Thursday, March 23, 2006

Keep office and profit

Sonia Gandhi's resignation today from parliament and the chairpersonship of the National Advisory Council looked sudden and dramatic. But it obviously was a well thought out, well-choreographed act. Few, not even L K Advani, would deny they weren't surprised. Don't rule out her children's ingenuity.

In today's political lexicography renunciation finds no mention. Going by current standards she could have stayed on and done worse. On that count, Sonia's decision was a masterstroke.

Nevertheless, Sonia's persona being what it is, the more she gives up, the more she seems to get. The more she moves away from the visible power-centre, more the grip she gets on the remote control. Not all can get away with this. You need to not only time it with clinical precision, but also have an aura -- deserving or not. Because, when you withdraw you also run the risk of being left behind. That could be the end of it all.

In Jaya Bachchan's issue, both the Congress and the opposition lost a golden opportunity to expose the hollowness of Article 102 (a) (i) and the Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Act, 1959. The term "office or profit" here refers to a government job the MP or the MLA holds which provides him/her a salary. The spirit of the law is that the legislator should have only one job (of being a lawmaker) so that he/she can devote all the attention to parliament or assembly.

But in today's world the whole idea is so anachronistic.

-- One, the government is not the sole job provider.

-- Two, taking up additional responsibilities is nothing new as long as it doesn't influence or obstruct the primary responsibility of the individual.

-- Three, if having a government job is wrong, then what about lawmakers who have jobs in private companies? What about businessmen like Anil Ambani and Vijay Mallya?

-- Four, if you are going to keep on exempting one post after the other, what will be left? Why not throw away the entire law, since it is obviously irrelevant.

When Madan Mohan Shukla (who can't stand Jaya Bachchan) moved the Election Commission against her over the office of profit issue, not just the Congressmen but all politicians should have had the insight to know that the tremor would grow in amplitude to rock the entire political landscape and devour them all. Of course, they all survive but with lots of egg on their faces.

Politics is all about "the impression that is made in the eyes of public", more than the substance of the issue. While Congress blundered all through, and the opposition looked bareft of ideas and incapable of making any positive move, it's Sonia who emerged victorious -- whether you like it or not. With one move, she seemed to be asking: "So, what is this all about?"

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

State of American media

The third year report of the State of News Media is out. It is an annual effort to provide a comprehensive look each year at the state of American journalism.

The study is the work of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, an institute affiliated with Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. The study is funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, and was produced with a number of partners, including Rick Edmonds of the Poynter Institute, Michigan State University, the University of Missouri School of Journalism, and Andrew Tyndall of ADT Research.

The report discusses many issues relevant to contemporary media. Read more here.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Privacy of riches

-- Are you comfortable with your salary being made public?

-- When you move from one company to another would you like to announce to the world the hike the new firm offered you?

Some say, yes. Because it shows your market value. It shows how much your talent is worth.

No, say others since it is a private matter, which is confined strictly to the employer-employee domain..

The issue is now out in the open with two graduates of IIM Bangalore writing to its director that salary offers during campus recruitments shouldn't made public as it attracts the attention of unscrupulous elements. These students, who bagged the highest salary offers this year, also had lot of unpleasant and embarrassing experiences following the official announcement of salary offers, says a report in today's Times of India, Bangalore, which quotes the email sent by the students to the director.

Salary levels are on the rise. Everyone knows that. With no ban on what an employee can ask for and what an employer can offer, it's a free for all out there. It's a market economy that is at work. The dotcom bust was an example of how high salaries (without an appropriate revenue-generation module) proved suicidal for the industry. Things have evened out, as they usually do.

Indiscriminate public display of payslips and material wealth also has its adverse impact on social fabric. Creation and perpetuation of superiority-inferiority complexes is one of the inevitable fallouts. Motivation is the last thing that is achieved by such revelation of riches.

And rightly, IIM Bangalore director immediately addressed the concern raised by the students saying: "We will not discuss such details in public (from next year)."

High salary offers will continue to flow in for these deserving students, as they should. In fact, they have every right to demand a price for the high quality of services they offer. But hopefully we have seen the last of the bazaar-like competitive throwing of dollars, in full public view, to lure talent.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Bangalore's 80-ft Road

I hold no brief for Bangalore's mayor Mumtaz Begum. But the point that she made day before yesterday -- that 80-ft road in Indiranagar is in good shape and didn't merit immediate tarring -- is absolutely valid. I use this and adjoining roads daily.

The road may be old and may need strengthening, as Bangalore Commissioner Jothiramalingam countered. But the fact is right beside the 80-ft road, the Old Madras Road is so bad in many areas: one of the worst points being in front of the Bypanahalli Police Station.

Actually, the 200 metre stretch up to the deviation to NGEF has been in a pathetic state for almost a year now. No one seems to be bothered, even after the media highlighting it.

In Bangalore, nothing gets noticed without an IT tag. Even on that count this stretch merits attention. Because this is the road that leads to famed IT Park in Whitefield.

The case here is not against tarring 80-ft road. In fact, the mayor while highlighting the misplaced priority should not have asked for stoppage of work. And, during yesterday's inspection of the locality, chief minister Kumaraswamy rightly shot down mayor's suggestion to stop the tarring work, and said the work should go on.

Right priority is the key. It's frustrating to see good roads being tarred first, and bad roads ignored. It's just common sense that bad roads are taken up first. And, you don't need world class engineers to identify a bad road in Bangalore. MG Road and Brigade Road can definitely wait for a few months.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Friedman bashing

Some interesting points in an article in Daily Reckoning on "our favourite" NYT columnist Thomas Friedman. Lot of references to Bangalore. The author is Bill Bonner who is the founder and editor of The Daily Reckoning. He is also the author, with Addison Wiggin, of The Wall Street Journal best seller Financial Reckoning Day: Surviving the Soft Depression of the 21st Century (John Wiley & Sons).
Some excerpts:  
"Among the things Mr. Friedman seems to lack is a feeling for verb tenses. He goes to Bangalore and notices that it is backward. His conclusion is that it will always be so. "Is" is forever in Friedman's mind. "Will be" has no place. It is as if he looked at the stock market in 1982. "Stocks are cheap," he might have said. "Stocks elsewhere are expensive," he might have added, without it ever occurring to him that they might change places. 
"And yet, why else would anyone outsource work from Baltimore to Bangalore unless Bangalore was relatively, though not necessarily permanently, cheaper? Let us imagine that Bangalore had no electricity blackouts or pollution or beggars. Let us imagine that it was like Beverly Hills or Boca Raton. We might just as well imagine that stocks were expensive in 1982. Of course, if they had been, there never would have been the bull market of 1982 to 2000. It is only because they were cheap in the past that they had the potential to be expensive in the future. And it is only because Bangalore is a Third World hellhole that it is cheap enough to take work away from overpaid Americans 10,000 miles away. 
"Whether it will, neither Friedman nor we can know."
Read on here, there is a lot about Friedman's writing style.

IBM to move ALL solutions development operations to India

Just chanced upon this article in Information Week.
It says: "In a stunning example of how India has progressed from a country to which businesses farmed out routine programming and back-office work into a center for leading-edge innovation, IBM disclosed Wednesday that it is moving all of the design and development of its vaunted business consulting offerings to the fast-growing country..... 
 "IBM is on a hiring spree in India. The company currently employs about 39,000 workers in the country, up from 23,000 a year ago. That rate of growth should continue "for quite some time." .....

"IBM also hopes the initiative will give it a badly needed sales boost. The company's software revenues were flat in the most recent quarter, while services sales fell 5% year-over-year."
Read full story here

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Focus must be on men

The hype around International Women's Day celebrations has been coming down over the years, and this year it definitely looks low-key.
One reason could be the giant strides women have taken. There are very few areas women haven't made their presence felt.
Women have gone to space; women have climbed Mt Everest; women fly planes; women drive trucks; women can design, wash and repair cars; women know the difference between centimetre and barometer; women drive home alone at midnight from work; women own, run and manage huge companies; women take up jobs in cities other than their place of residence, live in big cities alone (meaning away from parents, relatives and even friends); women choose careers and spouses single-handedly run their lives, tackle problems, find solutions; and make a success of not just their lives but of others too.
Of course there was a time when being a woman was a disqualification. Now no longer. If at all you find it, it is only like our dark skin being a disqualification for some jobs; or similar discrimination we all encounter obliquely because of our lack of material possessions, rural upbringing, not being "modern" or "stylish", or because of our philosophical and intellectual thought processes. To that extent, discrimination continues. And it is absurd to think that such discrimination would completely end one day.
Women don't need help anymore because they are women. They need help just like any other human being. Yes, women are also human beings like men. We need to look beyond gender.
Yet, why are highly educated women of Kerala (the southern Indian state widely acclaimed for its high standards of educational and other human development indices) still victims of greed for dowry, victims of male chauvinism of their equally highly educated men folk?
Yet, why are -- even in many urbane families -- daughters brought up differently compared to their brothers?
Yet, why are women sold many times over to different men?
Yet, why are women -- across different strata of society -- still told: "You are a woman, there are limits to what you can do"?
Because myths live on. Because there are still people who believe that a woman is a few notches below men. But, this discrimination is no different from any other -- discrimination based on colour of the skin, "beauty" of the face, shape of the body, the accent of speech, language, region, ethnicity, caste, religion etc.
I think gender-specific discrimination of women will be better addressed if women are less pampered, and instead, more attention is focussed on men -- and may be on some women too -- who need to be enlightened on the fact that girls and women are as endowed with abilities, as boys and men -- may be differently, but definitely not less.
The focus of International Women's Day should not merely be celebration of women's achievements -- as we see usually. The focus should instead be on the inability of many people to accept women as equal (maybe differently endowed) partners, to recognise and acknowledge their abilities.
There is change happening. It's all there for us to see. But like many other social ills, a lot of ground needs to be still covered. Learning and change are continuous processes.

Monday, March 6, 2006

Why whine

We all complain -- some loudly, some very loudly. Some others just murmur as if they are whispering something.
It is just March, and we in Bangalore are already whining that “it is so hot”. I don’t know what we’d say in May-June. When there are these freak showers in the night, as we have been experiencing during the past few days, our problem is: “O! What a time to have rain.” A friend told me today he was woken up by the sound of last night's pounding rain and the bolts of thunder.

 When monsoon is delayed our worry is: “No rains, no rains.” But the moment it starts pouring; we change the wordings to: “Fed up of this rain!”

 Weather is just an example. We all seem to have a problem with most of the things and people around us.

Computer is slow.

Autorickshaw driver is rude.

Dal has too little salt.

She is deceptively malicious.

Power keeps going off.

That guy is arrogant.

Tea has too much of sugar.

Why should he always ask me, how are you.

Of course the frequency, tone and tenor of these complaints vary from person to person and from time to time; and that determines how tolerable or acceptable the whine is. Some say these outbursts are just a harmless habit that needs to be ignored. There is a also a theory which says it is a stress-buster, like cursing, and it needs to be encouraged to make this world a better place to live in.

But, I have noticed that querulous people are the ones who are generally well off. They actually don’t need to whine the way they do. On the contrary, people who are really deprived don’t complain; they just live their lives the way it comes. Finally, they are the ones who get everything they need in their lives. And, they always have a smile on their faces. This is not an across-the-board generalisation, but just an observation.

This world is made up of all types of people and things. Ultimately, what matters is the way we look at our lives, what we do in our lives and how we interact with others -- irrespective of who we are and what we have.

Thursday, March 2, 2006

Indo-US Nuclear deal - a great turning point

If you can’t make much out of what has been happening today -- when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President George Bush agreed on a controversial nuclear deal -- just read the title of my blog, Time and Tide, and the brief introduction below that title. Nothing is static, everything changes with time; Indo-US relationship hasn’t been an exception.

I can’t believe I have been reading so much about George Bush without the usual revulsion I used to experience. One, the passage of time and the recent tide of events have forced the US to – finally – acknowledge certain core principles of our country’s foreign policy. Two, without budging much, our government has been able to bring around the US to accepting our points of view.

I just can’t believe that the US has addressed most of India’s objections regarding the nuclear deal. Of course, it’sn’t a deal unless the US Congress amends some of the laws and approves it. Even though we don’t have the fine print of the deal, our PM and his team of scientific and strategic affairs advisers can be relied upon to safeguard our national interests.

The bottom line about all international negotiations on nuclear reactors is credibility and faith. If you don’t enjoy the confidence of the US – who set all the rules – well, you had it. Different rules for different countries, and India was a victim of America’s double standards.

Two major anti-nuclear weapons treaties are NPT and CTBT. NPT opened for signing in 1968. At that time only the five permananent members of the security Council -- US, UK, USSR (now Russia), China and France -- had nuclear weapons. The idea of NPT was "Except we 5, let no one have nuclear weapons." India termed it as discriminatory and never signed it. CTBT was also modelled in the same manner: to ban the testing of nuclear weapons.

Late eighties was the time nuclear weapons programme in South Asia began to take a serious turn. I believe India began to seriously assemble weapons after Pakistan secretly developed nuclear weapons. Pressure also mounted on India and Pakistan to sign the NPT and the CTBT. Rajiv Gandhi in his address to the UN General Assembly in 1988 spoke of the need to rid the world of nuclear weapons instead of allowing some nations to have weapons.Even during the CTBT negotiations in 1995, India's permanent representative at the UN Arundhati Ghose strongly spoke of the double standards.

India abondoned its shyness during BJP's regime, when in 1998 it tested a nuclear device. India admitted to its nuclear weapons capability for the first time, but very much like the US declared a unilateral moratorium. India showed the world that even without signing NPT or CTBT, it can be a responsible nation by not marketing its nuclear weapons. This was when the West, especially the US, began taking India seriously. There has been no looking back.

Ironically, Bush will use the very same arguments that India put forward in 1980s and 1990s to sell the deal to the Congress -- that India is a responsible nuclear nation state (like the big 5). Opponents of the deal in America say don’t reward India because it has broken all rules. Bush will, again ironically, tell them that India is not a signatory to NPT and so how can you say India broke the rules. (Iran is a signatory and still went on to make nuclear weapons, sort of vindicating India’s argument that NPT is meaningless.)

In the nuclear world, there are double standards. Earlier, we cried foul because we were victimised. Now we are a beneficiary of that US double standard. So, how do we react? If India’s national interests are served, who cares. In fact, when the debate opens in America, IAEA and the Nuclear Supplies Group, I wouldn’t be surprised if rules are changed to help India join
the elite nuclear club.

PS: Bush, did you notice how your opponents registered their protest all across India and in Karachi. Did you find some difference?

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Why Bush is avoiding Bangalore

Ever thought why American Presidents don't come to Bangalore, instead go to Hyderabad?

With so many American companies indebted to Bangalore for providing them outsourcing opportunities and thereby boosting company profits, wasn't it only natural that their president should come to the IT capital?

Bangalore contributed the word "Bangalored" to the English language, to refer to someone who lost his / her job because of outsourcing. US presidential poll runner-up in 2000 John Kerry, who once spoke of "wired Bangalore" himself went to Hyderabad rather than Bangalore.

In the run-up to Bill Clinton's 2000 visit, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh had IT-savvy CMs -- S M Krishna and Chandrababu Naidu. At that time, Krishna did make very serious efforts to get Bangalore included in Clinton's itinerary. And, when Bangalore lost out, there was no hiding the disappointment. This time, it seems, there has been no effort at all.

So, why do American Presidents go to Hyderabad, skipping Bangalore? Any takes on that?

The February 28 issue of New York Times has an edit on Bush's upcoming India visit. It argues against the nuclear deal Bush is trying sign with India. It says he is trying to get friendly with India to keep China in check, and if the deal is signed, it will only encourage other countries to develop nuclear weapons capability.

But interestingly, the NYT edit also offers us two reasons on why Bush has chosen Hyderabad over Bangalore.

"The president is planning the obligatory trip to a center of high technology, although White House strategists, mindful of election-year fears in the United States about call centers and outsourcing, chose the more diversified city of Hyderabad instead of the call-center capital, Bangalore. Hyderabad has a big Muslim population, so it is also a chance for Mr. Bush to try to counter some of the damage done lately to relations between Muslims and the West."

Skip Bangalore and impress his Bangalored Americans. Visit Hyderabad and impress Muslims. Bizarre logic. But there has to be some reason. Given the way of American strategists, could be true, who knows. Do they know that huge protests are being planned in Hyderabad against the Bush visit?