Monday, June 20, 2011

Indian Politics at the Crossroads

Full Version

The past few weeks have seen a saga unfold like never before. The government, the opposition, representatives of civil society, competitors to representatives of civil society, the judiciary, investigative agencies, and of course, the press - all part of a series of actions and reactions which have brought us here today. The situation today is so muddled up that people have either lost interest, or are looking at a certain part of the mosaic with such passion that the entire picture is just not visible.

Let us take a minute and look at the beginning. It started with a series of scams that shook the nation – 2G, CWG, Adarsh etc. At that time, many questioned whether the anger of the common man would result in structural changes for the betterment of the nation. The opposition called for a joint parliamentary committee on the 2G scam and ensured the parliament did not function for an entire session. The government responded with unprecedented action – asking the accused ministers to resign, and not interfering when they were put behind bars. Finally, they even conceded to the JPC demand.

Then there was the wave of civil society representation. Team Anna Hazare decided to sit on fast till their demands on the Lokpal Bill were accepted. The country rallied around Anna, a gandhian with an impeccable image, and rejoiced when the government accepted the demand for representation from civil society. There were some lone voices concerned about building an all powerful organization with draconian powers. But they were ignored. Why? Because the government bowing down to simpletons of civil society soothed the anger in the common man, and that is what mattered.

And, then, finally, there was Baba Ramdev. Baba Ramdev did almost everything right. He brought the government to its knees and played his part as the people’s champion. He had everything going for him, including the government’s actions, until he mentioned something about raising an army against the government. That made the country pause, and think. The government used the mistake to its advantage, dealt with the baba and tried to use to momentum to get back at Anna Hazare & team. Anna promptly promised to go on fast yet again.

So that was a brief synopsis of what happened in the past few weeks. There is something for everyone to learn from what has happened.

For the Common Man

This government has been caught with a number of scams since it has been elected for a second term. But we need to accept the fact that this government has done more about corruption than any other government ever has. There are many who claim to represent civil society. The main reason why they exist is because we have lost trust in our elected representatives, not because we trust these unelected ones. We need to spend more time understanding every issue they take up and what their views are, rather than rally behind them because it helps us vent our anger.

For the Government

The government has not got its due for the action it has taken against corruption, and it can only blame itself. There is absolutely no leader in the government who attempts to connect with the masses and explain its stand on issues. For example, the government today seems like a villain who wants to quash the Lokpal Bill, irrespective of whether it brings about good. They have not even attempted to explain their stand to the people. This is the main reason why the people are turning to the representatives of civil society. At least, they explain what they intend to do. The biggest strength in Baba Ramdev’s fast was that he was in front of the masses, discussing every action with them. That is something the government needs to think about.

For the Opposition

The government has made its mistakes and the opposition has benefited from them. But the opposition too suffers from the same problem that the government does. In the eyes of the people, they are no better than the government. There is no leader who actually tries to explain its party’s position on the Lokpal, or Baba Ramdev, or black money and how it seeks to reduce it. They are too busy disagreeing or agreeing with the views of the government or civil society to take the lead on issues. Also, it does not help that the only major accomplishment of the opposition in the recent past is that they ensured that no discussions were held in the parliament for an entire session, which is one of the primary reasons we are having representatives of civil society standing up today.

No one can really foretell how things will pan out, but one can say with some certainty that the next few weeks will have a strong impact on India’s history. While the optimist hopes that it may result in decisive structural reform, the pessimist can be fairly certain that it will ensure enough ammunition for numerous political battles ahead.


Abridged Version - Article on
the Free Press Journal
Sunday, 19th June 2011 on

Please feel free to comment, discuss and debate. Thanks.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The rising sun

The sun had not yet risen when Vandana woke. It was the day of the month she looked forward to the most. She took the tola and walked to the cow shed silently. Her husband hardly got any sleep after the factory they sold their cotton to started offering double shifts. He now tended to the farm in the mornings and worked in the plant in the evenings.

As she milked the cow, she planned her day. First, she had to cook lunch for her husband and children, and then walk to the cooperative in the next village to buy more seeds. She would reach home only by noon.

The second half of the day was what Vandana was excited about. On the first Saturday of every month Srinivas Sahib came to the village. Srinivas Sahib was from the city, from the government bank. Every month, he would sit with the women and listen - whether the borrowers were paying money back on time, the rains, the crop, almost every other thing that happened in the village since the last meeting. A year back, when the first such meeting had taken place, none of them dared to speak. After about half an hour, finally succumbing to Srinivas Sahib’s persistence, Gayatri mentioned the lack of rains, and all of a sudden, everybody wanted to say something! Nowadays, everyone looked forward to the meetings, questions prepared and ideas thought about. If not anything, at least they could talk to someone who was from the city.

Vandana clearly remembered the time when Srinivas Sahib had first come to the village. When he suggested that families come together with their savings and lend to villagers in need, he was laughed at. What were the moneylenders there for? How patient he had been. The moneylender was looting them, he said. The bank would lend as much money as the villagers brought together, and they would charge a cost far lower than the moneylenders. Why would they want to go to the moneylenders when they could help each other? Then the second shock. Women, elected by the villagers, would be in charge of the money. They would hold meetings and decide who could borrow how much! Her husband, like many others, was livid with rage. Who will look after the house? Was Srinivas Sahib saying that the men in the village could not take care of their women and children? Vandana, like all the other women, had stared at Srinivas Sahib with
uncertainty. She had always felt she could do something more than the chores at home, but this? She was scared. Srinivas Sahib had again been patient. How will you manage this money when you are working in the factory, he asked. She manages your money at home. Let her manage money in the community.

The monthly collections were higher than the previous month yet again. The monsoon had been good. Srinivas Sahib had promised that at this rate, they could apply for more money from the bank! She looked up to see Pavithra, her eldest daughter, walking out of home, yawning. More money meant they could finally afford fertilizers for the cotton!

Vandana smiled. The sun was rising.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Before & After


Anyone who has been watching/reading the news the past few weeks would have gathered the essence of year 2010 for India- Scams. Every news hour invariably has at least three fourths of its telecast dedicated to the number of scams which have been unearthed this year. Rather than analyzing already dissected data on what this means for various political parties, this article intends to delve into a broader and deeper question instead.

Every democracy goes through phases. In India, for example - the phase of debating on the basic foundations on which our country was built in 1947, the phase of the demand for the freedom of the press during the emergency in the 1970s, the often quoted phase of liberalization in 1991 etc. are some of the prominent incidents which altered the course of the country’s social and economic structure. It is this evolution of democracy that is the underlying basis of development. The results of each of these phases have such profound impact on our lives even today. So, the broader question to think about is whether this chapter of scams is just a political hungama that is to fade away with an election? Or does it mark another phase in the history of Indian democracy, the outcome of which will cause changes that affect generations going forward?

Majority of Indians today have lost faith. Faith in the political parties/bureaucracy (2G scam, the Adarsh Housing Society scam), the corporate sector (corruption statistics, land acquisition), the media ( the Radia Tapes), the regulatory agencies ( the independence of the CBI, the integrity of the CVC) and judiciary ( the uncle judge syndrome at the Allahabad high court). The common man does not need the media to know the extent of corruption in our society today. The common man's life involves enough instances that make him more than aware of its prevalence. But this can neither sustain the belief system of basic right and wrong on which our country was born, nor the fabulous Indian growth story that we talk about everyday. There has to be a point where the county will have to take a step forward. What could this step be?

One may believe that this year’s incidents would result in the political parties having no option but to ensure structural changes regarding tackling corruption as the only possible propaganda to contest for governance. This would mean that these scams could result in effective independent investigation agencies and controls, a structural change essential for our country’s continued prosperity. One may believe this would result in a media which not only treads carefully interacting with persons of influence, but also does not shy away from being critical of the objectivity of its own peers. This would mean a renewed belief in the fourth estate, a belief that could make the media a champion of public opinion rather that a medium for political campaign. One may believe that this year would result in a reformed and strengthened judicial system, a catalyst to transparency in the society. One may even believe that this will result in a system that allows a common man to view business as a result of entrepreneurship, hard work and unique ideas rather than the clout, influence and corrupt practices. Time only will tell the role of this year in shaping out democracy's growth.

It is often said that the common mans thoughts can change the nation. It is something which is not really believed to be true in our country, given the diversity in religion, economic well being and opinion. But today, there is a resounding unity in the common mans thoughts. It no longer revolves around the growth of the Indian economy, and neither does it revolve around religion and the freedom of expression. The common man of India today desires fairness, accountability and systems to support the same.
India needs to respond to that desire of the common man. Can it?

Indian Express
Dated Dec 30th, 2010


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Choosing the right pill

“Hey, is the presentation ready?”

Maysh looked up to see his boss staring at him questioningly. The presentation was ready, but that wasn't what he was thinking about so deeply . He had been acting like this for the past couple of months, silent, introspective. His boss had taken him to the side the other week and asked him everything was alright. Was it? Of course it wasn’t, that wasn’t the question. The question was whether he could do something about it.

A year back, Maysh was just another smart college kid who managed to score a job at Abode- the home for high iq intelligentsia. He was excited about joining. Truth be told, he did go a little over board acting like a smartass in front of his not so lucky batchmates. But it was worth it, or so he thought.

Don’t get the wrong impression, work was fun. It was challenging – requiring intellect, charisma and the stuff. Moreover, getting the recognition and the money was like a kick he had never felt before. It wasn’t like he felt he was wasting his life, and he got to meet a really interesting people too. After the initial honeymoon period too, nothing changed. That was the problem.

Wait! How was it a problem? He couldn’t explain it. He just didn’t want to do the same thing anymore. He first tried what anyone would. Party harder after work! Didn’t help. He then tried ignoring it. Then tried increasing his workload. Nope.

Something was just wrong! The thought of going back to that cubicle answering your boss’s question “Is the presentation ready?”, seemed to make him want to just leave the place. Not that his boss wasn’t a kickass fellow (The story of the night of 24th October will come in a later post).

So he started looking around. What was he good at? Software,Math of course!Hmm…talking, I guess…? Cracking jokes? What could he do differently? Along with work he took a course to learn MCing, one on the stock market, another in marketing.

It felt good. It felt like he was heading somewhere (and boy! Did the Mc thing pay off! Talk about wild nights!! Hmm…more about that in the post of 24th October). Slowly, things started making sense. He sometimes felt like he was trying to do a wannabe Neo in real life (the blue pill or the red ?).

He wanted to do something on his own. Of his own. He wanted to create something, something of value. Of course, he also wanted to make money, but that wasn’t the point. The point was he was ready to sacrifice the money he had into something that might not see the light of day. What a rush!

“Is the presentation ready, Maysh?”. His boss looked concerned.

“Sorry Ren. Yeah, its ready. Listen, Ren, there is something I need to talk to you about…”

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fortune at the bottom of the pyramid

While there has been much discussion about the Lat Prof. C.K.Prahlad's fortune at the bottom of the pyramid, my post has nothing to do with it. The fortune Im talking about is not from the perspective of the business opportunity that lies within the lower middle class, its about the employment opportunity that lies with everybody today.

Last year, when my college placements were going on, there were quite a few moments when we would all go “whoa!” over a huge package offered by a company. This trend seems to only get better and better as the years pass on. But once I started working, I observed few other things as well which were as surprising. Unlike our parents generation, the kind of remuneration offered by companies today is not really dependent on how many people work under you or how big a team you lead. In some firms, there are employees who earn more than the top man/woman, even though they are in a department of the same organization.

It goes without saying that I was quite intrigued. So I tried to find out a little more. A friend of mine, who works in a techie organization with world renowned practices shed some light on it. She told me that in her company, people were assigned grades according to how they perform. But going up a grade does not have anything to do with whether you get into a managerial role, or shift departments to get more exposure. For example, if there is a person who is a very good engineer and wants to be involved in coding work only, it doesn’t mean her growth prospects are low. She could move up grades being a software engineer. This means that there could be a software engineer who is a grade 10 working in a team under a project manager who is a grade 9.

To me, this is the ultimate form of a free organisation, where people do what they love and in turn enhance the productivity of the organization as a whole. I remember the famous Peters Princple which basically says - “One always gets promoted to the level where he becomes incompetent”. This system is the perfect solution to the principle. What it also means is that today, an employee can actually take a decision on what she wants to do and how long she wants to work. With the introduction of flexible working hours and telecommuting, she can even decide when she wants to work. Talk about choosing your own work-life balance. It also means that today, she could decide to work in the same position she is in for the rest of my life and earn her fortune, even if it’s her first job right out of college – right at the bottom of the corporate pyramid.

With the lean organization becoming more and more popular, and outsourcing becoming a phenomenon, it makes a lot more sense to pay more for executives from day 1. The idea that Lean organisations need fat people is becoming a popular one, primarily because its expensive to replace them and also because they could eventually specialize in that job year after year and become an invaluable asset at that level. So I think more “whoa!” jobs are definitely for the taking in the coming years.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Work in Progress

It has been just some time since I have started work. Hardly a few months back I was a graduate fresh out of college, ready to take on the world with my brainstorms. If you would look around, none of them seem to have reached any of you yet :-)

Things haven’t really been as fast paced and exhilarating as I expected yet. But today, when I think about it, slowly and steadily a number of things have changed. The most important thing work has brought in my life is the same as any major incident does – perspective.

I came to work with a number of aspirations. Noting really concrete, except the cliche overdose of ambition. The first lesson I learnt at work was that enthusiasm cannot be faked. It is something I am still learning. The only way to do something really well is being interested,genuinely interested, and that crucial factor really does change the way you work. So it seems that the only solution to that is to always do what excites you.

But the second lesson I learnt was that work is not fun. It seems like a contradiction with the first lesson. No matter how glamorous a profile sounds, the bottom line is that when one has to go day in and day out doing it, the charm wanes off. But the beauty of it is that the only solution is to accept from the very beginning that work isn’t fun. That it isn’t fun for anybody, no matter what they say. So, when you expect nothing, you enjoy every good thing that comes your way. With that outlook, you only keep looking for interesting things you can possibly do within the things available to you.

There is so much to learn out there, its simply overwhelming. Another thing I learnt is that there always will be quite a large number of people smarter than you. But over the long run, does it matter so much? After going through a zillion profiles of distinguished people on the net (yep, I do get distracted easily at work!), the one thing I can say with reasonable certainty is that there are just too many successful people out there. Which, I think, means that if you can stick in there, stay interested and put in the effort, sooner or later you are going to start getting things right. There just cannot be so many brilliant people in the planet. Therefore, most must be going through the old fashioned way of putting in the effort and doing things that interest them.

Here, at least in our generation, we are a market that rewards specialists rather than generalists. Having a well rounded personality is not really such a big necessity to succeed. If you are good with people, there is a job cut out for you. The same applies to those who are good with numbers but hate people. Of course, there are careers which require both qualities. But the point is that there are careers which don't. The problem only arises when you seek to be someone whose qualities you neither have and neither want to develop. Then, there will always be a mismatch. Figuring that out, that is, my own limitations vis a vis what I aspire to be, is something I am far from figuring out...

Seems like I have my work cut out for me (for now) after all :-)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

An Update on Life

It has been ages since my last post...something which I deeply regret. A lot of things have taken place in the past year, which I assume would have changed me and my perspective. I regret not blogging regularly so I could look back figure the change in thinking. Anyway, better late than never I guess.

Most people have a fascination towards the world of finance nowadays. I too am a part of that lot. And to satisfy my curiosity, off late I have been trying to discover the secret knowledge that everyone my age is looking to seek - to have an idea of what it is that these movers and shakers actually do. And have I? To some extent yes. But the funny part of discovering things is that you always want to know more... and there are more questions to ask than answers to give, aren't there? And so it is these new set of questions that I'm now pondering over.

The world of finance is undoubtedly complicated, exciting, highly mathematical and relationship based at the same time and very, very interesting. The risks taken are enormous, the gains and losses even more so. From the professional setup to the high profile meetings, from the millions of dollars to the bitter competition, it really is a kick for those who are of that mould. But in the past few months, there is one thing that seems missing in the whole system. And the something is empathy.

Now dont get me wrong, I love what I see. There is something about this world that just draws you in. I cant explain it, but I sure as hell can feel it. And don't assume that I'm saying the place is devoid of ethics either. Its a highly ethical industry. Well, at least the professional ones whom we associate the financial industry with are. But being ethically right sometimes does not mean being morally right. Being ethically right may not be being sympathetic or empathetic either.
Though not clearly, I now can relate to why most successful people turn toward philanthropy at the later stages of their life. The speeches by Bill Gates and the story about high profile CEO's quitting their jobs and turning to non-profit organizations make some sense now.

There are people who are ambitious and there are people who have a passion to do something for the society. And then there are those who are both. Isn't it a real challenge when your job doesn't satisfy both these aspects of your personality? I'm not talking about a situation where the job requires to do something against your principles and the likes. That would make things back and white, far too easy. The question arises when you end up in a job that is challenging, extremely satisfying, something you love to do and have a bright future with but doesn't involve other aspects of your personality. For example, say you have an amazing job that is really stimulating and challenging and you love it but it does not have an impact on the society per se, which really matters to you. Or you are doing a socially meaningful job but it doesn't have the future or career path or remuneration that you are comfortable with. I think these are the questions that will matter the most a couple of years down the line when we get out of college life and the first couple of months of earning and spending recklessly. I guess people don't really want a single thing in life. Each one of us has a certain expectation of himself, and would like to be satisfies that he is able to tap his potential to the maximum. But there are hardly such tailor made jobs and even so, then comes the question of taking the risk to make that jump from one job to another. Sometimes it may involve shifting fields, taking risks like never before.

Another thing that I noticed, something which is quite an obvious statement to make, is that theory is not the same as practice. But another observation that I made is that the difference between theory and practice can be made up for in many ways. In case it isn't, it may result on one not being successful or being just a little successful. In some cases it is made up with assumptions, based on historical data. "This had happened before so it may most probably happen again". More often than not it is made up for by learning, through books, keeping aware or through relationships(professional or personal). But the most successful and beautiful way to make up for this difference is to use all these methods and combine it with a not so common thing called creativity. And I guess most of us will agree to the fact that the more we seem to acquire knowledge and grow old, the more we also feel that we are losing our innate creativity at the same time. Its a peculiarly funny problem to which there seems to be no perfect solution. One just hopes to keep a little bit of both and make up for it with another substitute known as experience.

I have a feeling this post is going to seem like a really vague one to all of you, but its something to ponder about. I hope all of you can relate to it with your lives as well. It may make way for some really interesting introspection and discussion.