Time to shoot the messenger?

“Don’t shoot the messenger” is a cliché often used to decry when someone criticizes the media which is the bearer of bad news, instead of the one who was responsible for it. In the context of what’s been happening in India in the last few days, I am tempted to relieve this cliché of the word ‘Don’t”! We all now know that, media all over the world in general and India in particular is only headed towards abyss! And what we saw in India in the past few days only put a stamp of confirmation on it!

In the wee hours of 26th, India conducted a daring air attack deep inside Pakistan targeting some terror camps on what was touted as a retaliation to the Pulwama attack when over 40 CRPF jawans were killed by a suicide bomber of the Jaish. When we started hearing the news, incidentally first through cryptic tweets from the Pakistani side, journalists of all hue starting dialling up their sources and putting out more details – some true and rest hearsay accounts. In just a few hours, mainstream media and social media were engulfed with a tsunami of nationalistic pride over the attack, even when the Government or the forces never came out with the details in public. #Indiastrikesback, #Surgicalstrike2 and other hashtags started trending on social media and not to mention of the myriad memes taking pot shot on Pakistan!

There was a visible difference on the Indian response to Pak terror attack this time. Unlike in the past (particularly in the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks) when India played the “responsible” card, this time the “Mirage” was for real (pun intended). Notwithstanding the valour and the efficiency of the armed forces in carrying out this attack, make no mistake, it was possible only because there was a go ahead for such a daring action from the political leadership of the day.  Unfortunately, in these days of a divided polity, opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati and the like chose to be petulance personified as seen from their tweets! They all congratulated the IAF and chose to remain silent on the intention of the Govt. forgetting the fact that in situations like these, if there is no political will, there is no way! I am not sure, if BJP was in opposition under the same circumstances, they would have acted differently. Be that as it may, given that this is election season in India, the way media and some of the star anchors and journalists handled this was baffling.  In some of the channels, it was nothing but war mongering. War sets and props, anchors in army fatigues, prime time was unambiguously playing to the gallery. The pro-Govt. journalists had a field day frothing on TV, spitting venom on their social media handles without any responsibility.

The next day i.e. on 27th Feb, Pakistan now chose to retaliate just as their Prime Minister Imran Khan had warned. For many hours, it was not clear what exactly happened as the news trickled in bits and pieces. But soon it emerged that while we were able to put down one Pakistani F16, one of our pilots unfortunately ended up in Pakistan’s custody. Just as news of this emerged, the whole commentary in the media changed. The liberal commentariat which was cooling its heels the previous day came out with their daggers open, now blasting the Indian Govt. for war mongering and sacrificing its brave men with its mindless actions. As #SayNotoWar started trending, our country’s soft underbelly got exposed once again. During the Kandahar hijack, the same thing happened. And further when Imran Khan made a peace dove like statement in their Parliament that they were freeing our officer the next day, the exposure was complete, in my opinion.

From purely Optics point of view, there is no doubt that Imran Khan made most of the situation. While it was well known that they had no choice but freeing a POW, by doing that swiftly, Imran Khan won the perception battle. But to designate and celebrate him as an apostle of peace, just how some of the media personalities were doing on Thursday, was gross injustice to the 40+ jawans who lost their lives just few days back! Back then, the same Imran Khan did not have the courtesy to either condemn or regret the dastardly attack and just mouthed the same “show proof” rhetoric! Now this time it was the turn of the media which is against the BJP/Modi to pursue their agenda and were having their field day!

Neutrality in journalism is now passé. In addition to this agenda driven journalism which now we have learnt to live with, the behaviour of the politicians from both sides was equally regressive and repulsive.  While the ruling party taking this issue to the polls is not avoidable and partially understandable, counting the seat chicken before the border tension hatches as some BJP politicians were doing is highly condemnble.

So in India, we swing from one extreme to another so easily.  From one day shouting from the rooftop of “using our right to attack” in the verge of a terrorist attack to pushing for de-escalation and pull back the moment one of our officers get caught the next day, we proved that we are indeed a country of weak hearts.

Amidst all this, if we have to take lesson on response to these kind of situations, it must be from our defence forces. The same day evening when Imran announced that our officer Abhinandan would be returned to India, there was a presser by the armed forces team which I thought was brilliant, thoroughly professional and to the point. Even when prodded to respond to the so called “good will gesture” of Pakistan in returning our officer, Air Vice Marshal RGK Kapoor stuck to the fact that it was just an “act” which any country was supposed to do and that the IAF was happy to have the officer back. Period. And the whole presser had lessons for journalists and social media warriors on reporting facts, not giving own interpretations and not getting into matters which was not their domain. It is now part of folklore on how the officer Abhinandan behaved under custody. The training and upbringing certainly showed!

The big difference in the media today in situations like these is the arrival of the monster called Social media. Social media not just gives a platform to all of us to express ourselves, it also becomes a platform for professional journalists to display their loyalties and show where their heart lies. It is indeed great to note that our Govt. didn’t buy into the canard of those putting out their own opinions based on their loyalties this way or that way and stuck to their actions in this situation.

As Social media commentary feeds off into main stream media and vice versa and with government functionaries actively present in the social media these days, one gets concerned if governance becomes a prisoner of media’s whims and fancies. And if that begins to happen, time to “Shoot the messenger, folks!

Cartoon courtesy: Amul

Narendra Damodardas Trump!

Back to India after a week’s trip from Trump land, one cannot escape the palpable political weather in both the countries. Large parts of the US may be freezing due to the polar vortex but politically, the climate is hot in the US as in India. While India is already in the grip of election fever with the Lok Sabha polls just couple of months away, in the US, presidential elections are due in 2020! Even then, the political chatter is all about if Donald Trump will get re-elected or not! Same is the question in India with Narendra Modi!

Ever since Modi, a rank outsider to what is now infamously called as the Lutyen’s Delhi, became the Prime minister of India in 2014 and Trump more famed as an “Apprentice” politician and a real estate baron became the President of America, comparing both these leaders and bringing out the similarities in them have been favourite pastimes of the commentariat. Probably rightly so! Here are two leaders who have defied many established conventions to chart their own course in governing their respective countries. The similarities in their methods and more importantly the narratives around the personalities are difficult to ignore.

In terms of the evident similarities, the liberal media’s scorn in India and the US for Modi and Trump respectively comes first, I guess. For example, all through the time I was in the US, TV news was engulfed by the Government Shutdown due to a budget fight centred on Trump’s demand for $5bn to fund a wall along the US-Mexico border. On TV, the built up narrative showed Trump as the central villain for bringing America to such a crisis. Images and clips of federal employees suffering due to loss of pay dominated most of the screens. In California where I was during that week, on the streets, it was business as usual! I can compare this to the narrative which was played up during Demonetisation in India. Of sufferings, deaths and what not. However, in election after election in the aftermath of Demonetisation, BJP swept the polls! Not surprisingly both Modi and Trump treat the main stream media with contempt. Trump calls channels as Fake news generators, Modi calls them ‘Bazaaru’ media! And therefore, they prefer to engage with the public more actively through Social media.

The other point of convergence is their response to border security. Trump has been vocal about constructing the wall along the Mexico border to prevent illegal migration into his country. In India, along the North East, the introduction of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill by the BJP is touted as a similar action to deal with illegal migration from Bangladesh. Likewise, both Trump and Modi during their respective campaigns had raised alarm over worldwide Islamic terror without beating the bush.

Yet another commonality in Trump and Modi is their approach to external affairs. It is said that Modi being a Gujarati always brings a sense of ‘Dando’ (business) to the table. In the case of Trump too, we have seen so far that he has been running the United States of America as another Trump Corporation! Again, in the context of External affairs and diplomacy, historical legacy and precedents have not come in the way of taking bold initiatives for both Modi and Trump. For example, in India, while we have always treated Israel as our friend for so many decades, Modi has been the 1st Prime Minister to make a historical visit to Israel and set the optics right. Rubbing our friends in the Gulf on the wrong side – a historical reason for not taking our friendship with Israel to the next level was set aside by Modi. Similarly in the US, Trump has been brazenly demolishing some legacy diplomatic hangovers like supporting Pakistan with aid even when it was not doing anything on curbing terror. There are few other examples as well like seeing China into its eye and not withholding the import curbs.

And the other thing I noticed which is quite common in the case of both Modi and Trump is this. While seeing what is said about these two in the media one may get an impression that they are steadily losing ground and are grossly unpopular. However, the reality may turn out to be different. In the US, I noticed that calling yourself a supporter of Trump can make you a social untouchable and therefore, people tend to stay quiet rather than expressing themselves. Like my friend said, he was routinely derided by his pals for riding a “Triumph” bike mistaking it for a “Trump” bike! Similarly in India, seeing the narrative in main stream media, an outsider can get an impression that Modi Is finished and his popularity has hit rock bottom. Those of us with ear to the ground know that the truth is far from that!

Beyond these, there could be more meeting grounds as well for Modi and Trump! Like they are both eternally on “Campaign” Mode”! So, while it is very tempting just to draw parallels between Trump and Modi and call it as the beginning of a new era in political personalities, I do feel that there is a need to pause here. I think beyond the veneer of similarities between Modi and Trump, I do feel that never the twain shall meet for many reasons.

Like, while Modi and his office are active on social media, you can never find one politically inappropriate tweet from Modi. In the case of Trump, we have to search for one which is not!

Though Trump has been active in his direct communication through Social media, he has still respected the traditions of giving interviews and doing press conferences regularly. Modi, on the other hand, has shown high contempt to main stream media and has not addressed one presser since he took office. He has been quite stingy on giving personal interviews as well. His Man Ki Baat can be deciphered by the people through the radio and not through the mouths and writings of journalists!

Unlike Modi, I must say that Trump has shown more commitment to the promises he made during his campaign. Right or wrong, he has been diligently ticking off the promises he made one by one whether it is corporate tax reduction, steps to prevent illegal migration and so on. I would say that his stand on the Shutdown was another visible demonstration of his commitment to his manifesto. In the case of Modi, it has been a case of “Glass half empty”.

On the question of jobs, Trump has a better record to show certainly. A recent report said that US created 304,000 jobs against 170,000 expected just in January smashing all expectations. In India, the question of job creation is a mystery with no clear answers. As Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar points out in his Sunday TOI column, “An employment crash of the catastrophic sort indicated by the NSSO and CMIE typically occurs only in terrible, deep economic depressions. But India has been averaging over 7% GDP growth, and is the fastest-growing major economy in the world. Never in history has a miracle economy, growing at over 7%, witnessed a collapse of employment.”

A big difference between Modi and Trump has been the way they handle their teams. In India, Modi has his own handpicked team in his PMO. Most of them are from his erstwhile Gujarat cadre or with a stint in Sangh parivar backed Vivekananda foundation. They have stayed with him so far and we have not seen any public dissent against Modi. However in the case of Trump, we have lost count of his team members who have either quit or got fired! I don’t think any of the original staunch supporters of Trump are still sticking to him in his close circuit. I don’t think Modi will fire a subordinate over Twitter!

Another important point to add here is the influence of the family. In the case of Modi, his family has been kept at a far distance with no one occupying any real or virtual posts of power. In the case of Trump it is exactly the opposite. His daughter Ivanka and son in law Jared Kushner have been in the thick of policy making. Morality around conflict of interest has been thrown out of the window. And this I feel may return to haunt Trump for a long time when his term gets over!

I mentioned earlier about what the common public thinks of these leaders. Even the staunchest opponents of Modi would not venture to label him as a clown. But, in the US, calling Trump names – “Clown” and “Joker” being popular in that is uber cool! Similarly, Trump’s earlier escapades with women have routinely surfaced in regular frequency to embarrass him. Modi has a clean record on this score.

Above all, if there is going to one lasting difference between Trump and Modi, it is going to the legacy they leave. In today’s business parlance, “Disruption” is a virtue and “Disruptors” are visionaries. However, Trump as a disruptor is likely to lead America to paying some heavy price in the future. Many of his moves though in the short term have paid dividends politically and are seemingly smart for America today, may not be, in the long term. In that sense, I reckon that the legacy he leaves may be of the disruption in the real sense. On the other hand, Modi has been very circumspect in disrupting anything. He has believed in what I call as “Improved continuum”! I believe for a country like India, his legacy may be a more positive one. From that point of view, I do feel that talking of Modi and Trump in the same breath may just be a good academic exercise and therefore “Narendra Damodardas Trump” may just be a good click bait title for a blog. Just.

Demonetisation and it’s after”math”!!!

Ever since the RBI released its Annual report 2 weeks ago, Demonitisation (DeMo) is back in the news. And with its eminent Ex-Governor Raghuram Rajan now in India to promote his book, DeMo continues to hog the headlines and Op-Ed pages. The analysis of DeMo swing from scathing criticism of being a “big mistake” by the likes of Ex-Economic Advisor Kaushik Basu to calling it a “huge success and a course correction” by the likes of Gurumurthy, the veteran commentator on public affairs. So, as it happens in most issues these days, “for every spin there is an equally effective and opposite counter spin”! And where you stand on an issue depends on where you stand on the ideological divide.  On social media, it was a hashtag war between #DeMomenisationsuccess and #DeMonetisationfailure!

Ten months on, based on all the data available (99% of DeMo notes coming back to the banks) it seems that DeMo has not helped in sucking out the black money. In retrospection, I wonder how the government expected anybody in India to give up their prized possession (currency notes in this context) at all in the first place. In my own experience, when coming out with marketing promotion programs for the trade, we usually take twice the time for foolproofing the program compared to conceiving the program itself. This is from the wisdom of previous programs over the years where, we found that the Indian brain works over time always to find loop holes/gaps in any program announced. So, in a sales promotion program for example the trade will end up earning the incentives while you never achieve the increased sales objectives!

This is what happened in DeMo as well. If you remember, the day DeMo was announced, the chattering class’ verdict on WhatsApp group and dining area discussions was that it was a “Master stroke”! While the middle class and upper middle class folks who didn’t have unaccounted cash had to just find ways of beating the lines to exchange their notes, the ones who had, started cranking their brains. The result was the everyday tweaking of the rules and adding more terms and conditions for currency conversion. The then Economic Affairs Secretary Saktikanda Das became a celebrity overnight, thanks to his daily media briefings on what else – change in rules!

By now, it is clear that notwithstanding the anti-DeMo commentary of economists, there was overarching, tacit support for the DeMo move from common public. Inspite of loss of business for traders, loss of jobs for casual workers and loss of income for farmers the Note Bandi didn’t evoke much unfavourable mood towards the BJP so far. I am not sure if it will, from now on. What explains this paradox?

Many of the commentators have alluded to the human trait of Schadenfreude to explain this. That the poor were happy because this was one move which affected the rich and privileged and that the Prime Minister Modi had the guts to do so. This is a good possibility. But there could be more to this as well.  Within days of the DeMo announcement, the initial despair among people who were caught unawares with a lot of unaccounted cash turned into a relief, when they found ways and means to deposit the same into the bank. Among many ingenious ways, one was to tap into their own staff and workers to distribute the cash and get them deposited into their bank accounts. A report said that by Dec, the deposits in Jan Dhan Accounts peaked to Rs.74,609 crore! As of Sep, it was just 4,273 crore! The number of Jan Dhan accounts itself went up 5 times in this period!  My guess is that, in this process of conversion through the conduit of using others’ accounts, there must have been a cost.  The government must have lost an opportunity to earn taxes on the unaccounted income but those who had a lot of unaccounted cash ended up incurring a “conversion tax”! And I am certain that those who were witness to the rich incurring this tax felt certainly happy that DeMo was an equalizer of sorts. And not just being a witness, there would have been many who would have benefited from the sudden largesse of their masters as well and got their share of the “conversion tax”. So, instead of the government collecting taxes from the haves and distributing to have-nots by way of welfare measures did DeMo make it as a Direct Benefit transfer from the rich to the poor without the government in between?  Probably.

It’s evident now that the DeMo move has been a rocking political success for the government. On the economic front, though the objective of sucking up the black money has not been achieved directly, certain fringe benefits have accrued. Like reduction in cash circulation, increase in Digital transactions, and increase in bank deposits,…  These may leave the country in good stead in the future.  In the short-term however, the country skipped its GDP beat.

So when one does the after”math” of DeMo, it may well be like the popular “Elephant and the Blind men” story. For some, it’s a failure. For some, it’s a success. For some, it’s a partial success and for some it could be a partial failure. I would like to go with Rajan’s assessment that the short-term economic losses far outweighed the long-term benefits.  In hindsight, one is always wise. Other times – otherwise!

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!!!

2016, History & Hope!!!

This time of the year, the last week is usually a “feel good” week. There is celebratory mood around thanks to Christmas, holiday outings to look forward to and with a fresh New year coming up – a feeling of Hope. Had the year gone well, one is anyway happy and hopes that the good days continue into the New Year. If it had not, you want to quickly move on and again hope that the New Year brings some cheer. Was it Ghalib who said – ‘Umeed par Duniya Kayam hai…uska saath na chodo’ (Hope sustains this world, don’t lose its company!) So it is with fervent hope for Achhe Din (oops not the political type) that one usually steps into the New Year – year after year!

While there are 12 months, 52 weeks and 365 days to a year, when history is written a year is usually defined by what happened in a week or probably in a day.  And seldom have we realised when an event unfolds that it is history in the making. That is left to the wisdom of hindsight. For example, we now know that 1991 has been an important year for India. For opening up of the economy. For the end of license Raj. For unshackling the animal spirits. Yet, when the Industrial policy announcement was made in July 1991 by the Government, they were acknowledged by and large only as important “course corrections” considering the state of the economy by the media.  Then, they were not labeled historic.  The “Reforms” were always treated with suspicion and even in the Congress party there were many a doubting Thomases who derided the then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and the Finance Minister Manmohan Singh. But today the rearview mirror displays that the reforms of 1991 have indeed left a positive trail in our country.

History is a great leveler. And at times more charitable than the present. So you find more eulogies on Narasimha Rao as a visionary, as a modern Day Chanakya,..,..  today than there were when he was alive. Or even when he passed away in the same month around the same date in 2004. Hence I was not surprised when Manmohan Singh in his last press conference as a Prime Minister famously said – “History will be kinder to me than the contemporary media!!!”

So likewise when history is written I do believe that 2016 will have a significant place in it for the one event which happened on the 8th of November – The Demonetisation of high value currency notes! We will know how the after effects of this move play out in the next few quarters. As I mentioned we live in eternal hope. So the hope is that we get over the pain caused by this move sooner than later and the economy is back in track by March/April.

But apart from this, if there is one thing for which this move will be remembered for in history, it will be for how Demonetisation changed some steadfast habits of Indians. As author Shankkar Aiyyar famously said in his book – Accidental India that almost all of India’s turning points like the White revolution, Liberalisation,…) were not the result of foresight or careful planning but were rather the accidental consequences of major crises that had to be resolved at any cost.  Similarly the cash shortage situation resulting out of the Demonetisation program in the initial few days was panning out to be a major crisis. (Some would say it is still, though I beg to differ looking at how ground situation has changed for the better) This made the buyers and more importantly the sellers think of carrying on with their businesses with no or less cash.

Today in a traditional market in Mumbai – the usual signboard which said “Credit Card and other cards not accepted” – has the word “Not” blackened out! Paan Walas sporting “PayTM Accepted here” is no more just a subject of WhatsApp jeers but a reality. Restaurants and other outlets no more scorn at you if you flash your credit card for small payments. At multiplexes, there was are big lines during the interval not for buying popcorn tubs, but for swiping cards in one solitary POS machine! Personally speaking I am left with more cash in hand than ever in the past few years! The expenses haven’t reduced mind you though I would have lived with that side effect!

So this change in behavior of using less cash and migrating to digital means seen in Metros and big cities which will also spread to small towns and villages in due course could again become one “accidental” after effect of Demonetisation. We all know the overarching benefits of a Cash less /Digital economy. Indians by nature are trained to be less transparent in terms of disclosures – in matters of income and expenses. If we are forced to shrug off this ingrained reticence and have now become more open to transparency (all digital payments leave a trail) I think it is one helluva big step for a country like India naysayers notwithstanding.

2016 has been a historic year when status quo has been demolished everywhere. Brexit, the ascent of Donald Trump and in India – the Demonetisation move. The underlying sentiment has of course been “HOPE” in all these of better times ahead.  With the ushering of another New Year, there is continued Hope. For, Hope is not just a good thing but is the “Best” thing! And isn’t it increasingly perilous to lose its company?

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“Hoping” you will continue to read my posts and provide valuable feedback – see you in the next year!

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Marketing Warfare!!!

“Marketing Warfare” is an 80’s best seller from the famed marketing Gurus Al Ries & Jack Trout in which they elevate “Marketing” to a war and through the book talk about competitive positioning and military strategy. But this post is not about the theory of marketing warfare, but about the way to “market” warfare in the context of Geo-political happenings worldwide and in particular post the “Surgical strikes” which India carried out across LOC somewhere in between 28th and 29th of September.

In yesteryears when wars took place between nations, they were reported. These days they are marketed. I am not exactly sure when this trend started but I presume that the seeds for this were sown with the televising of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991. And then followed by “global gurus in marketing” – the Americans allowing journalists to be embedded with their troops to capture and report real time military action. And in doing so colouring the view as seen through the American prism. This I believe helped immensely in garnering public opinion in their favour back home and came in handy in political battles. A good example of such proactive communication is the tactical release of the now famous image of Obama and team watching live the ‘Operation Geronimo’ to catch Osama Bin Laden from their war room in the States. I am certain that the image played its part in getting Obama his second term after what was arguably a lacklustre 1st term. So as in conventional marketing where it is not enough to just have a good product but consumers be told of the same, in wars it has become important not just to engage in military action but to win the battle of the minds in the aftermath with astute communication, packaging – in short Marketing!

This is where I feel that India played its cards very well after conducting the “Surgical Strikes” this week. We are told that this is not the 1st time that our military has undertaken such operation along the LOC or across the LOC, but this is certainly the 1st time we made a clear announcement of it and let Pakistan and the world know of the same.  Here the 1st principles of marketing as I elucidated before came into play. That of not just carrying out the operation but communicating to the target audience of the same and communicating well. Which straight away helped build the narrative and enhance the image of our Prime Minister as a person who walks the talk. From here on irrespective of what happens, the Modi Government can take credit for having altered the image of India as a soft nation – a baggage we have been carrying for too long.

Not just this – the moves and communication preceding the operation have also been smart. After the Uri attack, the usual platitudes of condemnation followed. And then followed by the now famous statement that “the Army will respond at a time and place of its choosing”. As the talking heads in TV studios started analyzing what it means in terms of actual action on the ground, the Prime Minister while addressing a public rally in Kerala deflected all talks of war/military action by saying that our war with Pakistan must be to eradicate poverty. After this statement by the PM, most pundits started talking of the “return of Strategic restraint” in our nature of response. But most forgot the basic principles of warfare which is “you don’t say what you do and you don’t do what you say”! So I was not surprised that a clear military strike followed though I was indeed taken in by the quick timing.

On the other hand on the Pakistani side it has been utter confusion in terms of communication. While the PM Nawaz SharifStrongly condemned the unprovoked and naked aggression of Indian forces resulting in martyrdom of two Pakistan soldiers along LoC” the press release from Rawalpindi military HQ dismissed the strike as a routine “cross border strike initiated and conducted by India”. And interestingly brought in a “marketing” element by claiming that “This quest by Indian establishment to create media hype by “rebranding” cross border fire as surgical strike is fabrication of truth”!!! So while the Pakistani military establishment understood the concept of “Branding/Rebranding”,.. they walked into the trap which India laid.

India conducted the operation, “branded” it as a “Surgical Strike” and informed the world of the same. Pakistani military establishment and the Government openly echoed different views of the same. Now the question is – can you take to a level of serious military escalation after having dismissed the Indian operation as a border skirmish? In ensuring a muted response to the operation from the International community, India has successfully controlled the post operation narrative so far.

The Government having done its part so far carefully and smartly with effective controlled communication (the presser was addressed by DGMO and the MOE spokesperson jointly) could have reigned in the media from hyperventilating the whole night on Prime Time. There was an unwanted competition among anchors that night as if there was a “Kaun Banega Nationalist Anchor” competition! I believe there was some communication the next day from the Govt. to channels to pull back the rhetoric!

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The back cover of the book Marketing Warfare says “Marketing is war. To triumph over the competition, it’s not enough to target customers. Marketers must take aim at their competitors­­ and be prepared to defend their own turf from would-be attackers at all times”. I would like to paraphrase the same and say “Today, War is marketing.  It’s not enough to just win the war but to win the narrative after the war”.

P.S: Everyone who has seen US presidential debates knows that the real show begins after the candidates have said Goodnight. And that is in the “Spin Room” where cherry picked faces from both sides give a spin on what their masters actually said and meant in the debate!!! It’s a war out there, you see!!!

Shaadi?? – My Conditions apply!!!

Followers of South Indian Cinema in general and Tamil cinema in particular would remember the hit film Manal Kayiru’ in which playwright and stage veteran Visu made his debut as a director. The film has the male protagonist played by comedian S.Ve.Shekhar laying out an elaborate list of 8 conditions which a girl must satisfy to become his wife. The director himself playing the role of a marriage broker in the pre – Shaadi.com/Bharatmatrimony.com,… era lines up a girl and cons the hero into accepting her by proving that all his conditions were met. In these times of sequels, if one thinks of making Manal Kayiru – 2, one important change is called for in the script. Or rather a role reversal. Today, it has to be the female protagonist who has to dish out the conditions to be met by her potential suitor. A survey conducted by a matrimonial site clearly pointed to the trend of more and more girls putting forth conditions before taking the final plunge.

I thought that this emerging change was wonderfully picked up by ‘Shaadi.com’ a leading match making portal when they started running a very interesting TV commercial which showed young liberated girls. They claimed in a montage of visuals that they will marry but in their own terms. You may see the ad here. The ad ends with a super with a very firm voice over – Shaadi.com – My conditions apply!!! I must say that the creators of the ad (JWT I think) have a very good sense of what is happening today and smartly weaved it into the commercial. This is today’s generation of girls who are extremely liberated and self-confident.

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It’s my premise that much of this change must be owed to the IT revolution which programmed India in the late 90’s. In one of my earlier pieces I had attributed the Ascent and Revenge of the Mamis to this same IT revolution. (You may read that piece here). Now I must say that the “Revenge of the Mamis to be” can also be ascribed to the growth of IT Industry in India and its hitherto successful run in empowering Middle Class Indians and the women folk. Traditionally a core Engineering/Mfg. Company would prefer to hire male engineers citing tough conditions at work. But with IT, that line just diffused.

Ergo, India’s IT rise has stopped the party the boys were having, on its tracks. For long in India the boys were a privileged lot and were used to listing a set of conditions and detailed specifications for their wives to be. Must know to cook, must be domesticated enough, must quit the job after children and if it’s Tambrahm community – must be trained in classical music, must be trained in Bharatnatyam (but must stop dancing after marriage) ,…,… were some of the wish list.  But today, it’s the girl who calls the shots. In the “getting to know each other date”, the girls come prepared with a clear set of questions and conditions while the boys just show up.

Like

  • A minimum 5 figure salary/month (preferably take home that is). To be proved with a copy of the last not one but 3 salary slips😊
  • Should have a house in his name (shared or an ancestral property is not enough😊)
  • Should be owning a four-wheeler
  • If its IT – should have opportunity for “on site”😊
  • Cannot be in ‘Joint family” post marriage
  • I will have to take care of my parents even after marriage. No questions to be asked”.
  • You have to treat my family as yours”
  • ,..
  • ,..

And making it abundantly clear what to expect and what not to expect after marriage. Like

  • “I can’t cook to save my life. Will try to learn as much as possible. But you should manage to cook”😊😊
  • “Will dress as my wont – modern, traditional, whatever”
  • “Will not give up my job under any circumstances”
  • “I will decide when and how many children to have”
  • “No joint family under any circumstances”
  • ‘Will retain my surname”
  • ,…
  • ,…

While most of the above still lie in the realm of reasonable expectations, there are some which border on the extremes. Sample this:

  • Like when a girl asked her potential suitor – “how many luggage you have???” – And she meant parents, sisters, brothers,..😁and particularly wanting to make sure there was no “unmarried sister”😄😄
    • When the shocked boy objected (sort of) to the use of the word luggage for family members, she quipped, “Relax, I just said “luggage” and not “Excess baggage”😄😄
  • Like when a girl candidly said – “I turn on the GPS as soon as I enter the house – so that I can locate the kitchen😜😜
  • Like for a change one girl gladly accepted to live in a joint family post marriage adding “Somebody has to handle the kitchen and take care of the child when we have one, no???”😜
  • Like when a girl scanned the boy’s complete FB profile/posts and ofcourse friend list (particularly the girls type) and asked, “Who is this _____?? You seem to like all her bakwas (If it’s another girl it has to be bakwas😜) posts and post elaborate comments!!!”

Particularly at a time when the gender ratio is skewed against the men in many communities, they are at the receiving end of this revenge onslaught. “So my dear younger generation “to be married” male doston, All the very best! And be prepared with “No conditions apply” from your side and for “Many conditions apply” from their side.”😄😄

Kyunki, Mera Desh, Mera desh badal raha hai, Aage badh raha hai!!!😁😁😁