“JUST” learning to live during the pandemic!

Vijay Yadav* is a small time vegetable and fruit vendor who has been carrying out his business in Mumbai since 2 decades now.  Ever since the lock down, in our apartment complex, he is one of the suppliers of fresh vegetables and fruits. Twice a week, we place order over WhatsApp to him and he delivers the same at the parking lot of our building. He informs us the due amount on WhatsApp and we pay the amount due to him through Google Pay.

22nd Aug, 2020 was Ganesh Chaturthi. Due to the current pandemic situation, we couldn’t go to the local market for Pooja related shopping (different types of Flowers, Garland…) on the eve of the festival. When we were wondering what to do, Meena*, our regular flower seller informed us to our pleasant surprise that she will home deliver whatever flowers and items we need and asked my wife to send the list over WhatsApp. On the 21st evening, the list was delivered at our ground floor. She informed us the amount and we made the payment to her through PayTM.

On 22nd Aug was also our Avani Avittam (Janeu changing ceremony) for which our regular Cheenu vaadhyar (bhatji) sent us the YouTube link to join him. From home, we completed the rituals and promptly sent the Acharya sambavana thro Google Pay.

In between we had to consult for a routine ailment with our Homeopath doctor.  We did the same over phone. He said he will send the medicines to our house within 1 hour. He has a tie up with Swiggy and the medicines were delivered at our doorstep. The doctor gave his UPI id for transferring his fees, which we did.

What is common in all these? It is that we and the other parties involved were able to carry on with life even during the lock down period without stepping out of our place, fairly smoothly. And if you look at it closely, this was made possible through a combination of Smart phones, Bank accounts (to which we could transfer the money) and more importantly the UPI platform through which we could transfer money real time into bank accounts of beneficiaries.

It was Dr. Arvind Subramanian, Ex-Chief Economic Advisor to the Government of India who in his 1st Economic Survey document coined the term – “The JAM Trinity” and said that the potential of Jan Dhan Yojana, Aadhaar and Mobile phone could be harnessed to plug subsidy leaks and ensure a more targeted delivery to those needy.  This was the beginning of Modi’s 1st term during which, the government gave a huge push to opening Bank accounts for the poor through the Jan Dhan Yojana and also advocated the use of Aadhaar for identifying the needy.  However, in the aftermath of Covid-19, I would tweak the JAM Trinity and say that it is the “Quad of JUST” which is helping to keep the bottom of the pyramid afloat during the pandemic.

If you look at the examples I have provided at the beginning, you would realise that even with the unexpected strike of the pandemic, what has been sustaining at least some fraction of the economic activity is a combination of

J (Jan Dhan Accounts) – through which we could transfer money to beneficiaries who are not so privileged like Domestic helps, small time vendors and so on.

U (UPI Platform) – without which money transfer to bank accounts through mobile wallets like Google Pay or PayTM for example, couldn’t be so easy and swift.

S (Spectrum) – as in the advent of 4G which has made data usage cheap and ubiquitous in India

T (Technology) – Without which all these would not have been possible at all.

In this four, I would like to focus on the UPI bit. United Payment Interface (UPI) developed by National Payments Corporation of India was launched in India in April 2016. But it was post the Demonetisation that UPI as a tool got its fillip in terms of adoption and usage. Just look at the numbers. From just 21 banks who were part of UPI in 2016 when it was launched, today it is more than 140. The transaction volumes have grown exponentially from 2.06 mn. in Dec 2016 to 1.49 bn. in July 2020. And in terms of revenue, it has gone up from Rs. 13.17 crore to Rs. 29.05 Lac crore in the same period!!

It’s been so much of a runaway success that Google (which is part of the UPI through its GPay product) has written to US Federal Reserve Board urging it to build a similar faster payment service platform in the US citing the case study of UPI.

As documented very well by Shankkar Aiyar in his book, The Accidental India, in post Independent India, almost all of the successful economic transformations happened as an answer to a crisis. Similarly, the success of UPI in India also, could be pointed towards the cash payment crisis situation that resulted due to Demonetisation in November 2016. While Demonetisation might not have yielded the originally intended objective of the government namely to suck out the black money from the system, I feel that it has delivered or still delivering other positive outcomes.

Among the top is the formalisation of the economy which is a Work in Progress. The huge success of UPI has made conducting business smoother and easier even during lock down times even for the micro business community. At the same time, the added benefit is the expansion of the formal economy where less and less transactions happen through cash.

The last few months ever since the pandemic struck, have been testing times for any country and its economy.  It’s my feeling that after the initial complete lock down phase of two months, Indians have accepted the reality and have started looking at ways and means of getting on with their lives even without any dole from the government in the form of cash support. Purely from the stand point of micro businesses, they have all tried to adapt their business models to at least survive and stay afloat. Accepting orders through WhatsApp, doing home delivery and equipping themselves with online payment options are some of these adaptations. And these may very well stay even after the pandemic is over. In that sense, while the media commentary (when not busy with Sushant Singh’s death that is) could be around doom and gloom due to Covid in India, the common man has learnt to live during the pandemic with the “Quad of JUST” and will to survive.

Postscript: Way back in November 2016, in the aftermath of Demonetisation I had written a post titled Cash Mukt Bharat (Read here) where I had fantasised of an India where cash transactions have reduced completely by 2025. We are in 2020. Looks like many things mentioned in that post have already become a reality.  Amen.

*All names changed.

Pic courtesy: Yourstory.com

Packaging of the Package!

In India, in the past few days, most Indians or at least the urban folks have been hooked on to the television by 4.00 p.m. every day. Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a grand announcement of ushering in an Atmanirbhar Bharat with an economic package of Rs. 20 Lac Crore, not just the devil, hope was also in the detail. So, it was left to the finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman to announce the details that would not belie the hopes of millions of Indians.

In India today and probably the world over, if one has to depend on the media commentary to make up one’s mind on an issue, it is virtually impossible. On any topic, the tone of the commentary and its conclusion can be guessed without even reading the piece or watching the full clip, by just looking at the author’s name or the medium carrying it. These days, very rarely you get to read a piece that gives a balanced opinion on a topic, the two or more sides of it, the pros and cons and possibly the positive and negative impact.  So, even to the slew of announcements the finance minister has been making, the reactions have been on predictable lines. The pro-government media/authors have been only praising the initiatives while those opposing have only picked up holes in the announcements. Balanced commentary is increasingly becoming as oxymoron.

It is under these circumstances that I feel, any government today needs to be super-efficient in its communication, so that it has the intended impact on people.  The usually communication savvy Modi Sarkar, has been found wanting particularly in these dire times, when it is utmost critical to bring in comfort and then confidence to the public at large. I will explain why and will try my best to provide a balanced view.

  • First up, the intention of the government not to get bogged down by Covid, but use it as an opportunity to re-define strategic priorities for the country is welcome. To that extent, Modi’s speech on the 12th May, was pretty much on point. There was a vision and though delayed, a financial economic package to the tune of Rs. 20 lac crore,  which are both commendable.
  • The details of the package were to be released in the next few days which is what happened in the last few days, beginning 13th Feb and ending today.
  • The announcements do reveal that the government has done a lot of homework and that probably explains the delay in the unveiling of the package. Having said that, there has been issues with the content and form.
  • First the content.
    • The government in its wisdom chose to use this opportunity not to just announce the economic stimulus package but also address long pending reforms and amendments in laws which is appreciable.
    • Globally, there is an Anti-China mood and having a strategic game plan to take advantage of the changing winds is important. So, some of the measures announced I believe, are in that direction which augurs well for the country.
    • While few may understand that some measures are meant for short term remedy and others are meant for long term transformation, most of us cannot make the distinction.
    • It would have been better if the Government had broken down the announcement into two parts.
      • The first one, to just focus on the immediate short term stimulus/support measures that will “comfort” the ailing strata of the society. This announcement was the one which was widely and eagerly expected. So, what is in it for the MSMEs whose businesses have suffered badly, the urban and poor workers who are left without work and wages, and the farmers who have lost their income?  In this regard, some of the initiatives like the expanded MSME credit facility even without collaterals, free ration to the poor including those without ration cards and the Additional MGNREGA allocation are greatly appreciable.
      • There has been all around pressing calls for cash transfer to the poor as the panacea for the migrant crisis that has unfolded. The government’s view is that, it believed in empowerment rather than entitlement as a route to support poor at this stage. Also, there is a view that money transfer may lead to longer lines in front of liquor shops. There are no doubt, merits in these arguments. But, considering the current acute distress situation, it would have been good if, the government opted for cash transfer to Jan Dhan accounts of women for the next six months.  That would have addressed the lack of money and the alcohol problem in one bullet.
      • The second part could have been reforms and parliamentary actions that are more strategic that will give “confidence” to investors – domestic and foreign.  Muddling all these and choosing to announce major and a lot of minor initiatives together, has resulted in a problem of comprehension.
      • On each of the days of announcement, Twitter and WhatsApp groups were buzzing with more questions than answers, as to what all these actually meant the Aam admi. If the urban elite couldn’t make out that, how do we expect the poor who are expecting some immediate succour desperately from the government to comprehend what is in it for them?
      • If restricting the announcement to the top four or five big “new” initiatives would have reduced the stimulus to Rs.15 lac crore or something, so be it. That is better than creating a Shock and Awe with a huge amount and eventually leaving the public to just count the zeroes in it for the rest of the year.
  • Second the form.
    • In India, most of us suffer from what I call as the “More Points in Power point” syndrome. We feel that if there are more points in the slide, it is always better. In the corporate world, this syndrome translates itself into “More strategies”, More Key Actions”, “More priorities”, More slides, More everything!
    • In this case, the government too being a victim of this syndrome, ended up re-hashing many old initiatives, repeating stuff which have already been announced in the last budget. For example, the “One Nation One Ration Card” initiative was first announced if I am right in 2016. Stuff like reforming the Essential Commodities Act etc. have been touched upon in the past budget speeches.

The result is that, the Finance Minister ended up making her third budget speech for this year, the only difference being, it was in tranches. From the government’s point of view, this would have helped in deflecting the headlines for a week from the migrant crisis and other related bad news. But, I am not sure if the budget speech type announcements have helped in either “Comforting” the needy or building “Confidence” among the business community!

When marketing Guru Philip Kotler first talked of the P’s of marketing, he just referred to 4 P’s – Product, Price, Place and Promotion.  As marketing evolved, more P’s like Positioning, People and Packaging got added over a period of time. In the modern retail world, packaging got a lot of prominence due its influencing role at the point of sale. In today’s era of political communication too, I believe, even an economic or a stimulus package needs to be “Packaged” properly to reach its desired outcome.

Lest we forget, Narendra Modi has been the maiden recipient of the Philip Kotler Presidential Award.

Cartoon credit: Satish Acharya

Cash Mukt Bharat!!!

  • The neigbourhood vegetable bhaiyya Yadavji is still going strong negating all predictions that the organized retail will swallow the likes of him. Organised retail didn’t quite swallow him. But he is now a fringe player of that organized retail. I pick up the weekly need of vegetables and fruits. His son who is in his early twenties, quickly totals up the bill in a handheld POS (Point of sale) device and lets me know the amount. He then sends me a request for the payment using his UPI (Unified Payments Interface) App on his smart phone. I approve the same and the payment gets credited to his account.

  • Adi Ganesh Store which was a popular shop in our neighbourhood In Mumbai catering to the typical needs of the South Indians (Read as Filter Coffee powder) is now Adi Ganesh Super market. They now accept payments in credit cards even for purchases under Rs. 100.

  • At the Guruvayurappan Temple nearby, the Hundis for coins and cash have been replaced by plastic card swiping machines where all donations can be made and receipts received.

  • Our family physician DrPurab is still the smiling self and fit as ever. He continues to give his own medicines but one can pay his fees through credit card.

  • The “Old paperwala on call” still comes promptly to collect the old newspapers. He now has a tie up with the Big Bazaar chain of stores and gives Big Bazaar cash cards for the paper taken.

  • Almost all auto rickshaws are now part of some aggregator or other and are accepting payments through mobile wallets.

  • The Domestic help handed over a card which had the details of her bank account number to which she requested the salary be transferred.

  • It looked like that the benefits of JAM (Jan Dhan Yojana/Aadhar/Mobile phone) which had threatened to be just a great theory has become a reality.

I realized that India in Jan 2025 is not the same in more ways than one as it was in 2017 when I left for abroad.  But I am surprised first, impressed next and fascinated finally by the transformation of a country in the area of financial inclusion and the transition to almost a Cash Mukt Bharat in just 8 years!

Almost everybody I talked to credited this transformation to various moves the present BJP Government undertook and in particular the “Demonetisation” of 500 and 1000 Rupee currencies in 2016. I remember that time very well. It was in November of 2016 when the country had just finished its annual quota of bursting crackers for Diwali. On 8th night, it was the turn of the Prime Minister to set off his Diwali bomb. At the stroke of midnight 500 and 1000 Rupee notes lost their legal tender. What followed in the next couple of weeks I now realize had sown the seeds for India almost becoming a Cash Mukt Bharat.

currency

With almost no cash in hand available, the general public had to resort to ways and means to avoid using their left over legal tender and use them only sparingly. People started doing day today shopping of veggies/fruits,.. in super markets instead of the neighbourhood vendor though he sold stuff fresh.  People avoided auto rides by hailing on the roads and resorted to “Ola Autos/Ola Cabs” where they could pay by mobile wallets. Within few days as banks resembled Ration shops of the 80’s India with serpentine lines right from sunrise, vegetable and other vendors started accepting cheques for payment in fear of losing their customers.  Most food establishments who had a minimum limit for accepting credit cards removed such limits. In the hinterland of India is where the impact was colossal. Though a big population was banked under Jan Dhan Yojana, till then they were not banking. The overnight shortage of currency, helplessness in otherwise carrying out day to today lives and finally the threat of losing business permanently pushed many to figure out alternate ways for making and accepting payments and they did. There was utter chaos for few days as the country came to terms with the move but ultimately in the long run, change did happen. In India normally change is slow. But under duress change is swift.

“Can you get up now?” It’s the wife at home waking me up from my nice Sunday afternoon siesta.  “I told you to think of a topic to write for the daughter for tomorrow’s Children’s Day event. Did you think of something??” I had not. But muttered as usual, “Yes”. What’s the topic on?? She asked. And I answered, “My dream India @ 2025!!!”

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