Colombo – Making peace with peace

A Google search of the “meaning of Colombo” reveals the ironic twists of life. In Italian the word means “Dove” – a symbol of peace!!! Yet it was this symbol which was missing in this city for 2 decades before peace returned 3 years ago. It was my return to Colombo, a city which is close to my heart, after 11 years! In the Jan of 2001 when I visited last, the tension was palpable. Those were the heady days of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka and I still vividly remember the security blanket over the city, 5 rounds of checking at the airport and the locals discussing about the audacity of the Tigers the previous day, almost every day.

This time around, when I visited the last week, the city wore a relaxed look, the weather was great and one can sense optimism all around as the country was making attempts to make peace with peace itself.

Landed early in the morning and the drive from the Bandaranaike International airport to the city reminded me of the drive through God’s Own Country and its coconut palms. Was surprisingly pleased to see “Airtel” signboards lighting up the road all the way and made me wonder if Har Ek friend” was made Zaroori in Sri Lanka as well! The Taj Samudra where I stayed last time as well, gives a good view of the Indian Ocean facing the Galle Face Green and is one of the oldest hotel properties in Colombo. Old it is and I must say that Taj Samudra has lost a bit of its sheen and seemed crying for some renovation investments though the staff more than made up with their gracious smiles.

Sri Lanka by its sheer proximity to our country, closeness of culture and racial origins must be a good market for Indian companies to expand their business. With peace returning to the country I noticed that many Indian companies have been quite quick off the block to sell their wares in Sri Lanka. So it was not surprising that Indian car manufacturers like Maruti, Mahindra and Tata had a good share of the road pie. In fact I could see more “Nano”s firing in the streets of Colombo than in Mumbai, smartly positioned as the “Budget Taxi” ! (I meant Nanos whizzing past – don’t know why this word fire keeps cropping up when talking of Nano!)

Cricket evokes the same passion in Sri Lanka as in India, it appeared. Just a day before, Sri Lanka was bundled out for 43 runs against the South Africa in an ODI (lowest ever score) and in the dinner conversations with my friends, I heard that Srilankan cricket was being ruined by politics! Doesn’t this sound too familiar to us??? At the same dinner, as discussions veered around the World cup my dear friend popped a very uncomfortable question. “Don’t you think that the World cup final was fixed by the BCCI??” My friend went on to add that “20 mn Srilankans were compromised to keep 1.2 bn Indians happy”. Well looking at the way Team India has performed post the World cup one would start giving credence to my friend’s belief!!

Bollywood and its stars are again quite on top. No wonder Sri Lanka is already on the map of IIFA. Most of my friends had already “caught up” with Don 2 and were quite lavish in their praise about the movie and the Don himself. I thought Indians were less charitable!

A quick read of the local newspapers reveal the deliberate attempt by the Government to make peace with peace, about the rehabilitation efforts of the LTTE cadres, the construction projects in the North, the 3 language formula being adopted (In fact 2012 is named as the Trilingual year), .., … I also read with interest the proposed visit of our most popular Ex-President Dr. Kalam to kick off the Trilingual initiative in Jan.

Just at the end of the Galle Sea face – I was told that the sea is being reclaimed to build properties that will Lasvegas-ize Colombo. The country of Buddha was beginning to “bet” on luck or ill luck of tourists to prop up its tourism revenue !!!  It’s my belief that for a country to succeed in tourism, friendliness must be in its DNA. And Sri Lanka has plenty of that. Just on landing at Colombo I found that my pick up from Taj Samudra was not to be found. To my utter disbelief and pleasant surprise, few guys from the competitor hotels sensed my problem and made alternate arrangements for me to reach the hotel safely !

Proximity to India, pristine beaches, natural wildlife trails, Elephants, no language barriers, availability of Indian food,.. all these make Sri Lanka in general and Colombo in particular a very attractive holiday option to Indians. And add to that extremely friendly and warm people. I’m yet to explore all the above – all my previous 4 trips being on business.  At the end of the trip I just promised myself and my Srilankan friends who kept on pushing me to come on a vacation that will soon return for a holiday to a place which is as down to earth as its people as its embraces peace !!

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Anti Corruption Movement Ver 2.0

Team Anna confused, does not know the way forward” screamed the headlines of Times of India dt. 6th Jan.  This was after the Mumbai fast derailed ( pun intended ) and the politicians had the last laugh when after 3 days of some debate and more drama in the Parliament, the Lokpal ball was thrown back to the drawing table ( that’s what we hope !! )

Coming at the end of an eventful year for the civil society, this turn of events was unfortunate to put it mildly.  For most part of the year passed by, the civil society under the aegis of Team Anna was setting the agenda for the politicians.  There is not an iota of doubt that but for the pressure mounted by this movement, the government would not have made the MPs enjoy the Delhi chill longer to bring and discuss the bill to the parliament. So when the going was so good, what went wrong ? Gigabytes of analysis theories have already pervaded the cyberspace on this and hence I’m not going to clog that space further.  Key member of Team Anna, Arvind Kejriwal in a signed article admitted candidly that the anti-corruption movement is at the crossroads today and asked where to go from here.  He also requested people to suggest the way ahead thro e-mail to iacsuggestions@gmail.com. The genesis of this blog came from this candid admission and request.

Crossroads ??? One failed fast and another fast one pulled by the politicians – have they dented the civil society’s confidence ? My submission is that the Anti – Corruption movement needs to be launched as a ” New Improved” product in FMCG parlance or a Version 2.0 in IT lingo. My humble suggestions for Team Anna are as under :

  • The Lokpal bill is only means to the end and not the end by itself.  So what if the parliament passes a “Jokepal bill” or a toothless bill.  The agitation must continue which will expose the political class than ever before.
  • You have asked if Anna should fast again.  The Answer is Yes and No ! Yes – as it is a legitimate non violent method of protest which can galvanise people and at the same time send the right signals across but must be used as a tactical tool.   No – as Anna’s fasts have become repetitive and hence the shock value follows a graph of diminishing returns. Coming back to the question, Yes Anna must use the weapon of fasting but in proper measure and not fasting at the drop of the hat  topi !
  • How to agitate and keep up the pressure ?  Campaigning against “A” party ??? You must not forget that the main reason for Anna to succeed in hitting it off with the public at large was because he was apolitical.  So in the new avatar it is important to stay completely apolitical and not repeat Hissareous mistakes.  It’s common knowledge that as far as corruption is concerned “Hammam mein sab Nange hain” So taking side of 1 political party means playing partisan politics and losing credibility.
  • The best way to put pressure on the politicians is to hurt them electorally. From now on for any election ( Municipal/State/Central ) the moment political parties announce their candidates, IAC ( Indiaagainstcorruption) must do a thorough background check on all the candidates, their source of wealth,.. and present to the public feeds through the media on a daily basis and set corruption as one of the most important talk points in the elections. ( Remember last year’s Tamil Nadu elections )
  • You have so far done a great job in capturing the imagination of the public. One failed fast should not satiate the hunger for spirited fights in the future.  It’s certainly not right to conclude that just because people didn’t turn up, they are not concerned about corruption.  The same agitation if it was post the parliament fiasco would have perhaps yielded a different result. So if you are going for a fast again, getting the timing right is important.
  • When not in an agitation, or not in the midst of elections, your best bet in getting your views across strongly is the Media ( TV & Print ) and the internet. It’s important to understand where Key opinion leaders ( read as TV anchors/editors ) stand on the Anti Corruption Movement and get them to your side. If some of the key opinion leaders are with you, your views become their views and gets adequate air time/space.  Viralling the internet then becomes more simple. ( May be rope in Dhanush or his father in Law in to the team and watch the “Kolaviral” effect ! )
  • Rome was not built-in a day and a crucial bill that too with so much implications on the  revenue model for the politicians will not be passed in a day.  The time available now is crucial to build public opinion against the ills of the proposed bill through the media and internet.
  • Aiming for a perfect law 1st up is being idealistic.  Show maturity and pat the back of the politicians when they pass the bill even if it is not the perfect Anti corruption remedy.  There is always an opportunity to see how the remedy works and change the formulation in the future.  Garnering public opinion in that situation will be easier and if it is a different government in power that time, it presents a good enough reason for them to bring in amendments to the bill. ( though all parties are partners in crime on passing this bill )
  • In the last year, sometimes one found that Team Anna was desperately trying to outsmart the politicians and trying to beat them in their own game. Well, again the Anna factor owes its success to his sincerity of purpose.  Losing a battle is not so much a concern as long as the war is not lost.  So political brinkmanship be best avoided. Play with a straight bat, play with sincerity. Public will be with you.

Wishing all the best for a bug free Ver 2.0 !

Save the #2012

On the 1st day of a New year – 2012, what I see all around is as one magazine called ” The Fear of the Known” !!! 2012 is being brandished as one of the worst years in decades to show up !!!

The build up to the year has not been the best for the world in general and for India in particular.  My focus of this piece is India.  GDP for this fiscal year is projected to be at 7.7% a steep fall from 10.4 % of FY2010.  Government’s fiscal deficit is expected to be at 5.5 % of GDP- up from last years 4.8 %.  Combined with this, the looming crisis in the Eurozone, upcoming elections in the US and the “Work in Progress” Uprising in the Middle East – the only certainity is the uncertainity that is imminent.

The result is that the forecasts for growth for India in 2012 ranges from 6.75 % ( Moody’s) to 7.9 % ( ADB ) the only exception being 8.3 % by Goldman Sachs.  And these predictions were supposed to be optimistic and before the results are out for a worse Oct/Nov/Dec quarter !!!  Most of the Indian pundits have already cursed the Indian economy to be at 6 % which is now touted as the new “Hindu Rate of Growth”

All this has been reproduction of what has appeared in public domain.  So what’s new ? Just reading what the stars foretell for me for this year today – it appears that it will serve me good to stick my neck out and thats what I aim to do here.

My stick out prediction is that India is going to have a Rocking year meaning a fantastic year in 2012 with GDP ending up at 8 – 8.5 %.  Is it just a guess or wishful thinking or I am out of my senses ?  None of this. Its simple economics.  And my reasoning is as follows :

1. As one who has followed Indian politics and its tryst with economic reforms for 2 decades now, our politicians of the day ( any party / any front in power I mean ) resort to reforms when pushed to the wall.  That’s what happened in 1991 and that’s what will happen in 2012.  None of our famed finance ministers or PMs were/ are compulsive reformers. They were more “reformers under presssure”. This is true for Narasimha Rao, Manmohan Singh, Vajpayee, Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha, Chidambaram and now Pranab Mukherjee. I’ve not seen them coming out open and selling to the public at large the virtues of reforms and carrying them out with sincerity.  ( As far as I remember Arun Shourie was the only politician who used to fight for reforms in public when he was the Telecom/ Disinvestment Minister ). With rupee on a free fall,  interest rates getting out of hand and fiscal deficit climbing up, the writing on the wall is of an economic crisis.  This is good enough reason to trigger the reluctant reformers to get back to the reform agenda which will propel growth.  I expect initiatives like GST implementation, FDI in retail, Land acquisition bill, Mining policy getting pushed without making a large hoopla or being touted as Reforms in this year.

2. For this to happen, the UPA government which is in a battered state must regain some confidence. And something tells me that they will get this confidence from their performance in the elections for the states which go to poll in the 1st quarter which includes UP. The public as we have seen know very well whom to punish ( as in TN/WB ) and whom to reward ( Bihar ).  There is no room for arrogance or last minute gimmicks to buy votes.  At the same time sincerity of purpose has paid whether it has been Bihar or Orissa or Gujarat or for that matter Delhi.  People want their rulers to put effort and they know that the results will not be immediate.  Going by this, Congress under Rahul may spring some surprises in the UP elections and that may provide the much needed filip to the UPA at the centre.

3. For a most part of 2011 through well orchestrated plugs in the media, India Inc has been posturing of ” flight of capital and investment” out of India if government doesn’t get its act together.  With the crisis in Euro zone, uncertainity in the US India Inc has only China to invest. My take is India and other countries will invest in China basically to stay competitive as long as it allows.  However purely from a consumption perspective, India Inc. will continue to invest in India.  Global environment will also force investments to come into India by second half of the year.

4. With inflation slowing down officially and interest rates softening I believe the worst is over.

5. That 2011 was the worst year for Manmohan Singh as a politician so far is a no brainer.  With so much of political issues threatening him to consume all over, his only ace up his sleeve is Economics. It will serve him well if he resorts to his strengths to set the agenda.

Though I’ve tried my best to logically reason out, much of it seems to be wishful thinking I guess.  But still I am going to stick my neck out for a Great Year for India in 2012 and I will be happy to have the last laugh and a Stiff neck !!!

Wishing all a year of GDP – Growth, Development and Prosperity !!!