Saturday, April 26, 2008

Boot the bully out.

Yesterday at the end of the IPLT20 match against Kings XI Punjab, Harbhajan the losing captain of the Mumbai Indians team was dutifully shaking hands with the players of the opposing team. However, when it was the turn for Sreesanth, a fellow international , Bhajji decided to do it differently. Harbhajan suddenly slapped Sreesanth. Sreesanth, the new “aggressive” bowler of the Indian team didn’t know how to strike back. Instead he broke down and started sobbing uncontrollably. One did not see the slap on national television but everybody saw Sreesanth crying.

It is not the first time that Bhajji has been caught bullying. I remember watching a match during the challenger series (among India Red, Blue & Green teams) in Sept’06 when Bhajji on his way to complete a run (and in full view of the camera ) suddenly shoulder-charged Sreesanth. Sreesanth was completely flabbergasted there too. Just didn’t know why is he being hit.

Cricket may have lost its gentlemanly spirit of the 20th century but it still is an outdoor sport where intentional body-contact is a strict no-no. Slapping or shoulder-charging a fellow cricketer needs to be stopped and the only way to do so is give an exemplary punishment to Bhajji.

Hayden , on hindsight, may have been a bit restrained when he called him “obnoxious weed” a few months back. Bhajji , actually turns out to be a “disgusting punjabi poppy”.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Cheerleaders in IPL : Imported without research

What kind of value do cricket-fans of IPL find in cheergirls? Positive, negative or indifferent? If the fans do not find positive value in cheergirls , then it makes immense business sense for the investors to save costs by stopping the show.

For the last 24 hours, television news channels have been agonising over this topic and sharing views of cricket historians , advertisement gurus, politicians and women’s associations. While serious cricket buffs have said that they don’t find any value , ad gurus seem to think that this is exactly what a representative fan of IPL wants and finds entertainment value for the ticket that he buys. A SMS poll on the debate will throw a clear answer although one creative ad guru has gone on record saying that any kind of “market research” in a business model such as IPL is redundant. Arrogance rather than ignorance seems to be the hallmark of such ad gurus who have achieved celebrity status!

But politicians have taken a moral stand on the issue saying that they should be banned because it is against the ethos of Indian culture. Very stereotypical of politicians who seem to be aspiring for political mileage by being guardians of Indian culture. Both in Maharastra and Bengal, outspoken ministers have let their negative views on cheerleaders be known. Only 2 politicians are in BCCI and seem to be gaining a lot out of its prosperity while sports ministers of other states seem to be working for the interest of these two (in arranging the stadium , lights, police, water etc.) without reciprocal returns. If not “cheerleaders”, I am sure, there will be other issues in the future where IPL will be under attack from the politicians.

Interestingly , the profile of IPL fan is quite different from a regular cricket buff. A fan on the ground is typically young, fun-loving and looking for wholesome entertainment while the one at home is watching reality television on a bigger scale. Creating a carnival atmosphere on the ground is part of the package and the cheerleaders play a role in it. The point is whether the package , fully copied and imported from NFL in the states, is totally relevant in the Indian context or can it bear a bit of metamorphosis in its package? For example , why does not IPL have Bollywood dance troupes do the cheerleading? That will be equally good fun.

On their own admission, the ad agencies have not done any research on the profile of the fan. The investors are simply looking at the gate sales and TRP rating for glorifying all parts of the IPL package. Already the stadiums in Hyderabad & Mohali seemed to be half empty and once the novelty value dies down, one can expect a similar spectacle in a few of the other stadiums. Secondly, when the marriage season gets going in May, one will see a similar drop in television viewership. Finally, simple fatigue of over-watching the same entertainment package could also set in .

It will be interesting to see , as the tournament progresses, whether fans of IPL would be loyal enough to be “repeat-buyers” of IPL entertainment , notwithstanding the presence/absence of cheerleaders.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Dubious NGO

An NGO in Guwahati , which was supposed to be engaged in anti-AIDS programs have been raided recently as they were suspected of running a brothel.(Click here for the detailed story )
Unlike a corporate, the accountability of a NGO is always suspect. This is because, the Board Members of the Trust are often there to earn goodwill by association and do not seriously questions the activities of the trust. Some among them are also hand in gloves with the racket that goes on. Funds from serious donors are also siphoned off for personal gains by the management.

While investigations in this Guwahati case will hopefully bring out the truth , the fact remains that members of the trust need to be penalised for such gross misdemeanours so that in future corporate chiefs & social celebrities stop using a NGO board position as an easy way of glorifying their image in their twilight days.

If a corporate tycoon has practised unethical means of becoming a tycoon in the first place, then surely he cannot be allowed to redeem his image by sitting on the board of an unaccountable NGO. A leopard seldom changes its spots.

"Think Global, act Local" : A thought in the context of Indian Politics

In the last decade of the 20th century, the quote was made famous by Percy Bernevik, Chairman of ABB. Percy Bernevik ruled ABB for 15 long years and converted a small Swiss-Swedish electrical engineering company into a 30 BUSD conglomerate of 1500 diverse companies through the route of mergers & acquisitions. Percy appeared on the cover of Times magazine twice and was hailed as a practising management guru till he was disgraced a year after retirement by his successor in ABB. Percy had wrongfully written to himself a pension & retirement cheque of 85 MUSD instead of some 30 MUSD and he was let go only after he returned the excess money to ABB. Percy's global strategy was inorganic growth whereas his country-specifc strategy was to protect the local market share of each of the 1500 companies wherever they were located.

In the globalised environment of 21st century, however, this quote has changed to

Think Cooperation, Act Competition.

Globally, bigger companies are bidding & acquiring equally big companies to the extent that they do not rub off on the wrong side of the anti-trust bodies both in North America and in Europe. The competition in the global landscape in now limited to 3-5 corporations instead of 15-20 myriad corporations a decade back. Synergy in operations & skill sets is leading to inorganic growth, rapid capture of market share, quick value to the shareholders and limiting the field of competition. Think of Microsoft’s recent bid for Yahoo to ward off Google as an example. Global mergers take a long time to get reflected in all the countries where the companies have operations. Typically, the priorities are North America and Europe followed by Asia-Pacific, Middle East, South-East Asia, Africa & South Asia. I mean , the nameplates do get changed immediately but it takes time for the processes to be streamlined and till that time the concerned corporate compete in the local arena to protect their market share from outside competition.

In the Indian political context, the same quote {i.e Think Global (cooperation) & act Local (competition)} assumes funny connotations if you take the Congress & the Left parties. They have a merger in the parliament called UPA but in the state of Bengal , they appear to be at each other’s throats. The inherent hypocrisy in such a statement affects finally the citizens who are caught between conflicting policies & programs of the partners in cohort.

If the Congress & the Leftists politicians cannot make up whether to cooperate or compete in a pan-indian context, then surely they must lessen the burden of the common man of such a hypocritical dilemma by either resigning en masse from the parliament or forming an alliance with like-minded parties or independents.

Even a student of Class Five will know that if you act local all the time you will always think local and never global.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

An Indian Princess : One in a billion

Normally I will never do this. That is I will never post filmy-type people on my desk or blog. But I just couldn’t resist posting this one.

Besides the already known facts about her natural beauty; I think she is beautiful because her overall persona probably represents a perfect balance between the languid elegance of the sixties and the stressed-out brevity of the modern times. The best that you will ever see for a long time to come. To top it all, she smiles like a princess does.

Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Soha Ali Khan, a real life Indian Princess & a matinee idol , aged 29 and a half years to my blog. This is a pleasant exception that all of us will happily accommodate.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Agency Business

Another Bengal Bandh today. Baangalis enjoy a paid holiday a day after the IPL T20 match.

The start studded IPL T20 match between Kolkata Knight Riders and Deccan Chargers ended on a favourable note for the parochial Bengal residents yesterday with matinee idol Sharukh Khan’s team scoring the winning runs in the deciding over. King Khan who invested 300 crores to own the Knight Riders was at the Eden Gardens with his friends , the Bollywood stars and the Gandhi siblings , to dance and cheer the team to victory. Nearly 90000 people turned out for the match , both old and young, on a Sunday afternoon for an unprecedented television spectacle. Of slam-bang cricket, bollywood entertainment and the likes. It did not matter that majority would not have been able to distinguish an off-cutter from an out-swinger. The fours and sixes, hit during the match, were sufficient enough to galvanise the crowd on their feet. Its results that matter and no body has any time or inclination to understand the nuances of the game. Unfortunately, their local hero, Sourav Ganguly was out for a paltry score . But that did not prove to be a dampener. At least he was playing in the match at Eden and as a captain.

Two and a half years back, of course, the same crowd had lustily cheered the South Africans in a one day match against India only because Dada Sourav was “unjustly” left out of the team. Bengal had shown then ,that when it comes to dealing with injustice meted out to their heroes, they will not mind staging a protest even if that is against the national interest. This is a culture that has been ingrained into a bengali’s psyche by the communist dadas ( or should be say “babas”) of Bengal. The first 20 years of their rule, the communists have disguised their incompetence (of not being able to generate any vibrancy in economy ) by railing against the injustice committed by the central government. The culture of protest is now in the blood of one generation of people, who were born and brought up under the communist rule.

The same protest culture is in display today but by a different party. The opposition parties have called a bandh today. No body cares or knows the reason behind the bandh. A bandh is meant to be observed as a holiday. And a holiday it is. From the airports & railway stations to road transport, factories and offices. University examinations are cancelled, social events like marriages have been postponed by weary residents. Shops and establishments are closed.

No political party knows how to get Bengal out of the impasse that it finds today. Least of all the thinkers and the ideologues of this “literate” state. The system is too powerful for anybody to swim against the tide. But, be rest assured , that useless lectures on protest will be mouthed by all leading politicians when it comes to hogging the limelight in front of the national media.

Who says that time never stops ticking?

In truly communist Bengal, it does during a bandh when all people equally share the misery of disruption of all economic & social activities.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Indian middle-class Communists and their proverbial chains

Proletariats have nothing to loose but their chains and have the whole world to win...

Since the day, Indian communists have accepted the parliamentary democratic system in India, the quote above has taken a different connotation. No longer are Indian commies bound by chains of their bourgeois peers of other political hues who rule the country. They are bound by gains. Gains from businessmen in the states that they rule. Gains from share of tax revenue given to them by the central government. Gains from grants in various developmental schemes (e.g NREGA scheme for 100 days guaranteed employment & similar others) of the central government. And now gains from brokering real estate deals with investors.

The Indian communists have ensured that in India, which is a reasonably democratic country with widespread neo-liberal values among the citizens, rights of a citizen is more important than his duty or responsibility. So, very often organised labour goes on strike disrupting economic productivity and very often trade unions threaten the management to make casual laboureres permanent.
So now that gains of crores are there to be lost if they are voted out of power; the communists in West Bengal have established that revolution can be achieved once in every five years with coerced ballots backed up by coarse bullets. Every single voter list in every single village in the rural West Bengal is monitored by zealous party functionaries to pinpoint those who are against the party and soft coercion is applied with mild-to-wild threats of unwanted consequences if that anti-commie voter does not do a volte-face in the next panchayat/assembly/parliament election. Witness Kespur, Nadigram & Singur as examples.

The rest of India led by the South & the West is progressing rapidly with economic prosperity and the revenue of the taxes generated there is being used to subsidise the east & the north. 15 years back, West Bengal was as “out of the mindset” of the investors as it is today. It was considered then a “parasite” (see picture) state with negligible contribution towards the tax revenues and central food depository but large overdraft from the central dole of tax & scheme-grants. The only feather in the cap, so to say, is making electrical power surplus in the state . (But as I am writing this , gallons of sweat are pouring my forehead . And thats because its an unusually hot & sultry day and theres no electrical power now. )
The situation has not changed significantly even now. While the rest of India in last 15 years have leapfrogged , West Bengal still remains a ghetto of community-led businessmen (read traders) whose idea of scale and vision are limited to that ubiquitous object in every school-kid’s box . A 12 inch scale with a round magnifying glass at the end. A perfect tool for intellectuals to have a look at the “bigger picture”. Unfortunately its all zero in last 15 years.

It will not be long when Bengal’s demand for secession, if any, would be granted with a glee by the rest of india. Almost like getting rid of a non-performing resource-hungry recalcitrant employee in any organisation, when he /she decides to resign.

For the commies the quote has now become something like this:
Proletariats have everything to loose including their gains and they do not have the rest of India to win....

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Indian economy & the rising cost of development in a globalised world:- some unanswered questions

As oil prices stay over $100 a barrel thanks to the members of OECD ;who do not face any qualms about cutting off oil supply , when needed and profiteering at the cost of the common good; India is forced to step into an economic crisis.

For about two years, the oil ministry has been resisting pressure in raising the domestic price of petrol and petroleum products. But it has to raise it now as absorbing it further would only weaken the fundamental structure of the economy beyond fiscal repair. The recent hike in petrol prices only partially covers the rise in crude prices with the subsdies for LPG, Kerosene remaining enormously high.

Coupled with this is the worry of rising food prices as inflation cross 7%, a three-year high. The global food & commodity prices are also up. It is being said that due to increasing search for alternative fuel , more agricultural land is being allocated to production of bio-fuel thereby restricting the supply of food .The prime minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh in a public function recently commented that the food and the oil market is getting increasingly linked.
If oil prices go up in India , the inflation figure will refuse to come down in the next two quarters. That will not only hurt the common man badly but might also affect the fortunes of the ruling government. Possibly the only way government will react in the short term is to reduce money supply by hiking CRR and/or interest rate. That will surely hurt growth figures in the medium term and the projection of the finance minister of achieving 8.4% growth in the year 2008-09 will have to be revised to a lower figure.

In the long term, the pressure will be on increasing yield per acreage figures in the farm sector as well in the non-farm sector . Automation of processes, delivery of higher output at a lower cost , consolidation & scaling up of land for farm production will have to be achieved to keep the inflation monster within check. All these will require considerable investment both in the state-controlled organisations as well as in the corporate. But if the interest rate is hiked , investors will find it hard to justify the increasing cost of borrowings to fund these activities. Automation will also mean job losses & rising unemployment . The farmers will need high-yield seeds, better fertilisers, availability of power for irrigation but will find it difficult to cope with the increasing cost of borrowing & inflation. The outsourcing industry will also be under pressure to deliver the same service at a lower cost , thereby hurting its margins.

Internationally, the American market appears to be a heading for a deep recession and the European & American manufacturers will surely look at Asian markets to offset the loss in revenue. Pressures will be on India to reduce tariff barriers thereby hurting its indirect tax revenue. Secondly, the interest rate differential with developed countries is too high for India to ignore and not lower the interest rate.

What will the Indian government & RBI do in an election year ?
Will it raise the oil prices to refelct the actual increase in crude?
Will it increase the interest rate or will it lower it ?
Will the RBI buy up useless low-valued dollars from the market to arrest the falling exchange rate ( rupee to a dollar) and enhance competitiveness of exporters?
Will it put the pressure back on the developed countries and ask for reduction of trade barriers of Indian farm goods and services?

Will the Indian stock market finally show the true worth of companies by factoring in the correct growth figures for the FY0809 & FY0910 instead of the hyped-up figures currently being circulated by the brokers?

Time will surely give the answers but what seems certain, this way or the other, is that the “aam junta” will have to endure more hardships for reasons beyond their control.

MS Dhoni: Winning is everything.

A dramatic end to the 3-match test series against South Africa saw India level the series at Kanpur today.

Interestingly , Dhoni was standing in as captain in place of the injured Kumble. Dhoni came out trumps once again by winning his first test as captain and that too in 3 days. Dhoni led India to a win in the T20 world cup 7 months ago and also the CB ODI series in Australia about a month back.

Master at shorter version of cricket , he had to prove to the sceptics about his ability in the 5-day version. Dhoni did it effectively even with a weak bowling line-up and without Sachin’s presence who was out with a groin injury. Of course, the turning pitch at Kanpur helped and so did Ganguly’s stellar innings of 87 in the first innings. But finally, Dhoni’s ability to get the best out of everybody on field, his bold decision to let Bhajji open the bowling and his calm leadership ensured that the Future Cup does not go to South Africa.

Dhoni will probably go down in the future as the best cricket captain that India has ever had .

For the present, the future is here.

Also read : The best cricket captain in liberalised India

Thursday, April 10, 2008

49.5% Reservation in IIT & IIM : The Great Indian Education Express?

Almost 2 decades back, I had been a student of IIT where 22.5% of my batch mates were from the reserved category. There is a myth that reserved students are less meritorious. I do not recall anyone (from reserved category) in my batch or hostel , who was noticeably deficient in intellectual capabilities. They might have ranked lower in the JEE but when IITs are picking the top 2% of the country's best students through one single exam where 1 or 2 marks can mean a drastic drop in ranking; one must remember that the next 3% of students are also equally good. And , all of them are doing exceedingly well in their professions today. Had it not been for the reservations, some of them may have missed the bus.

Having said that the intense competition for the IITs and the IIMs have now reached a very unhealthy stage. Students have been found to be staking 4-5 years of their secondary-education time after preparations for the JEE. Secondly the country requires a much larger number of highly qualified engineers and managers. The time has come to broad base quality higher education to larger number of applicants. The government has announced setting up of a few more IITs & IIMs but the requirement is much much more. Capacity expansion is inevitable in such a scenario.

The only apprehension with nearly 50% reservation , is that there are more number of special interest groups which have been historically marginalised . Muslims, Women, people of NE & other hill states are some of them. Shouldn't reservation be extended to them too? Shouldn't these marginalised people also find representation in elite institutions?

And if the answer is yes then we might soon find the scenario where reservation in institutions would resemble a long distance express train. Only one coach will be unreserved and unfit for comfortable travel while rest of the 20 odd coaches would be reserved for all kinds of travellers.

Creators of "The Great Indian Education Express" would then have to necessarily allow only "merit" to be the selection criterion and scrap all reservations made till that point of time.

"Historical" justice on social engineering have to be delivered with a predefined time period and not be allowed to exist in perpetuity.

Friday, April 4, 2008

IIMs : Need to be Transparent!

Those who can , they do. Those who can't do , they manage. Those who can't manage, they teach management!- Unknown author

IIM -A has come out with a statement that the cost of 2 year PGP education per student is 5.5 lakhs!

Incredible figure.! Specially with "depreciated-to-zero" infrastructure, low faculty-to-student ratio , no huge expansion in amphitheatres & classrooms and no additional expenditure on providing students' amenities & other facilities that is not being charged to students anyway. Looks like students are also being made to pay for the new executives' block, MDP building & other infrastructure .

Secondly with a conservative faculty-student ratio of 1:10 and an average faculty salary of 7.5 lakh (after the hike) , the cost per student on account of faculty is only 75 thousand per year which comes to only 14% of the annual fee charged. How do you account for the balance 86%?

Why don't IIM-A and other IIMs publish their accounts in the public domain? Even NGOs today do the same.

If IIM s wants to behave as corporate then they must also show responsibility to be transparent to the society at large and not hide behind a clause of a NFP (not-for-profit organisations) that requires annual account statement to be submitted only to the "Registrar of Societies". Let the public calculate the cost per student by themselves and come to an informed conclusion whether IIMs (whose claim to fame are the alumni and not themselves) are justified in converting their institution to one for the meritorious among the affluent only .