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ashokbhatia

You are the main engine of economic growth,

Making global MNCs continue to fuss over you;

Splurging on goodies, traveling all over the world,

Your hard work yielding fruits which are your due.

You work very hard to secure a better future,

For yourself, for your progeny, and for your kith and kin;

The joint family system you appear to have given up,

Bringing up kids amidst the social media din.

 

You are the upholder of values and character,

Quietly paying your taxes, fulfilling social commitments;

A God-fearing and law-abiding citizen of the country,

Balancing a scientific outlook with superstitious predicaments.

 

Great sacrifices you are also willing to make,

When making India stronger is your belief and view;

You do not mind spending hours in a queue,

Retrieving hard-earned cash which is due to you.

 

Government subsidies you are willing to give up,

So the poor and…

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Psmith put his smart phone away. A sigh escaped him.

“Nothing makes sense”, he muttered.

For the space of about twenty-five seconds, Mike, sitting across a small table on a sunlit balcony in Mumbai, India, sat in silence.

“What is wrong with you?” asked Mike, with a concerned look on his face.

Some time back, Psmith and Mike had returned to the Mumbai branch of the New Asiatic Bank for a short audit spree. It had again taken them some time to get used to the hustle bustle of the metropolis, which they found much noisier than during their last stay, what with elections in India just round the corner.

They were put up in a guest house of the bank located at Worli in one of the high-rise buildings overlooking the Arabian Sea. Being a Sunday, both were in a relaxed state of mind.

“It is a pity to see the hapless denizens of most countries getting bombarded with all kinds of inane propaganda around election time. The level of allegations and counter-allegations leave them totally aghast, wondering if there is any sense of decency left in the world. I am sure they are clueless about being able to separate the wheat from the chaff, especially when it comes to deciding who to vote for”, said Psmith, looking somber and grave.

“Yes. Perhaps, they would end up voting for those who have greater lung power, both in the physical and in the virtual world!” said Mike.

“Elections will come and go. But, frankly, I do not really see any hope for the millions who have put their faith in the concept of democracy without realizing the kind of chaos and confusion it so very often amounts to.”

Mike eyed Psmith with grave concern.

“What gives? I have never seen you so very pessimistic about things.”

“In general, I feel that politicians of all hues have failed the public at large. People should start using the None Of The Above option more aggressively!” said Psmith ruefully.

“Why do you think so?” asked Mike, picking up his cup of tea from the table separating the two.

“One, I do not see any party speaking of issues which really matter. Talk of global warming and the threat people face from rising sea levels is nowhere to be heard. We have come to a stage where we need kids like Greta Thunberg to remind us of our obligations to Mother Earth. World over, use of land is a question which never gets raised, even though instances of urban flooding keep popping up every once in a while. Another crisis which looms large is that of the acute shortage of potable water, but our politicos appear to be behaving like well-fed ostriches on all these counts.

“Two, the basic needs, like providing for affordable healthcare, an education which makes the young employable, and an ecosystem which enables the people to make a decent living, are only touched upon obliquely and never addressed in a meaningful way. We are already well into Industrial Revolution 4.0. Requirement of skill-sets is changing rapidly, creating a new set of haves and have-nots. But I do not see any politician talking about this grave challenge.

”Three, many of the founders of modern democracies had vowed to create a just society. They seem to be nowhere near the goal that their founding fathers had set. Not to talk of either Millennium Development Goals or a gradual shift to Gross National Happiness Index for measuring progress.”

Psmith paused and looked at the seagulls flapping their wings over the Arabian Sea.

“Yes, I understand your anguish”, said Mike. “But this is true for many of our politicians in many countries. They are essentially dream merchants, with an eye on their own seat of power. Lofty promises get made at election time, mostly to be forgotten thereafter. The execution part is left to poor mandarins who sit in their ivory towers and keep swaying like wild grass on a sea coast to the likes and dislikes of different political masters from time to time.

“We live in times of volatile politics and general insecurity. We are just getting used to some stunning and illogical triumphs. Over the past few years, we have seen it in France, Italy, USA, India and elsewhere. A wave of isolationism appears to be washing down upon us. So is a phase of de-globalization.”

“Let us not lose heart, Comrade Jackson. The world follows its own cycles. Pretty soon, the tide could turn again. The omissions and commissions of those who look invincible today may soon return to haunt them. But what amuses me is that rather than focusing on long term key issues, our politicians just keep goading the ordinary person into making a choice between a brand of hyper-nationalism and a secular and liberal outlook. They sound much like our corporate honchos who live from one quarter to the next, dishing out guideline values!”

“We are lucky that elections keep popping up every once in a while. Some work gets done, at least!” quipped Mike, a chuckle adorning his visage. “Also, you ignore the fact that poor politicians have a tough job on hand”, he added.

“Oh, and what makes you say that?” asked Psmith.

“You see, they have to cope with diametrically opposite demands from different sections of the public. They have to persevere. They have to be fleet-footed and switch sides when it suits them. You may recall the case of John Bickersdyke who switched over from being a Liberal to a Unionist!

“Much like the Hon’ble A B Filmer and Roderick Spode, they have to be a model of respectability; their past should bear the strictest investigation. Their misdemeanours – financial, social or entrepreneurial – have to be kept hidden from the public view. Their encounters with angry swans have to be kept under wraps. Hell hounds of media have to be kept off the scent of any Eulalie-type endeavours.

“At all times, when commenting on something, they have to be politically correct. Very frequently, they have to make speeches full of empty rhetoric, a task which could leave many in a befuddled state of mind. Often, they have to listen to addresses of welcome in stuffy halls through the better part of a night. They must kiss babies, even if they happen to be dribbling by the sides of their mouths.

“They even have to undertake arduous journeys to far off villages, sit on the ground and have meals with their sympathizers, and even sleep in cottages with minimal facilities. They have to keep smiling while hugging world leaders who are otherwise sworn enemies of the state. Surely, they are more to be pitied than to be censured, don’t you think?”

“Well, all professions come with their own perks and perils” remarked Psmith philosophically. “And what about political funding, Comrade Jackson, what do you think of it? Would that not be effective in reining in corruption and in keeping the parallel economy in better check?” enquired Psmith.

“Well, some countries have given it a respectable name like lobbying. But the fact remains that a quid pro quo exists between private players and politicos. Surely, private players know how to extract their pound of flesh from whosoever makes it to the seat of power.”

“Hmm. But if political funding is made transparent, the voters would know exactly who stands to eventually benefit from their votes, even if these be such obnoxious businesses as those dealing in arms.”

Mike frowned.

“Yes, but there are so many other subterfuges a government in power can resort to, so as to quietly favour the businesses of their choice!” he added.

“Such as….?” Psmith enquired, raising an eyebrow a fraction of an inch.

“A pliant central bank can come in handy and get treated like a cash cow. In emerging economies, it can simply tinker with the way Non Performing Assets get classified. It can use forward swaps to enable private players to dip into the forex reserves. May be, there are several other ways which lesser mortals like us would be blissfully unaware of!” said Mike.

“Spoken like a true banker, Comrade Jackson! And the tab gets picked up by the common man!!”

“But if the businesses are worried about adverse reprisals when and if the opposite party makes it to the seat of power, and if the politicos do not wish to go to the public in a transparent manner, what do you think can be done?”

“I think power has to be truly secured back by the people!”

“Oh, so you mean riots, civil disobedience and all that stuff? Or, are you saying people should return to a dictatorship model?” Mike said in a surprised tone.

“No, no. I am not a social scientist. I can’t say if the democratic model is at fault here. It fails when those in power do not engage with the dissenters. Dictatorship is not necessarily a solution. God forbid if someone like Roderick Spode ends up controlling the affairs of a nation!”

“On the contrary, he could be very popular with the masses. If he announces plans of giving each citizen at birth a bicycle and an umbrella, a swanky tablet to all students who enter an institution of higher learning, a cooking stove, a pressure cooker and a kitchen cabinet to all those getting married, building world-class infrastructure, and even compulsory, scientific measurement of all male knees, he would romp home with a thumping majority. People just love elections for the kind of freebies these bestow upon an otherwise deprived population.”

“Yes, I have vaguely heard of some politicians from the southern parts of India who have perfected this art”, said Psmith.

“Not to forget the hard cash, occasional meals and a sumptuous supply of tissue restoratives during elections. But we digress. You were mentioning civil disobedience.”

“In fact, days when most Indians were starving and could register their protest by resorting to civil disobedience are long since past. Hunger inevitably leads to a seething anger within, and someone like Mahatma Gandhi who is smart enough to channelize it properly brings home the bacon, so to say. This tactic can now only be used by those at the bottom of the pyramid.

“As to all the others, it might only yield results if the delicately nurtured in their families follow the example of Wilmot Mulliner and go on a crash slimming spree by shifting to a diet based only on the juice of an orange. Pretty soon, their natures would become warped, and they will start spewing off the resultant venom on the men around them. Gradually, the men would undergo a transformation in their characters. From being ewe lambs, they would become crouching tigers, ready to pounce upon anyone who they believe is dishing out injustice to them and their families.

“Or, something more imaginative has to be done in the case of the well-endowed classes.”

“Like what?” asked Mike.

“For one, I think we need professionals from the fine arts side to come up with a sustained campaign to keep the key issues alive and kicking. Not-For-Profit entities can pitch in and so can intellectuals. Above all, we need a band of committed comedians, the stand-up kind or otherwise, who can churn out shows over social media to convey the importance of such issues which are critical to the survival of our race. A silence would willy-nilly imply either a state of resignation and disinterest, or quiet acquiescence. The coming generations would never forgive us otherwise.”

“Interesting” said Mike. “Perhaps you take a leaf out of Ukraine where Vlodymyr Selenskiy, an anti-establishment comedian, has played a role in elections! But who will fund the kind of activities mentioned by you? One would not like this to remain an open-ended challenge,” said Mike.

“Crowd-funding could work. Also, there is no shortage of well meaning people who wish to do something good. But the real challenge is to identify a leader who would be committed to a cause of this nature and magnitude, despite opposition.”

“Opposition will of course be there. I read somewhere recently that eminent lion-tamers like Rev Aubrey Upjohn, Miss Mapleton and Miss Tomlinson have appealed to students the world over to give up their tirade regarding global warming and instead focus on their studies. On the contrary, I thought they would be feeling proud that they have tutored their pupils rather well.”

“Oh. One person who could possibly be consulted on the issue is Jacinda Ardern, the present Prime Minister of New Zealand, who has demonstrated exceptional leadership qualities recently.”

“Perhaps you should then seek an audience with her. But wait, this merely goes on to show that a situation produces a leader. So, if the steps outlined by you are taken and sustained for a long time, one can hope for an enigmatic leader to emerge from such peaceful protests, right?”

“I do believe so.”

Mike rose from his chair and stretched his arms. His gaze drifted off to a couple of fishing boats bouncing up and down on the bluish-green waters of the Arabian Sea. The rays of a setting sun were waltzing over the waves.

“These are deep waters, indeed. I wonder why we are discussing such matters on a lazy Sunday evening! I rather think I’ll nip down to the beach at Santa Cruz and take some fresh air into my lungs,” said he. “You couldn’t come too, I suppose?”

“On the contrary,’ said Psmith, ‘I could, and will. A stroll will just restore those tissues which our intense discussion of the last half-hour has wasted away. It is a fearful strain, this political quagmire. Let us trickle towards the place mentioned by you. Comrade Jackson, lead me to this picturesque beach of yours of which I have heard so much.”

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/10/10/politicos-in-plumsville-part-1

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/10/12/politicos-in-plumsville-part-2

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/10/18/how-about-promoting-election-tourism)

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ashokbhatia

Bollywood’s take on corruption differs across various time zones. Just as the society has evolved, so has the approach taken by Bollywood on depicting and tackling corruption changed over the past few decades.

In the black and white era of Gandhian simplicity, it was often more about the bad guys being urban gentlemen and the good guys being rural urchins. Movies like ‘Do Bigha Zameen’ (1953), ‘Jagte Raho’ (1956) and ‘Parakh’ (1960) readily come to one’s mind.

Jagte_Raho_1956_film_poster

We have also had movies where the lead cast suffered in dignified silence. The audience was often left with a feeling of disgust towards all those who were shown as corrupt. Movies like ‘Satyakam’ (1969) left us with a fond hope that things would somehow improve in the future. satyakam

Then came the angry-young-man phase. Here, we had the revenge theme. Muscular power ruled and the…

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ashokbhatia

Movies reflect what is happening in the society. In some cases, like literature, they also hint at what could be in store for us in the days to come. They not only influence what happens in the society, but also take a harsh look at its ills – including their own! There are a number of spoofs, created by some of our best known dream merchants, which reveal the level of maturity the film industry has attained.

Somehow, movies examine only some segments of the society; that too, mostly along predictable lines. Politicians, cops, industrialists and others are mostly depicted in a stereotyped manner. Business and management have so far not merited much attention from our film makers.

If business has been captured, it has mostly been depicted to be ruthless. Catering to mass appeal, the film makers have propounded the belief that big money is invariably bad. The fact…

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You are the main engine of economic growth,

Making global MNCs continue to fuss over you;

Splurging on goodies, traveling all over the world,

Your hard work yielding fruits which are your due.

 

You work very hard to secure a better future,

For yourself, for your progeny, and for your kith and kin;

The joint family system you appear to have given up,

Bringing up kids amidst the social media din.

 

You are the upholder of values and character,

Quietly paying your taxes, fulfilling social commitments;

A God-fearing and law-abiding citizen of the country,

Balancing a scientific outlook with superstitious predicaments.

 

Great sacrifices you are also willing to make,

When making India stronger is your belief and view;

You do not mind spending hours in a queue,

Retrieving hard-earned cash which is due to you.

 

Government subsidies you are willing to give up,

So the poor and the needy may live a better life;

You live the life of a silent but true patriot,

Ignoring social unrest, mobocracy and strife.

 

Corruption in high places you do not like,

Petty bribes which save you time you do not mind;

Inefficient delivery of public services you hate,

To trains and buses running late you are often kind.

 

But much like the three monkeys of the Mahatma,

Unpleasant things you do not hear;

You remain blind and muke to many a thing,

Indignities which do not touch you directly, silently you bear.

 

You remain faithful to the concept of democracy,

Keeping the flame of our independence aglow;

Pushing the Indian nation on its path of glory,

Hoping for a better tomorrow, even if the progress is slow.

 

Perhaps a day would dawn when you would speak up,

Push also for social, judicial and political reforms;

Chasing not only GDP and per capita income numbers,

But also Gross National Happiness in its myriad forms.

 

Strive for India to excel in its Millennium Development Goals,

Contribute towards building up Gross National Character;

Refuse to let caste and religion determine vote banks,

Of the unfolding Indian drama, be the outspoken main actor.

 

(Related Post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/05/13/the-perks-of-being-a-vip)

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Can a business be run without resorting to corrupt practices? This was one of the several questions attempted to be answered by management experts at a recent seminar organized by Sri Aurobindo Center for Advanced Research at Pondicherry (SACAR) at Pondicherry in India.1 Inaugural Session IMG_2266At every step, a business faces a choice – whether to indulge in corrupt practices to get what is its legitimate due, or face hardships and bottlenecks in meeting its obligations towards such stakeholders as its suppliers and employees.SACAR Dr ReddyThere are no simple answers to this vexed issue. However, there could be innovative ways of handling such challenges. A strong anti-corruption image helps. The conviction, that this is just not done, takes time to radiate to those who place such a demand on the business.

Another way to face such a challenge is to politely decline meeting an illegal demand. Instead, an offer to fund a legitimate activity which falls in the realm of CSR and shores up the image of the official/department concerned could get readily accepted. This could be by way of toilets being set up in schools, trees being planted and maintained on a main thoroughfare, or by investing in a scheme of social benefit.

???????????????????????????????The conviction emanates from an inner strength and a resolve to ensure that the dealings of the corporate concerned remain above board. Once adopted and marketed as a strategic choice, the business gains in the long-term – by adding value to its own brand equity and by gaining public trust. In turn, this could be leveraged to command better margins in the market place and also to attract better talent at a lesser cost.???????????????????????????????According to a business captain who addressed the participants at the seminar, the core mantra is to not to readily give in to illegitimate demands and to do simply what is in one’s control. The path of righteousness is not easy to tread but can be adhered to successfully if the top management has the necessary conviction. Decision making based on good values and an inner connection always helps a business person to strike this delicate balance in its operations.

Speakers at the seminar also touched upon VUCA and the increasing rate of change in the business environment. Studies which have proved that businesses which adhere to the basic values of honour, truth, beauty, justice and love were quoted do better in the long run. Participants were exposed to leadership lessons drawn from such Indian scriptures as Ramayana, Mahabharata, Thirukkural and also from Sri Aurobindo’s works.???????????????????????????????The value of meditation and resultant control of one’s mind was demonstrated. A panel discussion explained the likely changes in the business environment over the next decade and outlined the leadership and management attributes which would become more relevant in the times to come. The emphasis was on leaders who steer their businesses not only directed by an economic compass but also by a moral one.

The seminar, entitled ‘Preparing Future Business Leaders and Managers: An Inner Approach’, drew an enthusiastic response from business managers, scholars and students alike. It was addressed by Dr. Ananda Reddy, Director of SACAR, Mr. R. Mananathan, Chairman and MD, Manatec group of companies, Prof R. P. Raya, Dean, School of Management, Pondicherry University, Dr. Saikat Sen from SAFIM, Prof. Kisholoy Gupta, Mr. J. V. Avadhanulu, Mr. Ganesh Babu and yours truly;  a heady mix of management educators, lifestyle coaches, business thinkers and influencers.

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The new government in India has promised to cut red tape and substitute it with a red carpet. This is a great promise, but one has to wait and see how it actually unfolds. India has a federal structure in place. So, unless states come on board, wannabe entrepreneurs might still be found running from pillar to post negotiating their way through the dense maze of policies, procedures and rules at all levels. A major MNC recently stated that as many as 167 approvals were required before its project could see the light of the day.

The Doing Business 2013 report of the World Bank ranks India at 134 out of 189 countries in ease of doing business. India has questioned the methodology of the World Bank. This could satisfy the ego of some patriots amongst us. But the stark reality is that the costs of setting up and running a business in India are unreasonably high.

One also needs to consider the fact that India’s infrastructure is anything but world-class. There is a mismatch between the skill set available in the labor market and the needs of the industry. Policy framework is inconsistent, giving rise to a sense of uncertainty in the mind of investors. Add to this India’s poor record in enforcing contracts due to legal delays and the tendency to slap taxes on a retrospective basis, and the high level of discomfort experienced by investors can be readily explained.

One of the most serious stumbling blocks to India’s growth story is the widespread corruption. Businesses which are driven by pure greed find this rather handy. But those which stand by business ethics and operate within the paradigm of a value system detest this scenario. The latter surely deserve all the encouragement they can get.

The new government in India would do a great service to the nation by seriously cracking down on corruption. Some baby steps do appear to have been taken, but these do not attack the root cause of the problem. It is good to chase black money stashed abroad. But steps need to be taken to stem the rot at the root level itself.

Here are some steps which could possibly help to curb the growth of the cancer of corruption:

  • Political funding needs to be brought on a transparent plane. This can only be done if there is a clear message that witch-hunting of businesses, especially in case of a change of regime, would not take place. Suitable changes in India’s taxation laws would also help. Till the time political expenditure remains obscure, red tape would continue to hinder the country’s growth.
  • Bureaucracy performs a critical function. Safeguards can be improved. A well thought-out stick-and-carrot policy can be introduced and then ruthlessly implemented. This would ensure that the tendency of some to seek rent for grant of mandatory approvals is curbed.
  • A strategic policy for use of natural resources needs to be announced and implemented. It is not only about mineral resources but also about India’s rivers, airwaves and other bounties of nature.
  • Real estate sector needs structural reforms. A stronger MIS system is the need of the hour. Uniform rates of stamp duties attracted by property transactions across the country would go a long way in creating a level-playing field. Administering collections and detecting frauds would also become easier.
  • Pushing through DTC and GST would result in better revenues. This would give the government better leeway to reduce taxes across the board. In turn, this would improve Indians’ collective honesty levels.

On their part, businesses also need to do some soul-searching. By raising the bar higher on the compliance front, they could improve their market valuation. Their brand image is bound to get a makeover for the good. In turn, this helps them to attract more business as also more skilled employees.

Once a demonstration effect sets in, the government machinery would also develop confidence and stop viewing them through a jaundiced lens of suspicion. Instead, this would enable the government to go ahead with self-certification in several areas, thereby utilizing its own human resources better.

All of these are bitter pills to swallow. But unless this pain and suffering of chemotherapy and surgery is undergone, the cancer of corruption would continue to thrive. A strong political will alone can achieve this cure of the Indian system.

[Related posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2014/05/03/a-16-point-agenda-for-the-16th-lok-sabha-of-india

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2013/04/14/combating-the-cancer-of-corruption%5D

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