Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Loving the Villian

After the Maoists marched to an incredible victory in the elections in Nepal, the Maoist hero Prachanda, the leader of the victorious communist party of Nepal (Maoist) is now beginning to win a lot of hearts in the elite classes of the liberal Indians. The villain of the past (pre-2005) era is suddenly afresh with energy and a chocolate-boy-next door image as a pragmatic leader.
It doesn't matter anymore, that Prachanda was the man behind the massacre of innocent civilians in different parts of Nepal by the well-trained, well-armed and well-motivated insurgent army raised by him. It is of no consequence that Prachanda had contacts with the Shining Path guerrillas of Peru. It hurts nobody anymore that he helped the Maoists in India, particularly in Andhra Pradesh in clandestine operations against India, particularly against the Indian Army. It is forgotten that he used the support of the Nepalese Royal family secretly to plot against the Indians.
Now, he is the pragmatic leader, the man for the future of Nepalese relationship with India. The liberals don't mind his communist ideology, they love him all the same. He made it apparent in many of his statements in Nepal that he would not consider democracy as genuine unless it enabled him to become the President of a republican Nepal, but that did not sound a jarring note in India . The desire to encourage his seeming metamorphosis became the driving force of policy-making and the negative comments emanating from him from time to time were overlooked.
But what we need to realise is that this burgeoning love for somebody who was once an insurgent though practical, needs to be handled delicately. From an India-Nepal integration point of view, welcoming an insurgent movement into governance and integrating it in the mainstream is a touchy process, which has to be handled carefully and gradually. In its over-eagerness to achieve integration, India should not create new problems in Nepal. India's method of managing the process of integration, has been successful with the so-called Naga Federal Government when Indira Gandhi was PM. in the 1970s and with the Mizo National Front under Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi in the 1980s. Now after 20 years, and with another very close neighbour in a similar fate, India needs to watch out.
The Villains can become the Heroes, no doubt but take that with a grain of salt.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


That is the new punch phrase for a public campaign started by the Bangalore Mirror, to push for a better and a faster connectivity between Bangalore City and the fast upcoming Bangalore International Airport at Devana Halli. The "Devana Yelli " phrase is soon catching along, for its short and cynical color. For the non-bangaloreans :"yelli" in Kannada means "Where is it?".With just six weeks remaining for the Airport to finally open up, a lot of Bangaloreans are worried about the poor connectivity related problems to the Airport.
A satirical Ad in Bangalore Mirror reads thus.

“Check-in 5 minutes/Boarding flight 10 minutes/Take-off 15 minutes/Flying time 1 Hour/To reach airport 3 hours”!

With all the teething problems related to connectivity, it is the short haul flights that will suffer. Like Bangalore-Chennai or Bangalore- Hyderabad. A lot of ideas to solve the problem are making the rounds, (including super fast trains and cable cars) The solution whatever be it, is to be executed real fast. The Spanking Super Airport , without these solutions could well become a bottleneck. Fingers Crossed!

The Obnoxius Weed Resurfaces Again

Its surprising and shameful to see some "icons" who carry with them the respect and admiration of millions of fans across the nation, never seem to learn what it takes to be at that position of being an idol. No prizes for guessing the name of the most famous 'spoilt brat' of the Indian Cricketing history. Yes! Undoubtedly Mr Harbhajan Singh.
He got scott free (thanks to the rather distasteful but overwhelming support of "we the pride loving Indians") in Australia,after committing rather some shameless crimes, and perpetuating uncalled for controversies and then justifying his actions as a retort of cricketing aggression. Volumes were spoken on the new found bravery of the surdar of spin, and his ability to stand up to structured Australian Mind games. Although, after the nasty stories doing its rounds in the IPL today I'm sure you will agree to my earlier post on this issue.( Krishna Prashanth: Fallen Face on floor- still no dust on the chin!! )
I am sure and very certain that he should be punished, if the game is to enjoy any wee bit of respect. If you are a Bhajji fan, great and so be it. As long as it is the spin that entices you kudos!
But if you admire him for his aggression, its time to search for a different role model.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Spine of the Nation can't Afford its Steel

The rising steel prices is a matter of concern for every industry. The first to feel the heat is unquestionably the Railways. The Indian Railways often quipped as the "Spine of the Nation",is probably moving into a swamp with many of its contractors threatening to stop further construction activities unless they were covered for the uncertainties pertaining to Steel prices.
Vendors who supply finished steel and other components used for manufacturing coaches and wagons, too, are walking out of contracts they had signed with the railway ministry.
Rising inflation has been precarious and has left everybody pondering for a solution. However,the price of steel has been rising faster than the overall inflation. The annual growth in the index for steel was almost four times the annual rate of inflation at 7.14%.
The result has not been sweet for the world's largest employer.The Indian Railways runs the risk of a major setback to its plans to ramp up freight capacity, which is currently operating at its peak, through a big step-up in capital expenditure. In the railway budget this year, minister Lalu Prasad had said that capital expenditure would be increased from Rs31,783 crore in 2007-08 to Rs37,500 crore in the current fiscal year. The railways has already started preparatory work to construct the dedicated freight corridor, a 2,700km railway grid that will connect Mumbai, New Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai. And then it all comes crumbling down like a cookie. Rumours are abound that there has also been a shortage of steel for rails, for completion of several projects that are underway.
Steel prices have a tendency of pulling up the prices of everything else. Being the backbone of the economy, the Railways will be forced to increase their freight charges if the steel prices don't cool off. Almost two thirds of the nations freight is carried by the Indian Railways. So the next time you find that milk prices have increased, you might have a reason to blame steel.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Dead Man's Tales

Time slips like sand
held between your fingers
Little moments and winks
die before one remembers

Will you come again
and end this needless madness
Or, are you also dead?

Where are those noises
That woke me up in the night?
Why is all this silence around

Whose corpses are these
That walk like they don't see me
Where are they going to
and live in homes stacked like tins

I'm all broken and hungry
but its okay, I think
I can manage
No matter how hard you try
You can't kill a man again.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

It's Victory for Cricket in the end!

IPL - The three letters of the alphabet, which in recent history has rigged up the fiercest debates in the interest of the future of cricket. The Mega Launch in Bangalore on Friday night has really been only a tip of the iceberg for what this competition has in store for millions of fans across the world. Multi Millionaire businessman Vijay Mallya owning the team from his home town, Bangalore Royal Challengers had little to complain even as his team lost to Sharukh Khan's Kolkata Knight riders, after the game. The format of IPL seems to have pulled in a chord for the average cricket follower, the largest mass, a treat for any advertiser and millions and millions of dollars still to be made.

The heady mix of bollywood entertainment and action packed cricket that this format of the game has raked in compels me to correlate this from a business point of view to the famous business mantra "The money is in the bottom of the pyramid". The bottom of this pyramid of cricket followers is the masses comprising the average office goer, the rickshaw wallah, the page 3 party animals even the 'saas bahu ' fans--the housewife. This is for the common man who in his everyday walk of life has no time to appreciate the 5 day version of the game and its unique uncertainties that make it a game of slow strategy. He has no time to appreciate the direction of the swing or the effect of the blowing wind. He has no time to understand the nuance of a sweet 'googly' or the sinister 'doosra'. All he has is 3 hours of peace, after a hard day's work; maybe with his cup of filter coffee or with a bottle of local rum. He needs some action to pump up his adrenalin that he may forget the face of his boss, the face of his wife. He wants to see colors on his newly bought color TV, not merely white hats and a red ball. He loves to see the fireworks, he loves the scantily clad cheerleaders. He loves to see Preeti Zinta or Sharukh Khan dancing on the stands rooting for their respective teams. He doesn't need to be loyal to any team. No nationalism, patriotism or any of those complicated philosophies. Just plain and pure entertainment.

While the purists will not disagree with me on the possible success of the business model. They hate what this might do to the beauty of the "Gentleman's game". I have some good news for the purists too. Remember the India Australia series down under? Remember the ugly controversies? Remember the "monkeys" and the "weeds"? IPL will change all that. Ricky Ponting of the Kolkata Knight Riders comes running down the pitch, for a high five with the very Ishaant Sharma when a wicket is taken. Laxman consulting Symonds or Dravid advising Kallis are scenes that speak for the victory of cricket over narrow nationalist views. The day may not be far when the Indian from Hyderabad will think twice before supporting Harbhajan (who happens to play for Mumbai Indians) when an on field row sparks off between Harbhajan and Symonds again.

It’s a global village. The IPL is the only format that can take the game above the nationalist feelings. In the end, it’s the Victory for Cricket.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

I'm Loving It

2 days ago on April 15th 2008, Mc Donald's celebrated its 53rd birthday. Mc Donald's chain of restaurants popularly known as
Mc Ds has come a long way, establishing itself as a symbolic icon of the world being a global village, a pioneer of innovative contemporary business models and more importantly than all, one stop place all over the world for a quick quality meal.
I recall my first visit to a Mc Donald's in Gurgaon in 2003, what appealed to me then was the clean shining tables, large play ground like eating areas, and a very quick friendly service across the counter. That visit has led to several others in more than 50 cities and across 5 countries and all I would say about a Mc Donald's is " I'm Loving it".
Being the world's largest chain of fast food restaurants, feeding nearly 54 million hungry stomachs daily does not mean that the journey for Mc Donald hasn't been without hurdles. Among the critiques are allegations that McDonald's uses its political influence to increase their own profits at the expense of people's health and the social conditions of its workers. In 2002,(Exactly one year before my first visit!) vegetarian groups, largely Indians successfully sued McDonald's for misrepresenting their French fries as vegetarian. Even after the discontinuation of frying the French fries in beef tallow in 1990, the French fries still had beef extract added to them. (For the benefit of my vegetarian readers in the U.S.: it is believed that the French fries sold by Mc D in the U.S. still contain beef and animal flavoring).
With all that, I am not surprised at the reaction of many Mc D fans across the world "I'm Loving it". I was in Chennai with this engineer from the U.S. who was on his first visit to India, telling me that , after a hard day's work the only restaurant he could confidently walk into in India, (without experiencing a cultural difference) and order what he was sure he would like was a Mc Donald's. On my first visit to Dhaka, Bangladesh, I realised being a vegetarian was not an easy thing at all. With a very strong language barrier (English is a very tough option for many Bangladeshies!) and with a strong tendency to serve anything far from vegetarian in every restaurant, I was almost left with very little option than to live on plantains and biscuits. But only until, I discovered this Mc D across the street. Lesson 1: If you are a vegetarian and in Bangladesh, rush to a Mc D.
Malaysia is not such a difficult option in terms of being a vegetarian. I walked into this Mc D in KL, and asked them if they served any vegetarian burgers. This smart gentleman across the counter (very typical of Mc D to have smart men across counters!!) said "Yes", and pointed towards the 'Mc Menu chart" at a Vegetarian Burger with Sauce. Innocently, I ordered it and took the tray to my table. Before I could eat a bite, I saw the smart gentleman rushing towards me. "Are you a Hindu brahmin?" was his question. Although I was shocked by this sudden question regarding my religious belief from an individual (who by my guess was a Philippine!), I was more than relieved when he explained how he had read about Hindu Brahmins not eating fish, and that the "sauce" in my burger may have traces of fish flavour and had rushed to me so that I was well informed before I eat it. When I admitted to him that I was a "Hindu Brahmin" after all, he was more than apologetic. He offered to give me a pure vegetarian burger free of cost.(without the sauce of course!) Now that is what I call customer centric service. I might have never realised a trace of fish in a sauce. He needn't have told me at all! But then, that's Mc D for you.
It is very difficult to find a vegetarian burger in the Mc Ds in Finland. It was late in the night and I was hungry so I decided to give it a try. The guy in the counter apologised to me that he didn't have anything purely vegetarian. I asked him if he could go "outside the box" and think of a way to feed my hungry tummy. True to the Mc D tradition, he came up with a solution right away. "I can offer you the Beef Burger" he said "But without the Beef!!" Now this special variant of Mc D burger is purely vegetarian, and has only a vegetable patty and some greens without any beef!! Every time I am in Finland or Germany I know what to order in Mc D , A beef burger without beef!!
Many people also feel that Mc Donald's eating is not a healthy way to eat. Often Mc'D is also a butt of office room jokes. I had this Italian friend who thought that he would go starving for a year if necessary but wont eat any junk food at Mc D. Well unhealthy or healthy, I just have one thing to say. I'm loving it.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Zephyr turns into a Tornado

In an earlier post, the future of Zimbabwe had been suggested as a gentle breeze of hope, (Read: Krishna Prashanth: A Zephyr in Zimbabwe) with Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC gaining a majority over Mr.Mugabe of Zanu PF by capturing 50.3% of the total vote. But with the Zanu PF denying these results and the official results still waiting to be announced, the situation has turned rather shameful with violence and treachery mocking at the very meaning of democracy in Zimbabwe.
In the latest development a High Court appeal by the MDC requesting the immediate release of the electoral results, has been turned down. MDC lawyer Andrew Makoni said it was a "sad day in Zimbabwe". The judge said the results could not be published until reports of anomalies in some seats had been investigated. The opposition (MDC) said violence was escalating ahead of a possible run-off vote and that one of its supporters had been killed by Zanu-PF militia. All this even as MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai continues to say that he defeated President Robert Mugabe. But electoral officials have ordered a recount in a number of seats.
It is believed that in the earlier elections in 2002, Mr. Mugabe had manipulated numbers to convert the situation into a run off vote and managed to retain his position as the President of Zimbabwe for 28 long years. The 2008 election story seems to be taking a similar turn.
BBC reports the same as a case of " Democracy Gone Wrong"
"The electoral commission says the recount of presidential and parliamentary results in 23 constituencies will start on Saturday. Zanu-PF requested a recount in 22 constituencies, while an MDC application for a recount in one seat has also been granted. The contents of Zimbabwe's ballot boxes are still a matter of dispute.The parliamentary election saw Zanu-PF lose its majority for the first time in Mr Mugabe's 28-year rule. But the majority could be recovered if the ruling party is awarded just nine of the 23 seats subject to a recount. The speaker of the South African parliament, Baleka Mbete, has denounced the failure to publish the results of the presidential election as a case of "democracy gone wrong".
The citizens of Zimbabwe after having suffered a sky rocketing inflation of 100,000 %, are still waiting for the friendly zephyr of hope.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

BMW and its April Fool's day Ads

Going through the April Fool's day stuff on the internet, hit upon some very interesting ads posted by leading qualtiy Car manufacturer BMW. Quite some thing to laugh oneself on...

Hit yourself on the links for these funny Ads.
1. IDS ("Insect Deflector Screen") Technology - using elastic solutions to bounce insects off the windscreen as you drive,
2.SHEF ("Satellite Hypersensitive Electromagnetic Foodration") Technology, which sees the car's GPS systems synchronise with home appliances to perfectly cook a meal for the instant you return home.
3.Marque-Wiper - mini-wipers for each exterior "BMW" logo coming as standard on all future models,
4."Uninventing the wheel" to counter the "EU ban" on right-hand drive cars.
5.Zoom Impression Pixels ("ZIP") to counter new Slow Cameras.
6.Canine Repellent Alloy Protection - a means of discouraging dogs from urinating on car wheels. (2008)

The Rebels will be the new Rulers

After a disturbing history of threats, extortion and killings since 1993, after having taken away more than 10,000 lives in guerrilla killings , today , the Nepalese want to democratically elect these very violent rebels as their rulers. The Maoists are leading the results of the first ever elections in Nepal that will see an end to Monarchy in Nepal.(Read:Krishna Prashanth: Nepal - At the End of Monarchy )
There is still a week's time before the final official election results will be out, but Nepal is surprised to see the trends of victories arising for the Maoists , mainly under the leadership of Prachanda. In the last two years since they laid down their guns, the Maoists have been in and out of the interim coalition government. But in a position of power today the Nepalese people expect they will act responsibly for the good of Nepal.
The India Perspective:
New Delhi is watching the results carefully and It's still wary of how a Maoist-government or a Maoist supported government would behave towards India. Prachanda's comments have never been too kind on India. He may have also not have forgotten how India provided the Nepalese government with military support after King Gyanendra himself came knocking on India's doors to seek help in crushing the Maoist rebellion.
It is also not very clear as to what is the role of the Nepalese Maoists in the Indian Maoist agenda. Although there has been several denials form Prachanda himself regarding the link between the Indian Maoists and the Nepalese Maoists , the government cannot sit and watch. Coming to victory will mean a moral victory for what India has been morally opposing since 1993. Time to take stock of the situation.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A Useful Blog on the net

As I was 'Blog hunting' for some interesting blogs from Mangalore,( the town I was born and brought up in ) I accidentally stepped upon a very intriguing blog of the Superindent of Police of Dakshin Kannada.

Here's the idea.
"This weblog has been created by the Dakshina Kannada Police with the purpose of disseminating police news of the district to those interested. Authentic and official information of DK Police will be posted here regularly. This is just an attempt to create an interface with the press and the public at large. Your views and suggestions are welcome. Superintendent of Police Dakshina Kannada District MANGALORE Karnataka Ph: 0824 2220503 (O) 2220504 (R)"
I find the blog very useful, for both the general public and the Police. It can increase transparency in operations, and find which cases lie in the dusty files of the police for too long!
We can also keep track of the civility record of the town. A beautiful initiative! I would like to know if other cities have such similar Police files on the net.

Venezuela Creating the Multi Polar World

Petrolera IndoVenezolana is the name of the joint venture between Petroleos de Venezuela SA and the ONGC of India that will participate in Oil exploration programmes in the oil rich states of Venezuela. ONGC will own 40% of stake in the venture and Venezuela will have 60%. A major breakthrough for ONGC and its wild oil exploration ideas. Venezuela estimates the partners will produce some 232 million barrels of oil over the next 25 years from San Cristobal field—a 160-sq-km area in Anzoategui and Guarico states.
Venezuela Wednesday came out in support of China on the issue of Tibet, blaming the United States for the recent anti-China protests and dubbing the action as attempts to derail the Beijing Olympic Games."We are with China," Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez declared during an interaction with Indian journalists in Caracas. "We have already said that beyond all this conflict there is a hand of the US. They want to derail Olympic Games.""We ask the world to support the Beijing Olympic Games and to support China. The same way we support India, Africa, Latin America. That is the new world, free and multi polar world," he said.
Venezuela has been working closely with many emerging economies like China and India and downplaying the US after Relations between Venezuela and the US worsened in 2002, when President Chávez alleged the U.S. approved of the 2002 Venezuelan coup d'état attempt.
Being an oil dominated economy, Venezuela will have a strong say in world politics. Venezuela wishes to de-link its economy from that of the US and hence is supporting several trade deals including the oil exploration exercises with ONGC and Reliance in India. Venezuela is playing the catalyst in forming what truly can be called a Multi Polar world.

Home is where the 'HEART' is.

Asia's first ever artificial Heart Transplant was successfully completed under the able observation of surgeons in Narayana Hrudayalaya in Bangalore. This will open up a ray of hope for many patients suffering from heart related disorders in India and neighbouring nations. The surgery included the implantation of a VAD, a ' Ventricular Assist Device' before the heart that will help the heart pump close to 10 Litres of blood every minute.
The key issue however is the exorbitant cost that such advanced surgeries demand of the common patient. This first of its kind surgery that lasts 4 hours could cost the patient anywhere close to USD 85000 (Which in this case Narayana Hrudayalaya waived of, in a noble gesture). The prohibitive cost can prevent advanced technologies from saving valuable lives in times of distress.

Friday, April 11, 2008

A Lesson from China

Mr. Chidambaram and the CoS for price of commodities are still trying to fix the cause of the explosion in the WPI inflation which has touched its highest levels in the last three years. International price hike has been the culprit so long.
The international rise in prices of commodities is a contributor I agree. But don't we realise the the root cause is a simple supply - demand imbalance. Is it not the real truth that we have a serious imbalance of domestic supply of commodities? Is it not worrisome that after 60 years of independence and with dreams of being a superpower, we have still not done away with blaming the rain gods for crop failures?
Just to take a leaf out of China's story, which seems extremely buoyant and confident when the rest of the world is worried about the rice price hike, I present here an excerpt of what the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao says. (Read :Who is afraid of rice price rise, asks China )
“Please set your mind at rest because China has abundant supply of rice.....(Yes,) the recent 30 per cent jump in international rice prices did have an impact on China’s food prices but the country is largely self-dependent for rice. ...The volume of rice traded on the world markets is less than a tenth of that in the Chinese market. The central government has taken a series of measures to promote agricultural production such as raising farm subsidies, constructing irrigation works, and popularising the use of science and technology. China is capable of feeding itself with its own rice production.”
India sure has a lesson to learn here from its closest rival. Only a domestic abundance of supply can be a permanent solution to inflation. We sure should start working towards this long term goal.

Afraid of the Rising Rupee.

On an earlier post covering the ongoing inflation, I had suggested respite for growing prices in terms of an appreciating rupee.( Read: Krishna Prashanth: Can the Rupee save us?). I received two very strong (but gently voiced)responses against my idea. One from a student studying in the USA and another an exporter of knitwear from Tiruppur.
The former, an old friend studying in Stanford, jokingly complained to me that if the rupee appreciates any further, he stands to lose. He spent valuable Indian rupees on his education in the US two years earlier, buying it at close to 45 Rupees a Dollar, and when its time to earn the money back, the same Dollar fetches him much lesser(around 39 now).
Education has always been considered a very good investment. When one looks at education in the US as an investment oppurtunity, (not just as a haven to get some good learning) he is bound to factor in certain realities. Firstly, education in the US in a good university (like Stanford) will clearly add value for the typical American head hunter. However, if one is studying on a loan from an Indian Bank and needs a salary to repay the same back in India, apart from the interest rates one has to also factor in the effects of the appreciating rupee. The trend of the rupee could be upwards in the coming future (So might be the interest rates). So if you are planning to study in the US (with only the idea of making some good bucks !) you may need to wait and watch the situation a bit.
An appreciating rupee has also seriously hit the textile industry, as this business colleague of mine from Tiruppur complains. Tiruppur, the hosiery capital of India has already suffered enough because of the depreciating rupee. The exports have come down from Rs 11,000 Crores in 2006 to Rs 9,950 Crores in 2007. The situation has worsened because of inflation as the cotton prices have shot up. The situation in Tiruppur is bleak, he complains (Read: Tiruppur Exporters' Miseries)
As I had discussed in the earlier post, the appreciating rupee is not always a friend for all. Mainly the EOUs(Export Oriented units)will suffer. But every challenge might mean an oppurtunity. It is necessary to cash in on the fact, to try and increase the domestic consumption of goods. Time to sell the goods within the country. Remember if you are having export woes, so is China. China's local currency has appreciated even more steeply against the dollar. Time to fight China in our very own backyard -The domestic Market.

No Cream for the Creamy layer!

The Supreme court has finally spoken, ruling 27% reservation for OBCs in Central Higher Educational Institutions including the IITs and IIMs. The ruling however clearly states that the 'Creamy Layer' of the OBCs will not enjoy the benefit of the reservation. This may be viewed as a welcome move, in spite of a large number of protesters (especially from the medical fraternity) demanding that there be no kind of reservations at all and that admissions to such institutions be purely in the form of merit.
I want to invite these protesters to read this article "Do I have any Merit"by Swaminathan Ankleshwar Aiyyer in the Times of India. Just an excerpt from the article to set the ambience for my argument. Swamy representing the upper caste so called 'meritorius' clan speaks ".....The canteen boy who brings me tea may be more intelligent than me, and so too may be the man shining shoes on the roadside..... But they were born in the wrong family, and never had access to good education or economic opportunities. So they remain on the fringes of society. Meanwhile, lesser beings like me dominate society, on the spurious claim that we are the most meritorious. What gall! We got good marks because we had the most educated parents, the best books, and went to the best schools and colleges..... But others far more meritorious are rotting without education or opportunity in the slums and villages of India. In a fair and just society, the top two million or so positions would be occupied by people with an IQ of over 135. Lesser folk like me (and most striking doctors) would be just clerks or labourers. So, let no upper caste student claim that reservations are displacing merit. The most meritorious people of all are unable to even enter the race for good colleges or jobs...."
The article intends to just suggest the need for reservations, a small measure to bring admissions to something close to being fair. The reservations become unfair only when the OBCs are a part of the previliged society, the so called " creamy layer". The real people unfairly benefitting from reservations are a small section of OBCs who are well off, and actually not underpreviliged. In that sense the ruling of the Supreme court is actually very fair. It reserves seats for the really underpreviliged but keeps away the "Creamy layer of OBCs"
Two sets of people are unhappy though.
1. The protestors who dont want any form of reservations.
2. The populists who want to reserve even the creamy layer seats in colleges.
We shouldn't approve of either. The real good is actually in what the Supreme Court has ruled. "You can still have some cream. But no Cream for the Creamy!!"

Nepal - At the End of Monarchy

Yesterday, Nepal went into elections the first time in nine years, marking the beginning of a new era in Nepalese politics, probably signaling the end of the era for Monarchy in Nepal. Thursday's election is a landmark election for Nepal. The people are voting for a constituent assembly that will draft a new constitution and change the existing political system there. The country's extreme left Maoists, who quit their armed struggle against the monarchy in 2005 after a peace deal, are taking part in the elections for the first time. The Himalayan nation which is also the world's only Hindu nation, might be end its centuries long tradition of being ruled by the royal dynasty.

As the Nepali people vote in this critical election, there are several questions in their minds. Will the new government be able pull the country out of the spiral of violence and political turmoils that have become characteristic of Nepal in the recent times? Can the Maoists or the King and his son accept the new constitution gracefully? How will this Himalayan kingdom re-invent itself as a Federal Republic?

Nepal probably finds itself historically in the ranks of being the oldest of civilizations in the world. With historical references dating back to 9000 years, Nepal has been the cradle for the Hindu culture and caste system and has been in references in the oldest epics including the Ramayana. This election will be watched not just by the Nepalese, but by all Hindus living all over the world.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


When I see your eyes
I know you are sad
I can see the light hidden
And the smile you once had

You sit across the table
But I don’t speak a word
There’s nothing I can say
Nothing you want heard

I understand your silence
I understand your pain
But you know I can’t help you
Or even try in vain

Homes just look like houses
Music sounds like "sounds"
Paintings look like pixels
Masses feel in pounds

I know you are an orphan
But you are not the only one
It’s a sea of lone faces
It still shines under the sun.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Two Giants, one destination- Africa

The race to Africa between China and India is now heating up. Two of the world's fastest growing economies are now also the two economies with consistently increasing trade relationship with Africa. India's trade with Africa has increased from 5 billlion USD in 2002 to 32 billion USD in 2007. India extends 500 million USD to credit to Africa every year! On the other side trade between China and Africa is at 40 billion USD in 2006, a 40% rise over the previous year.
Indian TATA steel is investing 1.5 billion USD in Cote D'Ivoire in an iron ore plant. An Indian company Taurian Resources won a contract to mine Uranium form 3000 Sq Kms, in the southern Sahara desert in Niger. Bangalore based Karuturi Networks, grows export quality roses in Ethiopia. 90% of all the diamonds sourced in Africa are finished in the Indian diamond finishing industry. With all this and a long historical relationship with Africa, China is still way ahead of India, in the dark continent in terms of investment.
The first India-Africa summit is currently underway in the India capital, New Delhi, with the aim of forging a strategic economic partnership between the two regions. Trade, investment, energy security and peacekeeping are top of the agenda at the summit. According to the South African Foreign Affairs Department, the government delegation will participate in the summit within the context of strengthening Africa - India relations in particular, Africa-Asia relations in general and to consolidate South-South co-operation.
In his inaugural address at the summit, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced that India would give preferential market access to 34 countries in Africa, which were among the least developed nations in the world. He called for turning the 21st century into a "century of Asia and Africa". India's commitment for overall development and progress, he said, was steadfast as it was keen to see Africa find its rightful place in the world.Prime Minister Singh described Africa as the "land of awakening", adding that the two billion people of India and Africa could set an example of "fruitful partnership."
India should however remember that it can use its strength over China, namely vastly skilled manpower to train the Africans in IT and other professions directly catering to trade in India. This kind of a relationship will beat the Chinese hands down. Merely an investment race will not pay off, as China is already ahead in the race.

Monday, April 7, 2008

If China Cannot host Olympics, Nobody Can!

Protests over China's crackdown on Tibet forced organizers to put the Olympic torch on a bus to protect it from demonstrators shortly after it set off from the Eiffel Tower in Paris today. This happens after a large number of protestors tried to put off the flame and succeeded three times, embarrassing the Olympic committee, embarrassing Beijing and most importantly embarrassing the spirit of the Olympic torch itself.

If the protestors are using the Olympics to draw the attention of the world towards the atrocities and human rights violation executed by China in Tibet, so be it. However, it is important that they do so without destroying the traditional spirit for which Olympics stands for.

If on the other hand, the protestors want to proclaim that China cannot host the Olympics because they are perpetuators of human rights violation, then I would like to kindly remind the protestors that "Human Rights" is such a largely contextual issue, that in one form or the other most countries in the world perpetuate it in some degree or the other. I would like to point out that by that argument if China cannot host the Olympics, nobody (probably) can!!

I wish to present just for representation a glance into the Human Rights Violation cases perpetuated in the host nations of the Olympics in the past 30 years.

2004 Olympics, Athens Greece
Human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have repeatedly alleged that illegal immigrants and refugees are subjected to violence by border guards and coast guard officers when caught entering Greece illegally. Police beat up civilians in Pyrgos, Peloponnese during a routine identity check. The local police director ordered an inquiry; however, no results had been released by year's end.

2000 Olympics, Sydney Australia
Since 1990 the UNHRC has heard almost fifty complaints against Australia. Many Australians find it embarrassing or outrageous that a foreign tribunal can sit in judgment of Australia. Read the summaries at http://www.nswccl.org.au/issues/hr_violations.php

1996 Olympics, Atlanta Georgia USA
Remember Iraq, and the Weapons of Mass Destruction? Remember Afghanistan? Remeber Veitnam? Well, here is a list of violation of Human Rights by USA. http://www.twnside.org.sg/title/1893-cn.htm

1992 Olympics, Barcelona Spain
Societal Abuses and Discrimination in Spain have become commonplace. Muslims continue to experience some societal prejudice. The Spanish Federation of Islamic Religious Entities (FEERI) and the Union of Islamic Communities in Spain (UCIDE) criticized what they called an increase in Islamophobia. Read more at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2006/78840.htm.

1988 Olympics, Seoul South Korea
Violence against women is a problem in South Korea. In a single year 3,914 cases of rape are reported. Many cases go unheard of.

1984 Olympics Los Angeles, California, USA
Read account on USA above.

1980 Olympics Moscow Soviet Union
Read this shocking account "The citizens of Russia are practically deprived of appeal to Justice, for in most cases the matter of launching, refusal or suspension of criminal case is in militia or procuracy jurisdiction. Eventually, the rights of victim are not protected. He (his lawyer) is not able to get information regarding case investigation; he can not lodge an appeal to the court against investigators’ decision on halting the investigation or its suspension. Practically, in this situation a victim has the only one possibility - to lodge complaint to procuracy higher authorities. Therefore, there is the urgent necessity to carry out the judicial reform in respect of extending the rights of victim - judicial supervision over investigation, and granting person the right to bring in suit on criminal case to the court directly by himself."

1976 Olympics, Montreal Canada
Another shocking account. "The human rights dossier of Canada's boss, namely the US and West, in the region is not defensible. The US secret prisons across the world and its barbaric tortures at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay prisons leave no ground for defending the human rights claims by the West. " (Read full article: http://payvand.com/news/06/nov/1285.html)

I could go on. But I think I got my message across. The idea of extinguishing the Olympic torch for the Human Rights violations in a host nation may not be a good one. We run the risk of not having any Olympics at all, as the Beijing Olympics sets a bad precedent for the future. Olympic Games stand for universal brotherhood. I am sure we don’t want to kill the spirit.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Can the Rupee save us?

The rising inflation which has reached precarious levels, has stirred up a heated debate on what the government should do immediately to reverse the trend of the rising prices. While the government has already tried fiscal measures including reducing import duties, and fixing the minimum selling price on specific commodities, these will help (even if it actually does!) bring down the prices on very specific items. But these micro-measures are not really effective in containing (let alone reversing) the trend of price rise in a macro picture involving various commodities and goods. There is a lot of speculation on whether the intervention of the RBI, through monetary policies like increasing the CRR (and hence interest rates) can really do the trick. These measures will be effective in bringing the price rise down for sure. But they come packaged with two undesirable side effects. One, the rate at which these measures can take effect. It is difficult to expect a price reduction immediately, as it will take at least 6-8 months to show signs of improvement. Two, these come with a heavy price of having to compromise on India's strong growth journey.(read: Krishna Prashanth: The Battle between Inflation and Growth).

In this scenario, the third option (which apparently even the RBI prefers) is to try and achieve a stronger rupee. Looks like the government will have to turn to the 'Stronger Rupee' to try and play the joker to save the situation. An article in Times of India portrays the feeling as it goes on to say this. (Read : Inflation Check: RBI prefers stronger rupee)
"......The central Bank has reduced its market intervention since last one week to buy dollar, when the inflation suddenly spurted...........As inflation had come down to around 4%, the central bank used to buy dollars, to allow rupee to depreciate from a high of Rs 39.50 in February to Rs 40.77 a dollar by March 17. But as soon as the inflation figure was out, RBI reduced market intervention. As RBI reduced purchase of dollar, the US currency started depreciating against rupee. On Monday, as per RBI reference rate, rupee appreciated to 39.97 per dollar. On Tuesday, however, it closed around Rs 40 a dollar. "

If the rupee appreciates, this will have the direct effect that more goods can be purchased with the same strong rupee than it could purchase with a weaker rupee. This will also make exports of commodities less attractive and goods will have to be recirculated into the domestic market, hence increasing supply. This method can have an immediate and effective reaction on the prices to the consumer. In the given scenario, this seems to be the best way to tackle the situation.

The first people to cry foul will be the export oriented industries, especially the IT sector which depend largely on the weakness of the rupee. A stronger rupee might actually hit business for many in this sector. But then again everybody cannot be made happy. Looks like a small price to pay for the large reward of reducing rising prices and saving the common man.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Battle between Inflation and Growth

Food prices are at an all time high. High enough to take the attention away from the GDP growth story that has been in the limelight for quite some time. The situation seems to be rising to a frenzy panic, as the government changes its tone and changes its priority suddenly away from growth to --what it calls "A more important priority" -- containing the inflation. It appears more like a damage control exercise than a carefully implemented instrument. The sudden state of affairs is more of concern than the absolute value of inflation (reaching an three year high of 7% !) itself.

The grim situation has further compounded with the onset of a untimely monsoon in North India and destroying further crops. With global food reserves running low and a heavy shortfall of supplies for domestic use, the situation could hit the consumer rather seriously. The committee of secretaries on prices is scheduled to meet on April 9th to review the situation. The long term objective will surely be to achieve self sufficiency through increased domestic production (read :Krishna Prashanth: In search of our Daily Bread) With just four days to go before the meeting of the committee of secretaries on prices, it is necessary to analyze the options that we have in hand to stop prices from hitting the roof. After the government has tried its instruments to battle the inflation (like minimum export price on food grains, or total ban altogether) the RBI could be the savior to pull the economy out of this inflation

RBI has mainly three weapons in its arsenal to contain inflation.

a) Increase the CRR /SLR

This mainly constitute of Cash to Reserve Ratio (CRR) and Statutory Liquidity ratio (SLR). CRR is the portion of deposits (as cash) which banks have to keep/maintain with the RBI. This serves two purposes: firstly, it ensures that a portion of bank deposits is totally risk-free and secondly it enables that RBI control liquidity in the system, and thereby, inflation. This is very likely to happen in the current case, especially since this is the most effective inflation control but then again liquidity in RBI coffers means adverse effect on growth! The RBI should play this carefully.

b) Increase the discount rate

This is the rate at which the RBI makes very short term loans to banks. Banks borrow from the RBI to meet any shortfall in their reserves. An increase in the discount rate means the RBI wants to slow the pace of growth to reduce inflation. In our current case this can lead to seriously affecting businesses that depend on short term loans from banks. This can seriously affect the booming market condition.

c) Increase in the Repo rate

It is the rate at which the RBI borrows short term money from the market. After economic reforms RBI started borrowing at market prevailing rates. So it makes more sense to banks to lend money to RBI at competitive rate with no risk at all. A higher repo rate will encourage banks to lend more to the RBI coffers, thus improving the liquidity to contain inflation.

Now these methods are effective, but at the cost of the ever so desired "growth". Its like having to choose between the lesser of the two devils namely "inflation" and "reduced growth". And in situations like the current scenario, makes sense to choose to slacken growth if we can win the battle over the spiraling inflation.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Here's A Solution for Cauvery !

River Rows have left a blemish in our recent history for the past 5 decades. The most famous probably being the River Cauvery Row, between the people of the states of Karnataka and Tamilnadu. This single River Row has created enough news, headlines , burnt buses, stopped cinemas and created several irrelevant consequences. Interestingly though it is the entertainment industry (cable operators and Cinema theatre owners) that is the first to get affected whenever some dam is planned to get constructed over the Cauvery. There have been several , apparently irrational riots in the past over the Cauvery Row, and if we don’t think of a solution we might just be doomed to all such irrational violence again in the future.

Most cases the River Rows have been a result of one user of a river (may be a Dam constructor, or a Hydro Plant contractor- especially if funded by the other state government) decides to use the river and not compensate the other users (especially the weak farmers!).This way the question of “who the river belongs to?” starts arising. A question which we seem to have learnt to settle only by burning buses and beating people. Here I am suggesting a solution by introducing a concept of River stake ownership.

We could call a campaign for people, farmers, institutions and companies to register themselves as authorized River users. These entities would be awarded a River User Card if they register. They would have to pay to the Central Government a certain basic registration fee depending on the kind of usage they expect to use the river for. Most importantly depending on the length of a river and the number of tributaries feeding the river, a certain fixed number of River Users only will be allocated usership. The allocation will be on the basis of the highest bidder above basic registration fee.

For example an individual farmer expecting to use the river to feed his one acre farm could pay (maybe)Rs 20,000 to the government and buy his usership for the river. Similarly an Industry willing to start a Hydro Power Plant could pay an equivalent value (maybe) Rs 50,00,000. This way we would have created a value based set of stake holders who will want to use the river. The stake of any entity on the river will be proportional to the value he has invested. A small river stock exchange should be opened where people can trade their River User status , with other people who don’t currently own the status.

Case 1:
Let’s take a case where a farmer, in spite of all his efforts fails to make any headway and is unable to produce enough grain. The solution is simple; he will sell his River user Status for the highest bidder, and repay his debts. These way inefficient farmers need not commit suicide and can still make money. This will ensure that the usership remains with people who can efficiently use the river.

Case 2:
Let’s take the case of a state government willing to construct a dam across the river. It can do so if it wishes to, but before that it should own sufficient stake in the river. It should first buy out enough stake by paying a hefty sum to other River Users, so that it can then go on to have the construction done. The farmers in either state feeling that they don’t want the dam and that it will affect their livelihood can hike the price of their usership. To buy the farmer out the state government will have to automatically pay him enough to compensate the damage that the dam will incur on him. So, the farmer is happy that he made some money in the deal, the government is happy that it got o build the dam. We need not burn cinema houses to solve this issue!!

I am not suggesting that this solution is fool proof or that it has the best features. The idea can be improved upon. The only important thing to realize is that we should treat the River Rows in a more objective way, and allow market forces to do the talking and NOT cinema actors!

Life's Test

There will happen a moment sometime in your life
when you are standing alone in one place
Not a soul nor seafish or angel no satan
no creature will show you its face
not a sound shall be spoken from the darkness around
no flicker of a flame or a spark will be found.

no pats on your back
no claps in the air
no crowns in your temples be worn

no cries of hurray
no carpets your way
no garlands your neck shall adorn

And then, dear friend
if you can still be the YOU
you'll make it through the life's test
cos' you're one of a chosen few.

Musicians of Manali

Alive, so vividly
is that scene in my eyes,
that night on the cold ocean
under the starry skies.

The sea was still
and the wind was slow,
the musicians, on the ship
had put up a show.

And then,the storm it broke
and tore away the mast
nothing aboard could be saved
cos the ship was sinking fast.

the captain had the lifeboat lowered
the people made it, if they could
But the Musicians of manali
remained playing where they stood

When the boats bade goodbye,
And the people were all gone,
Sweet music filled the tragic night
'Cos the show had to go on!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Zephyr in Zimbabwe

After a rather tumultous year 2007, the 28 year long term for Mr. Mugabe of the ZANU-PF party seems to have seen its unceremonious end after the controversial and rumour filled polls that was conducted on this March 29th in Zimbabwe.
Mr Mugabe the current President, has earned for himself a rather unpopular reputation. He has been accused of being authoritarian and corrupt. Under his regime, last year Zimbabwe faced a mammoth inflation which raced upto more than 100,000 % this february.
Situation seemed very bleak in Zimbabwe with the inflation figures racing up. People did not have jobs and resources promptly dried up. The local currency fell to almost close to zero! The BBC showed daily images of people escaping their country in search of jobs and food.
Morgan Tsvangirai is the leader of the largest faction of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and a veteran trade unionist. He has beaten Mugabe by claiming 50.3% of the total vote.
He established the MDC in 1999 as a party opposed to what it called "misrule, official corruption, and dictatorship" in Zimbabwe. He lost to Mr Mugabe in the 2002 presidential election which Western and opposition observers accused Zanu-PF of rigging. The elections in march also carried the same reputation with talks about ghost voting and rigging doing the rounds.
This victory has brought in a fresh hope of life for the average citizen of Zimbabwe. Dreams of democracy are playing on their minds. But Tsvangirai's first job will have to be to check this spiralling inflation. Zimbabwe will have to focus more on agriculture and increase local commodity produce.
Its a tough challenge ahead for Tsavingirai. But for the common man a sigh of releif.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Inflight with Anil Kumble in a Low Cost Airline

I was at the Bangalore airport today morning, waiting for a Jet light flight to Ahmedabad. I was on an official tour. I prefer not to travel by Jet light, (previously Sahara Airlines). I prefer the more comfortable and well serviced Jet airways or Kingfisher Airlines. Unfortunately, I couldn't manage to get a ticket on either and so here I was waiting for a trip on a low cost airline.

A little after check in, I happened to spot in the security queue, a man known for his mature sense of sport, an icon of today's world, and for bangaloreans the God himself. I spotted Anil Kumble. Wearing a neatly ironed blue Sahara T-shirt and the characteristic Kumble smile, carrying an old English classic novel clasped in his right palm, Kumble stood in the queue quietly waiting for his turn in the security check. He was soon accompanied by his bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad and the two exchanged a quiet joke and after some chit chat (which I imagined to be probably about the dinner they had with their families last night!) they went back into the silent dignity of waiting for their turn to get frisked by some security personnel before they entered their flight. Which flight I wondered!

I suddenly remembered the ongoing cricket test series between India and South Africa. The second test supposed to happen in Ahmedabad. Were Kumble and Prasad traveling to Ahmedabad? I wondered, if they would be on my flight? For a moment I dismissed the thought. The great Anil Kumble in a low cost airline? The Captain of the Great Indian cricket team in a low cost airline? No way!!

Some ladies in their thirties came rushing with their pens and notebooks, and Anil Kumble started signing. Some old bald man wanted Kumble to sign on his son's T shirt and a few girls wanted to have a snap of their favorite hero. One girl was so engaged in chatting with Kumble that she ended up in the gent’s security queue! But Kumble flashed a smile and reminded her, that she has to take the other queue for the Ladies security check. With a frown and probably a heavy heart, she conceded.

I lost sight of Kumble after some time, as I sat with my colleague in the waiting area before I had to board my flight. I saw an old woman probably on her own carrying a heavy bag. She looked nervous, (probably her first flight!) and appeared too confused on her own and too dignified to ask for help. I dismissed it away as I got a phone call.

As I got on to the aerobridge 5 to board my low cost airline, I heard voices that I have heard only on TV. Anil Kumble was right behind me speaking in low volume but unmistakably fluent Kannada, on his cell phone. As our eyes met he smiled. I forced out a "Hello" not sounding too nervous and pretending as if talking to Anil Kumble was something I did everyday. He responded saying "Hi,” and then looking at my chest he said "Nice tie." I looked at my tie, and for the first time thought about the various uses of a tie, including attracting cricket captains towards me. I frankly did not know how to respond. ”Oh yes!" I finally said. I can’t believe I could not think of anything more meaningful to say. "Oh yes????" even a "Thank you very much” would have been suitable. But no, I said "Oh yes" as if I took credit for the beauty of my tie, as if I manufactured or dyed the tie myself. Just as I was about to say something to compensate, my phone rang.

As I was seated in my flight, I saw Kumble again two seats ahead of me, helping the old confused woman to keep her luggage in the cabin. Here he is, I thought, the captain of the Indian Cricket team, the negotiator of the row in Australia, the man with a road cross named after him, the man with the record of having taken 10 wickets in an innings, sitting with me in a low cost airline, helping an old lady that needed help.

All throughout the flight, I couldn’t help wondering what made great people great. Passion for their profession was the only thing that I had thought of before. But on seeing Kumble I realized what made great people Godlike figures. The aura that he carried with him, of simplicity and approachability. The aura of being a great human being. While on air, people were constantly rushing to his seat and getting him to sign on their boarding pass, their T shirts, and books. Photographs were shot, images were saved. People were happy. Kumble was there smiling at each person with a warmth and never refusing a fan. He loved playing for India, but more importantly I knew why India loved him.

I don't think I will ever crib about traveling in a low cost airline again. I did not get Kumble's autograph or a photo shot along with him by my side. But the flight to Ahmedabad had taught me something about the difference between being good and being great. While the former is in what we do, the latter about the warmth with which we do it!!