Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The next Bangalore

Bihar has arrived, in international media that is. India's poorest and most lawless state has voted for development proclaims Business Week. The magazine goes on to state-

Biharis voted for economic development and rejected the candidate who had ruled the state on the basis of caste for 15 years. The meaning is clear: Bihar aspires to be like Bangalore, India's tech capital. That brings Bihar into the mainstream of the new India.

Pardon me for puncturing the unbridled enthusiasm of an international magazine which presumably knows next to nothing about political equations in India's own wild wild west. According to some reports, Lalu Yadav suffered a vote loss of only 0.87%, hardly the stuff of categorical rejection, however this being India's coalition politics, it cost him a very disproportionate share of seats benefiting Nitish Kumar led NDA immensely. India's public has rarely rewarded growth or sensible economic policy focusing on more down to earth issues like who is providing free electricity, what is the caste of the candidate, who is providing daaru for votes or who is building a Mandir at God knows where. I , for one , do not believe that Bihar public which as recently as February voted Lalu's RJD as single largest party is suddenly aspiring to make Patna the next Bangalore. Anybody proclaiming otherwise just needs to look up Marxists' non-stop victorious record in West bengal or NDA's heavy defeat despite a very strong economic growth , which by the way did make a nice omelette on the faces of pollsters or Chandarbabu Naidu's heavy defeat in Andhra. Electoral politics in India is very complex and interplay of many factors decide the final outcome but I doubt that development or growth is a very significant one among them especially in India's most BIMARU state.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Nostalgia revisited

Thanks to the generosity of my friend Neeraj I have got a very good collection of Sachin Dev Burman's songs . Listening to these unforgettable gems again made me realise what I was missing. The man from whom Sachin Tendulkar got his name is probably the greatest hindi music composer India has ever produced. Only a genius can compose songs like Din Dhal Jaye(Guide), O Re Maajhi (Bandini), Khoya Khoya Chand (Kala Bazaar), Jalte hain jiske liye(Sujata), Waqt Ne Kiya (Kaagaz ke Phool) and many many more. SDB's music is no ordinary melody. Inspite of being within the constraints of a 4-5 minute time-frame of hindi movie song, his music is capable of seeping into your heart & soul and stirs emotions from within. Fortunately I have this great music now. Life is good.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

IIM graduate murdered for honesty

IIM graduate Manjunath Shanmugham shot dead in cold blood by UP's petrol mafia for doing his duty. Manju was 27 years old and a recent graduate of IIM-L. He was working for Indian Oil Corporation where his work entailed checking the petrol pumps in his purview for any adulteration in the petrol they sell. One petrol pump was reported by him for engaging in rabid adulteration and he recommended to revoke the license of that pump. The result- Manju was murdered in cold-blood by the petrol pump owners. At the risk of sounding callous, I would like to say that I am not surprised, yes shocked I am. Shocked at not why this happened but shocked at why this fine young man had to join a Public Sector Company in India when he could have picked and chosen cream of jobs in Indian corporate world, why if he had decided to join a PSU he had to show courage and honesty when he could easily have turned the other way and why unlike everybody else he did not care for his personal safety . But then these questions are the ones which feeble minded people like me who take the easy way out will probably never understand. Manjunath Shanmugham was a great man and deserves a big salute from everybody who values honesty & courage. May you rest in peace, Sir.

PS: Gaurav Sabnis writes about Manju, whom he had the good fortune of meeting during his IIM days

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Ode to Prabhuji

For lesser mortals Mithun may be another flop hero of B-movies however for the true devotees, who have had enlightenment , he is the one and only true God in a world full of false gods. An ode to Mithun aka Parbhuji and the religion of Mithunism can be found here.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Thomas Friedman's talk

Thomas Friedman of NewYork Times was at Georgia Tech today giving a highly eloquent and entertaining talk on outsourcing and globalization-the theme of his latest book The World is Flat. Personally, I haven't read Friedman 's columns much on NYTimes, ( I usually read WSJ because of its bent on my favourite topic finance & economics), but he is believed to be a very insightful writer & a tremendous speaker. In his talk , he started out with how he got the idea for his book which he attributed to a conversation he had with his friend Nandan Nilekani, the CEO of Indian outsourcing giant Infosys. Most of his subsequent talk was focused on how the world has become a level playing field with nobody having a location advantage any more. Any job which can be done in sillicon valley can as well be done in Bangalore and with a fraction of the cost. Thus, the world has become a level playing field hence the term 'Flat'. Much of what he said may have a ring of common sensical familiarity to any follower of world news, however it was laced with humour and interesting anecdotes apart from his interesting analogy with a flat world which made this talk a very worthwhile one to attend. I came away really impressed with Friedman's eloquence and the ability to hold audience's attention for a significant time. All in all, a very well spent 90 minutes.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Other side of China's rise

China's rapid rise in past couple of decades is undeniable. The country's spectacular success in embracing atleast some of the ideology of free markets is a lesson to many other developing countries like India. However, most of the success of China as a rapidly rising power can be attributed to its unique situation of having a "benevolent dictatorship". Chinese leadership had long ago realised that if it has to maintain its stronghold on power and prevent social unrest then they have to make a serious dent into poverty. It has certainly managed that task extremely well by embracing its own version of capitalism but advances in the free market ideology has not brought commensurate progress in the form of a modern legal and politicial system. Government still is the law, police, judge and jury. This system certainly makes building up infrastructure or bringing about big policy changes much easier than it is in a democracy like India but it also has a huge cost on the ordinary citizens or people who fall on the wrong side of China's all pervasive government. The story of David Ji, a Chinese born american citizen is a case in point . David Ji founded the hugely successful Apex Systems, an importer of Chinese made DVD-players. He ran into a contractual dispute with his chinese supplier Changhong, a government owned company masquerading as a publicly traded one. Ji made the grave miscalculation by deciding to travel to China for settling the dispute even when advised against it by his executives. He was confident that his US citizenship, money & status in US and Chinese connections will guarantee his personal safety. On arriving in China , he was arrested, detained for months without any charges being filed, humiliated and made to sign papers handing over the controls of his company to Changhong i.e. the government (more about this appears in NYtimes ). Ji's is not an isolated example of government high-handedness in China in matters of legal disputes. China's legal system is a far cry from what it should be for a modern , business friendly society. Government rarely loses a case, trials are dispensed with in a day or even less, police routinely tortures citizens to extract confessions and abuses by government officials are rampant. India, for all its flaws in the legal system, still has an independent judiciary and check & balances against the abuse of government power. There is atleast one count on which China can learn from its formidable neighbour, which is how to have a rule of law not rule by law.