Friday, December 23, 2011


Since every pundit, self styled analyst, interloper, philosopher and hack uses the end of the year to inflict torture and trauma on readers with 'annual' lists, why should I be spared the exquisite pleasure of doing so? If you are sadomasochistic enough to read beyond this, I promise to minimize your trauma by not inflicting another list; or a forecast for 2012 (by the way, if you flaunt an iPad, do download the Economist App on 2012" it is free and makes for fascinating reading). I will merely remind you of some words and terms that dominated our headlines and penetrated deep into our moronic psyches in the year that is fleeting by. And I ask you to ask yourself this question: will these words and terms have any relevance beyond 2011, or 2012, or...?

The first word that comes to my mind is 'extradition'. No, I am not talking about the usually ham handed efforts of Indian authorities to bring some old associates of Dawood Ibrahim back to India so that they can be fed more Biryani. I am talking about the extradition case that Julian Assange is fighting in UK. Assange happens to be an Australian whose Wikileaks mission continues to embarrass governments and authorities. America is trying damn hard to ensure that he can't even access a bank ATM and Sweden wants him to be tried for rape. If Assange loses his battle in UK, the word extradition will acquire a whole new meaning. It will no longer be associated with bringing criminals to justice; extradition will become a tool to silence whistleblowers too. Of course, folks in the West can learn a thing or two from China and India on dealing with whistleblowers who become pests. In China, they are airbrushed from Google and Baidu; in India, whistleblowers are simply blown away

The other word and term that I am going to remind you of has an entirely Indian flavour this year. And it exposes hypocrisy and double standards in the Indian establishment and Indian media with delicious cruelty. I am talking about the term 'amicus curae', which apparently means friend of court (given the never ending delays in our judicial system, how anyone can be a friend of court is beyond my understanding). Amicus curae became a – to exaggerate a lot – household name when these friends of court helped the Supreme Court unearth the truth behind the horrific 2002 Gujarat riots. The secular – that is another delicious word that will never fade away from India – establishment pounced upon the words of amicus curae to make Narendra Modi a demon worthy of Hindu mythology. So far so good. But another amicus curae recently revealed that the Delhi Police had deliberately and maliciously and brutally targeted Baba Ramdev and his supporters when they were protesting against corruption and black money to please their 'political masters'. The media merely reported this and promptly forgot the story. The secular warriors who use amicus curae to demonise Narendra Modi went curiously silent. If that sounds Latin to you, then most words uttered by secular warriors sound Greek to me.

Now allow me to go global again and remind you of another word and term that truly stormed the world and took it by storm. I am talking about 'Arab Spring'. It all started when protesters threw out the old and oppressive regime in Tunisia and inspired fellow Arabs in Egypt to do the same to Hosni Mubarak. Before the world could say 'Mubarak ho' to the protesters, the Arab Spring spread like wildfire across the Arab world. Heavy duty columnists in Washington and London pompously declared that democracy and freedom were now embarking on an unstoppable march. Suddenly, the Western media that habitually branded Arabs as terrorists fell in love with this bunch of freedom loving people. Of course, the Arab Spring inevitably turned into a winter of disbelief and rage for the same western media when genuine elections actually resulted in people with an Islamic bent coming to power. Suddenly, the Western media was no longer so much in love with the Arab Spring. And of course, the Indian media, true to style, faithfully repeated what came out in Western media. You see, it is OK for presidential candidates in the US to invoke God and Christianity at the drop of a campaign contribution dollar; but is unforgivable for the children of Arab Spring to invoke their own God. Not quite done, old chap.

Before the pundits could get disenchanted with the Arab Spring, they had discovered yet another set of words that compelled them to pound furiously at their keyboards in a frenzy of excitement. I am reminding you of the term 'Occupy Wall Street' that continues to reverberate not just across the United States but also across the world. When a ragtag bunch of 'misfits' announced that they will 'Occupy Wall Street' to protest the brutality of the 1% against the 99%, most media pundits tittered and sniggered. And yet, within weeks, Occupy Wall Street became a symbol of an outraged majority no longer willing to tolerate the excesses and the tyranny of the minority. There were commentators who said that the movement was incoherent compared to the ideological zeal of the Tea Party and that it would wither away in no time. But when cops in America started hitting innocent protesters with pepper spray, the whole damn thing acquired a new meaning. Suddenly, the hollowness and the arrogance and the inhumanity of the American Capitalist system stood exposed. Suddenly, the average citizen realised that she has handed over her money, her liberty and even her livelihood to a bunch of crooks, charlatans and robbers in Wall Street. Suddenly, from becoming a lame duck, Barack Obama became a President who could win a second term. That is the power of Occupy Wall Street.

After taking you through a tour of Tahrir Square, London and Wall Street, I now bring you back home to the words that really reverberated across India. I am talking about 'Team Anna'. When the government first caved in to Team Anna in April this year, the Lokpal movement acquired a momentum of its own. And when the media wholesale adopted Anna and his often hysterical and abusive team members as their mascots who would save the nation and the democracy, Team Anna acquired a whole new meaning in August this year. Indians couldn't care less about Tahrir Square and or Wall Street. For them, it was all about Jantar Mantar, Tihar Jail and Ramlila Maidan. The drama is still unfoldng as Anna Hazare and his merry band infuse the word 'fast' with shades and hues of a saas-bahu serial that keeps going on and on. When the rulers stand nakedly arrogant in front of the ruled, interlopers and ideologues do become messiahs. As far as most of the Indian media is concerned, Anna is a messiah and they simply refuse to accept any other version. Of course, the absolute ham handedness with which the government has been handling Team Anna has helped it acquire a halo far beyond its shine. Middle class India is mesmerised by the words from Team Anna and seems to be convinced that a new Lokpal will magically eradicate corruption from Indian society. Middle class India is in for a rude reality check and shock.

As a last throw of dice, let's take you back to the beginnings of Western civilisation. Even Noam Chomsky would admit that Western civilisation was launched in Greece and then flowered in Italy under the Roman Empire. Greece and Eurozone became two words that the media simply could not ignore. The fountainhead of Western civilisation, Greece has gone bankrupt, perhaps awaiting another Socrates to start asking uncomfortable questions. And the land of Julius Caesar became a new land of bunga bunga parties where the new ruler Silvio Berloscuni boasted that he couldn't have sex with too many women in one night because he was pushing 75. Shame on you, makers of Viagra. Eurozone is a word that is not going to fade away soon. Nostradamus might say that Greece heralded the beginning of the West and that Greece now heralds the beginning of the end of the European dream.

Bemused Indians like you and me might ponder over these powerful words and the even more powerful events and end up asking: Why this Kolaveri Di?


Friday, December 9, 2011


Now that Maya, Mamta, Jaya and assorted other leaders and ideologues from both the Left and the Right have successfully derailed the attempt to allow FDI in retail, one can only marvel at why the UPA Cabinet so suddenly cleared the proposal in the first place. Delhi is a city teeming with cynics, and this time you have to bow down to their warped wisdom. According to them, the UPA gambit to let the dogs out over FDI in retail is a spectacular success. For almost two weeks, rather than cornering the government over corruption scams and the Lokpal Bill, the BJP and the Left have been exposed as parties who can do nothing else but oppose (That does give an entirely new twist to the term Opposition!). Just imagine, even our television anchors were not frothing at the mouth over yet another pearl from Anna Hazare about making hunger strikes a serial! To that extent, I salute the UPA for having the smarts to outsmart the opposition this time; it was long overdue anyway with the UPA scoring self goal after self goal over the last year or so. This move clearly indicates that the Chanakyas in the Congress may have been down and out, but they are bouncing back! More power to them.

But forget for a moment about statecraft and the art of manipulating expectations. The two weeks of debate over FDI in retail has revealed yet another facet of public debate in India: the ability of pundits to pontificate with astonishing levels of economic and policy illiteracy. I do not have the space to enumerate it all in this column. So please allow me to pick up a few random points here and there and enlighten you over the sheer stupidity of our so called pundits.

One of the major arguments in favour of FDI in retail goes as follows: If giants like Wal Mart and Tesco barge into India, there will be a revolution in storage, logistics and distribution. With their deep pockets and access to technology, these giants will invest in things like cold storages that could transform the lives and livelihoods of millions of farmers. How? Well, more than 70% of the fruits and vegetables grown by Indian farmers is currently wasted because of lack of adequate cold storage facilities. Ergo, that will change since cold storages will ensure almost nothing is left to rot or go waste. Ergo, the incomes of farmers who grow fruits and vegetables will dramatically improve.

Can you be more deluded and idiotic than that? I remember an ambitious policy announced back in 1992 ( yes, 1992) to encourage the setting up of cold storages in rural areas. Almost 20 years down the road, nothing has come out of that policy initiative and more than 70% of fruits and vegetables continue to rot. The reason for that is as blindingly simple as sunlight: there are virtually no roads that can connect the farm to these proposed cold storages and more importantly, there is not enough power generated to keep the cold storages operational. Forget rural India, vast swathes of even Delhi and Mumbai go for hours at a stretch without electricity. There are millions of households who complain that even food stored in their refrigerators rots because power cuts are so prolonged that the batteries in inverters run out. So how do you envisage a giant network of cold storages across rural landscapes in India when there is simply no electricity? Or do you think that Wal Mart will also set up a 1,000 MW captive power plant to satisfy the delusions of FDI in retail enthusiasts in India? Without power sector reforms, these tall claims will remain humbug.

Look at this from another perspective and you will instantly realize the extent of economic illiteracy and ignorance that pervades public debate on this issue, like most other contentious issues. Suppose there is a miracle and vast cold storages spring up all over India so that wastage of fruits and vegetables is minimized. Suppose that then only 15% of vegetables and fruits go waste instead of more than 70%. What then? Any student of basic economics will know that this will lead to a massive increase in the supply of fruits and vegetables in India. That student of basic economics will also know that a massive increase in supply-without a corresponding increase in demand-will lead to a massive fall in prices. That is basic economics. What then happens to the lives and livelihoods of farmers who grow vegetables and fruits? FDI enthusiasts say that the Indian farmer-with the help of retail giants-will find other markets for his produce. But do you know that the Indian law prohibits a farmer in India from taking his produce across state boundaries and selling them wherever he thinks he will get a better price? How about anyone having the temerity tosuggest to policy makers that first allow the Indian farmer the freedom to sell within India?

Now let us take up the rant by opponents of FDI in retail that it will destroy the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of mom and pop stores in India. It has been so many years since retail chains like Big Bazaar, Reliance, Spencer and Easyday have been around. Have they made even a dent in the livelihoods of mom and pop stores. Giants like Wal Mart need to set up huge hyper markets to realize economies of scale; often in so called suburbs because of real estate costs. How many Indian families will pick up their cars, drive through tens of kilometers of jams, fight for non existent parking and then stock up for the month. Or do you think the lower middle class in India will carry huge shopping bags and take public transport to these hyper markets? Most Indian consumers simply do not have the incomes to do bulk shopping. Many are crucially dependent on the ‘credit’ offered by the local kirana that is settled every month or so. Do you really think Wal Mart will start home delivery of one litre of milk, one packet of bread and a pack of Maggi, and that too on credit?

Wake up guys. The entry of FDI in retail will not miraculously transform India into a more efficient and pulsating economy. Nor will it spell doom for India and Indians. The cruel fact is: without key reforms in infrastructure-both physical like power generation and social like universal education-the entry of retail giants will hardly make a difference to the lives of hundreds of millions of Indians who need to move from poverty to lower middle class. So please stop bull……ing and focus on the real issues.


Friday, November 25, 2011


If there was a ranking of nations, its intellectuals and its media, based on hypocrisy and double standards, I have no doubt whatsoever that India would surely find a place in the top 10, if not the top 5. Many of you might have read recently about an intriguing development in Kashmir. I am not talking about protests and stone pelting; nor am I talking about the latest lament against human rights violations. I am talking about the arrest of a Christian pastor Rev. Chana Manni Khanna of the All Saints Church for the alleged crime of converting seven young Kashmiri Muslims to Christianity by offering inducements. The seven young Kashmiri Muslims, who have allegedly embraced Jesus Christ, have also been arrested. Interestingly enough, Jammu & Kashmir, unlike many other states in India, does not have any anti-conversion laws.

Nothing new, you would say. It happens so often in India where evangelists are attacked, arrested or thrown out of the country for trying to convince the natives to embrace Christ. But there is a difference, and that indicates how deeply rotten and hypocritical we are when it comes to dealing with such controversial situations. What I find revolting is that not a single flag bearer and champion of India's vaunted secular legacy has uttered even a polite word in protest. Just imagine if the same incident had occurred in a state ruled by the BJP. Secular warriors would have heaped scorn and abuse at saffron fundamentalism in television debates; perhaps Arundhati Roy would have written yet another masterpiece declaring that she is seceding from the Indian Republic. But in this instance, all we have got is thunderous silence. My point is simple: if the secular ethos of India is endangered (and I do believe it is) when Hindu radicals persecute Christian missionaries, is it also not endangered when Muslim radicals persecute Christian missionaries? I know many secular warriors will take solace by branding me a closet RSS roadie. But frankly, it is time you and I started exposing the nauseating double standards of these secular warriors.

Even more shocking things have happened before the arrest of the Anglican pastor. The Grand Mufti of a Sharia Court in Srinagar Bashir ud Din summoned Rev. Khanna for a 'hearing'. Having found the pastor's explanations unsatisfactory, the Grand Mufti pronounced: "Having failed in what I had asked, we will be forced to take action under Sharia." And so the pastor and the seven young Kashmiris were arrested. The question you and I need to loudly ask is: Since when has the Republic of India given official sanction to Sharia courts? Now just imagine this: what would have been the reaction of our secular warriors if a Shankaracharya (God forbid) had summoned a Christian priest for a 'hearing'? Come, be honest with yourself and answer the question. All hell would have broken loose, isn't it? And let me say justifiably so. For the simple reason that the Indian Constitution does not give any religious any authority to act as the judiciary or a prosecuting agency. If we come down like a ton of bricks on a Shankaracharya or a Bajrang Dal goon for having the audacity to do so, should we also not come down like a ton of bricks on the Grand Mufti for having the audacity to say that Sharia is applicable inside the Indian Republic? What hypocrisy and what double standards!

Many secular warriors argue that it is the responsibility of the majority community to ensure through their words and deeds that minorities do not feel insecure. I am completely in agreement with that logic. No matter what many nut cases in Bajrang Dal and VHP say, I do believe that Hindus must walk that extra mile to make minorities feel secure. But then Kashmir is an overwhelmingly Muslim majority part of the state of J&K. So is it not the responsibility of intellectuals, the political class and the media in Kashmir to ensure that minorities there feel secure? And if they fail to do so, is it not the duty of our secular warriors in the drawing rooms of Delhi to at least say so? But then, India would no longer top the charts in a ranking of most hypocritical nations!!!


Friday, November 11, 2011


Were the matter not so serious and so important to the future of Indian democracy, I wouldstill be laughing my guts out. Yes, I am talking about the firestorm triggered by the strong criticism of the Indian media by the new chairman of the Press Council of India Justice Markandey Katju. And the equally ill concealed anger and contempt with the which the Shankaracharyas, Ayatollahs and Cardinals of the Indian media have responded to the criticism. Before I bore you further with grimy and unsavoury details of the whole mess, let me point out one truly startling aspect that seems to have escaped the eagle eyes of media pundits.

One of the key criticisms made by Justice Katju is that the Indian media often covers events in an irresponsible, and even dangerous way. Obviously our Gods and Goddesses of news and views have not taken kindly to that. So the Broadcast Editors Association (BEA) that represents the scores of TV news channels has slammed Justice Katju by issuing a statement that has been dutifully carried out by all media outlets. But there is a hidden gem in that diatribe that actually got me laughing. Let me quote the August BEA: "The sane & balanced (italics mine) coverage of two recent incidents – the Ayodhya judgment and Gopalpur riots – belies the assertion of the PCI chairman."

Just look at the manner in which the statement reflects the mentality of a spoilt brat who now claims to be less of a spoilt brat. What exactly does the BEA mean when it says that the coverage of just two incidents – Ayodhya and Gopalpur riots – was sane and balanced? Isn’t it admitting in a perverse way that the media coverage of many past events has been insane and imbalanced? Anyone with common sense knows how true the latter is!

Please allow me to bore you to death with more quotes that reveal as much about the authoritarian mindset of Justice Katju as they do about the intolerant mindset of the Indian media. The first is from the BEA and the second priceless gem is from another august body called the Editor’s Guild. “Any criticism made in a holier-than-thou fervour defeats the very purpose it is sought to be made for". Now just pause and think for a moment. How would you describe the tone, tenor and approach of virtually all television anchors of India when they are holding forth on the 2G scam, the Radia tapes, the so called Chinese military threat to India or the so called destruction of Indian secularism because an essay on the Ramayana by A.K Ramanujan was taken off the syllabus by Delhi University? Does the term holier than thou come to mind?

Here goes the second quote: "The Editors' Guild of India deplores the illconsidered, sweeping & uninformed comments (italics mine) on the media and on media professionals by the new chairman of the Press Council of India, Justice Markandey Katju.” Now please turn the clock back just a wee bit and recall the hysteria surrounding the Anna Hazare fast in August, 2011 or its precursor in April, 2011. Was the manner in which every single politician of India was branded a corrupt thief not ill considered, sweeping and uninformed? And I must come back to that old chestnut 'holier-than-thou'. Do you remember the manner in which most in the media virtually formed a lynch mob against you if you had the temerity to suggest that many statements being made by some members of Team Anna were ill considered, sweeping and uninformed? Let me provide you with another very recent and shining example of how an ill considered, sweeping and uninformed Indian media misleads readers and viewers either because of ignorance, plain stupidity or sheer laziness. Now that the dictator of Libya Muammar Gaddafi is gone (Saddam has long gone), the Western powers ably supported by the western media now have Iran in the cross hairs. In a sickening enactment of déjà vu, the western media is going to town about how Iran is now on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons and how the West must take preemptive measures before mankind is destroyed by the Iranian Ayatollahs. What does the Indian media do? It blindly repeats what the western media is saying. Are the well read, thoughtful and historically well briefed leaders of Indian media not aware that this is just a repeat of the lies unleashed by the USA in the run up to the invasion of Iraq? Today, consumers of media have many other sources of information thanks to the internet. And can you blame them for not having an iota of respect for the manner in which this free, independent and fearless media blindly apes its cousins of the West?

Pardon me for saying this, but I always thought that the whole myth about media being objective, fair and unbiased was a bunch of horseshit. Media has always been ideological. If you subscribe to one ideology, you will only see the shameless manner in which the painter M.F Hussain was hounded out of India into exile by zealots. If you subscribe to another ideology, you will only see the shameless manner in which author and activist Taslima Nasreen was hounded out of exile in India by zealots. Come to think of it, readers and viewers are not dumb morons. They will appreciate it if you have the intellectual honesty to openly wear your ideological leanings on your sleeves. But please don’t be holier than thou even as you persist in being ill considered, sweeping and uninformed. That too, when thanks to the internet and no thanks to your best efforts, Indian consumers of media are acutely aware of how many TV channels and newspapers actually take money from politicians to write favourable stories about them (they have always done it in the case of business magnates and tycoons who have the option of throwing product and corporate ads your way). The Indian media might collectively and shamelessly behave like a cartel and try damn hard, but the stench of paid news is not going to go away in a hurry. And readers and viewers are acutely aware of the actual number of concrete steps the Indian media has taken to minimize – forget about eliminating – the scourge of paid news. Why blame only Justice Katju when Indians with common sense nowadays actually smirk derisively while discussing Indian media? Obviously, you will get criticism, sneers, sniggers and worse if you pontificate sanctimoniously about political corruption and look the other way when it comes to media corruption.

And pray, how was Justice Katju wrong when he criticized the media for focusing more on the trivial rather than the important. Look at how the Indian media covered the news that Swami Agnivesh will join the Big Boss reality show! And look at how television channel editors – stung perhaps by Justice Katju – have announced some self imposed guidelines on how to cover the birth of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s baby! It is truly laughable. It is easy to criticize only Hindi and regional language channels for peddling mumbo jumbo and worse. But really, everyone does it. And what is the reason trotted out for this saturation in coverage of the trivial and the absurd at the cost of the important? Well, the market demands it, and readers and viewers prefer such stories over stories on starvation deaths. The logical question to ask is why not go the whole hog and show pornography since most viewers would prefer it over Swami Agnivesh in Big Boss? You can't claim on the one hand all the privileges and perks of being the fourth pillar of Indian democracy and then trot out the excuse that you have to listen to market forces and cater to what people want. Many people want free booze and cash during elections. So what’s wrong if politicians provide that? After all, they too are listening to market forces!

All this would have mattered less but for the most glaring, spectacular and persistent failure of the Indian media: its absolute inability to read the mind of an electorate before elections. I remember as a young journalist back in the 1980s when some pro Congress newspapers gave the party a handsome majority in the assembly elections of Haryana before polling. They even trotted out a fancy analysis by so called market research agencies to bolster their claims. The fact is: the Congress was decimated. Since then, the inability of Indian media to get the pulse of people during elections has become even more embarrassing. Look at how the Indian media kept insisting that it was a tough battle between the DMK and the AIADMK during the recently held assembly elections in Tamil Nadu. The DMK was decimated. I could go on and on with similar examples. The question to ask is: how do you always get it wrong during elections even when the writing on the wall is clear? Quite naturally, even a child would know that is something is seriously wrong, perhaps even rotten.

Surely, no sensible person would agree with the demand made by Justice Katju that he be allowed to become an arbitrary judge, jury and executioner (incidentally, hasn’t the same media been cheering Anna Hazare when he demands that he be made the judge, jury & executioner?). But come on. Lets get off the high horse. Like everything else in India, there is a systemic rot in the Indian media. Hiding behind the rhetoric of press freedom while doing all you can to make a mockery of it is surely not the way to go about it.


Friday, October 28, 2011


Now that Sarah Palin is out of the American Presidential race and Lindsay Lohan probably back in the jail, the whole of America – and hence the whole of the world – is talking about the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement. Sans the sound and fury, this grassroots outburst of rage is about a majority no longer willing to lie down and let a small minority of the elite fix the rules of the game and even the whole system to gain at the cost of the majority.

That got me thinking. Why is India not witnessing a similar movement that can be labelled as ‘Occupy Dalal Street’? After all, if you are familiar with colloquial Hindi, the very name given to India’s stock market and financial powerhouse reeks of fixing and worse. To fall back upon colloquial Hindi, what is the role played by a Dalal in India? And what image do you conjure up in your mind when someone tells you: “ Oh, that guy is a dalaal”? If contemporary Wall Street in tandem with Washington (Despite Obama’s once soaring and now empty rhetoric) represents the worst of crony capitalism, Dalal Street in tandem with Delhi (Despite Indira Gandhi adding the word ‘Socialist’ to the Indian Constitution during the Emergency in 1975) has always represented the worst of predatory and marauding crony capitalism. So with public anger at an all time high, why not an Occupy Dalal Street movement or a movement to banish Dalals from Indian deal-making?

During the early heady days of the Anna movement, when it was the national pastime to label all politicians and all bureaucrats as crooks; and when the brouhaha over the 2G scam was at its peak, I had asked a simple question in this magazine: how is the media so enthusiastically joining the mob in condemning the system even as it bends over backwards to portray all Indian businessmen and industrialists as visionaries and demigods? I had asked, if politicians and bureaucrats have looted you and me in the 2G scam, what about the businessmen who actually dish out the moolah? I am yet to get any credible answer.

I know, some will argue that the Indian system forces businessmen to pay bribes; otherwise they would compete with Mother Teresa for saintliness. Even naïve journalists, NGO activists and political workers know that Indian businessmen are often far more crooked, venal and corrupt than the much reviled class of politicians and bureaucrats. Recently, a group of Indian industrialists made a public demand in a letter to the hapless Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to stop a group of businessmen hijacking the country in cahoots with politicians. Yes, they specifically stated that many of their fellow businessmen are crooked, bent and worse. Did we get any serious debate in the media on the role of crooked businessmen in making India a banana republic? Sorry folks, when it comes to crooked businessmen, our media has more important things like advertising revenue to consider. Crooked businessmen give the moolah to netas; they also give ads!

Our system is so rotten that even Kiran Bedi has the effrontery to portray her patently unethical behaviour as a righteous deed. To borrow again from colloquial Hindi, or Urdu, if you insist: Is Hamaam Mein Hum Sabhi Nange Hain!


Friday, October 14, 2011


A decade down the road, instant historians will perhaps marvel at this paradox: how a bunch of absolutely true blue brilliant people managed to destroy growth prospects for India. Just look and marvel at the names: Manmohan Singh, Pranab Mukherjee, Jairam Ramesh, P. Chidambaram, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Kaushik Basu, D. Subbarao…. Each name is brilliance personified. And yet collectively, these pilots of the Indian economy are failing to prevent a crash landing of growth.

Th e automobile industry is a reliable indicator of what exactly is happening with the economy. And the message from this bellwether sector is stark and ominous: growth prospects are tanking. For three months in a row, sales of cars have been lower than last year. Th e industry clocked a growth rate of about 30% in 2010-11. In the first six months of the current fiscal, the growth rate is just about 1%. Auto companies have slashed growth forecast from 20% and more, to less than 2% this year. Worse, there is now a dramatic slowdown in the sales growth of commercial vehicles, including auto rickshaws. Even a child can tell you that the RBI decision to raise interest rates 12 times in less than two years is responsible for this calamity. Sales of two wheelers – which are not so dependent on auto loans, have maintained a healthy growth rate. It is only the growth in four wheelers that has crashed. Don’t forget, each automobile sold generates many jobs that range from garage mechanics, workers in tyre factories, workers in accessory plants, attendants in petrol pumps to financial sector executives who process auto loans. So such a drastic slowdown in the auto industry is not hitting just the rich and the middle class, it is deeply hurting the lower middle class and the poor who depend on this industry for jobs.

As worrisome as the astonishing decline in growth of the auto industry is the fact that excise duty collections in September this year have been lower than last year. Many economists are suggesting that this could be an aberration. But I don’t think so. Th ere have been clear indications since January this year that economic activity and sentiments are being adversely aff ected. No one is now talking about a GDP growth rate of 8%; most will be relieved and happy if GDP growth rate in the current year manages to reach even 7.5%. Th e opportunities lost for India because of this avoidable tragedy are huge. Better managed, the Indian economy, like the Chinese economy, should grow at at least 10% a year. What does this unrealised 2.5% mean. In purely statistical terms, it means the economy is losing about $75 billion each year. In human terms, the tragedy is even more painful because this failure means persistence of poverty, unemployment, malnutrition and worse.

And what have Indian policy makers achieved by behaving like monetarist hawks? Food inflation is still in double digits, hurting the poor where it hurts them even more. And the Rupee has tanked to almost Rs.50 against a weak dollar – a fact that will worsen inflation. Can any one of these brilliant people at the helm of the Indian economy explain this mystery?


Friday, September 2, 2011


The reverberations triggered by the Anna Hazare fast are still being felt across the country. Even though I personally find many ideas thrown up by the so called Team Anna version of the Jan Lokpal Bill utopian and bordering on the loony, I am delighted with the fact that activism of the kind witnessed last month actually forced politicians of this country to come down to earth and fear the wrath of the people. It was indeed a great celebration of democracy. Though there is one thing I would like to point out to the so called intellectuals who kept harping on maintaining the sovereignty and dignity of the Parliament. If the elected members of parliament themselves make a mockery of Parliament, why single out some activists and outspoken individuals for harsh criticism? Then again, I found it preposterous when some suggested that you and I must contest elections if we want to change the system. Surely, democracy and good governance is not just about contesting elections. Another thing I must point out is the manner in which activist and the self confessed Hanuman of Anna, Arvind Kejriwal, egged on the thousands gathered to watch Anna break his fast to take an oath that they will neither take nor accept a bribe. That was heart warming and touching and set me wondering if the thousands gathered there would actually stick to their oath once they confront the harsh realities of confronting Indian bureaucracy in all its grab and grin glory. In fact, I asked myself if I could stick to such an oath of never paying a bribe if I had to get something done in a hurry and didn't have the time.

These random thoughts made me come to a few simple conclusions that could be, as Rahul Gandhi says, game changing. You and I don't have to contest elections to do all that. But here goes my wish list of a few simple things that you and I can start doing right away to help build a better India

#1: The first thing that people like you and I can do for a start is to take a silent oath that we will not break any traffic rules. A friend was describing a vacation his family had enjoyed recently in the United States. One telling incident from that memorable holiday has to do with his 7 year old son who exclaimed in a shocked manner about how people were actually stopping their vehicles at red lights! My friend, who has a habit of often violating traffic rules, actually vowed never to do that again. I am personally appalled at how middle class and affluent parents brazenly violate all traffic rules at around 7 in the morning when they sometimes drop their kids to school. Surely, all of us can make and stick to this simple oath?

#2: Set aside some money every month for a poor child's education. There are at least a 100 million Indians like you and me who can easily set aside Rs 50 a month without hesitation. Just imagine, if we take that simple oath and stick to it, 100 million poor young Indians who could not otherwise afford the luxury of education would actually benefit from education and perhaps join the ranks of the middle class when they grow up. And don't tell me that it is difficult to find a good and honest NGO or trust that can use your money well. You can always finance the education of the children of your office peon, maid servant, driver or security guard. Believe me, the impact of this simple gesture will be more far reaching than the Anna movement.

#3: Take a pledge to henceforth treat our domestic help in a more humane way. One comment that kept cropping up during the Anna festival was the complaint about the arrogant, cruel and callous manner in which our political class and the bureaucracy treats ordinary citizens. Let's be honest with ourselves: are we any less arrogant, cruel and callous when it comes to interacting with our domestic servants, drivers and other helps? Sure, there are many of us who go out of our way to help them and treat them humanely, but there are umpteen horror stories of educated middle class Indians heaping indignities on hired helps. So let's stop being hypocritical and actually do something about treating fellow Indians in a better manner.

#4: Let us take a pledge not to give any dowry to get a daughter married off to someone who has got a plum government job where the scope of corruption is huge. Once again, we berate corruption in bureaucracy in public discourse, but make our actual feelings and intentions clear by relentlessly chasing grooms with cushy government jobs. You could say that this kind of thing happens less frequently now because many youngsters now opt for the private sector. But the fact is: we could send a huge moral signal to the marketplace for grooms that buying grooms is passé.

#5: Let us take an oath to actually go out and vote during elections of all types. I still recall the hysteria that was generated amongst the chatteratti after 26/11 convulsed India. There were countless TV debates and candle lit marches. A few months after that barely 45% of South Mumbai voted during the Lok Sabha elections. I think the political class does have a point when it argues that they don't want to listen to hypocritical lectures from people who cannot even invest a few hours of their time to vote. And let us not crib about all candidates being 'bad' and there being no real choice. It is going to take a long time for electoral reforms of the type demanded by Anna to actually happen. In the meantime, can we all go to the booths during the next election and deliberately vote wrongly if we find that no candidate is worth voting for? In Indian elections, the winning candidate often gets just about 30% of the votes polled. What if such disqualified votes also amounted to about 30%? You can bet the ruling class will sit up and take notice and the process of electoral reforms will actually be accelerated. Invalid votes can be as potent as votes. But please, let us at least get up from our cocoons and comfort zones and actually go out to vote.

#6: The sixth simple yet powerful pledge we can all take has to do with citizen participation. No democracy will work and good governance will always remain a dream unless citizens actively participate in the civic process. The simple pledge we can keep is to devote at least two hours every week to do something concrete to improve something around us in a meaningful manner. It could be looking after some trees in our neighborhood; it could be involving our kids to keep our streets clean, it could mean teaching a few poor children... the possibilities are endless.

Not one of these oaths or pledges will make any outward difference to our lives or our lifestyles. But they will go a long way towards building a cleaner and better India. So, for a change, can we move away from constantly cribbing and doing something?


Friday, August 19, 2011


It is simply mind-boggling – the manner in which the GMR group is allowed to get away with anything. Just recently – on August 7, 2011 – the 'most modern and sophisticated' T3 terminal of Delhi Airport that is being run by a consortium led by GMR, went on the blink for more than 5 hours due to a power failure. Sure, there were allegedly enough back-up generators to take care of the blip. But for some strange reason; the back-up failed and thousands of passengers were left literally groping in the dark in the wee hours of that Sunday morning.

Put this in the context of a story that was broken by the news channel Headlines Today in late July. The channel used hidden cameras to actually demonstrate how the construction of five star hotels and malls in a 'hospitality' zone called Aerocity at Delhi Airport by GMR is a grave security threat. The news report stated in its headline: 'Delhi Airport a sitting duck for terror attacks'. Top officials of Delhi Police told Headlines Today that no security clearance had been given for the Aerocity. And yet, the GMR-led consortium brazenly continues to construct the same. It defies logic: how well connected can the GMR group be that none seems to be putting a stop to a project that could actually jeopardise the lives of airline passengers and thousands working at the airport?

Then consider this: just a few days ago, Member of Parliament K. N. Balagopal requested the Prime Minister in the Rajya Sabha to ensure that the Rs.15 oddbillion "illegally" collected by the GMR-led consortium as development charges be taken back. Regulators and authorities have long ago decreed that the exorbitant charges collected by GMR are illegal. And yet, no steps have been taken to take the money back. Of course, in early August, the business daily Financial Express carried a story stating that the GMR-led consortium had defaulted on interest payments on loans taken for the project for the third consecutive month. I am compelled to repeat my question: how well connected is the GMR group?

There is more. The media has stated that the GMR consortium is spinning off 11 joint ventures that will look at the 'non-core' aspects of the airport like food, hospitality, retail, cargo services and so on. The consortium is obliged to share 46% of its revenues with the Airports Authority of India. But much revenue will be swallowed up by the joint ventures, with AAI ending up the loser. It has also been pointed out repeatedly that these joint ventures will again fleece passengers by fixing or hiking 'charges'. Nothing; no action has been taken against GMR on this front too!

Has GMR been punished? Far from it. It was recently awarded a Rs.55 billion contract to improve the 555 km highway linking Kishangarh and Jaipur with Ahmedabad. By doing this: the message that is going out very loudly and very clearly, is that you can violate every norm, every rule; you can cheat and fleece passengers; you can even put their lives in jeopardy. But if you are well-connected like the GMR group surely must be, you will be rewarded rather than punished for your follies!

If this is not crony capitalism, what is?


Friday, August 5, 2011


When bad news comes cascading down like torrential rainfall during monsoon, it is very easy to ignore good news. Something similar is happening in India where scams, scandals, political logjams and widespread fears of an economic slowdown – even as inflation rages on – have become the staple of media outlets. So it was not very surprising when the phenomenal growth delivered on the export front was reported in a matter of fact manner, and then consigned to that dustbin called stale news!

But I personally think that the export performance delivered by the Indian economy is not just a silver lining; it holds the promise of transforming India’s economy and its employment generation potential in this decade.

The facts first. In June 2011, the value of exports from India virtually touched $30 billion – up more than 46% compared to the same month in 2010. If you take the first quarter as a whole, the value of exports from India approached $80 billion – an increase of about 45% as compared to the April-June quarter last year. Even die-hard pessimists now agree that Indian exports will cross $300 billion in the current fiscal. This spectacular performance despite two powerfully inhibiting factors: the uncertainty and continued sluggishness in the global economy, particularly Europe and North America and the high rates of inflation in India that should make Indian exports less competitive.

There are two potentially game changing trends visible if you examine the trade figures a little closely. The first: Europe and America now account for just one-third of the total value of exports from India. Clearly, Indian exporters have been smart and have diversified their portfolio of destinations. The second, even more important trend is the fact that exports of products were double the exports of services in the April-June quarter. For long, everyone seems to have swallowed the myth that India will forever be the back office of the world, even as China continues to be the factory. There definitely was some merit in that argument in the past, but you cannot deny facts which indicate a startling structural change in the Indian economy. The fact is that manufacturing is growing and at a healthy rate. This is absolutely crucial for employment generation.

Just one policy announcement from the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh can make this export miracle a genuine and sustainable reality for this decade and beyond. Labour reforms in India have been largely stuck for about two decades because they are politically sensitive and pampered and powerful unions (that account for just about 3% of the total work force in India) have stalled them. Yet, imagine what could happen if Dr. Manmohan Singh announces that his government will guarantee the salaries of workers in key export industries like textiles, ready made garments, leather and others? The actual cost to the government will not be huge; but there will be a massive increase in investments in these key sectors to propel exports. Just the number of new jobs that will be created as a result – along with schemes like NREGA – will ensure that the UPA will continue to lord it over India. And who says there is no money to finance this game-changing export policy?


Friday, July 22, 2011


No doubt the High Court of Allahabad – and even the Supreme Court a few weeks ago – has delivered justice for farmers in what is euphemistically called Noida Extension. Very briefly, the government had invoked a law dating back to the colonial era to de facto grab land belonging to farmers at throwaway prices in 'public interest'. Farmers were paid about Rs.800 per square meter for land; in turn, the Greater Noida Industrial Development Authority sold the land acquired for 'industrial units' to real estate developers at a minimum of Rs.10,000 per square meter. In turn, builders sold flats to middle class investors in search of a dream house at prices starting at Rs.25,000 per square meter. So the price paid by a middle-class home buyer was at least 30 times more than what the farmer was given. Clearly, this was bizarre and in defiance of common sense, apart from basic principles of justice. By declaring such land acquisition null and void, the courts have hopefully halted a nationwide trend where governments grabbed land from farmers to enrich builders and industrialists. Hopefully, this series of judgements will set a precedent and governments might be forced to stop indulging in the very worst kind of crony capitalism. This series of verdicts has already triggered another debate about the colonial era policy of land acquisition in India. A Bill to change the Land Acquisition Policy is waiting to be debated in the Parliament and the controversy will attract many comments and columns.

But I want to focus on the plight of the hapless middle-class investors and Shylock-like behaviour of commercial banks. The media is replete with callous statements from heads of banks saying that people who have taken loansto invest in these houses in Noida Extension have no choice but to keep paying the EMIs – even if they have no hope whatsoever of getting their dream houses. Some investors might be lucky to get a refund from builders because the Supreme Court has so directed (Can you imagine builders voluntarily refunding money?). But even they will have to forfeit the huge amounts of interest they have already paid to the banks. Quite simply, the banks are behaving like highway robbers and taking refuge under perverse agreements and fine prints. The fact is: the banks must have been aware that the projects were controversial and that there was litigation involved in the housing schemes. Knowing the risks, they merrily lent money to home buyers at exorbitant rates of interest. And now that the courts have stopped one part of the robbery, the banks continue to persist with their brand of loot.

Anyone saddled with credit card debt knows how banks in India behave as badly as evil moneylenders from old Bollywood movies. Everyone knows how banks send goons and thugs to people's houses and offices if there is a default on consumer loans. Everyone knows how banks behave in the most unethical manner by using glib salesmen to sell dubious financial products and hoodwink investors. All of us know that. And it is high time the banks were forced to change from being highway robbers to smart and profitable businesses.


Friday, June 24, 2011


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, June 10, 2011


The word 'Seven' conjures up many images and perceptions. There was that classic Hollywood western named The Magnificent Seven; there was yet another classic called Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. And of course, who can forget the Seven Year Itch? Recently, pundit after pundit wrote on how the bedraggled Manmohan Singh regime completed two turbulent years in office. Actually, the UPA regime has completed seven years in office. Which is why I am doing some stupid, loud thinking about the word seven. Should the term 'Seven Year Itch' apply to seven years of UPA rule? Actually, most of you would agree with me that a more apt term could well be Saat Khoon Maaf.

But since the UPA regime is so obsessed with the protection of minority rights in India and since Christianity is a minority religion in India, I would respectfully borrow something from Christianity to describe the seven years of the UPA regime. Yes, I am indeed talking about the Seven Deadly Sins. Don’t bother to Google it. Here are the Seven Deadly Sins in black and white: Greed, Lust, Sloth, Envy, Pride, Wrath and Gluttony.

Let's start with Greed and Gluttony. Now, corruption is not something that can simply be wished away from India, no matter what our idealists and activists want. We – as citizens – have got so used to bribing our way through shortcuts that big ticket corruption does not really trigger genuine, moral indignation or revulsion. Yet, so monstrous and gargantuan have been the greed and gluttony of the Manmohan Singh regime that even cranky and whimsical mavericks like Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev have become bigger stars than Shah Rukh, Salmaan and Aamir. There is palpable public anger at the levels of corruption practiced by top leaders of the regime. Sure, you have brave spokespersons of the Congress tirelessly repeating the lie that it is this regime that has sent A. Raja and Suresh Kalmadi to jail. Sure, many gullible Indians will believe this lie if you keep repeating it. But the fact is, the regime did absolutely nothing about the 2G and the Commonwealth (CWG) scams for months, even though the whole world was talking about the plunder and loot going on. The fact is, it is the Supreme Court which virtually forced a very reluctant Manmohan Singh government to act. Then again, Congress bootlickers in the media – and there are plenty of them – keep spreading the canard that corrupt coalition partners in the UPA are a necessary evil that the Congress has to tolerate since it does not have a majority of its own. They don’t tell you that Suresh Kalmadi is very much a Congressman. There are many things that hacks like me know about but cannot write about because of lack of evidence. Suffice to say that the UPA regime is riddled with rotten corruption at the top and the Indian citizen is finally seeing through the idiotic smokescreen of a truth that Manmohan Singh himself is genuinely honest. Without a shadow of doubt, Greed and Gluttony would top the charts when it comes to analyzing the preceding seven years of the UPA regime with the Seven Deadly Sins.

If Greed and Gluttony are the chart-busting metaphors of seven years of UPA, Sloth is not very far away. I still remember that day in 2008 when serial bomb blasts had shaken up and frightened Delhi (This was before 26/11). The most honourable Shivraj Patil was the Union Home Minister. Do you remember what he did after hearing about the bomb blasts and the death toll and the panic? Well, he went to change into a more natty attire before addressing TV cameras. Even more laughable – and tragic – was the petulant manner in which he defended that act in a television interview! Do remember, Shivraj Patil had badly lost the Lok Sabha elections in 2004. And yet, he was made the Union Home Minister. And his masterfully slothful performance for more than four years, as India was struck year after year by Pakistan sponsored terrorists and the heartland of India was ravaged by Maoists, reflects the peculiar inertia that grips the UPA regime when it comes to taking concrete action. In fact, the UPA regime has actually set a kind of world record by forming God knows how many Empowered Groups of Ministers (EGOMs) to take a call on major policy issues confronting India. Strangely, absolutely nothing is done by these so called EGOMs. Back in May 2004, when Manmohan Singh appeared both smug and surprised at having the prime ministership thrust upon him, his solemn promise to the nation was rapid action on administrative reforms. As a former bureaucrat who has often been more loyal than the king – or queen – Manmohan Singh knows how badly India needs administrative reforms. Yet, in seven years, not a single concrete step has been taken to reform, reshape or re-energize India’s slothful and rotten bureaucracy. The fact is that the so called 'Empowered' group is hopelessly disempowered. The real power lies with an unelected and unaccountable body called the National Advisory Council. Yet, to give credit to the NAC, it has at least given the Right to Information Act and the NREGA to India. Warts and all, they are still movements on the positive side.

The next two Deadly Sins that have been the hallmarks of the UPA regime are envy and lust. I would define lust as hankering after something that is not legitimately yours – directly the result of uncontrolled envy. And I would blame the Congress the most for these Deadly Sins. Let us go back to the early years of the UPA regime after it won a surprising semi-mandate in 2004. Lalu Prasad Yadav – then a staunch ally – actually lost the assembly elections in Bihar. But he, and the Congress, were in no mood to accept Nitish Kumar as the Chief Minister of Bihar. So what do they do? They have a Governor of Bihar called Buta Singh – another manifestation of Greed and Gluttony. Heplays havoc with the Constitution of India, and the Manmohan Singh government spits a little more on it by asking President Abdul Kalam, who was in Moscow, to sign the orders implementing Governor's rule in Bihar. The citizens of Bihar have given a fitting reply to Lalu and the Congress since then. The UPA regime indulged in the same dirty tricks in Jharkhand. And another 'more loyal than the king' Governor named H. R Bharadwaj is now trying the same in Karnataka by trying to topple the democratically elected BJP government. Sure, the BJP government in Karnataka may be deeply corrupt; but does that give the UPA and the Congress the allowance to make a mockery of the Indian Constitution? But then, this kind of lust is so deeply embedded in the genes of the Congress that it probably cannot help itself. Remember 1984 when pliable Governors were used to topple the governments of N. T Rama Rao and Farooq Abdhullah in Andhra Pradesh and J&K?

I have deliberately kept the remaining two Deadly Sins – Pride and Wrath – till the last because they have been the leitmotif of the UPA regime. The pride comes naturally because the Congress has been ruling India for most of independent India’s history. Of course, that pride is now frayed because even the top leaders of the Party know that it can never again be the natural ruling party of India. Lest you forget, Assam, Delhi, Rajasthan, Haryana and Andhra Pradesh are the only states where the Congress has a majority of its own amongst major states. That kind of denting of pride often leads to wrath. I can cite dozens of examples of the wrathful and unbecoming manner in which the UPA regime has acted. But I will cite only one. Amitabh Bachchan was literally hounded by income tax authorities even as he was lying seriously ill in a hospital bed in Mumbai.

Need I say more?


Friday, May 27, 2011


Back in September 2006, when we launched The Sunday Indian, our first cover story was on the likelihood-some would say inevitability of Rahul Gandhi becoming the Prime Minister of India. Back then, we wondered how a Gandhi would handle the fact of being the first Gandhi to not be the unquestioned leader of the Cabinet and the nation. The only message that is loud and clear from assembly elections and bye elections held over the last one year is: there is just no way the Congress will improve upon its 2009 tally of 206 Lok Sabha seats in 2014. The rest of the MPs required to cross the magic markof 272 will be supplied by Mamta Bannerjee, Sharad Pawar and perhaps even Jayalalitha, apart from assorted smaller allies. How then would Rahul Gandhi function as Prime Minister?

Let's look at the best case scenario for Congress, where it has a chance of significantly improving its tally. Out of the 112 odd seats in Jharkhand, Orissa, Chattisgarh, Bihar and Karnataka, the Congress won just 16 seats. Let us assume that the Rahul Gandhi magic works in these states. Even then, the most hopelessly die hard supporter of the Congress would not bet on the party’s tally from these states going up by more than double. (Do you seriously expect the Congress to sweep Bihar, Karnataka and Orissa that give 87 MPs?) That gives the Congress 16 more seats. In effect, the Congress tally would go up to 230 if you are wildly optimistic.

But electoral politics is different from wild optimism. In U.P, the Congress already has 22 seats and cannot significantly improve; in Delhi, it has 7 out of 7 seats; in Haryana, it has 9 out of 10 seats, in Uttarakhand, it has 5 out of 5 seats, in Rajasthan, it has 20 out of 25 seats; in Madhya Pradesh, it already has 12 out of 29 seats and has 11 out of 26 seats in Gujarat. Worse, it has 33 out of 42 seats in Andhra. After the Jagan Mohan Reddy show, how many of you would bet on Congress retaining the tally? It then boils down to West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, where the UPA already swept the elections in 2009.

The most intriguing question then is: would Rahul Gandhi be amenable to being the Prime Minister of India and yet be at the mercy of temperamental allies? It is OK for a Manmohan Singh to be the Prime Minister in such a situation because he never was a leader anyway. But what happens to the fabled aura and charisma of the Gandhi family when Indian voters see Rahul Gandhi the way he will look after coalition politics inevitably takes its toll? Can the Gandhi family take that kind of risk?

My advice to CEOs of India Inc, start investing in another ManmohanSingh right now. There is little doubt that he or she will be India’s next Prime Minister with Rahul Gandhi playing the now familiar role of being the real power behind the throne. Sad for Indian democracy, but then that is democracy, isn’t it?


Saturday, May 14, 2011


In a recent column, the respected agriculture economist M. S. Swaminathan has described the bumper crop of wheat in Punjab and Haryana as a moment of both ecstasy and agony. Ecstasy because the 85 million tons of wheat output reveal how our intrepid farmers battle against all odds do their bit for food security in the country; agony because most of their efforts go down the drain because of a hopelessly incompetent and criminally callous Government, particularly the Food and Agriculture Ministry headed by our cricket Czar Sharad Pawar. At the moment, India is sitting on about 45 million tonnes of food grains, quaintly known as buffer stocks. As procurement gathers momentum each day, it will not be surprising if the stockpile of food grains crosses the 50 million ton mark very soon. In fact, so acute is the crisis of ‘surplus’ that state and central procurement agencies now claim they simply have no space left to store any more food. There will be the usual tales of corrupt and venal procurement officials harassing poor farmers with demand for bribes. Worse, most of the food procured will simply rot as the government has not managed even the childishly simple task of building adequate and safe storage godowns despite more than 20 years of persistent surpluses. What can you say about the priorities of our system when spanking new stadiums for the recently concluded Cricket World Cup can be built almost overnight under the benign supervision of Mr. Sharad Pawar while we fail to erect simple concrete structures to store food in a dispensation run by the same man?

The most commonsense and obvious solution is to allow Indian farmers to export food so that they can reap the benefits of globalisation, just as our IT, Telecom, Automobile, Petrochemical and Infrastructure tycoons have been doing. But mention the word 'exports' and you will encounter storms of protest from both do-gooders and government types who say allowing exports of food will once again uncork the genie of food inflation. They will say how each kilo of food will now be crucial since the Right to Food is now a constitutional requirement and that the buffer stocks will be needed to distribute free food to the poor. They also talk about how onion exports and one bad harvest led to onion prices going through the roof last year.

Frankly, such arguments are nonsense and reflect the defeatist mindset our policymakers acquired during the dark era of socialist inspired shortages of everything. First, be assured that almost all the ‘free’ food that will be doled out to the poor will be so rotten due to poor storage that it will be virtually unfit for consumption. Second, and more important, such arguments ignore the fact that foodgrain productivity in India is still half that of China. Quite simply, we have the potential and the ability to almost double our foodgrain output to close to 500 million tonnes a year. That one national endeavour will enrich tens of millions of farmer families who can export food even as the poor get enough free food.

But I guess shrinking TRP ratings of IPL matches are a bigger priority for our honourable Minister.


Friday, April 29, 2011


You really have to forgive me my cynicism, but as I see the euphoria over the Jan Lokpal Bill begin to wane, I just can't help recollect that old truism – the more things change, the more they remain the same! I am utterly convinced that even if the so called drafting committee is allowed to meet and debate sincerely; and even if by some miracle people like P Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal and Pranab Mukherjee do agree to what civil society activists want, the law that politicians and bureaucrats will finally pass will inevitably make that law an ass from day one. My cynicism is because our rotten system ensures that even the best of intentions and great and progressive looking laws become a farce.

Let me take you back to 25 years ago when a pre-Bofors Rajiv Gandhi regime was trying hard to reform our rotten system where the few always gained at the expense of the many. One of the laws passed during those days was the Consumer Protection Act. I still remember the hype and hoopla raised over the law in those days. Optimists crowed about how the law will enable ordinary consumers like you and me to punish companies peddling bad products and services. It was said that the consumer courts would be truly user friendly, would deliver speedy justice and work in a manner that lawyers won't be required at all. On paper, that tantalising promise made by the law still holds. In reality, millions of aggrieved consumers in India will tell you how that promise is a farce. Did you say no lawyers? Ask consumers who filed substantive complaints and they will tell you how companies often use batteries of expensive lawyers to browbeat them. Did you say swift and speedy disposal of cases? The sad truth is, pending cases in consumer courts have already exceeded unmanageable levels. Do you still dream about mythical David versus Goliath fights and the outcome? Well, dream on.

The same companies who would quake with fear at the power of consumer rights and punitive laws in developed markets treat Indian consumers like rubbish. Take any product or service category and – despite so called competition – companies in India get away with anything and the consumer gets nothing.

I will remind you of another progressive law passed in those heady Rajiv Gandhi days. It is the now notorious Section 498 A against dowry. You really think it has helped Indian women?


Friday, April 15, 2011


I had taken a short break and gone to a resort at Jim Corbett, where there was no TV. Since I had also switched off my mobile phone, I completely missed out the exhilaration and the hysteria that marked the fast unto death against corruption led by Gandhian activist Anna Hazare. By the time I reached home late in the evening of April 8, it did appear as if history was being created. I forced myself to watch news channels – something I detest even more than reading Arundhati Roy (!) – and was actually spellbound by the spectacle unfolding at Jantar Mantar, India Gate and across India. Powerful visuals of the elderly mingling with the young were compelling and inspiring. Even a cynic like me was moved by the whole thing. I also enjoyed – like most middle class Indians – the spectacle of a diminutive and eccentric non-entity like Anna Hazare bringing the political establishment of Delhi down on its knees. But as I kept switching channels and heard a range of earnest people excoriating the political class and the bureaucracy, I couldn't help wondering at the complete absence of even one finger being pointed towards Corporate India while apportioning blame for the cancer of corruption.

In fact, I saw businessmen joining the politician and bureaucrat bashing exercise and was dumbfounded. I mean, have all of us collectively decided to put blinkers? Does any activist or concerned citizen seriously believe that the whole of corporate India is as much a victim of corruption as the aam aadmi? Are you in your senses when you tell me that numerous rogue businessmen and industrialists are not as responsible for corruption as politicians and bureaucrats? Think again – will you blame A. Raja and his advisors alone for the 2G scam? What about the corporate entities and individuals who actually benefited more than Raja when it comes to pecuniary gains.

Let's face it. If we are serious about tackling corruption, we have to be equally vocal against corporate corruption. Simply lionising all industrialists is plain stupid. Don't forget; the global crisis of 2008 that destroyed millions of livelihoods was primarily the result of rampant corporate corruption.


Friday, April 1, 2011


This is one guy who must be inspiring awe and envy even amongst gold-plated and pedigreed billionaires like Sunil Mittal, Mukesh Ambani and Kumar Mangalam Birla. And why not? If you go by sensational media reports, this obscure stud farm owner blessed with a poker expression and fancy sunglasses, has stashed away more than $8 billion outside India. Currently in custody and being prosecuted by the Enforcement Directorate, the curious case of Hasan Ali Khan keeps getting more headlines simply because the Supreme Court has started asking uncomfortable questions to the Government. There are loud whispers, sly leaks and naughty innuendos about Hasan Ali 'managing' the black money of sundry high and mighty in the country.

But come on: if this guy was really worth $8 billion, do you really think he would be cooling his heels behind bars like a common criminal? That's not the way things happen in our beloved country. My wager is that if Hasan Ali was actually worth even a fraction of that fabulous amount, he would comfortably ensconced in a five star hospital, with a bevy of doctors with impressive credentials swearing on Hippocrates that his very life depends on his presence inside a hospital. Why, if the media (at least some parts of it) and a suddenly active and aggressive Supreme Court were not pursuing the matter so relentlessly, Hasan Ali would be watching horse races in Pune, Mumbai and Bengaluru. Let us be grateful that he is at least in the dock.

But let us also be realistic and accept the fact that nothing much will come out of this Hasan Ali case aft er the fire and brimstone has started petering out and is replaced by a new set of scandals to be lapped up by the media. Some of you will recall the notorious case of the Jain diaries back in the 1990s when sensational disclosures about the stashing away of ill-gotten wealth in foreign banks was disclosed. The matter went to Supreme Court and numerous politicians were accused – either directly or through strong rumours – about being involved in that case of money laundering. The fact is, nothing much came out of that and not a single person of any significance was convicted of any crime or forced to bring back any ill-gotten wealth from foreign banks.

But more than the long-buried Jain Hawala case, the curious case of Hasan Ali resembles yet another notorious caper that emerged from Maharashtra. [Isn't it funny how the most notorious cases of corruption and anti-national activities emerge from that State?] Yes, I am talking about Abdul Rehman Telgi and the brazen manner in which he could print fake stamp papers worth thousands and thousands of crores of Rupees and get away with it. Aft er a lot of hue and cry, Telgi was arrested and tried. There was compelling evidence that Telgi alone could not have done all that without the patronage of political Godfathers in Maharashtra. Most of us know the names of those political Godfathers.

But we actually got to read more stories about the sexual escapades of Telgi and his subsequent tryst with AIDS rather than concrete action against the real masters behind the fake stamp paper case. Of course, the evidence against Telgi was too strong to be ignored and he was convicted. It is just possible that thanks to the direct intervention of the Supreme Court, Hasan Ali too might be convicted. But the real masters behind Ali?

Forget it. This is India, aft er all.


Friday, March 18, 2011



Let's just visualize a few things to get them in perspective. It is June 2008 and the man is attending a Board meeting of the financial giant Goldman Sachs. He is one of the most connected, respected and powerful men in the rarefied world of corporate America. Soon aft er the Board meeting, he calls up a man with whom he supposedly has “strained relations”. Mind you, he doesn’t call up his family or other friends but a man who is allegedly responsible for this icon losing $10 million dollars of his personal money. We don’t know what exactly transpired. But the American stock market regulator the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is convinced the phone call resulted in the recipient getting advance-and insideinformation about earnings at Goldman Sachs and made a killing using that ‘inside’ information.

The man who made that call is former managing director of consulting giant McKinsey & Company and chairman of the Indian School of Business (amongst many other things) Rajat Gupta, now accused by the SEC of passing on inside information. And the man who received those calls is hedge fund tycoon Raj Rajaratnam, who is facing a criminal trial in America. You and I don’t know if Rajat Gupta is guilty of criminal conduct; but I find it laughable the way Indian media is treating him with kid gloves; the way it is presuming that an ‘icon’ like Rajat Gupta can do no wrong.

The accusations against Gupta are not the result of just one phone call in June, 2008. A few months aft er that, Gupta attended yet another Board meeting of Goldman Sachs where it was revealed that Berkshire Hathway, owned by the legendary investor Warren Buff ett, would invest $5 billion in the company to bail it out of trouble. And what do you think Rajat Gupta does right aft er that Board meeting? Why, he calls up Raj Rajaratnam-another founder promoter of the Indian School of Business (ISB) who-according to SEC records-again makes a killing.

Even more damaging and damning for Gupta are wire taps of phone conversations between him and Rajaratnam released by prosecutors during the ongoing trial of Rajaratnam. The recorded conversations clearly show that Gupta had no qualms in discussing details of Goldman Sachs Board meetings with Rajaratnam-including details of how the Board was considering buying out some other financial firms like Wachovia and AIG.

Now many in the media are being unusually charitable and defending Gupta. But I find it difficult to believe that a seasoned corporate icon like Gupta would keep calling Rajaratnam soon aft er Goldman Sachs Board meetings just for casual chit chat. That too when his own defense is arguing that Rajaratnam was responsible for Gupta losing $10 million of his personal fortune in a hedge fund deal. Do you indulge in casual chit chat with someone who has lost your $10 million?

In case you haven’t been following this sensational case and the trial that began recently, the tale gets even murkier. The star prosecution witness against Rajaratnam is a gentleman called Anil Kumar who has already confessed to charges of insider trading and of passing on confidential information about clients illegally to Rajaratnam. And guess who this Anil Kumar is, or was? Yes, he was a director at McKinsey and also an Executive Board member of the Indian School of Business. Anil Kumar was gracious enough to quit the ISB Board aft er October 2009 when his criminal involvement was made public. Needless, he is a former colleague of Rajat Gupta-both at McKinsey and at ISB.

This is the season of scams in India, with the 2G telecom scam taking pride of place in newspaper headlines and public consciousness. You must have heard and read oft en enough about how corruption in India is primarily caused by corrupt politicians in nexus with either corrupt or pliable bureaucrats. You must have also read and heard oft en enough times many so called paragons of the private sector complaining about how unethical behaviour and poor governance is aff ecting the growth story of India. And of course, the media is everyday full of recriminations and outrage at the manner in which politicians are abusing their authority with impunity and refusing to quit unless they are dragged out screaming and protesting.

How many times have you or I read or heard similar outrage at ‘private sector’ icons abusing their authority with impunity? How many stories of outrage have you heard about the unholy nexus between powerful companies and corporate leaders who are corrupt and their nexus between consultants who are either pliable or corrupt? It is not as if we lack examples and case studies of private sector companies and consultants and auditors indulging in rampant corruption and unethical practices. It is only when it crosses all limits and the house of cards collapses like in the case of Enron that the perpetrators pay (See Box on how the ‘iconic’ Arthur Andersen collapsed in the wake of the Enron scandal).

Now look at it this way again to get a better perspective. Soon aft er the SEC investigations and allegations against him were made public, here is what Rajat Gupta did-or had to do-in the United States. He took ‘leave of absence’ from the $1.4 billion venture fund New Silk Route which he had founded. He quit the boards of Goldman Sachs and Procter & Gamble. His resignation was also accepted by the boards of Genpact, American Airlines and Harman International. In fact, even as this issue goes for printing, we get news that Rajat Gupta has resigned as Chairman of the Governing Board of the Public Health Foundation of India. Some of his colleagues in this board are Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen and Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia. But Gupta continues to be the Chairman of Board of ISB. What is strange is the manner in which Gupta is clinging on to ISB, the B School he helped found by using his amazing network of corporate contacts across the world. If he can quit his positions of trust and authority in the United States as a result of the serious charges against him, why is he further damaging the already damaged reputation of ISB by clinging on? In fact, the official response from ISB is nothing short of brazen, something you would expect from the office of corrupt politicians we all love to hate. It says, “ We note that the U. S. SEC has initiated administrative and civil proceedings against our Chairman, Rajat Gupta. We also note the statement of the counsel for Rajat Gupta, which asserts that the allegations are totally baseless. The ISB community is confident that Rajat Gupta will be vindicated. He continues to be the Chairman of the ISB Executive Board.”

This is not the first time that ISB has been publicly embarrassed because top people involved with the B School have been found involved in notorious scams. The other big name that shamed ISB was M Rammohan Rao, the former Dean of ISB. Rao also happened to be a Board member of Satyam, whose promoter B Ramalinga Raju is now accused of monstrous financial skullduggery. Rao happened to preside over a Board meeting of Satyam that took the controversial decision to buy out Maytas Properties and Maytas Infrastructure, both firms promoted by the family of Ramanlinga Raju. The former Dean of ISB, Rao was an ‘independent’ director of Satyam with the responsibility of protecting the interests of the company and its shareholders. Quite clearly, Rao brazenly failed to perform his duty and would probably have got away with it if other shareholders had not raised a hue and cry about that controversial Board decision of Satyam. Even when the decision of Satyam and the Board was slammed by one and all as one of the worst examples of crony capitalism, Rao remained with the ISB. It is only when Ramalinga Raju made a public confession of his wrong doings and Satyam virtually collapsed that Rao quit as the Dean of ISB. And of course, I have already talked about Anil Kumar, the Ex-Mckinsey honcho and co-founder of ISB who was forced to take ‘leave’ from ISB when the U.S. SEC formally charged him with insider trading back in October, 2009. He is now the star witness in the trial against Rajratnam.

The obvious question to be asked is: what exactly is going on at ISB, that is touted as one of the most prestigious B Schools in the world? Is the institution being run by academicians or by wheeler dealers who conveniently take leave when their follies are exposed in public? Equally important, if Rajat Gupta-either voluntarily or not-has quit his positions in almost all other companies and institutions, what kind of message is being sent by ISB about its adherence to ethics and good governance when Gupta stubbornly clings on to the helm at ISB?

This magazine had two years back ranked ISB as the number one B-School in India. However, good faculty and teaching alone doesn’t make an institution great. It is now clear ISB has become a symbol of all that is rotten in Indian corporate culture. Our corporate titans think that money can buy everything. So ISB has a big campus and has got the money to get the best faculty to come and teach. But education is more than having moneybags and wheeler dealers. It is primarily about running the institute with real educationists. However, just like the Indian corporate sector, ISB seems to believe in running itself with the help of wheeler dealers. And just the way the empty headed corporate heads of India blindly follow the McKinseys of the world without questioning their intellect or commitment, ISB has been getting one aft er the other fixers on board with extremely questionable ethics and not necessarily high intellect. It is a shame that they have not yet forced Rajat Gupta to resign. If this is the example it is setting for its students in terms of ethics, the Financial Times must stop ranking ISB in their future surveys. Or, is ethics not important when it comes to judging a B-School?


Friday, March 4, 2011


One of my colleagues in our sister magazine The Sunday Indian, Saurabh Kumar Shahi, has done something remarkable. He and some of his friends financially helped out the families of four youngsters accused of the Godhra carnage, where 59 passengers were burnt inside a train coach. He is very happy now because all four have been acquitted by the court. Saurabh is also one of the first in our edit meetings to object ferociously when someone tries to paint the entire Muslim community as anti-national or as sympathetic towards ‘Islamic’ terror.

The reason I mention Saurabh is because of many recent incidents and public utterances of some political leaders. One who comes to mind right away is senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh, arguably one of the smartest politicians in the country. Let me remind readers that when he lost the assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh very badly to BJP leader Uma Bharti back in 2003, Digvijay Singh had publicly proclaimed that he will not hold any government or ministerial post for 10 years. To his credit, he has stuck to his promise; in itself a remarkable feat in a nation full of opportunistic politicians who are convinced that voters and citizens have short memories. Even his die hard critics will agree that his commitment to the Congress is unquestionable.

And yet, he has been saying things – almost certainly because it is part of some Congress strategy – that are disturbing. The latest is his war of words with the yoga guru Baba Ramdev who has announced that he is about to enter the murky waters of politics. Of course, Baba Ramdev must understand that when he enters politics and targets a party, he is going to get it back. So, Digvijay Singh is perfectly right as a Congressman to hit back. Then again, I recall his remarks about how he got a telephone call from the martyred cop Hemant Karkare complaining about death threats from Hindu fanatics, some time before he was killed during 26/11. Then again, I recall his remarks calling the RSS a fascist organization. And of course, I also recall his seeming endorsement of a book that makes the fantastic claim that 26/11 was a
Hindu right wing conspiracy to malign the Muslims.

My request to Digvijay Singh is two fold: first, what he is saying might be good for the Congress, but not for the nation at a time of frayed nerves. Second, it might not even be a smart move for the Congress to target ‘Hindu’ groups in such a manner. As a seasoned and well read politician, he must be aware of how the Shah Bano case opened the flood gates for the BJP to storm to power in Delhi. There is something called the ‘Hindu’ backlash, which he and the Congress can ignore at their own peril.

Then again, he must look at the fate of the hard line ‘secular’ leaders like Lalu and Mulayam Yadav. Muslims have figured out that the two never went beyond paying lip service to them and have been voting resoundingly against them in recent times. Does Digvijay Singh want the Congress to take that route towards oblivion? He could check out the Bihar election results again.


Friday, February 18, 2011


Ever since Rahul Gandhi made a remark that coalitions are responsible for corruption, all Congressmen have accepted it as gospel and are busy parroting the same from every platform. It is a little more disappointing when a person of much acclaimed integrity (though I must say the behaviour of the Prime Minister in recent times could end up giving a new meaning altogether to the word integrity) like Dr. Manmohan Singh parrots the same line and says that the hailstorm of scams that have been hitting the headlines are because of the compulsions of coalition politics. It is absolutely shocking when many so called pundits in the media establishment swallow this nonsense hook, line and sinker and start giving it some legitimacy.

Let me first point out how we are collectively making a mockery of our democracy and our constitution. When visionaries like Dr. B. R. Ambedkar framed the Indian Constitution, they made two things very clear: the first is that it is purely the prerogative of the Prime Minister to appoint his or her Cabinet. The second is that the Union Cabinet must share collective responsibility. Bot these basic tenets of the Indian Constitution are being openly destroyed by this UPA regime and no pundit seems to be raising even a whimper of protest. When Manmohan Singh says that it is not him but the DMK which appointed the now arrested Raja as the Union Telecom Minister – and he says this without a qualm on live television broadcast across the world – he is openly admitting that the Constitution has been trashed. Earlier, at least there used to be some eff orts to maintain a fig leaf of Constitutional sanctity when allies used to pressurise the Prime Minister for cabinet portfolios and appointments. Dr. Singh has – at one stroke – removed even that fig leaf. Virtually, everyone in India who has any sense knows that Dr. Manmohan Singh is not a Prime Minister in the sense Nehru, Shastri, Indira Gandhi, Narasimha Rao and Atal Bihari Vajpayee were. Everybody also knew he was more a courtier than a leader; India's first 'appointed' rather than elected Prime Minister. A few issues ago, our sister magazine The Sunday Indian had asked CVoter to conduct a major nationwide opinion poll to assess the attitude of voters towards this UPA government. In that poll, more than 3 out of 4 Indians said that Manmohan Singh is even more of a puppet now than he was earlier. There could be no more damning indictment of both Dr. Singh and the state of the UPA government.

The other manner in which this government merrily trashes the Constitution is the complete refusal to follow even the basic norms of collective responsibility when it comes to the Union Cabinet. We have the sorry spectacle of ministers shooting off their mouths and announcing policy decisions which are then publicly ridiculed by fellow cabinet ministers. Surely Dr. Ambedkar and other framers of the Indian Constitution would have thought of a different structure if they had even an inkling that matters in the Republic of India would come to such a sorry pass. Can you imagine Barrack Obama admitting on live television that he has no authority to make or unmake cabinet appointments? What is truly shocking is that all of us in the media are collectively letting this UPA government trample upon the Constitution without even pointing out how insidious and dangerous this is for the future of India.

That brings me to the point about how wrong and false spokespersons of the UPA regime and their fifth horsemen in the media are when they correlate coalitions with corruption as if it is a statistically proven certainty. In fact, if he had read the speech delivered by the late Rajiv Gandhi in 1985 during the centenary celebrations of the Congress and many subsequent remarks, Rahul Gandhi could have hesitated a bit because his father had a very different opinion on the real reasons behind widespread corruption in India. When Rajiv Gandhi publicly said that only Rs.15 out of Rs.100 spent on welfare and other government schemes actually reached intended beneficiaries, his party lorded over Lok Sabha with a brute majority and also ruled over much of India with huge majorities. Rajiv Gandhi kept saying that it was vested interests and power brokers who were responsible for corruption. Tragically for him, it was the same vested interests and power brokers who smeared his clean image with the Bofors scam.

Then again, a quick look at history will show that corruption increases manifold whenever there is a dictatorship or a brute majority. The latest example is the ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak of Egypt who is reported to have stashed away more than $3 billion during his 30 year reign. Most us would have forgotten a colourful Congress leader called Pratap Singh Kairon whose government ruling over Punjab was perceived to be so corrupt that it embarrassed even Jawaharlal Nehru. Then again, there was the Congress Chief Minister A. R. Antulay who was forced to quit his post because of the infamous 'cement scam'. Surely, we remember the allegations of massive corruption-and cases-against J. Jayalalitha who ruled over Tamil Nadu as Chief Minister with a brute majority? And of course, was it alliance partners and allies that resulted in the notorious fodder scam that implicated Lalu Prasad Yadav and his family? In Orissa, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik rules with a brute majority. And despite his clean image, his government is literally swamped by scams.

There are only two reasons why corruption flourishes in India, and both have nothing to do with coalition politics. The first reason in vesting discretionary power with ministers and bureaucrats. The second is the well justified belief of the corrupt that our judicial system is so rotten that the corrupt usually get away with anything without any fear of punishment. So let us not delude ourselves with this stupid excuse that the UPA government is being battered by scam after scam because of coalition compulsions. At least Dr. Manmohan Singh can be honest and state the true reasons for corruption flourishing under his watch. We know – as he himself admits – that he is incapable of doing anything about it. But at least please don't pass the buck in such a deviously brazen manner.