Sunday, May 24, 2009
Saturday, May 23, 2009
The 2009 Lok Sabha elections have brought out many things in the light. Among many others it has also converted a hypothesis into law – If you have to survive you can’t be niche any longer – you’ve to be just very common. The power is no longer at the top of the pyramid – but at its base.
When I started my career in semiconductors in mid nineties we used to strive to work in the most advanced and niche areas for creating chips which would go into some of the fanciest electronic gadgets. For obvious reasons US used to be the most desirable place to work because that was the centre of all research and development.
Since then most companies producing electronic products have invested heavily in technology to produce things which are no doubt fancy and hi-tech, but not always useful. But then people had money and could afford buying umpteen number of useless things. Even till recently people used to change mobile phones once in every few months. It’s not that they all really needed new phones so frequently. But they can’t be blamed. The electronics industry used to create such hype around the useless gizmos that the innocent consumers would think that their lives would be really useless if they didn’t have one of those useless things.
This vicious circle of demand and supply of things, that can’t be ever called value-for-money products and in most cases too useless, stayed for almost fifteen years when suddenly no one had any money to buy them anymore. People moved away from luxuries of replacing phones every few months to cost effective and value-for-money products.
For the first time people understood the futility of seeing a movie in the small screen of a phone. Not only such an act is unergonomic and poses serious threats to health but also the experience is a debacle compared to even watching the cheapest television.
That’s when the entire electronic industry faced the biggest ever slow-down.
The story is same for most other industries. When the going was easy people never thought of investing in useful value for money things. Most of the products were always out of reach of the Aam Aadmi and were targeted only for the niche and rich people – the ones that constitute the pinnacle of the pyramid. When the going became tough since last year the only available consumer market was the base of the pyramid – which was deprived of useful things all these years. Then suddenly the focus shifted from niche to simple and common things. Intel is thinking of $100 notebooks with wireless broadband, sales of mobiles are restricted only to the low end categories, FMCG companies are coming up with even smaller sachets of their products primarily for rural markets – the whole industry is euphoric about the prospects of Bharat rather than India.
The age of niche products seems to have come to a temporary halt.
No longer I’m proud of working on the latest technologies to produce hi-tech gizmos for the sale in upmarket malls in Europe or US – because they are no longer in demand there. Rather I should work on simple things that can be sold in a Reliance Outlet in India’s hinterland.
The importance of Bharat is clearly seen in the outcome of recent elections. Even though faulty at many places, still the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme of the UPA government did manage to give the 700 million strong rural Bharat some amount of buying capacity. When the economy went into a whirlwind downfall throughout the world one of the very few markets with purchasing power was indeed India’s Bharat. Perhaps that’s the only reason why our GDP growth didn’t turn negative. The rural economy kept the wheels of India’s economy moving. When my purchasing power was shrinking with every month Bharat was buying 15 million mobile phones every month.
The impact of the recent slowdown was not felt in a significant way in Bharat. That’s surely one of the main reasons why the UPA didn’t feel the heat of anti incumbency. None of the poll predictions could assess the strength of Bharat - the base of India’s pyramid - in such a strong way. Not only is the Bharat driving the economy of our country, but also has proved to be a decisive element in India’s democracy.
There’s no doubt that BJP failed to tap the potential of Bharat. The issue of security or inflation or economic breakdown didn’t have much relevance to Bharat. It was only the India that was bothered with all those!!
It’s the writing in the wall – take care of Bharat.... India is Bharat.
Since last week there has been several analysis of the disappointing performance of BJP in 2009 election. Most analyses do harp on a few common points like (1) the excessive use in BJP campaigns of the strong vs. weak PM issue which seemed to have reached the level of personal attacks on a person who is perceived as Mr Good by ‘Aam Aadmi’ (2) lack of youth power which was exploited very rightfully by Congress through Rahul & Priyanka Gandhi (3) total failure in creating an all inclusive and the easily-understood so called ‘secular’ image among all sections (4) total failure in retaining the educated middle class people who were instrumental in bringing BJP at the helm of power a decade back (5) total failure to utilize the media in its favour (6) the negativity of the entire episode of Varun Gandhi’s speech and the recent cultural policing by some right wing elements perceived to be affiliated to BJP and (7) the internal feud within BJP.
There should be several other reasons off course. But no one is speaking of one aspect which I feel played a major role in the declining vote share of BJP.
India and Indian culture has a lot of respect and regard for humility. Perhaps one of the most distinguishing and differentiating factors that has become an identification for Indians since ages is humility. Indians have been always seen as very modest people. Aggression was never a part of the character for most Indians.
History has more regards for a humble and benign Asoka than anyone else. The next personality who comes close to the reputation and stature of Asoka’s is perhaps Akbar, again a much more benign and humble personality than most other rulers in recent times. Gandhi’s more than a life image and popularity is also perhaps due to the fact that he was seen more as a benign seer than an aggressive politician. It’s not that Tagore was a seer in reality, but the image that remained in most of the Indians’ mind is that of a bearded sage that suits the persona of a Gurudev. People tend not to see at all the aggressive side of Tagore.
With the exception of perhaps Guru Govind Singh, most of the personalities who have attained a more than life stature in India in all ages starting from Buddha till Gandhi have been – or at least perceived to be - devoid of any aggression. That’s not just a coincidence. I feel that’s a part of our culture and we’ve to respect that.
The very fact that the entire campaigning of BJP was based on the idea of a strong leader against a ‘weak’ Manmohan Singh didn’t go well with the Indians who always prefer soft and humble people. Pointing out blatantly over and over that Manmohan Singh is weak did make the Indians think about the point. At one side they have a soft spoken person who never showed aggression in any form and on the other side there’s someone strong and aggressive. I think the Indians did exactly what they have been doing for ever – prefer a soft person. It’s a common perception that soft people are also very humble. Aggression is always associated with adamance and lack of humility. That’s why they felt very comfortable with Manmohan Singh.
Not only did Advani and Modi’s image speak of aggression, but in general the BJP leaders are perceived to be less polite when they speak. This was very apparent in many of the debates in media. Might be they were always asked uncomfortable questions by a biased media, still their body language and the message couldn’t be seen as very humble or polite. Compared to that Rahul Gandhi’s master strokes of humility, or at least the publicised or orchestrated forms of humility, did gel very well with the culture of India. It’s interesting to see that even the youth of India prefers humility. It’s another story that the so called humility that has impressed the Indians can also be totally a fake.
BJP should take this lesson very seriously. It can be argued that in nineties the rise of BJP was also based on an aggressive Hindutva agenda. But that was more of a cultural nationalism rather than just aggression. Also at the centre was the benign Atal Behari Vajpayee. This time neither is any nationalism nor a benign face. So it’s time to go back to the drawing board to chalk out the plans for creating a soft and humble image of BJP.
I think that’s how the corporate world also works. An aggressive person may rise to the top, but a popular manager is he who is soft and humble. It’s true that at times you do need a strong and decisive person with lot of aggression, but then it’s very unlikely that he or she would be popular.
Democracy might not guarantee the best – but then that’s the way it is. A party or a leader has to be popular and if that requires taking a particular stand, that’s what any they should do to get to power.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
The verdict of 2009 LS elections is out. All of us, who consider ourselves Friends of BJP, are really disappointed, as are all BJP and NDA leaders. Though we all were hoping against all hopes that NDA might come to power, but I believe there was always an uncertainty about the final outcome. I’m sure that most of us were disappointed but not shocked or surprised with the outcome. Yes, the numbers of NDA could have been better, but there was lot of odds against BJP or NDA to come to power. Keeping aside the disappointed I think there’s something that we all should feel great about – that’s the air of change and awareness among the voters that have swept this election at many places; and it’s this awareness that’s a very positive sign for all of us.
I’m a Bengali by birth and officially a Bangalorean. Ever since my childhood I, along with million others born in Bengal since the seventies, knew that there’s only one party and that’s the Left. In both assembly and LS elections the results were very predictable – Left used to win a sweeping majority in both places. The Congress and later the Trinamool Congres (and perhaps BJP to a very small extent very recently) have been mere minorities in opposition for almost 35 years. I’ve always hoped to see a day, sometime during my life time, when the scenario would change. But then I knew it very well that perhaps me becoming a billionaire is more feasible thing than Left becoming a minority party in Bengal. Especially the last LS elections made it more clear that the Left is becoming stronger and stronger day by day. Everyone started to accept the reality that they have born and will die seeing the same Left ruling them forever.
This year’s LS has been a stupendous surprise when Left has got just half the seats as that of the Trinamool-Congress combine. That’s a change that couldn’t happen for almost 35 years. That’s a change that was induced by the growing awareness among the common people. It’s a trend that we all should be proud of. At last the day has come when common man has grown up to understand what is what and call spade a spade. He is no longer a blind person. He can see what’s happening around him. He can understand what’s better for him. He can choose what’s better for him. He is for a CHANGE.
This very awareness among the voters is something that can change the political scenario of India going ahead. It’s true that BJP has failed to get majority, but as long they stand for development and prosperity there’s a hope sometime in future.
I’m sure BJP will now introspect about what went wrong this time. But at the same time they should be more convinced that the day is not far when they can come to power with a sweeping majority. All they have to do is create more and more success stories at the state levels and use that to create more awareness among the common people across India about what’s good for them and the country. Thus election has perhaps shown that it’s the beginning of a Prabuddha Bharat or Awakened India that Swami Vivekananda had conceived of some hundred years back. From now onwards India will vote only for development and betterment.
Shekhar Gupta of Indian Express has pointed out one more striking thing about this election which is really very interesting for BJP. This is the first election that BJP has fought without Atal Behari Vajpayee.
There’s no doubt that the personality and the image of Vajpayeeji is something that attracts all section of people irrespective of their political or social affiliations. Perhaps after the Gandhis in Indian politics, Vajpajeeji has the mesmerizing and greater than life personality that endears masses of illiterate or lowly literate millions of people of India. The presence of Vajpayee in the BJP had the impact perhaps similar to that of Nehru or Indira Gandhi in the early days of the rule of the Gandhis in India. The first election that Congress fought without the Gandhis after the death of Rajiv Gandhi was a debacle. But compared to that the performance of BJP as a party in this election, first time without Vajpayee, can’t be treated as a debacle. That reinstils the conviction that BJP is not a party dependent on a single person.
Though the impact of the any particular person can’t be ignored, but still the very fact that BJP has passed the litmus test of fighting an election without their most acceptable and popular face is indeed a good thing.
Winnability directly from the association of any particular family or person is always a risky thing in democracy. Even dictatorship fails if it depends too much on a single person. What will happen to Cuba after Castro is indeed a matter of concern. Nazi Germany collapsed just in moments without Hitler.
Apart from BJP and the Left parties, no other party in India is based on any particular ideology. Most parties derive their existence from singular personalities. Congress is also no exception to that. So by construction BJP always has an edge over any other party in a democratic setup.
It’s time to introspect and find out what went wrong. It’s not just a mere word of consolation that “failures are pillars of success”. Lot of lessons are learnt in each failure. I’m sure BJP will rectify the past mistakes and come up stronger in the next election.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Monday, May 4, 2009
Saturday, May 2, 2009
In each election there’s this classic dilemma among many voters about whom to vote for – the party or the candidate. Even if someone supports a particular party, still he/she might not feel motivated to vote for the candidate who is contesting in his/her constituency for the party of his/her choice.
The classic example is perhaps a constituency in Bombay where the contest is between a Boston-educated graduate and a SSC-pass-out. The former has been a professional and the latter’s profession was driving the vehicle of a local right-wing leader. The former may lead to the perpetuation of dynastic politics, but the latter’s politics has involved an active discrimination and sporadic violence against recent migrants into the city of Bombay. More conspicuously, the latter has been charged in small criminal acts while the former has been clean and has completed an active term. In this case the former is from Congress and the later Shiva Sena/BJP alliance. I’m sure even if someone prefers BJP than Congress, but still in this particular case he might be confused with regards to whom to vote for.
Another example is from Bangalore Central, my constituency. The Congress candidate is an ex Commissioner of Bangalore and an IPS officer of impeccable credibility and track record – Sangliana, who had won the last Lok Sabha elections on a BJP ticket and eventually fell out with BJP recently on Nuclear Deal and moved to Congress. The BJP candidate against Sangliana is someone who had lost the last election he had fought in 1996. People of Bangalore have seen what’s the potential of Sangliana and knows very well how much he can do. Contrary to that we know almost nothing about the BJP candidate. I’m sure many such cases would be there across India.
So what should the voter do?
My suggestion would be unless the candidate is a criminal with suspicious track record you should go by the party because that’s what will make the difference rather than one exceptionally good person from a wrong party. After seeing Dr. Manmohan Singh we know very well what can be the fate of a good person in a wrong party.
Also we should understand that when there’s a strong candidate from any party, the opponent party won’t want to take risk and place another strong man. The fight between two strong men is always uncertain and no party would like its strong man to lose. So in most cases you don’t see the popular faces of parties fighting tough battles. This is true for all parties. Indira Gandhi, Jyoti Basu, Jawaharlal Nehru never fought against strong candidates. In this case it won’t have been wise for BJP to place important persons against Milind Deora or Sangliana because then their victory can’t be guaranteed. So we shouldn’t feel awkward to vote for a relatively unknown candidate of our party of choice against a more popular or better one from the other party we don’t like.
There has been a furore against BJP’s manifesto that has spoken much about the history and heritage of India. Though I don’t accept everything that Murali Manohar Joshi, supposedly the main person behind the preamble of the manifesto, says or does. But I was taken aback by the sort of response and reaction, especially from the media, that it evoked. As if it’s a crime to feel proud of my own past and culture.
Before I say anything in defence of taking pride in cultural and heritage let me quote something interesting.
“Jawaharlal Nehru’s three classics – Glimpses of World History, An Autobiography and The Discovery of India – remain essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand the ideas and personalities that have shaped India through ages, and moulded the character and special genius of her people.... through them runs the common thread of Pandit Nehru’s own vision and ideals – his passionate commitment to democracy and social justice,... and his exuberant celebration of India’s pluralistic culture....”.
I don’t think there’s anything special about these comments about the importance of history and the past of any country to understand her and her people better. What we’re now is always the manifestation of an evolution of ages of traditions, believes, education and culture. The “exuberant celebration of India’s pluralistic culture” is something that hasn’t only shaped the vision and ideals of Nehru, but has been the source of inspiration of almost each Indian, greater or smaller in any field. History has provided the basic foundation of many successful ideas and ideologies in all countries. Gandhi’s nonviolence is not a theory out of blue. It’s what Ashoka or Akbar had also tried and applied very successfully and became the two greatest emperors of India. Gandhi became the third one to make the best use of a theory which existed even before Ashoka or Buddha understood the importance of nonviolence. Had Gandhi not been an adept reader of Indian history he won’t have become the Mahatma.
Cutting short the importance of history and past, let me go back to the quotation I’ve used just now. That’s actually Sonia Gandhi’s - in the foreward for the 2004 edition of Discovery of India published by Penguin. The Discovery of India is perhaps one of the best books about Indian history. Sonia Gandhi accepts very correctly that it’s essential to read these books if anyone wants to know about India, her people and her culture. Isn’t that exactly what the preamble of BJP’s manifesto also says? So why so much fuss about it?
The sad thing is that a part of the intelligentsia and media have made anything related to India’s past a taboo. As if it’s foolish to look back and take pride in things of past. That’s perhaps the case only in India. That’s also the reason why Indian’s are the least proud of their own country.
I always feel elated when I see how much pride an average American takes in his or her own country or heritage despite the fact that they don’t have any past beyond 300 years. Romans and Greeks and even the Persians take so much pride in their past. It’s this pride that instils confidence and self esteem among people and history bears testimony to the fact that only nations with undeterred confidence and high self esteem prosper.
It’s the tremendous self esteem, confidence and pride in his own country and heritage that inspired Swami Vivekananda to go to the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893 and represent India before the world. He had pointed out to the world, “Three religions now stand in the world which have come down to us from time prehistoric— Hinduism, Zoroastrianism and Judaism. They have all received tremendous shocks and all of them prove by their survival their internal strength. But while Judaism failed to absorb Christianity and was driven out of its place of birth by its all-conquering daughter, and a handful of Parsees is all that remains to tell the tale of their grand religion, sect after sect arose in India and seemed to shake the religion of the Vedas to its very foundations, but like the waters of the seashore in a tremendous earthquake it receded only for a while, only to return in an all-absorbing flood, a thousand times more vigorous, and when the tumult of the rush was over, these sects were all sucked in, absorbed, and assimilated into the immense body of the mother faith.”
It’s indeed a matter of pride to possess the body of an Indian that has “sucked in, absorbed and assimilated” “sect after sect” that arose in India. Here again it’s the all inclusiveness of Indian culture that stands aside. The people who are into the present day politics of appeasement, castes and regions and want to create a number of exclusive and fragmented Indias – one for the Muslims, one for the Dalits, one for the Tamils, one for the OBCs, one for the SCs, one for the STs and so on - are the ones who perhaps haven’t read much about India’s past and don’t take pride in her cultural heritage. The point when we start taking pride in our past, we’ll also become confident like the Americans, the English, the Frenchs, the Italians and many others – who have made better progress than us.
Did you notice that it’s only in the past ten or fifteen years that India has again started making a mark in the world? And it’s no coincidence that it’s also in the recent years that Indians have again started taking pride in their culture and past. In eighties any young Indian would have always cursed of being an Indian. But same the youth of today rarely curse India. Many people who had left India for better pastures then have already come back in the recent years back to India. It’s not only greater opportunities that have brought all of them back. But it’s also because of the fact that they have also started taking pride in India.
It’ a matter of fact that till 1700 India and China used to be the greatest two economies of the world, contributing to more than 40% of world GDP. Till that time India used to be a prosperous and proud nation. The only thing that the Britishers broke was not the economy, but the self respect and the pride that had driven India to prosperity for thousands of years in the past. All that Gandhi, Tagore or Vivekananda or Tilak and many others wanted to achieve was to revive the lost pride among Indians. Otherwise why would all of them write and speak so much about India’s glorious past. We’re again in the fast track of progress because we’re again proud of our country.
Few notes of Murali Manohar Joshi might be a bit off tune at some places, but that doesn’t mean that the entire symphony is bad. It’s ridiculous to turn a deaf ear to it. It would be really sad if we do that. It would be the greatest irony for India and we would again go back to the dark ages of the British Rule.