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?