief Justice that, the Prime Minister should have dwelled on the problem of delay in appointment of judges in the higher judiciary. Pardon my saying so — it sounded almost like a Arvind Kejriwal-ish comment who thinks every issue of his concern should be on top of the PM’s agenda. Judges appointment is certainly an important issue — but not the only issue that is plaguing the judiciary. If the PM had indeed chosen to speak on what ails the judiciary — he might have opened a pandora’s box that may have consumed all of his hour and a half address to the nation.

In my limited view— all mass communication outreach of the Prime Minsiter — be it Mann Ki Baat, Townhall or Independence Day Speech — are guided by a common objective — to make himself heard to the “last man standing” (to use Modi’s own expression) without distortion by Mainstream Media (MSM) — who have not been exactly kind to him over nearly a decade and a half. Unfortunately, not all his colleagues in the party are capable or willing to carry the message to the people — so Narendra Modi has to take the task upon himself. Thus — if the trade off is between disappointing the elite audience or media celebrities and over-communicate on the government’s achievement to the nation at large — it is no surprise that he would gladly choose the latter over and over again. I for one would not double guess Modi’s judgement as a communicator.

However, even assuming the PM did manage to put Mr Kejriwal and some of his friends (like Saba Naqvi — who tweeted that she had indeed dozed off before the TV) to sleep — he did wake up the world with his gentle references to #Balochistan, #Gilgit and #POK. The redoubtable Shekhar Gupta was the first to tweet about the “Tectonic Shift” in India’s Baloch policy — to be followed by others in national and international media before Twitterati took over. By the evening — the TV Channels were primed up with the usual suspects from either side of the LOC. But, the most surprising comments came from Congress — whose former Foreign Minister , Salman Khurshid (of Biriyani in Jaipur fame) — commented Human Rights in Balochistan is an internal matter of #Pakistan.

That Narendra Modi could set the cat among the pigeons by such a light touch (a classic instance of “jor ka jhatka dhirey se laagey”) shows the class he has attained as a global geo-political player in such a short time. For those who actually heard the speech — all that the PM said was a “thank you” to the people of Balochistan, Gilgit and PoK for their “greetings” on #IndiaIndependenceDay. There was no reference to or comment on the internal situation at those places — to get people so worked up.

What he achieved in the process is to openly redefine India’s terms of engagement with Pakistan on Kashmir. Now — as the very knowledgeable and astute — former R&AW Chief commented — if we can only sustain this approach.

It is this one master-stroke alone that makes the Prime Minister’s speech on the 70th anniversary of India’s independence so significant and memorable.

Jai Hind !!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

White Collar separtions — Preparing for a rainy day

Large-scale white-collar displacement at middle and senior levels is a relatively new phenomenon and that too without the safety net of trade unions. 

Article first published in www.hrktha.com click here to read

With reforms and economic liberalisation also comes a loosening of the rigid structures of industrial regulation. A natural corollary of free market competition is allowing greater leeway to businesses for managing their operations. And a key variable of that is manpower headcount.

It is not as if mergers, acquisitions and retrenchments were unknown in India. But, traditionally, they took place within a safety net where primarily trade unions negotiated on behalf of their constituents. However, large-scale white-collar displacement at middle and senior levels is a relatively new phenomenon in the Indian business environment, which both employees and employers are ill equipped to handle. Consolidations, buyouts and exits are fast becoming the order of the day. Inefficient units — often burdened with huge debt — are being forced to sell out by lenders as banks try to get rid of their non-productive assets (NPAs). Home-grown entrepreneurs and promoters cash in on the entry of international majors and global brands as the Indian market opens up. Others simply feel the need to cut the flab, get leaner and fitter in a competitive environment.

This is new uncharted terrain, both for employees and employers. It will take some time for organisations to develop HR processes to deal with such situations. Till then, companies may be prone to handling separations in a ham-handed and, if one may say so, even selfish manner, which can displace many lives and families.

People like to believe that pink slips and retrenchment — like terminal ailments and fatal accidents — happen only to others. But, in a volatile, uncertain and fast changing world it pays to ‘be prepared’, as the Boy Scouts say. Here are a few tips on how to go about it:

Reality check: To begin with, it is important to be realistic about one’s place in the organisation. A periodic objective self-assessment is a healthy practice like annual medical check-ups. As organisations become less patriarchal and impersonal there is no need to be apologetic about putting one’s career first.

Looking around: Part of the reality check process is also a regular market scan and scenario analysis. A sense of which direction the organisation is headed is a critical data point in determining one’s own prospects and next career moves. Warning signals in the sky have to be read early. It is wise to get off and mount another horse while one’s career graph is on the ascendant than when it has plateaued or is dipping.

Sharpening the saw: Very often we stop learning on the job. Being ahead of the knowledge curve is imperative to stay relevant in today’s knowledge economy. So, continuously invest in self-development — both in domain expertise and leadership skills — to maintain professional currency.

Worshipping false gods: Do not get lulled into complacence. Many bosses feel it is their responsibility to paint a rosy picture for their subordinates. Always take blanket ‘FOB’ (Future is bright) statements with a pinch of salt. Critically look at the boss’ own track record of delivering on promises and her/his position within the organisation. Does the boss have the necessary clout or authority to give assurance to people or is she/he simply doing lip service? While trust is important, blind faith is being professionally na├»ve. Many a ‘God’ at the workplace has been known to let down ‘devotees’ in moments of crisis — driven by the age-old instinct of self-preservation.
Timing is everything: If there are signals of a storm ahead, jumping the ship too early may be as much a mistake as staying on too late. Unfortunately, in the tough world of business there are no bravery awards for the last man standing. If separation is inevitable, then it is best to leave at a time of one’s own choice — as far as practical — and avoid ‘distress sale’

Garden leave: Yet, there can be no perfect moment. Therefore, it is important to prepare the family for a rough patch ahead without making them feel insecure. At the same time, one should be mentally prepared to take a short career break, sabbatical or ‘garden leave’ as it is fashionably referred to these days.

Leave on a positive note: Redundancies and displacements at the time of mergers, acquisitions and restructuring are becoming common today. Organisations, therefore, do not hold it against new incumbents and judge them on merits — unless background checks throw up any strong negatives either by way or competencies — or more importantly, integrity. Hence, it is prudent not to burn bridges while quitting or leave in a cloud of smoke.

Rediscover the self: During a long career, we seldom have the time to sit back, reflect and take stock of life. Treat a career recess as an opportunity for that. Dive deep into the self to discover your strengths, values, dreams and aspirations. Re-establish contact with your inner self to get answers to these questions and visualise a picture of what you want to do with the rest of your life. Reflect on the goals, opportunities, enablers and challenges.

Reach out: Empirical evidence suggests that loss of job is among the three major causes of depression. Therefore, do not allow the psychological impact of separation affect you. Granted that is easier said than done — so do not feel shy of seeking help. Sometimes, going on a retreat like Vipasanna can work wonders for individuals. Talking to a counsellor, a professional life and career coach or a qualified psychologist can also be of great help. Many companies have begun to sponsor the latter for parting employees.

Stay positive: Attitude is the key. Many people have found, to their surprise, that such forced separations have opened up new doors that they had never imagined existed before. Therefore, it is important not to lose either self-confidence or self-esteem. Faith — whatever it might mean to you — helps one stay rooted and centred.

Be flexible: Keep an open mind to opportunities. If it means temporary dislocation or living away from the family, it might be a pain worth taking for a brighter future. Above all, don’t panic. You are not the only one to go through a rough patch or a career trough. It happens to the best of us.

Be a hard negotiator: While discussing a ‘handshake’, make sure it is at least made of stainless steel if not gold or silver. Similarly, if the organisation wants to retain you through the period of transition, ask for your price by way of a retention bonus. Either way, do not let HR colleagues (who have their own KRAs to meet) short-change you with hugs and kisses and keep the goodies at the time of saying good-bye.

Don't jump into fire: should you decide to stay on after a take-over, do your own due-diligence about the new employer — especially on cultural issues, remuneration structure and business ethic. There is little point in jumping from the frying pan into the fire. At senior levels, it may be possible to even negotiate a ‘pre-nuptial’ separation package with the new company — in the event of things not working out after a time. This is increasingly becoming standard industry practice, and therefore, worth checking out.

Finally, we are as much the masters of our careers as we are of our own destinies. Tom Peters, American writer on business management practices, said that we are the CEOs of our own company — Me Inc. Let us believe and behave as one.

© 2016 HR Katha

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

The Buck Stops at the LOC

Photo Courtesy / Credit nationalviews.com
Article first published in +Medium Click here

Much has been written and flushed down Twitter about L’affaire Barkha and Arnab — the two most popular and — arguably — respected anchors of English News Channels. I too added my two penny tweets to it in jest (another one) .

Frankly, I admire both Arnab and Barkha — each in a different sort of way. Both have their own distinctive styles — which make people either like or dislike them. They say — a good brand has to create an ‘emotional surplus’ — either positive or negative — that gives it recall and attachment. Marketers call it SSP or ‘self-selling provocation’. Lalu Prasad, Mamata, Kejriwal — all have loads of it. So one may not like them — but still cannot ignore them. SSP is also what sets Arnab and Barkha apart from the rest of their tribe.

So, some people may be put off by Barkha’s Oprah Winfrey punched into Christiane Amanpour style of journalism and others are repulsed by Arnab’s haranguing on The Newshour a la Fox News anchors they allege — but none can deny they have become stars in their own rights and command higher TRPs than their peers in the trade. And, that is bound to make a few hearts burn.

The comparisons do not end there. Barkha and Arnab grew as journalists by the dint of their hard work. Neither of them owes their successes to anyone but themselves. Both cut their teeth in the Television industry in a channel, which is reputed to put a premium on pedigree. Though Barkha’s mother, Prabha Dutt, was an intrepid journalist — she was not exactly high profile. Arnab comes from a less known political family of Assam — but his entry ticket into journalism was his Oxford degree rather than family antecedents like some of his erstwhile colleagues at that channel. Therefore, it is perfectly understandable that both would be driven by strong ambition.

Many believe the eminently forgettable film by Aziz Mirza — Phir Bhi Dil hain Hindustani — was a take on Barkha and one of her male contemporaries in the electronic media. People are almost certain that, the character of the TV anchor Nandita Malik in Peepli Live was crafted after her. It would be a cliche — but not wholly inaccurate — to say, Barkha fought a lone battle to make her place in the galaxy. And, to do so — as Meryl Streep had once said — one cannot be just pure gold but need some brass in them as well.

Arnab’s story is a little different. He was never counted among the charmed circle of the Roy Boys (and girls). His boldest gamble was not just in joining Time Now — but create a News Channel away from Delhi, when news in India is primarily politics. To make a success of it -without having the daily access to politicians in the capital was no mean feat. He fashioned himself as a cross between Tim Sebastian and David Frost changing the paradigm of TV News (whether for good or bad) with Times Now TRPs soaring. That was difficult to digest for his “upper caste” counterparts on the Lutyens’ beat.

From hatchet jobs in friendly magazines (that carried scathing profiles of Goswami as a boss and journalist)- to barbs like “you don’t have to shout to be heard” — when Arnab pulled off the coupe with the twin interviews of Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi in the closing phases of 2014 elections, he became the ultimate trespasser in the cozy club of Delhi media.

The best (or worst — depending on which side you are) was yet to come. The recent interview with Narendra Modi — his first to an Indian Channel after becoming the Prime Minister — was the proverbial last straw. Apart from Twitter tirades — articles were written on the ‘questions he (Arnab) did not ask”. Instead of critiquing the PM’s replies — the ire was entirely directed on Arnab. That something had snapped — was clear in Arnab choosing a business magazine (not affiliated to any media group or industrial house) to put out his rebuttal.

However, it could not or did not stop there. In today’s charged and polarized world — “if you are not with us then you must be with Modi”. And, that I presume must have got Arnab by his new long hair. There begins the new ditty.

Have met Arnab a few times. I have seen very few journalists who are so polite and soft spoken. Therefore, I — for one — was never taken in by his TV persona — which appeared largely put on for audience effect.

Barkha on the other hand has been more touchy about criticism and reactive — be it on Kargil or Radiia. That could be a function of individual personality, but on screen I have always found her to be dignified and restrained. She is basically a reporter at heart who revels at being out in the field — rather than be caught in debates within the confines of the studio. I think she is one who gets the medium of television better than most.

Strident nationalism is the chosen ‘positioning’ for Arnab — while soft ‘liberal’ could be Barkha’s brand. Both have worked brilliantly — while many others of the same vintage have faded away.
At the end of the day — let us face it — Barkha and Arnab remain the two real stars if Indian News TV. Peer rivalry is common in all professions — especially those when they are high profile public persona. Be it movie, politics, cricket — even among lawyers, academics, scientists and doctors.

So, we — the lay viewers — should not get too worked up over it and sucked into their spat. Just leave it the two of them to spar it out and enjoy the show.

And, there is no need to question the patriotism of either – as the Buck finally stops at the LOC that neither Barkha nor Arnab are likely to cross.

Modi Town Hall

Article first published in +ABP NEWS Click here

The genius of Prime Minister Narendra Modi lies in always staying two steps ahead of his rivals. While his opponents are still struggling with Social Media, aping his Chai Pe Charcha or Mann Ki Baat, he goes Boom! and raises the bar with a US style Town Hall.

Warming up by – now almost a ritual – some friendly trolling of the media, he also sent out a gentle signal that he can communicate to the masses over their head. To the opposition and the liberal chatterati, his message seemed to be: I decide the subject of my discourse, select topics that I wish to speak on, at a time of my choosing.

So he set the agenda, and how!

Little did anyone expect him to take the ‘gaurakshaks’ head-on. And what a pasting it was. There were no pious platitudes on respecting all religions or other such homilies. To say more cows die of consuming plastic bags and waste and asking State Governments to prepare dossiers on self-appointed ‘Gaurakshaks’ was a double masterstroke that would have left even his raucous critics gasping.

If he disappointed Omar Abdullah and his close friends in the media by not talking about the ‘Valley’, he must have done so advisedly. The Government is working as per a strategy in Jammu & Kashmir and the Prime Minister would certainly not like to derail it by making a comment which is bound to given a different spin by those, to borrow his phrase about ‘Gaurakshaks’, who have opened shops in the name of Kashmir. Sending Rajnath Singh to Pakistan for the SAARC, he has already driven home the message to the jihadists across the LoC – that the Government will play in Kashmir as per its own rules which are not part of regional dialogue.

By deftly swinging the focus to agriculture, handlooms (Khadi for Nation, Khadi for Fashion) , Smart Villages not just Smart Cities, he quietly pricked some holes in the balloons of his friends across the aisle in Parliament. So, Rahul Gandhi’s speechwriters have to think of something new in place of the tiresome suit-boot. Sonia Gandhi won’t be able to speak just about the plight of weavers on her next trip to Varanasi. And, Lalu Prasad has to come up with something smarter than his earlier ‘smart villages’ quip.

What makes Narendra Modi’s speeches and exhortations potent is the ring of passion and authenticity in whatever he speaks. This cannot be achieved by mere oratory alone unless there is a genuine conviction at the core. Those familiar with the thoughts and writings of Swami Vivekananda would know about his obsession with “preventive healthcare”.

Safe drinking water, hygienic cooking, healthy eating habits, yoga and physical exercise had engaged Vivekananda more than a century ago. One can decipher a distinct impression of his teachings in Narendra Modi’s views on these issues. For that, one does not need an Oxford Economist or Harvard-educated lawyer as Prime Minister, but someone with a heart and common sense.

Of course, one can almost visualise Sanjay Jha or someother bright young Congress spokesperson saying on TV – even Rahul Gandhi understands the importance of safe drinking water – as he always carries his bottle of Evian while visiting Dalit homes.

Talking of “last mile” first, the Prime Minister reminded the States of their responsibility to reach governance to the grass-roots. But, the message is equally relevant for his party colleagues and Sangh followers. Narendra Modi alone cannot keep shouting from the ramparts of Red Fort, Town Hall or Mann Ki Baat. It is also for them to carry the message to the last man in every town and village.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

A Dummy's Guide to GST

GST breakthrough a watershed moment in India's Economic History

Photo courtesy +ABP NEWS 

Article first published in +ABP NEWS  Read here

The introduction of Goods and Services Tax, or GST, is arguably the most ambitious tax reform attempted by India since Independence. It aims at transforming the country into a common market, dissolving artificial economic barriers that create differential tax regimes for similar products and services across States.

It is a destination-based tax system that levies tax at the consumer end rather than at source and various stages of value-addition – which adds  layers of taxation ultimately inflating the cumulative tax impact.

Recognising the importance of Indirect Taxation in a country like India, where the Direct Taxation base is small, GST casts the net at the point of consumption or delivery of service while rationalising the total levy, merging multiple taxes such as Excise Duty, VAT, Service Tax, etc into one composite rate.

GST is designed to give a boost to manufacturing, not only by reducing the incidence of tax (from a current compounded level of 25-26% to 18%) but also increasing the physical and bureaucratic ease of inter-State movement.

At the same time there are concerns about States that are high on manufacturing losing out to States that are essentially consumption centres. This is addressed by guaranteeing States compensation for revenue loss for up to five years.

GST will also radically change the way distribution and transportation of goods happen that should benefit both consumers and manufacturers, ultimately also expanding markets and reach.

Costs of maintaining warehouses in each State and non value-adding transhipment will practically disappear, adding to the profitability of manufacturers while making it worthwhile for organised logistics companies to invest in more efficient vehicles and systems of transportation.

However, in the process of harmonisation, taxes on services may marginally increase from current levels, which would pinch the middle-classes more palpably, as eating out, travel and mobile bills become more expensive.

Similarly, some sectors – like textiles and branded jewellery that enjoy a lower tax rate today will get more expensive. Therefore, whether it will be perceived as “Acche Din” by the common man is doubtful as they are more prone to notice the taxes on service bills (example restaurants) while taxes get easily hidden in the MRP (cost of goods).

However, what the Government is banking upon is the overall boost to the economy. If indeed the expected 1-2% spurt in GDP does materialise, all will be forgiven.

While GST would be a major political victory for the Narendra Modi Government and take away its image about not being able to push through economic reforms, its implementation is not going to be a painless process.

Therefore, putting in place a grievance redress mechanism will be as important as careful chaperoning of the process of implementation. Any setback will be a bigger embarrassment than not being able to pass the Bill.

GST will be one achievement that would vindicate Narendra Modi’s unshakeable trust in Arun Jaitley whose singular contribution it would be for getting the main Opposition to the negotiating table.

But, it will also need all of Jaitley’s legal acumen to overcome the technical minefields that are strewn in the path of the GST’s roll-out.

Interestingly, States have insisted on exemption of alcohol for “human consumption” for understandable reasons. So there is no relief for the wicked.