Semi-finals and the many Confusing Signals! Part – 1

What has been touted as the semi-finals before the Grand finals in May 2019 just got over in India and the results from the 5 state elections are finally out. Though there have been surprises, more than the eventual result, the extent of the win or the loss from whichever side you look at it, has been more surprising. While in 3 states the margin of victory to the victor has been phenomenal, in the other 2 states, it’s been quite small. There has been many analyses and take aways of the verdict from pundits in the last few days but, to me, there is an important one. Which is, never before in recent times you have such confusing signals emanating from the voter from the heartland states. Before I go on to elaborate my hypothesis, honest disclosure. I am not from these states. I had not travelled to theses states in the run up to the elections. I have not had “elections on my plate” to gauge the mood of the voter. So my take aways are nothing more than armchair punditry based on what I gather.  So please keep a container of salt ready by your side as you read this.

This week, let me dwell on Rajasthan which according to me is quite interesting.

  • From BJP’s point of view, though they would like to spin the defeat in Rajasthan as extremely close and well fought out contest, in reality it has been a huge defeat. One cannot and should not gauge the extent of defeat based on opinion poll predictions or exit poll results and conclude that the fight was closer than expected. In reality, there has been a swing of 6.2% away from BJP resulting in a loss of 90 seats in an assembly of 200 compared to the last elections in 2013! This is not a narrow loss.
  • As per most of the commentariat, there have been very few plausible reasons to explain such a big defeat for the BJP.
    • First up, one of the reasons attributed was the outgoing Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s arrogance/attitude! Really? Raje is not new to the voters of Rajasthan. Before this term, she served the state as a Chief Minister for 5 years from 2003-08. She has been a MP and MLA from Rajasthan many times. She came to power in 2008 with a massive mandate defeating the Congress! So did people come to realise about her arrogant attitude only now? Or is it that she started behaving arrogantly only in the last few years?
    • The second reason attributed is – Rajasthan voters have the habit of throwing out the incumbent government and opt for a change if one goes by the trend in the last 20 years! Hence it is said that BJP giving way to Congress was on expected lines. Does it mean that people don’t care about governance and just throw out the incumbent government for the heck of it?
    • Coming to governance, Raje in the last 5 years, presided over the most reformist government among most of the states in India. Soon after she took over, Raje did the unthinkable in India of initiating labour reforms – a long-standing request from entrepreneurs and India Inc. What should have helped in attracting investments and aid economic growth, apparently has not worked, it looks like.
    • If I am not mistaken, under the support and supervision of economist Bibek Debroy, Rajasthan Government passed a bill to repeal whole lot of archaic state laws to make governance simpler.
    • In the context of UP, we are often told that people are no longer interested in Mandir politics but in development. But in Rajasthan we are told that people were unhappy with the Raje government when it decided to re-locate a few Hindu temples to give way for Metro in Jaipur!
    • Agrarian Distress – is the other reason attributed for BJP’s loss in Rajasthan. In most of states today including Rajasthan, agrarian crisis is not arising out of shortages (supply side) but due to a problem of plenty. In the sense, farmers do not get the right prices for their produce due to the excess supply. Hence the demand for higher MSPs. I don’t think higher MSPs will solve the problem in the long run, as it will shortly fuel very high food inflation which is again a bigger monster to handle, for the Government. The solution lies in raising farm income without raising MSPs beyond a point. For that, the issue to fix is the demand side bottle necks.  As I understand, some of the reforms undertaken by the Raje Government like creation of one agriculture market,… were supposed to take care of rationalising the licensing of mandis,… Have they not worked??? May be more ground needs to be covered here.
    • As you can see from the above points, Good Economics has not yielded Good political returns.
    • At the same time, it appears that the Raje Government’s waiver of farm loans of up to Rs. 50000 hasn’t worked either! So Good Populism has not yielded results also!

If you are an election strategist for the BJP, you many tend to conclude that these reforms or populism are of no use to win elections may decide to have a strategy to just pander to emotive issues. In Rajasthan have the emotive issues worked?

  • While the Raje Government started off well with the above focussed development agenda, I do believe that it lost its away trying to pander to extreme elements within the BJP. The government was practically silent during the entire Padmaavat episode when lumpen elements were running amuck.
  • In Alwar, there were violence due to cow vigilantism which the government was guilty of promoting. However cow vigilantism failed to come to the rescue of BJP in this region, where the party lost 16 of the 18 assembly seats!
  • So raising the pitch on emotive issues hasn’t worked either.

In the final count, the difference in vote share of just 0.5% may also indicate that while there has been a 6.2% erosion of vote share for the BJP, the anti-incumbency has not been strong enough to significantly dent the voter base of BJP. Hence, one will extrapolate the state election results and predict that BJP will face a rout in 2019 Lok Sabha elections at his own peril.

But in this state elections, what have the voters voted for or against? Was it

A positive vote for the Congress? Or

A Negative vote against the BJP? Or

Negative against the BJP at the Centre or State? Or

Neither a positive vote for the Congress nor a negative vote against the BJP?

Hence, my hypothesis that the voters while booting out BJP have also sent confusing signals as to why they have done so!

Post Script: When you know that he has been a CM twice over before and failed to win a second term in Rajasthan why would you again make Ashok Gehlot the CM for the 3rd time? This was a great opportunity for Rahul Gandhi to put his stamp and I guess, he let it go!

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Can the ‘Gem of a scam” become “Gem of an opportunity’??

The debate on privatisation of Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) banks has a habit of rearing its head in public discourse in India with regular frequency. Not so long ago, it was when the PSU banks were hit by the NPA (Non-Performing Assets) crisis embodied by the likes of a fleeing Vijay Mallya. Later, it was when the Government finally took a call on recapitalisation of the PSU banks last year. And now, it is when the Nirav Modi – PNB scam, the latest to hit the Indian shores (and shares) surfaced. Yesterday even Arvind Subramanian, the usually reticent Chief Economic Advisor has joined the debate!

Reformists are of the view that the Government is betraying Winston Churchill again and again who famously said that “Never let a good crisis go waste” in the context of biting the PSU bank bullet. They are of the view that the repeated crises which hit the PSU banks provided a plausible excuse and “Gem of an opportunity” (pun entirely intended) for the Government of the day to privatize PSU Banks and thereby get out of the rigmarole of using tax payer’s money to keep bailing them out. The underlying assumptions being that the PSU Banks are run usually inefficiently and being under sarkaari control are subject to pulls and pressures.  While this is true for almost all PSUs in general, money being closer to the pocket and heart of the public, privatisation topic haunts the banks more. One cannot dismiss the very popular data point thrown in the above argument’s favour which is that the market cap of a relatively younger HDFC Bank which is privately held is higher than all PSU banks put together!

At the core of the argument against privatisation is of course the security it provides to the Aam Admi. Irrespective of what happens around the balance sheets of these PSU banks. The general public does believe that the Government will not let their savings go down the drain come what may. One remembers the furore and angst in WhatsApp groups recently when we were all told that our deposits above 1 lac are not safe if the banks go belly up. So, for any Government of the day, it is a minefield of a quandary to attempt privatisation of PSU banks unless it is completely politically immune to a public outrage and the after effects thereafter!

Be that as it may – the Government’s quandary I mean, the larger issue is the conflict bordering on hypocrisy in the minds of people like us which is – my direct stake in the bank by way of savings/deposits Vs my indirect stake in PSU banks by way of government’s stake which is in effect all our tax payer’s money. In short “My money” Vs “Our Money”! Nirav Modi has just swindled a government bank of few 1000 crores but that still is not “My money” though it is “Our Money!  And largely our outrage has stopped with laughing out loud (or is it laughing like Renuka these days?) looking at jokes, memes and sarcastic jibes on the Government while a smart cookie has “been crying all his way to the bank”! I think as individuals we are more concerned about the safety and security of our savings which we feel is protected if PSU banks remain as is – Government owned.  Even if that means

  • The Government of the day interfering in the day-to-day functioning
  • The Government mandating the banks to carry out populist programmes which may not make commercial sense but may make immense political sense to them
  • Mounting NPA’s due to favouring cronies of the likes of Vijay Mallya
  • The Nirav Modi kind of frauds due to conniving staff
  • Less accountability in the system.

At the end of the day, as along as the banks are Government owned, the only fix for all the above ailments is injecting more capital which is by tapping into tax payer’s money. It’s obvious that the same money if not used for bailing out banks could be put to use for better roads, power, water, electricity or even for that matter the proposed grandiose Health Insurance programme – stuff our country has been deprived of in the last 70 years since Independence.

The 1.6 billion dollar question is whether as tax payers and citizens we are okay and ready to let the government seize the opportunity and privatise the PSU banks? My guess is maybe we are not. And this stems from our socialistic belief that next to God, the Government is the savior and hence must protect us. And the constant fear associated with losing our money if not protected by the government.

In a country like ours which is evolving and is still a work in progress on many fronts like urbanization, education, social mobility,..,… the fear is mostly legitimate. Coupled with the fact that the private sector has not fully covered itself with glory. But the performance of the new private banks set up since the opening up of the economy in 1993, provide quite a lot of hope. For example, as far as we know, the new private banks are not part of the NPA problem.  Even during the 2008 Lehman shock, when all over the world financial institutions were rocked and many went belly up, in India none of the banks including the private ones were affected so much (though banks like ICICI had exposures to the subprime crisis) due to very strong regulations in India.  So, so far we could bank on these banks!

In summary, my point is may be if not all in one go, the Government could contemplate privatising PSU banks in batches of say 2 starting with the smaller ones. This will give adequate space to watch out for any pitfalls in the process and fine tune the same. This of course with the continued strong regulatory frame work in place.  The smooth completion of the ongoing privatisation of Air India may give the much needed heft to the Government.

With may be all banks out of governmental control in the next 10 years, the frequent exercise of tapping into “Our Money” to protect “My money” may be a conundrum of the past. The moot question remains if this current “Gem of a scam” will be turned into a “Gem of an opportunity” by the Government and that we as public will let that pass!

Postscript: Overheard in a lift: “These jewelers kept telling us that Diamonds are forever. But, they never told us that loans are also forever! Saala vaapas hi nahi kiya!!!

Toon courtesy: Satish Acharya

The Passport called English Medium!!!

Hindi Medium for the uninitiated is a Hindi film that hit the screens last week sans the trappings of the typical Bollywood fare but which holds a mirror to the society with a strong social message. Without any of the leading “Star Khans” but with just Irfan Khan as the lead star, I am not sure how far the film will reach eventually. After 3 Idiots if there was one Hindi film which leaves you thinking as you left the cinema hall about your kid’s education this must be it. In the film, the lead couple go to unimaginable lengths just to secure admission in one of the Top English medium schools in the city.  Because in the lines of the mother, “If the child goes to a Govt. school, she can’t learn anything. If anybody talks to her in English, she will not be able to fit in the society. Hence she will be lonely and will get depressed.”  The extremes the couple stretch themselves to secure that admission in a top English medium school like even trying to transform themselves to poor people to take advantage of BPL quota as per RTE act may sound preposterous.  But the message – that “English medium” is a mandatory passport for one’s flight to success in life is not lost on anyone.

Not just this one, but there were other films like Chetan Bhagat’s novel turned film – One Half Girlfriend and Sridevi’s super hit – English Vinglish dwelling on the theme of the need to master English to get recognized/get ahead in life. Ironically this is not some typical Bollywood fantasy but stark reality of India being mirrored in films.  At workplaces today, one’s command over spoken English is considered essential to rise up the corporate elevator whether you like it or not. There are very few careers I can think of today where one can still succeed without mastering the English language. Probably politics (where being oblivious to the English language can become your calling card) or some creative fields could be those. Otherwise even in medical field the reality is, you feel comfortable of a surgeon’s ability if he is able to explain the diagnosis and treatment course of your patient in eloquent English!!! Narayana Murthy of Infosys once controversially observed in the context of IITs that with Indian politicians “rooting against English”, the task of getting good English speaking students at IITs gets more difficult and that affected their quality .  He was being practical and honest. In urban India the caste system based on Manuvaad is gradually on the wane. But in its place there is a new caste system based on “Medium of Instruction” – English medium being forward caste and any other being backward!!!

However this is not the case in many other successful countries. In Germany you don’t need to master English to head an organization. In Japan, though knowledge of English is an asset particularly in an Export driven economy like theirs, lack of flair in English has never been a liability.  Same is the case with China.  It’s another matter that they probably now realise that if they had imbibed the English language they could have ruled the global commerce not just in Mfg. but even in services!

But then India is not a homogenous state with one culture, one lingo like Japan or Germany. We are “United States of India” where our culture, language, food habits,…,.. keep changing every 500 kms. We sort of got stuck in the middle where we couldn’t have Hindi or for that matter any other Indian language as a universal Pan Indian language due to our cultural diversity. At the same time English being a language imported due to the colonial rule couldn’t achieve the universal reach across the board. Result – we have a language divide. If we have to get out of this situation, it’s too late or virtually impossible to go back to a Japan or Germany universal Indian language model.  So it looks like adopting English language universally in India is only the practical option left with us to go forward from here.

“Universally” is the key. It was the very articulate Shashi Tharoor who once said, “Denial of opportunity to learn English to our children would be tantamount to destroying their future” and I agree. It’s unanimously accepted that India’s command over English has been one of the key attributes to our success in Software business worldwide. So why not we build on our strengths and leverage the same? That is certainly not by keeping English a privilege of few and sowing the seeds for another conflict. Instead a way forward could be to make ‘All” schools in India – English medium schools and phase in English as the universal medium of instruction from a particular year in the very near future. This is not to shortchange our own native languages which still needs to be taught in the same schools but need not be the “Medium of instruction”. We could expect politics to play and outrage factories running on full capacities over this move.  But then have we seen wards of politicians who get educated from Non English medium schools?  By the way in our neighbouring Pakistan in 2013, I heard that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province took a call to switch over from Urdu to English medium gradually in a period of four to five years!!! This could be a significant reform in the field of education that would ensure English not just being a passport to economic, social and educational advancement universally but a ‘Visa on Arrival” for growth, the likes of Donald Trump notwithstanding!!

This reform may not be “the” only cure for all the ills in our education system but would be a good place to start.

Postscript: While on this, just after the ascent of Mr. Chandrasekharan as the Tata supremo, a picture of him and his 2 brothers has been doing the WhatsApp rounds. It talks of the fact that the 3 brothers are actually are from Tamil medium schools from a village in Tamil Nadu and that today they were head honchos. The message being, one doesn’t need to be necessarily from English medium schools to get to the top. Well, not sure even if Natarajan Chandrasekharan will accept that premise today and forward that to his WhatsApp groups!!!

TN, TINA and the lack of Conscience!!!

In May last year, when Tamil Nadu (TN) was in the throes of election I had written a post titled ‘The NOTA Conundrum’ (read here) where I had said that in TN, people have to make a choice when there is actually none.  Between the 2 leading Dravidian parties namely the DMK and ADMK there has been so little to choose from in the last 2 decades. Both the outfits are bereft of any ideology or ideas, are equally corrupt, excel in competitive “freebieism” and have been consumed by family intrigues – one own and the other extended. In that sense TN has been suffering from “TINA” (There Is No Alternative) syndrome. Since NOTA (None Of The Above) was not an option, the people of TN did make a choice of electing ADMK under the leadership of Jayalalitha. (I hate the Amma, Chinnamma sobriquets).  However it would be a grave mistake to conclude that it was a Jayalalitha wave or a massive mandate for ADMK. In fact analysis (read here) shows that DMK actually pipped ADMK in terms of the “Contested vote share” and was actually weighed down badly by the poor performance of its allies. Be that as it may, unfortunately for TN since the elections and the return of ADMK, it has been bogged down by one crisis after the other – the demise of Jayalalitha, the Wardah cyclone, the Jallikattu ban controversy and now the ongoing reality show of Sasikala trying to usurp the reigns of the state. Governance in TN has been holidaying in some “Bay resort” or recuperating in Apollo Hospital for some time now.

That being the case, the question that begs to be asked is what was the hurry for Sasikala to take over as Chief Minister now? After Jayalalitha’s demise, she was able to smoothly appropriate the reigns of the party and became the General Secretary without much ado. In Panneerselvam (OPS) she had a man who has always been pliable and willing to toe the line as long as his interests are taken care of. So the best option for Sasikala was to follow the “Sonia Gandhi model”. Enjoy authority without responsibility by doing back seat driving of OPS from Poes Garden.  If the Government under OPS did well, Sasikala could have still got the credit diverted to her through her sycophant brigade of MLAs and Ministers. And if things went wrong, OPS could have been made the fall guy. This could have helped in moulding public opinion in her favour as a person who listened to her inner voice and made the sacrifice of not going after power. But all this was not to be.

In a very hurried and ill-advised move just when the state was returning to normal after seemingly scoring a win in the Jallikattu issue, Sasikala decided to ascend the throne by de-seating OPS. OPS after initially playing ball decided to run Sasikala out. After his well-choreographed chat with Amma’s Atma for 40 over minutes (not 5 or 10 mins but 40 which was the time needed for the TV cameras to reach Marina beach from wherever they were) spilled the beans on the machinations of Sasikala. He put paid to her ambitions and her so far crafted public image. From being the natural claimant to Jayalalitha’s legacy just a few weeks back to becoming the Villian No. 1, the descent for Sasikala has been steep.  And OPS morphed to becoming a paragon of virtue. Meme factories the best testimonials so far to the Make in India program aided the transition of OPS from a “starter” to being the “main course”!

What explains this Sasikala camp not following the “Sonia Gandhi model”?

Was it the chase for money? I don’t think so. In fact authority sans responsibility is the best way to get a share of the booty while dodging what our erudite CEA Arvind Subramaniam calls as 4cs – Courts, CVC, CBI and CAG which today torment politicians in power!!!

Could it be the lust for absolute power? That narcissist feeling of seeing your name prefixed with Chief Minister when the opportunity is at striking distance is certainly tempting for anybody. So, this could have been the reason though as per me, the headaches that come along may not be worth it. That too when you can still enjoy the fruits of power by wielding the remote control.

I think that there is more to than meets the eye. It is possible that OPS is in the know of the shenanigans of Sasikala in the last few years. So the most plausible reason could be the insecurity that OPS may let the Govt. machinery have a go at the Mannargudi Mafia as it is called now with the sleight of hand of the centre.  This would pose a 24*7*365 check on her aspirations while giving the impression of her wielding power when she is not.  I conjecture that this could be the reason for Sasikala & Co. in deciding to pull the plug on OPS as CM so early. More time could have only cemented OPS’ position.

What would have been a smooth transition had OPS played his usual submissive self, has turned into a pitch battle now. The “Game of Thrones” is now playing out on our TV screens for the past 1 week putting reality shows to shame.  Herding and hiding of MLA’s in luxury resorts an idea contributed to Indian polity by Chandrababu Naidu I think is past its prime. MLAs one by one jumping ship from Sasikala to OPS on an hourly basis only brings to the fore the need for a “Conscience vote”. In India, the Anti defection law originally meant for stopping the Aaya ram gaya ram politics of the 80’s has put a lid on the conscience vote totally. Today a MLA or an MP has no option but to toe the high command line lest he/she will be disqualified under the Anti Defection law. This has effectively stymied dissent in democracy. Though the lack of conscience vote is not an issue in the ongoing TN saga, I reckon lack of conscience is.

I feel that if our legislators are allowed to vote with their conscience confidentially on all issues may it be related to internal democracy (like electing their leader) or voting on a bill, our country will be a better place. Till such time, those honest people wanting to enter politics may have to wait.

ops-sasiPic Courtesy: Indiatoday.in

Savour the Achhe Din!!!

In these largely agonizing days in India, a call to savour the Achhe Din would seem highly preposterous, isn’t it??? Well, wait a minute!

  • New Delhi, Oct 1984 – The then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is assassinated by 2 of her own body guards. Over the next few days, thousands of Sikhs get killed and their property burnt in Delhi in a violent reaction.
  • Chennai, Dec 1987 M.G.Ramachandran, the charismatic actor turned Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu died after prolonged illness at his residence. His death sparked off a frenzy of looting and rioting all over the state. Shops, cinemas, buses and other public and private property became the target of violence.
  • New Delhi & Parts of North India, Aug 1990 – The then VP. Singh Government decides to accept Mandal commission report which recommended 27% reservation for OBC candidates at all levels of Govt. services. Large scale protests erupted mainly in North India including self-immolation bids by students against co-opting the report.
  • Mumbai, Jan 1993 – Following the Babri demolition in Dec, 1992, what started as peaceful protests escalated into large scale communal riots in Mumbai between Dec 1992 and Jan 1993 where thousands of people died, properties looted and destroyed.
  • Thane, Mumbai, April 2001Shiv Sena Leader Anand Dighe dies in Singhania Hospital, Thane at a relatively young age of 50 following a cardiac arrest. As soon as the news of Dighe’s death broke, irate Shiv Sainiks went on a rampage in the premises of Singhania Hospital and set on fire the hospital.
  • Bengaluru, Sep 2016 – Supreme Court orders Karnataka to release of 15000 Cusecs of Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu. Immediate violent reactions erupted with burning of TN registered vehicles and destruction of public and private property.

In all the above, one can notice that while the provocations are different – from a leader’s killing to another leader’s own demise to a political move to demolition of a religious symbol to an adverse Supreme Court judgement that too in different parts of the country, the reaction of the people followed a pattern. Violence, looting, mob fury, vandalism,…,…. leading to many deaths and large scale destruction of property.

This proves that as Indians we are a bunch of gullible emotional people. We can get easily provoked into carrying out what are supposedly unlawful activities that bring disrepute to the country and also affect us economically.

In any country’s timeline there are defining moments. Moments which change the destiny of the country for the good or worse. Our country’s history since Independence also is replete with such defining moments – some of them which we can be proud of and others which push our heads down.

I reckon that the Demonetisation call of 8th Nov, 2016 would be such a defining moment in our country’s history when it’s scripted later. I am not here to pronounce this based on the economic benefits of Demonetisation. The erudite are already doing it with media abound with pieces hailing and trashing the move in same breath. And frankly it is early days yet. However something else that is monumental is happening in the country which is what this post is on.

Going back to what I elucidated in the beginning of the piece, in our country we get easily provoked. And the result of the same is there for all of us to see. In this context let’s look at what’s been happening since that eventful address to the nation of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 8th November:

  • Bulk of currency in circulation was withdrawn and we were told to go Banks/Post offices to withdraw/exchange the old currencies before Dec. 30th
  • Since then there has been serpentine lines in front of banks.
  • Banks have been woefully short of currency as RBI’s supply chain right from printing to distribution has not been able to cope up.
  • Banks when they had currency only dispersed high value 2000 rupee notes.
  • ATMs have not been mostly functioning and if working for few hours, could give us just 1 note of Rs.2000.
  • The rules of withdrawal and exchange have been changing by the hour and have been the butt of new WhatsApp jokes by the minute! In fact the exchange goal post of 30th Dec. has been brought forward.
  • Both the TV and print media have myriad stories of how Demonetisation has affected the common man in urban and rural areas.
  • There have been many deaths attributed to Demonetisation in many parts of the country. Every day there are updates on the death toll in the media.

demon-toon

It’s almost a month now and still the situation is fluid. As one can see that this Demonetisation gamble by the Govt. has presented to us – public many, many opportunities to get provoked.  But the one difference is we that have not got provoked. At least up until now. And I hope I have not spoken too soon.

The resultant emotional outbursts leading to violent reactions for events mentioned in the beginning are sometimes quite spontaneous (though it is still difficult to explain the reactions so very violent) but many times orchestrated to further political interests. In this case (Demonetisation) also we have seen few political parties trying their best to spin things out of control and bring the Govt. on its knees. But just that this time around, few things have been different:

  • The common public of all hue – have not taken to damaging of banks, burning of empty ATMs, attacking Bank officers, setting on fire currency vans,… even when they have been driven to heights of frustration.
  • There have not been blackening of faces of BJP leaders or burning of effigies of PM or the RBI Governor!
  • For the 1st time in my memory, political parties had to go a large length to explain that they were not supporting any Bharat Bandh supposedly after reading the citizens’ Anti bandh mood!
  • For the 1st time again in my memory, no political party has given the Demonetisation move a communal colour so far. Otherwise in our country any decision from awarding a Padma Shri to constructing a hospital is given a communal tint by commentators and vested interests very convincingly.

For the above reasons I would like to believe that the benefits or otherwise of Demonetisation notwithstanding, this move will emerge as a defining moment in India’s history – where the public of India completely toed the line of its Prime Minister, shunned the rhetoric of others, remained unprovoked and went through the grind.

I am not sure if we as a country will display such great maturity in reacting to unfavourable events in the future. But for now, let’s savour the Achhe Din!!! Shoba De in her today’s column calls 2016 – Annus horibilis! No, Ms. De – for this significant change in our public reaction, 2016 is in fact Annus mirabilis!!!

Toon Courtesy: Satish Acharya

Also read my other post on Demonetisation – “Cash Mukt Bharat” here!

#GST is done, now work on GST-II

Finally the GST (Goods & Services Tax) in India is done if not dusted yet after being in the works for a decade.  From a foreign investor perspective, GST and FDI in Multi-brand retail are the initiatives that bracket India as a perennial “Work in Progress” economy.  Now is the time I believe to give a crack on another GST – “Good & Smooth Traffic” that is.

Traffic 2

Consider the situation in all the key cities of India today. In Delhi/NCR as I personally experienced last week, it just took one shower for an hour or so to bring Gurgaon oops Gurugram on its knees.  From the Delhi airport to the end of Gurugram took me 4 hours on a week day evening that too when it was supposedly against the traffic. I was lucky. The subsequent days it took more than 6 hours I was told. The CM had to do an aerial survey to understand the gravity of the jam!

In Mumbai these days you have traffic jams everywhere. In the so called freeways, Expressways, main roads, arterial roads, streets, gallis,.. everywhere.  Yes, in the air too. Flights departing out of and landing into Mumbai post 6 pm are routinely delayed due to air traffic congestion! And as I found today, even supermarkets are not spared of mammoth traffic. The space between racks are choked with oversized trolleys and sea of people that negotiating your way out is worse than Mumbai roads. I see this routinely in the neighbourhood supermarkets every weekend and sometimes on weekdays even. (Based on this, one is inclined to believe that “Achhe Din” have indeed arrived for the Great Indian Middle Class!!!).  Year after year during monsoons in Mumbai, the city resembles a Moon’s surface. May be it rains potholes!! For the Aam admi, every day it is “one small step becoming a giant leap” (as the pot holes are so big, deep and wide). For the city of Mumbai, Niantic the company behind the latest craze in town – Pokemon Go is better advised to go with a modified version “Pothole Go” which could be a runaway hit but slowed by traffic jams.

Ease of commute to work has become the single biggest hygiene factor these days for candidates when they seek a job. So much so, recently in a job interview the candidate asked me if we would anytime shift the office from current location and if yes, will it be still in the vicinity!! It is completely understandable I guess. With commuting and whatsapping sapping a lot of one’s time these days, “me time or family time” is on the shrink.

In India’s Silicon Valley and IT capital, “going live today” has a different meaning these days which is – atleast moving ahead in traffic while on the road. In peak hours it doesn’t matter where you are going and from where. Couple of hours on the road is a given. Columnist and now MP Swapan Dasgupta once tweeted “The unending journey from the airport to anywhere in Bangalore…” I would replace the words “the Airport” to “anywhere” now. The city missed a few crucial years in development when IT was on fire. Today, it is facing the heat of that miss.

In Chennai, if the Govt. spends one tenth of the money the parties spend on posters on building flyovers over key junctions, the city will be a different place to live. I am told that a 30km stretch of OMR (Old Mahalipuram Road) has only 11 signals!!.  Besides the myriad engineering college buses and IT companies transport vehicles, you will be lucky if you get some space to move your humble two wheeler.

In all these cities, the common story is of exponential growth with infrastructure not keeping pace at all. More often than not, a project planned today with certain expected growth in traffic becomes obsolete by the time it is commissioned as it usually takes 3 times longer time than planned. A very good case in point is the Chembur-Santacruz Link road in Mumbai which was opened amidst much fanfare and talk of smoother East- West connectivity and how one can reach the airport from Ghatkopar in 15 mins. 3 years after commissioning its already bursting at the seams. And in all these cities, there is very limited scope for road widening or expansion anymore. So this naturally calls of holistic planning with alternative modes of transport (like Metro) and also project conception and execution today with 25 years hence traffic in mind.

Ease of Traffic which essentially means less time on commuting has to become a National charter now. It won’t be too far when along with Bijli, Sadak, Paani and Bandwidth – Roadwidth gets into the National discourse during elections. So from a political perspective as well, focusing on less traffic on roads will become a game changer in the future. And the party which appreciates that and works on the same gets to reap the dividend. So I urge that the present Govt. to start work on “GST-II” asap. Just like how the central govt has to work jointly with the states for a smooth roll out first and then implementation of the GST reform, on the traffic also the Central Govt. must work with the states to give this a high priority work to a plan in all the key cities.  And like how “One nation, One tax” is becoming a reality considering India’s highly complicated historical tax regime, “Single nation, Smooth traffic” will soon become the need of the hour if not it is already.

I am not sure if the Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari’s children are politically inclined. I would presume so. If he starts work on this idea of a GST-II bill now, most likely it would become a reality during their time!!!

Marketing of “Acche Din”!!!

No other phrase has caught the imagination of the public – intelligentsia and others as this Acche Din” (Good Days) in recent memory in India. The only others I could think of are – Big B’s ‘Lock Kiya jai??’ during the heydays of KBC (Kaun Banega Crorepati). For few years post KBC-Season 1, we Indians were only “Locking” instead of “confirming” or “making sure”😃 . More lately, when Aamir Khan insisted on “All izz well” in Raju Hirani’s 3 Idiots, “I am fine”, “Sab teek hai”,.. got paraphrased by “All izz well”. (“All” being pronounced as “aal” ad nauseum😠)  So similarly these days, it’s raining Acche Din!!! Our Prime Minister has turned out to be so good in marketing that his Twitter bio could very well read – “Narendra Modi. Prime Minister of India. And a Marketing Maven”.

And this is exactly what has set the discourse in the media in a wrong track. Once again. “Your Government is all about marketing and packaging” is a refrain the NDA ministers were subjected to in all the interviews they gave around Modi365. The anchors were different, the channels were different, and the language was different. But the shrill accusation was the same. That this Government indulges itself in Marketing and loud at that.

As if “Marketing” in itself is a crime inflicted on society. And this notion is not something which has sprang up with the advent of Modi Sarkar. In general there is this subtext that marketing is nothing but a con job!! That marketing goes well with people with the Gift of the gab!!! And that marketing is all jazz and no mass.

For a long time I used to wonder where this impression came from! Gradually, I got the answers. First, in general Marketing and Direct selling (one to one selling) are often used interchangeably. That selling or sales is just one aspect of Marketing is a lesson which gets drilled in the first few pages of Philip Kotler. However in real life, people who are in say selling of Insurance policies or vacuüm cleaners or Time share holidays on one to one basis are often called as “Marketing” people. In direct selling situations more often than not we end up buying the product just to ward off the salesperson’s thollai/parishan (torture)😞😞. And the thought keeps lingering for quite some time that he/she has conned us into buying.  And hence the belief that marketing is just that – A royal conning!

Second, Marketing is also equated to Advertising. Even in B-schools many aspire to join marketing stream with a delusion that they will be associated with creating ads all the time in their career. In reality, advertising is just one part of marketing. When we keep seeing ads of toothpastes which promise “Crystal White teeth” in 45 days or commercials for Nutritional drinks which promise to grow children tall automatically in few months and nothing close to those anyway happen – we conclude that “Marketing” is all about taking people for a ride.

(And there is a third one which I get to see these days often. I.e using the word marketing for “going to the market for shopping”😜😜)

Thanks to the above fallacies, Marketing has got a bad name. In truth, Marketing is not hard selling. Is not advertising or for that matter shopping!! But is a more complex process of creating, communicating, and delivering something that have value for customers. (Ouch, that was a gyan overdose😜). Even a damn good product requires damn good marketing of the same.  In political context, the 1991 reforms which are now seen as the game changer for India now, were never marketed that time. So much so, even among the Congress there was such a backlash that Manmohan Singh, the then finance minister had to claw back on the reforms push. If the benefits of the reform programme were marketed well the phrase “Economic Reforms” in India would never have taken a negative connotation. Same is the case with NDA’s disinvestment programme during Vajpayee regime. So this brings to the fore the importance of “Good Marketing” (like the need for good cholesterol – for the sceptics) in politics for Pro bono.

Hence to a large extent, I am glad to see the present Government and the PM going all out to “market” their initiatives whether it is Make in India, Jan Dhan Yojana or Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.  Or for that matter packaging the 1st year achievements as ‘Saal Ek Shuruaat Anek’. As long as the PM and Government are good at last mile delivery of the products as they are in marketing of the same, I am certain Acche Din are round the corner for India. And I am also certain that the PM is also aware of the repercussions otherwise. That Abki Baar Modi Sarkar would be branded as Abki Baar Jumla Sarkar the next time around😆😆

Acche Din toon

Postscript: My apologies if the title made you to believe that this post is another post mortem of the 1st year of Modi Sarkar.  There has been 100’s of that in the last few days! So didn’t want to add to the clutter. On the other hand, Perception management is one part of Marketing. I thought Marketing itself needed a dose of perception management 😆😆

Cartoon credit: Satish Acharya