Archive for the ‘IT-BT, IIT-IIM’ Category

One question I’m dying to ask Nandan Nilekani

10 March 2014

Like Arvind Kejriwal overshadowed Anna Hazare leaving the old man suitably stumped and stupefied, Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani has taken a giant leap into electoral politics that should leave his former colleague, N.R. Narayana Murthy, moaning in his majjige-huli.

By joining the Congress a day after he was named the party’s candidate from Bangalore South, Nilekani has put his political money where his voluble mouth is, a far cry from Murthy, who after aiming to be the President of India, said he was happy to be India’s ambassador to the US, before finally returning to his parent—and sneaking in his son Rohan Murthy in a fit of meritocracy.

But parachuting in politics is the easy part, especially if you have the ear of Sonia Gandhi and the earpiece of Rahul Gandhi. The difficult part is landing, and in a few weeks from now, Bangalore South will show (and Nilekani will learn) if the “urban, educated, literate, middle-class” truly wants change, or if it is happy with Ananth Kumar.

On his YouTube channel, paid twitter messages, and super-soft interviews with business correspondents whom he courted in his previous avatar, Nilekani paints himself as a son of the soil, being born to a Minerva Mills employee, in Vani Vilas hospital, who lived in BTM layout, etc.

He even tries to speaks in Kannada.

But there is plenty Bangaloreans do not know of Nilekani. So, what is the one question you are dying to ask the Bangalore South candidate?

Like, have his number-crunchers already computed the victory (or defeat) margin on their computers? Like, will he run away, as NRN did from the Bangalore international airport project, at the first hint of criticism? Like, all Congressmen, does he too think Rahul Gandhi is god’s gift to Indian politics?

Like, does he see Rohini, Nihar or Janhavi taking over from him, should he win, in the best traditions of the Congress?

Also read: Not yet an MP, could Nandan become PM?

Can Nandan Nilekani win from Bangalore South?

Dear Nandan, quit Infosys, join politics, start a party

Nandan Nilekani: the six things that changed India

CHURUMURI POLL: Has Nilekani trounced NRN?

MUST READ: 12 things no one is telling us about namma Nandu

Nandan Nilekani: The five steps to success

Thank god, you don’t need Aadhaar for bus ticket

5 March 2014

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Infosys co-founder, outgoing Unique Identity Authority chairman, and prospective Congress candidate from Bangalore South, Nandan Nilekani, takes a bus ride as part of the pre-poll schmoozing exercise, in Bangalore on Tuesday.

Ironically, the photo-opportunity happened on the day angry commuters were demanding increased bus services and not just in the IT-BT corridor which gets most of the attention.

Thankfully, the bus conductor did not holler out to the wannabe-MP to keep his legs in front of him.

Hopefully, the ace quizzer remembers the bus number.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Not yet MP, could Nandan Nilekani become PM?

11 December 2013

On December 8, as the results of the assembly elections in the four States showed that opinion polls are not always wrong, and as the clamour for clarity on the Congress’s “prime ministerial candidate” a la the BJP grew in overheated TV studios, Congress president Sonia Gandhi said:

“I think people need not worry. At the opportune time, the name of the PM candidate… the name of him will be announced.”

Despite the ungrammatical awkwardness of “him”, the invocation of the male gender in her response triggered instant speculation. Was it going to be son Rahul Gandhi, or could it finance minister P. Chidambaram, or could it be a totally new face?

The Times of India, which broke the news in September that former Infosys man and UID chief Nandan Nilekani was being thought of as a potential Congress candidate from Bangalore South, now reports that Nilekani could be Sonia Gandhi’s “him” with a boiler-plate denial.

When TOI called him, Nilekani’s immediate and only reaction was, “Complete rubbish. This must be a figment of someone’s over-active imagination.”

Obviously, Nilekani’s candidature is predicated on several imponderables. That Rahul Gandhi may not want the top job, should he by a stroke of miracle become eligible for it. That other potential candidates in the Congress will quietly acquiesce should Nilekani’s name come up. Etcetera.

But the Congress moves in mysterious ways, often with some fingers of the left hand not knowing what the other fingers of the same left hand are doing.

In an interview with Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief of The Indian Express, for NDTV’s walk the talk programme, Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah takes a few questions on Nilekani’s predicted candidature. The responses are mighty revealing.

Is Nandan Nilekani going to contest one of the three Bangalore seats?

He has not discussed this with me, but it is news which has appeared… Don’t know whether he is contesting or not.

Do you think it is a good idea if he contests ? Will you be happy?

I don’t know because I have not discussed it with him. And he has also not discussed it with me. About 15 days back we met, but he did not discuss it with me.

As a friend, will you advise him to contest, or not?

It is for the Congress to decide. If he wants to contest, then the Congress has to take a decision now.

But will you recommend his name?

Let him say whether he is interested or not. I do not know whether he is interested.

That’s the problem with your party, everybody has to go and ask.

If he comes to the party, I will welcome him. But I don’t know whether he is ready to contest or not, he is willing to contest or not. But ultimately the high command has to decide.

So, not yet an MP, does Nandan Nilekani stand a chance of being PM?

Dream on.

Photograph: courtesy Namas Bhojani/ Forbes India

Also read: Can Nandan Nilekani win from Bangalore South?

Dear Nandan, quit Infosys, join politics, start a party

Nandan Nilekani: the six things that changed India

CHURUMURI POLL: Has Nilekani trounced NRN?

MUST READ: 12 things no one is telling us about namma Nandu

Why not too many Indians bag the Nobel Prize

30 October 2013

Every October, India goes through the by-now familiar drill of asking why there are not too many Indian-sounding names on the list of Nobel Prize winners. And on the odd occasion there is, asking why they weren’t nurtured by institutes and industries here, and why oh why they had to go abroad to earn their spurs.

Despite Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Amartya Sen bagging the supposedly high honour in recent times, the answers haven’t changed much. The usual cliches of Indians being copy cats, masters of learning by rote, of not being inventive or innovative enough, of debilitating quotas, backbiting, crab mentality are belted.

Delivering the foundation day lecture of the Indian institute of management, Bangalore (IIM-B), the Jnanpith award winning Kannada writer, critic and scholar, U.R. Anantha Murthy introduces a fresh new perspective.

India, he says is in this position, simple because the pool of talent isn’t large enough:

“The hunger for equality is the most spiritual aspiration of a human being. The challenge before premier educational institutes is to redefine “arhata” (merit) and “intelligence”.

“We can create excellence only through equality.

“India is not able to produce Nobel Prize winners because there are many castes and many groups in India that are yet to receive education. Education to me should respect not just the so-called cerebral area but the intelligence of the body. I’d like to see a redefinition of intelligence.

“The poet William Blake spoke of the plight of the poor chimney sweep in industrialized London; let us ask ourselves whether technological strides have resulted in ‘sarvodaya‘ (welfare of all) or if it is at the cost of the tribals and the downtrodden?”

View the full lecture here: U.R. Anantha Murthy

Also read: U.R. Anantha Murthy: our greatest living novelist?

Will Kannada literature climb Nobel peak again?

Look, who’s lobbying for the Nobel peace prize!

Chemistry Nobel, yes, but why not physics?

 

POLL: Can Nandan Nilekani win Bangalore South?

18 September 2013

Kite-flying effortlessly replaces cricket as the nation’s favourite sport before every election, state or national, and so it is in the run-up to 2014, with “guided rumours” of Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani suddenly but not unexpectedly doing the rounds as a potential Congress candidate from Bangalore South Lok Sabha constituency.

For the moment, there is no confirmation from the man, but he has certainly not denied the report which first appeared on the website of the business newspaper, Mint. “It’s speculative,” is how the Sirsi-born software mogul has chosen to greet the unattributed reports which clearly emanate from his “camp”, and all of which uniformally talk of his candidature having Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi‘s imprimatur.

On the face of it, Nilekani has plenty going for him. He is young (58), has a demonstrated track record as an entrepreneur and a technocrat, has ‘written’ an ambitious book on how he imagines India, and is a past-master at charming the pants off the media. On top of that, his wife, the former journalist Rohini Nilekani has pumped in crores into philanthropic projects.

Nilekani’s role in crafting “Brand Bangalore” is not insignificant. It is Infosys that largely put the shine back into Bangalore and made it the country’s unquestionable IT capital. Nilekani was also the brain behind the Bangalore Agenda Task Force (BATF) during S.M.Krishna‘s tenure. So, the Congress’s, if not Nilekani’s, calculation is: this is payback time.

The preponderance of IT types in Bangalore South, the large sprinkling of Brahmins, and a five-time sitting Brahmin MP (Ananth Kumar) who is not on the right side of the BJP’s “prime ministerial candidate”, Narendra Modi, makes the Sai bhakt’s candidature look all very rosy—on a spreadsheet.

But politics is not a zero-sum, page 3 game as the similarly qualified Captain G.R. Gopinath discovered not too long ago.

It is not only software engineers who go to vote, in fact they can barely get their backsides off a spa table on the weekends. Plus, Bangalore South has a sizeable Vokkaliga population, and who doesn’t know H.D. Deve Gowda‘s antipathy to urban, educated, rich, IT-BT types?

Above all, for all the friendly media coverage of Nilekani’s “Aadhar” card, the fact remains he has essentially presided over an unconstitutional scheme which does not have Parliament’s OK, and which has actually taken millions out of the welfare net, while precisely claiming to do the opposite, by stopping leakage and pilferage. These are the people who vote and, sadly for Nilekani’s and Aadhar’s backers, there are thousands of them in Bangalore South too.

So, does Nandan Nilekani, who can just about speak Kannada, stand a chance, if he gets the chance, or is he like so many billionaires deluded about what his billions can fetch? If he does, could he end up being a potential minister in the next UPA regime, if there is one? And, while we (and he) fantasise, could he even be the kind of quiet technocrat who could be Rahul’s Manmohan Singh? Just kidding.

(Or, tongue firmly in cheek, could Nandan Nilekani’s nomination papers get rejected because his date of birth does not match the DoB on his own Aadhar card?!)

Also read: Dear Nandan, quit Infosys, join politics, start a party

Nandan Nilekani: the six things that changed India

CHURUMURI POLL: Has Nilekani trounced NRN?

MUST READ: 12 things no one is telling us about namma Nandu

Is Infy becoming Narayana Murthy’s property?

26 August 2013

For over a decade starting in the mid-1990s into the early 2000s, Infosys co-founder N.R. Narayana Murthy enjoyed a well-earned, larger-than-life, holier-than-thou persona through his various public interventions.

As politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen (and everybody else down the food chain, including the media) ran adrift in post-liberalised India, Murthy struck the right note, saying the right thing in just the right sort of way and at the right place, which made him the darling of the urban, literate, English-speaking, TV-watching middle-classes.

While his capitalist-compatriots hogged all the profits, there was Murthy making millionaires out of his own employees by giving them stock options in the company. While everybody shamelessly latched on to power, there he was resigning from the Bangalore international airport project because of a spat with H.D. Deve Gowda.

While everybody was hailing India’s education system, there he was pointing out the problems in them. Why, he was even credited with contemplating to revive Rajaji‘s Swatantra Party, which opposed socialism and rigid controls, as a way out of the morass that mainstream political parties and politicians had pushed India into.

Narayana Murthy was even spoken of as a possible President.

But of all things that Murthy said in his strange, American twang, the one that struck a chord among “People Like Us” (PLUs) was his defence of merit as the lifeblood of a country on the ascendant. As politicians rolled out reservations left, right and centre to protect votebanks, Murthy (who idolised Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew) bravely batted for meritocracy.

Merit is the lifeline of any organisation, he said.

“Infosys is an absolute meritocracy. Even in a meritocracy, other things being equal, you have to give opportunity to the more experienced candidate. Whether it was Nandan Nilekani, Kris Gopalakrishnan or Shibulal, they are absolutely top class and they have been running this marathon longer than some others. Their is no question of (any discrimination) between founder, non-founder. I have no hesitation in saying we are the most professional company in the world,” he said in a 2011 interview.

Which is why the drama surrounding Narayana Murthy’s 30-year-old son Rohan Murthy shows NRN in poor light.

First the 30-year-old (who is married to the heiress of the TVS group) was brought in as an executive assistant to NRN following Murthy’s return to Infosys, which in itself was something NRN did not advocate in public. (Rohan Murthy, who is “on leave” from Harvard, was paid a farcical salary of one rupee a month, apparently at his request.)

Now, less than three months of the appointment, comes a move to elevate executive assistant Rohan Murthy as vice-president Rohan Murthy although NRN had said just three months ago that there would be no leadership role for his son. Obviously, questions of corporate governance, a phrase that repeatedly tripped out of NRN’s tongue have been raised.

Does Narayana Murthy’s hypocrisy stand exposed with the latest move? Should the ministry of corporate affairs allow Rohan Murthy’s elevation to go ahead? Can a publicly listed company be so susceptible to the pressures of a founding family? Does NRN’s move to elevate his son show that blood is thicker than water?

Is something rotten at the Sikkapatte Important Company of Karnataka?

Or is it all OK because dynasties are a way of life in India?

 

Also read: Come again, in spite of government or because of…?

CHURUMURI POLL: Is Infosys a ‘body shop’?

‘Indian IT does not benefit its own people’

CHURUMURI POLL: Who should be IT minister?

31 May 2013

What qualifications must an elected MLA possess to become a minister? Whose prerogative is it to nominate a minister?  Who decides what portfolio a minister must be allotted? Should ministers of certain specific portfolios possess some certain attributes? And should external inputs be given consideration at all in the ministry-making process?

These are evergreen questions and they gain currency in the light of the decision of the new Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah to name S.R. Patil as the State’s information technology minister—and the quite extraordinary intervention of former Infosys man T.V. Mohandas Pai and Biocon chief Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw.

# “Surprised at choice of minister for IT/BT. Need a person who can work with global companies and a lot younger. Sad day for us,” tweeted Pai.

# “CM can’t afford to be seen to be viewing IT/BT lightly — these are priority sectors for Karnataka,” said Shaw on her micro-blog account.

In a report for the Indian Express, correspondent Saritha Rai writes:

“Pai and Mazumdar-Shaw were only echoing the widespread feeling in the industry — though no one else said it openly and even these two later backpedalled — that a suave, urban-educated, technology-savvy minister would have better suited.

“The industry was backing choices such as Krishna Byre Gowda and Dinesh Gundu Rao — both dynamic, articulate legislators in their forties. Patil, from backward Bagalkot district, is a lawyer by training with a background in the co-operative movement and is not exactly known for his tech-savvy.”

In a report for The Telegraph, correspondent K.M. Rakesh writes:

“I thought either Krishna Byre Gowda (son of former minister C. Byre Gowda) or Dinesh Gundu Rao (son of former chief minister R. Gundu Rao) would get the IT/BT portfolio,” said a Congress lawmaker.

Rahul Karuna, crisis manager with a BPO, said the IT/BT ministry deserved a heavyweight. ‘We were expecting a big name or a young minister. It’s not about the age or looks of the man; it’s that this portfolio deserves a more powerful politician.'”

Obviously, everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but implicit in these statements are stereotypes that boggle the mind and should shame the likes of “suave, urban-educated and tech-savvy” Pai and Shaw. That a 65-year-old man from Bagalkot (still very much a part of Karnataka)  is not cut out for the likes of them in Bangalore. That his age, language and tech skills, and mofussil background are all against him in the slick world.

But above all, the arrogant assumption that the IT/BT industry shall decide the choice of IT minister, not the chief minister. If the children and women of Karnataka (whose number vastly outdoes the number of IT/BT professionals) cannot decide who the next women and child welfare minister will be, what right does the IT/BT industry have?

Yes, Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna did wonders for the industry. But do M/s Pai & Shaw know if he knew how to switch on a computer via UPS, send an email or write a blog before he took over as chief minister? And didn’t he come from Somanahalli in Maddur taluk of Mandya district? And where specifically have the dynamism of Dinesh Gundu Rao and Krishna Byre Gowda been displayed for the industry to be batting for their case?

Question: is the pampered IT/BT industry batting out of its crease?

Why Delhi gangrape victim shouldn’t be named

7 January 2013

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The British newspaper Sunday People has outed the name of the Delhi gangrape victim, but the Indian media has not fallen for the bait—yet—although it has been trending on Twitter.

Here Rajeev Gowda, chairman of the centre for public policy at the Indian institute of management (IIM), Bangalore, argues why it is best not to name the girl.

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By RAJEEV GOWDA

Should the Delhi rape victim’s name be revealed? At least for the purpose of honouring her (with her parents’ consent) by naming revised anti-rape legislation after her, as Union Minister of State for HRD, Shashi Tharoor has suggested?

The issue is substantially more complicated.

The Indian media has been admirably restrained so far by not revealing the names of the victim or her companion. Instead, she has been given different monikers like Nirbhaya, Damini, Amanat and Jagruti to describe her fighting spirit.

But the media has also twisted Tharoor’s tweets as if he were interested in making public her name, thus causing needless controversy.

A more diligent media would have instead focused on what inspired Tharoor to make this suggestion. His inspiration comes from United States where names are often attached to laws, especially to add a poignant human angle to legislative changes.

But this little media episode demonstrates a key lesson on why it’s better for India to refrain from going down the path of honouring the victim by naming the bill after her.

Naming this victim potentially gives a license to name other rape victims and that can cause incalculable damage to victims and their families in an India where values are in flux and rape-related stigma is cruelly real.

Further, it is quite likely that we will get into political wars over the naming of future bills and parties that thrive on symbolic huffing and puffing rather than concrete content would just divert attention from the actual work that needs to be done and probably hold up parliament over such non-issues.

Various commentators refer to Megan‘s Law, named after a child killed by a released sex offender, as an example of how the USA names laws. In the USA, numerous other laws are named after the legislators who promote them. But in the American context, unlike in India, there is tremendous scope for individual Congresspersons and Senators to initiate and pass legislation.

Megan’s Law itself is part of a set of initiatives involving naming and shaming, which has also been raised in India as a policy option after the recent Delhi tragedy.

The recently deceased News of the World tried to launch a campaign for a Megan’s Law-type bill in the UK. This media campaign resulted in attacks on people who resembled the perpetrators of crimes and also triggered violent vigilante attacks. Such outcomes may satiate the anger and passions of mobs but certainly do not strengthen the rule of law.

In a decade-old book chapter, I had examined the political and media processes that led to the passage of Megan’s Law and similar laws across the USA using the Social Amplification of Risk framework. I emphasized the importance of politics and contrasted the American experience with how the British dealt with the News of the World campaign.

The British were suitably restrained, appropriately so.

Based on those experiences, I would assert that it’s better to retain the anonymity of victims (and possibly perpetrators too) and focus instead on the harder tasks of changing societal attitudes and improving governance to prevent such crimes from ever taking place.

Otherwise, the collateral damage from name-related moves can be substantial. The twisting of Tharoor’s well-intentioned tweets is just a hint of how counterproductive things can get.

Also read: Free, frank, fearless? No, greedy, grubby, gutless

Besides Pepper Spray, the Rape-Axe condom too

How TV ads turned us into a nation of voyeurs

Delhi gangrape, liberalisation and Godwin‘s Law

Facebook, Twitter, bloggers and now private TV

Ramayana, Upanishads, and the Delhi gangrape

Has RSS infiltrated into IT, media in Karnataka?

22 February 2012

Tehelka magazine has a cover story on Karnataka this week. With the cover reading “Hindutva Lab 2.0“, the story asks if Karnataka is becoming the new Gujarat, the second laboratory for the BJP and the larger sangh parivar, following the right-wing Hindu attacks on Muslims and Christians.

“A greater cause for concern for Karnataka’s liberals is the attempt to inject communal polarisation even in the cosmopolitan environs of Bengaluru, India’s IT hub. A casual visit to the Satyam and Infosys complexes makes for some disturbing observations.

Umesh Hegde (name changed to protect identity) talks about the infiltration of the Hindutva groups into the IT sector: ‘Initially, we were asked to come to the shakha to rejuvenate ourselves and learn yoga. Within a month, my colleagues and me were shown a map of Akhand Bharat, and told how Bharat needs to be cleansed of Muslims. And believe me they have managed to find sympathisers.’

“In five years, the number of RSS shakhas in Karnataka has gone up by 50 per cent, helped by public funds and facilities….

“The unfortunate part in the process of communalisation of Karnataka has been the concurrence of the media. Newspapers in Karnataka have encouraged the polarisation for pecuniary benefits. For example, the Mangalore-based daily Hosa Digantha has been accorded “state newspaper” status although its circulation does not meet the required criteria. Its editor, Chudamani Aiyyar, is an RSS activist.

“While Gujarat newspapers played up the supposed threat to Narendra Modi from Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorists, Karnataka too witnessed such attempts. Rashid Malbari, an underworld figure and regarded a foil to Hindutva gangsters like Ravi Pujari (also from Karnataka), was put behind bars for allegedly plotting to assassinate Modi and senior RSS men in Karnataka.

“Local dailies played up the story just like they did in 2005 when Udayavani reported that madrassas were hoisting Pakistan flags. It had to issue a retraction when the police gave a clean chit to the madrassa. Other newspapers like Vijaya Karnataka too sedulously promote the idea of Muslims and Christians as “members of other religions.”

Read the full article: Hindutva Lab 2.0

GAURI LANKESH: ‘Karnataka as the Gujarat of South’

FREE: 5 easy ways to a happy, stress-free life

20 February 2012

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: By qualification I am not an expert in stress management. But as a physician I think I see stress and its results on people more often than what most people think. Day in and day out I encounter patients who come to me and complain straight away that they are too stressed up and need some prescription for it.

But for every such patient who knows what his or her problem is, I meet at least ten more who simply do not know that every one of their physical complaints are related to the abnormally high levels of stress they build up as they go about their daily lives.

This stress in disguise can be very detrimental to a healthy and comfortable life and is the cause of many psycho-somatic problems where an over-burdened mind begins to induce disorders like insomnia, hyperacidity, hypertension, heart disease and diabetes in an otherwise healthy body.

***

From the days when I started practice soon after post-graduation, just about 25 years ago to the present day, I have been seeing and treating these stress related problems and I have found that their incidence is increasing by leaps and bounds every passing day.

That is because, from the days when we were cavemen and just hunters and gatherers to the present day where we have become hunters, gatherers, usurpers and accumulators, our life style has gone through a full circle of change.

Now even the most independent and affluent amongst us have just become bonded labourers who work ten times harder than necessary for a nonexistent boss to live just one life. Most of us till we reach the time to retire still continue to slog, trying to create more and more wealth which we will eventually be unable to use to make ourselves happy.

By the time you discover that you have made enough money to start spending it for your pleasure you discover that there is simply no time for you to do it in good health. So in the end you only end up making some doctor or hospital wealthier by it.

When you really come to think of it, we need not really work so hard and burn ourselves up in the process because what we really need to go through this life comfortably does not require so much effort.

I have seen hundreds of people around me who have made millions but who have ended up exiting this world as miserable paupers with their wealth intact and unused. If only they had worked a little less and had taken time off their slogging for a little leisure or to see the world around them they would have been happier and in better health although with a little lesser wealth.

Our obsession with building a cyber world of instant connectivity and communication too, without which we seem to be ill-equipped to survive, has certainly added much to our misery.

I know of many software professionals in metropolitan cities who after a hard day at the office come home tired and weary with a much harder time in the peak hour traffic. They come home not to put their feet up and relax with their loved ones but only to perforce open their laptops to be available online when their counterparts on the other side of the world wake up to interact with them professionally.

When the much-awaited weekend comes they find that they are either too tired to stir out of their homes or too deterred by the weekend rush at every tiny source of recreation.

Many cyber-professionals, as if in response to a conditioned reflex, simply rush to resorts with their families during holidays only to communicate with them in monosyllables without looking up from their laptops while they try to catch up with their work.

However much a person gets paid to work like this, it is all a very brief and pointless game.

It is no different from burning a candle at both ends to get more light but this way we only end up getting darkness twice as fast. Therefore, this game is certainly not worth the candle.

Very recently, a friend of mine sent me a link to an article on the net where a nurse who was in charge of looking after terminally ill patients had revealed what most of them expressed as to what they would have liked to do instead of what they did during their lifetimes.

What she says makes very revealing reading.

She says: “For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who were destined to die as they were suffering from incurable problems. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives. People grow up a lot when they are faced with the prospects of their own death. Each experienced a variety of emotions like denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient when questioned about any regrets he or she had or anything he or she would do differently, invariably came up with these five answers again and again.

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not fulfilled even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. But the moment you lose your health, it is too late to do this. Health brings a freedom and opportunity very few realise, until they no longer have it.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. This came from every male patient. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had then not been bread-winners. All of the men deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task.

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a me-diocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react sharply when you speak out your mind honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases you from this unhealthy relationship. Either way, you win.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. Often people would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved.

It is common for anyone in a busy life-style to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying. It all co-mes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier. This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions as well as their physical lives.

Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their own selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again. When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful it is to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.”

But although very revealing, these last wishes and much belated flashes of wisdom usually do not make sense to most of us until we realise that it is almost time for us to go.

If only we remind ourselves that the whole purpose and happiness of this life lies not at the end of the journey but all along the road, we will all find a completely new meaning and purpose in living. This calls for a new and completely different way of looking at life from an altogether new perspective, perhaps with our feet up and our heads down !

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician, who writes a weekly column for Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

Also read: Khushwant Singh‘s 11 secrets of a long, happy life

Has anti-defection law strangled our democracy?

2 January 2012

From left, Ganesh Karnik, Sandeep Shastry, C.V. Madhukar, P.G.R. Sindhia

GAGAN KRISHNADAS writes from Bangalore: The centre for public policy at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIM-B), recently organised a conference titled “Strengthening Institutions, Enhancing Governance”.

It  provided an opportunity for politicians to share the stage and their thoughts with academics and researchers about the changing role of elected representatives and its implications for legislative institutions.

P.G.R. Sindhia from the Janata Dal (Secular) and Captain Ganesh Karnik of the BJP represented the political class, while Prof Sandeep Shastri and C.V. Madhukar represented the academics.

It was interesting to see how people within politics and out of it viewed the proposition:

***

P.G.R. Sindhia of the JDS divided the political history of modern India into three distinct phases.

“In the first phase between 1950s to the 1970s, we had politicians who were role models, like Sardar Patel et al. They had complete knowledge of the country and their constituencies. The expectation of the people from these leaders was constructive community matters, not individual gains. People also had faith in these leaders and not to forget, we also had a stable government.

“In the second phase between 1970s and 1990s, we could see that the people were disappointed that their expectations had been belied. They voted against the Congress and we saw coalition governments coming into power and small political parties taking birth. Though I am totally against Indira Gandhi and was a part of the movement against Emergency, I have huge respect for her. She enthused the people with the 20-point programme and her Garibi Hatao scheme. She was able to gain the confidence of the masses with land reforms which was followed in Karnataka too by Devaraj Urs.

“In the third and the present phase between 1990s and 2011, the people have totally lost their faith in their leaders. People are disillusioned with elected representatives. Due to globalisation, the availability of money to the political parties has increased. Now, people expect money and personal favours from their elected representatives. Our MLAs most of the time are busy attending marriages, funerals and birthday parties.

“During my first election in 1983, Ramakrishna Hegde and H.D. Deve Gowda asked me contest and I won as a result of the anti-incumbency factor. I hardly spent Rs 30,000 and my supporters spent about Rs 1.5 lakh. My caste is microscopic in Karnataka and I did not win on the basis of caste at any time. I have defeated stalwarts like Deve Gowda and M.V. Rajasekharan. My winning margin used to be as high as 50,000 votes. When I contrast it with the year 2004, I spent about Rs 1.25 crore, but my majority was just a few thousands. Money and muscle power rule the politics today. To curb this, we need strong laws and it needs to be implemented through the Election Commission. Democracy is the best form of governance for our country and we need to strengthen it.”

C.V. Madhukar, founder and director of PRS Legislative Research, had his own take on what has failed Indian democracy.

He said that the anti-defection law introduced in 1985 was responsible for destroying state legislatures. He said that, from 1950s upto 1989, we had a maximum of 14-15 political parties. After the introduction of anti-defection law, the number of political parties had reached a peak.

Madhukar said that Indian legislative institutions were suffering because of four reasons:

a. The anti-defection law has silenced independent voices within a political party.

b. The poor participation of our legislators in the house.

c. Lack of adequate and expert research support to the legislators on various matters.

d. While the role of legislators is primarily to make laws, oversee working of the government and represent the voters, what they do in reality are the petty works of their constituencies and their supporters.

He said that during the 14th Lok Sabha, 1,400 documents were tabled. It was impossible for a member of Parliament to go through all the documents. He lamented that when an MP goes to the Parliament library and seeks for material on a particular subject matter, what he gets are the newspaper clippings from the last 60 days.

Madhukar asked: “Should our policy should be based purely on the opinion of a few newspapers?”

Captain Ganesh Karnik of the BJP read out the preamble of our Constitution and asked how many of these aspirations had been fulfilled.

There are three categories of voters. The first category whose choices are fixed; the second category who are intellectuals and vote on the basis of issuesl; the third category are the ones whose votes can be bought by the politicians. Unfortunately, the voters in third category are the ones who play the decisive role in every election.

There is a need to educate this section of voters. Though it is not the role of a legislator to go for marriages, birthday parties and do personal favours such as transfers; he is bound to perform these functions since these are the very people who have elected him and they expect him to do so!

Sandeep Shastri, the pro chancellor of Jain University, negated the views put forward by the politicians, Sindhia and Karnik, that the people voted on the basis of money alone.

Empirical research suggests that contestants who spent the highest amount of money never always win the elections.

Politicians have been in power all these years and they had all power to make changes in laws, change the mindsets of the people, yet they had failed.

At the end of the session, it was clear that the two politicians blamed the people for taking money for voting; the researcher blamed the lack of expert research support to leaders which failed them in taking proper decisions; and the academician said money power alone doesn’t work and that politicians themselves were responsible for the bad state of affairs.

Who do you think is right or wrong? Or do we need to take a holistic view and say that each group is responsible for the failure of our democracy?

(Gagan Krishnadas is a post-graduate student at National Law School of India University, Bangalore)

Nine reasons why we should support Aadhaar

26 December 2011

BHAMY V. SHENOY writes from Houston, Texas: Hundreds of crores of rupees have been spent on it. Millions of Indians have stood in queues and registered themselves for it. One of India’s biggest corporate heads has staked his all for it. Now, the parliamentary standing committee on finance (SCF) has found problems, big problems, with Nandan Nilekani‘s unique identity project, Aadhaar.

To be sure, even before the publication of the parliamentary panel’s report, there was plenty of opposition to Aadhaar. Civil liberites activists asked searching questions on its constitutional status, its core objectives, its intrusion of privacy, and its benefits. Sections of the media were not far behind. Now that trickle of criticism has become a torrent.

It is understandable why the political class would oppose Aadhaar; they stand to lose the most. But one expected the NGO movement, especially the consumer protection and rural/slum development oriented NGOs, to show more support to Aadhaar.  These NGOs are familiar with the rampant corruption in the implementation of various government welfare measures and Aadhaar was conceived to help solve the problem.

The parliamentary standing committee report on finance has not advanced any new arguments or rationale to support the opponents of Aadhaar in opposing the conceptualisation and execution of the project. However critics have used the opportunity to put some old poison into a new bottle to kill Aadhaar by selectively quoting from the SCF report.

Not much has been discussed about the fact that there were three MPs who dissented with the majority opinion. While it is good news that there was no political infighting in drawing up the SCF report, the bad news is that the very political class that is showing extraordinary interest in fighting corruption has thrown away a foolproof weapon provided by Aadhaar to reduce graft.

Only the self-interest of politicians can be driving force behind such rare political unanimity! But Aadhar needs to be supported.

Here are my nine reasons for supporting Aadhaar.

1. Aadhar can plug massive misuse of subsidy: There is not one kind or encouraging word mentioned in the SCF report on how Indian society can use Aadhaar to deliver several welfare measures approved by the parliament to the poor of India.

This is because it is the political class which is the biggest beneficiary of black money generated by diverting PDS kerosene and residential LPG as well as from the misuse of several welfare measures like the national rural employment guarantee scheme (NREGA), etc.

I had predicted that politicians would try to kill Aadhaar  in a research report, Lessons learned from Attempts to Reform India’s PDS Kerosene Subsidy which I had for Global Subsidy Initiative.

It is a well known fact that there is a large amount of diversion of PDS kerosene to the black market and also to blend with petrol and diesel. The same is true in the case of highly subsidized residential LPG (which is a welfare measure of sorts for the rich and the middle class).

What is not often discussed or highlighted is the amount of black money generated by these illegal activities. Actually this is the mother of all corruption, generating more than Rs 45,000 crore per year. This scam is  shockingly far larger than 2-G scam.

Since the amount is shared from top to bottom, the wily political class is not interested in supporting a project which will result in killing the golden goose. Only recently the research on the misuse of subsidy is bringing such facts to public attention.

2. Aadhaar does not need Parliament’s approval: Aadhaar is a tool to deliver welfare measures: Therefore it does not require approval from the parliament.

Once a welfare programme like PDS kerosene, subsidized food, NREGA, access to high-tech facilities are approved by the government, is there a need for the executive branch to get approval as to how best to deliver such programs with minimum leakage?

Let me give an example of how the political class killed an efficient system of delivering PDS kerosene in Karnataka. In the mid 1990s, at the suggestion of Mysore Grahakara Parishat (MGP), the Karnataka government had implemented a “coupon” system to ensure minimum diversion of PDS kerosene in Mysore.

It was so successful (dealers used to wait for consumers to come and buy their quota which was unheard of), that the government wanted to expand it to the whole state. However the dealers and all the political parties managed to kill the project, not just in the State but outside too.

At the suggestion of the Planning Commission, a few states introduced a smart card system to streamline PDS kerosene. Did any one raise an objection claiming it is unethical for the government to adapt it without getting the approval of the legislature?

Looks like history seems to be repeating itself the case of Aadhaar at the national level.

3. Aadhaar does not compromise privacy: Critics of Aadhar have raised the bogey of privacy. This is totally irrelevant as an issue.

An application for a driver’s license demands a lot more information than Aadhaar. Voters’ lists, provided to any one who asks for it, also have a lot more information on citizens than Aadhar. Private agencies which help Indian embassies to process passports handle a lot more information.

Has any one raised privacy questions? So why the hue and cry over Aadhar?

Many US Supreme Court findings (eg Schmerber v CA,384 US 757, 1966; US v Dionisio, 410 US 1, 1973) imply that the use of biometrics does not invade an individual’s civil liberties or privacy.

The Supreme Court of India has instituted a committee under the chairmanship of a former judge  to look at PDS. The Justice Wadhwa report has suggested a computer-based information system as well as the use of biometric smart cards to reduce leakages. The committee was, in fact, recommending an Aadhaar type programme even before Nilekani was entrusted with that task.

Why did the SCF fail to take into consideration the critical recommendations of a Supreme Court instituted committee which is also as mindful of privacy as any expert or activist?

4.Biometric technology is OK: Many including the SCF have pointed out the inherent problems of the biometric technology in accurately identifying individuals. But the truth is that the young technology, provides adequate accuracy and is in fact advancing rapidly.

While the government has admitted that accuracy may be no more than 1%, it has also suggested that there are in-built safety mechanisms not to deny any legitimate person the assistance approved by the government.

According to UK’s National Physical Laboratory, the probability of a false negative ( person not being recognized) using biometric is 1 out of 10,000. The probability of false positive is even order of magnitude less (1 out of 1,000,000).  As far back as 2003, NPL had accepted the feasibility of using biometrics (finger prints or iris) for identification of all UK individuals.

A report published by International Telecommunication Union in 2009should remove any doubt people may have about the use of biometric tool for individual identification.

That report has the following conclusions:

“Within a fairly short period of time, biometric recognition technology has found its way into many areas of everyday life. Citizens of more than 50 countries hold machine-readable passports that store biometric data–a facial image and in most cases a digital representation of fingerprints–on a tiny RFID chip, to verify identity at the border. Law enforcement agencies have assembled biometric databases with fingerprints, voice and DNA samples, which make their work more efficient and manageable. Commercial applications use biometrics in local access control scenarios, but also increasingly in remote telebiometric deployments, such as e-commerce and online banking, and complement or replace traditional authentication schemes like PIN and passwords.”

5. Aadhaar is ahead of its time: SCF has cherrypicked the UK example to argue that Aadhaar may not work because the UK decided to drop their national ID card. Why didn’t SCF discuss examples of several countries like Brazil, Australia, US and others  where biometric based cards/documents are in use?

There are many similarities between the social security number system in the United States and Aadhaar in India. A country like the US where privacy issues, human rights, etc are high on the agendas has not found any problem. Aadhaar is really a more sophisticated concept of SSN of the US.

If the US were to implement SSN now, more than likely they would have also developed a scheme like India’s Aadhaar. SSN is given to any legal resident of the US and so also Aadhaar. SSN has not created any security issue. The same will be the case with Aadhaar. It can be argued that India has leapfrogged the USA by implementing Aadhaar.

6. Aadhaar has no security issues: Some critics have tried to create a scare by suggesting that Aadhaar should be treated as a national security issue though the parliamentary standing committee did not discuss Aadhaar directly from that point of view.

In today’s networked society, there are so many data bases which should be of much higher priority in terms of national security than a data base containing biometric information on residents of India. On the other hand it can be argued that Aadhaar data base may serve the purpose in getting information on terrorists.

In some countries there are proposals to use biometric data bases to monitor the movement of terrorists. By being creative and through building enough safety features Aadhaar could make it very difficult for anyone to access Aadhaar data while it can serve the national security purpose by identifying terrorists.

7. Aadhar’s benefits outweigh its costs: It was shocking to find SCF referring to some newspaper article quoting a high cost figure of Rs. 1,50,000 crore while the total budget request of UIDAI is for about Rs. 12,000 crores for three phases.

The savings generated by using Aadhaar to better distribute welfare measures can more than compensate its cost. Even assuming that the actual cost may be more than what is budgeted, the avoidance of black money generation from the diversion of PDS kerosene and residential LPG alone of Rs 45,000 crore per year can easily pay for Aadhaar project.

In addition there is the additional money savings from improved welfare delivery systems like food, fertilizer, MNREGA etc for which Aadhaar can be used.

When SCF took the opportunity to scare the readers by quoting an unsubstantiated cost figure of 1,50,000 crores, it did not take any effort to find out the potential savings from the use of Aadhaar.  A recent Karnataka’s Lokayukta report estimated that the misuse of food subsidy alone costs more than Rs 1,740 crore per year for Karnataka.

8. Failure of bureaucracy cannot be held against Aadhaar: It is true that coordination between different departments of the government who are the stakeholders (Planning Commission, Registrar General Of India, Election Commission, Ministry of Rural Development, Ministry of Urban Development, State Governments) has not been satisfactory.

It is also true that there has not been proper planning or coordination between different users of Aadhaar or agreement on using it for deriving maximum benefits out of it (NPR, MGNREGS, BPL,census, UIDAI, RSBY, and bank smart card).

The fact that the bureaucracy has failed or the government machinery has not done its job in coming with an efficient ways of making use of a new technology like Aadhaar should not reduce its usefulness. It is also true that prior to taking up a major project like Aadhaar, UIDAI should have conducted a cost benefit analysis and looked at all different alternatives. Unfortunately it failed.

Instead of taking a positive view of the study done by Ernst & Young, SCF was critical of it to send back the bill. The study did show that among all different alternatives Aadhaar is the best. Instead of making positive recommendations to improve the inner workings of the government department in exploiting a tool like Aadhaar , to throw doubts on the efficacy of Aadhaar is doing a disservice to the country.

A high level committee consisting of elected representatives can be expected to take an unbiased view of a new initiative like Aadhaar. SCF report unfortunately is biased. The committee report quotes opinions of only the experts who are critical of the project. Did they try to find at least one expert who is in favour of the project?

9. Parliamentary committee raises irrelevant or inconsequential issues: There are several nit picking issues raised against Aadhaar in SCF to question its usefulness. For example is Aadhaar mandatory or not? For those who do not want to avail themselves of welfare assistance it is not mandatory. Human rights  and privacy activists should appreciate such a position.

Is ration card mandatory today? It is not. However for those who want subsidized food items or PDS kerosene it is mandatory. Is there any thing wrong in imposing Aadhaar on the beneficiaries to ensure there is no leakage? Aadhaar can definitely serve to identify but not as a proof of address. Is there any thing wrong with that.

Can driver’s license issued many years back or old water/telephone/electricity bills serve as address proof? The same is true with Aadhaar. Aadhaar is only to serve as identify from the beginning and not serve any other purpose. Only with the purpose of throwing aspersions of Aadhaar these nit picking issues are raised.

It is very unfortunate that the staff of SCF has not done a creditable job in advising its members of the real issues. There is nothing wrong in sending back the bill if only they had done an unbiased review and ended with some specific recommendations to make better use of Aadhaar.

Let us not throw baby with the bath water.

The parliamentary committee argued convincingly that UIDAI has failed to do a better job of coordinating with different departments, failed to carry out proper cost benefit analysis prior to starting of the project and failed to have a well laid out plan to exploit the application of Aadhaar for different uses.

But none of this can lead to dropping or even worse killing Aadhaar as many have assumed. If the committee had taken an unbiased view its conclusion would have been far more positive putting India on a different trajectory to fight corruption in a big way.

Just like the Lokpal can help reduce corruption, proper and well planned use of Aadhaar can reduce corruption and have transformational impact. Arvind Kejriwal who has fought against corruption in PDS should convince Anna Hazare to support the government in moving ahead with Aadhaar.

Just like Lokpal, Aadhaar has all the potential to be a game changer.

Also read: Nandan Nilekani: 6 things that changed India

CHURUMURI POLL: Has Nandan trounced NRN?

Dear Nandan Nilekani: Quit Infosys, start a party

Nandan Nilekani: The five steps for success

CHURUMURI POLL: President Narayana Murthy?

17 October 2011

One day, last week, he was quoted as saying that “it would be a great honour to be the next president of the country” if all political parties agreed to his candidature. The very next day he was quoted as saying that “he had no presidential ambitions whatsoever” and that words had been put into his mouth.

On other days, of course….

Is N.R. Narayana Murthy indulging in a bit of kite-flying or does the Infosys co-founder and chairman-emeritus still have the political and popular cache to be the Rashtrapati? Is there likely to be a consensus on the presidential candidate, as Murthy desires, or is it too fanciful a dream in the current surcharged atmosphere?

Should a corporate honcho, who once expressed interest in becoming the Indian ambassador to the United States, become President of the world’s most populous democracy? Or will his attempts at reviving the pro-capitalist Swatantra Party and his stand on the national anthem and subsidiary Freudian slip-ups go against him?

And if it isn’t NRN, who should it be?

Also read: Cho Ramaswamy on Narayana Murthy as president

Has Narayana Murthy bid goodbye to dream of public office?

Why Narayana Murthy will make a poor President

One question I’m dying to ask Janardhana Swamy

12 October 2011

The well-earned reputation of the average Indian politician—of a lying, looting, hypocritical, bogus, backstabbing rogue, with his eyes forever focussed on wheeling and dealing, and using his position to make a quick pile to last the next three generations of his extended family—is cynical, of course, but rarely inaccurate.

Which is why “the educated middle-class” is beside itself with joy when one of its ilk makes the cut. The presumption is that their education qualifications and professional experience will somehow make a difference to our polity.

Bangalore Mirror reports today on Janardhana Swamy, a masters from IISc who swiped his greencard at Cisco, Dell, Sun Microsystems and other giant American firms before throwing his hat in the hurly-burly of Indian politics and being elected as a BJP MP from Chitradurga.

According to the report, Swamy secured a 50×80 plot in posh Raj Mahal Vilas (RMV) extension in Bangalore for Rs 7.56 lakh (market rate: Rs 4 crore) after furnishing an affidavit that he owned no other property in Bangalore, although he had told the election commission (EC) that he owned three sites, two in his name and one in his wife’s, worth over Rs 1.5 crore.

“If I had stated that I own three sites, the BDA would never have allotted me the plot. The other sites I have are total waste,” the MP tells the paper nonchalantly.

Swamy’s hunger for land will surprise only a few, but what the 43-year-old MP shows is that the more things change in Indian politics, the more they remain the same; only the protagonists change. So, what is the one question you are dying to ask this “educated, middle class” BJP MP?

Like, how many sites, waste or otherwise, does a three-member family really require? Like, would his “mentor”, N.R. Naryana Murthy, approve such subterfuge? Like, should L.K. Advani‘s anti-corruption yatra pass through Chitradurga? Like, what would he caption a cartoon on his scam, if he were to draw one?

Please keep your queries short, civil and self-righteous. And ‘cc’ your comment to jswamy@jswamy.com

Image: courtesy Bangalore Mirror

Also read: And a snapshot of a simple devotee of Lord Rama

George Fernandes: Pati, patni aur woh & some crores

Mayawati: For doyen of downtrodden, assets is all maya

Kanimozhi: How many poems fetch a poet rs 8.5 crore?

Priya Krishna: One question anyone should ask Rahul Gandhi

H.D. Deve Gowda: A snapshot of a poor, debt-ridden farming family

R.V. Deshpande: A 1,611% jump in assets in five years? Hello!

Should editors and journalists declare their assets?

What if Steve Jobs were prime minister of India?

6 October 2011

ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from San Francisco: India was a key detour in the earthly journey of Steve Jobs. He came to Benares in the early 1970s looking for what most hippies did back then: nirvana.

When he asked Kairolie Baba, a sadhu, on how to attain it, apparently all he got in return was a clean shave of his head on a hilltop.

From that experience, we can conjecture that Jobs probably learnt to always keep aiming higher, give people something they never knew they wanted, and to keep it all sufficiently mystical and secretive (and pricey).

Thus suitably enlightened, “Swami Steveananda” returned home to set up Apple Ashram, ushering in what he didn’t get in Benares—nirvana albeit of the digital kind—to millions of cultish disciples by marrying beauty with utility.

In the process, he transmogrified an almost-dead brand into becoming bigger than Google and vying with Exxon Mobil on the stock markets.

Maybe that was the easy part for someone who “lived at the intersection of technology and liberal arts“.

But what if Steve Jobs were in the position of Manmohan Singh?

After all, the Congress is in the shit-hole as Apple found itself in, when Jobs returned for his second stint. A once-good brand fallen in bad times with the younger opponents snapping at its heels, accompanied by diminishing public acceptance and street cred.

So, yes, what would Steve Jobs have done had he been in prime minister Manmohan Singh’s shoes?

1. Show who’s the boss: Steve Jobs was neither a hardware engineer nor a software programmer, nor certainly a manager, yet as its CEO and “technology leader” he was the face and voice of Apple, in good times and bad, and proudly so.

As Manmohan Singh, Jobs would have stood up and be counted, instead of blaming the demands of coalition politics or hinting at a plot to destabilise the polity for his plight. Or running for cover from colleagues (like Pranab Mukherjee, P. Chidambaram, Digvijay Singh or Mani Shankar Aiyar) constantly shooting him in the foot.

In doing so, Jobs would have cleared the negative perception among the people and within his party over who really runs the government: he, she or he.

2. Launch a killer product: Like a bad Indian restaurant which churns out everything from South Indian to North Indian food, with Chinese, Chaat, Continental and Mughlai thrown in, the Congress tries to do please all, in the process pleasing few or none.

As Manmohan Singh, Jobs would have come up with one killer idea or concept, kept it neat, simple and minimalistic so that the voters would understand, and kept making it better till he perfected it in time for the elections.

And that killer concept can’t be foreign policy. It’s got to be something like iPod and iPhone and iPad: something which the people can see, touch, feel and connect with. A bit like NREGA from UPA-I.

He could even call it “i” something, “i” for Indira that is.

3. Make peace with the enemy: Here’s what they don’t teach you at Oxford and Cambridge (or at World Bank). If you are prime minister of India, there’s no point fighting with the people of India about how to deal with corruption when gigantic godzillas of scams are running amok.

Which is what Singh’s buffoons like Kapil Sibal, P. Chidambaram, Manish Tiwari, Renuka Chowdhury et al are doing vis-a-vis the Lok Pal bill nightly on television.

As Manmohan Singh, Jobs who didn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge would have clearly identified the enemy—which is corruption—and made peace with those who would like it vanquished—which is the people—and laid out a road map for Parliament to pass it, without sending the signal that the Congress somehow has a vested interest in protecting the crooked and the corrupt.

4. Talk to us: Whether he had good news to convey or bad, whether he was in great shape or not, Steve Jobs stood up on stage in his trademark black turtle neck pullover and blue jeans to deliver the message.

As Manmohan Singh, Jobs would have capitalised on his honesty and integrity to come clean, to clarify, to tell it like it is, instead of allowing those the people distrust and dislike (see shortlists above) to further tie his government in knots.

As Singh, Jobs would have shown plenty of passion, and made one stunning speech or given a great interview instead of hiding behind the anodyne speeches of his media advisors, delivered deadpan like a post-lunch lecture at Delhi school of economics.

Also read: 3 lessons from the life and times of Steve Jobs

:Amazon kindles a fire in a small Apple harem

It isn’t so easy to woo an iPhone4 user, sister

Adolf Hitler and the rise and fall of iPad

An Apple a day keeps Steve Jobs away from us

What if Microsoft, not Apple, had made iPod

11 similarities betwen Apple and Rajnikant

3 lessons from the life and times of Steve Jobs

6 October 2011

Steve Jobs, the college dropout whose genius turned daunting technology into stylish art, changing the way the world works, lives, thinks and plays, has passed away after a battle with cancer at the age of 56.

In 2005, Jobs delivered a standout commencement address at Stanford University:

“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.”

“It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?”

“And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”

Read the full text of the lecture: Steve Jobs

The Steve Jobs only I knew: Walter Mossberg

Read the obituaries: New York Times, CNET, WaPo, First Post, LBhat

Also read: Amazon kindles a fire in a small Apple harem

It isn’t so easy to woo an iPhone4 user, sister

Adolf Hitler and the rise and fall of iPad

An Apple a day keeps Steve Jobs away from us

What if Microsoft, not Apple, had made iPod

11 similarities betwen Apple and Rajnikant

CHURUMURI POLL: Is Infosys a ‘body shop’?

5 October 2011

The supermarket author turned columnist Chetan Bhagat has hit Infosys where it hurts most by calling the Sikkapatte Important Company of Karnataka a “bodyshopping” company, in response to N.R. Narayana Murthy‘s comments on the quality of engineers being churned out by the IITs.

“It is ironic when someone who runs a body shopping company and calls it hi-tech, makes sweeping comments on the quality of IIT students,” Bhagat wrote on his Twitter account.

Narayana Murthy, a graduate from India’s first private engineering college, the National Institute of Engineering (NIE), Mysore, had said earlier that 75% of modern BEs were unemployable. Others like Tata Steel boss B.Muthuraman and enviroment minister Jairam Ramesh have made similar comments on IITs before to little damage.

But it is Bhagat’s blanket branding of Infosys, which has assiduously cultivated its image as an emblem of hi-tech India, as a bodyshopping company—id est putting cheap Indian bums on seats for crackling American dollars by twisting visa rules—with all its attendant stigma that will surely rankle.

So, is Infosys what Chetan Bhagat says it is or is it unfair to the contributions of Murthy and Infosys? If Infosys is a body shopper, where does that leave other Indian IT companies? Is it OK if Infosys is a body shopping company, considering the difference is has made to the lives of thousands of young Indians and their families?

Is Chetan Bhagat right in labelling Infosys a “body shopping company”, or will Infosys be well within its rights to get its awesome legal and PR machinery whirring into action?

Also read: Why Tata Steel (and others) won’t recruit IITians

Would India be heaven if all of us went to IIT?

To: Nandan Nilekani. From: American senators

‘Indian IT doesn’t benefit its own people’

If IT takes away Bangalore’s values, burn IT

Plus: Chetan Bhagat has a piece of advice for Lingayats

Has the IT boom quelled Bangalore’s tensions?

13 August 2011

A City whose population doubled from 30 lakhs to 60 lakhs between 1981 and 2004. A City which attracted five MNCs a month between 1995 and 2005 (which should peg their overall figure at least 600). A City which contributes 34% of India’s $50 billion outsourcing revenue.

A City a third of whose population lives below the poverty line; nearly 15 lakh in slums. A City only a third of whose garbage is collected. A City which has lost 70 per cent of its trees since 1990. A City where more than half the population is from abroad or other parts of India….

Not fanciful numbers from Upendra‘s “Super, but cold statistics being bandied about India’s most “globalised” City—and, therefore, India’s most vulnerable City should there be a recession—Bangalore, by global consulting firm$, expat academic$, NGO$ and thinktank$.

Quoting a recent American paper, Rupa Subramanya Dehejia reported in the Wall Street Journal recently that a 1%  rise in India’s GDP quelled the chances of communal riots by 5%. Writing in Lounge, the Saturday supplement of the business daily Mint, Samar Halarnkar makes a similar point about Bangalore:

“A transformation so rapid, from small town to global metropolis, is obviously not easy on those who see change but are not a part of it. So, the 1990s saw the most visible, violent protests against change. This was the decade when farmers and Kannada chauvinists ransacked the first outlet of Kentucky Fried Chicken, picketed multinationals Cargill Seeds and Monsanto, and protested the Ms Universe contest.

“As the economy swelled to embrace more people, such protests quickly faded, as did Bangalore’s once-regular riots and confrontations—between Hindu and Muslim, Tamilians and Kannadigas, between congregations of various languages in Christian churches.”

Link via Sahridaya Shobhi

Read the full article: Urban change

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

BANGALORE‘A city whose soul has been clinically removed

C.N.R. RAO: If IT takes away Bangalore’s values, burn IT

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CHURUMURI POLL: Who killed Bangalore?

Bharat as seen from the City of Baked Beans

So, how many Dalit or tribal friends do you have?

25 June 2011

Shekhar Gupta in the Indian Express:

“…at a recent institutional investors’ conference which I was addressing on contemporary Indian politics.

“Just a little bit disconcerted by how many questions were being asked on the “curse” of caste-based reservations, I did something wicked. This was a crowd of nearly 500 of the best paid, globalised Indian finance whiz-kids, in hundred-dollar Hermes ties, seven-figure (in dollars) bonuses and fancy cars.

“‘We have here, fellow Indians with the finest jobs in the world, mostly with an IIT/ IIM education. Both institutions have also had caste-based reservations for ever. So how many of you here are tribal or Dalit?’

“Not a single hand came up.

“Sensing a QED moment, I turned the knife. ‘Okay, please tell me how many of you at least count a Dalit or a tribal among your friends or acquaintances? Or how many of you have even shaken hands with a tribal or a Dalit?’

“Not a single hand came up again.”

Read the full article: Our Singapore fantasy

Also read: Is Vijaya Karnataka ready for a Dalit editor?

‘Brahmins need a deeksha to awaken empathy’

What’s in a name? A key to a casteless society

CHURUMURI POLL: Are Dalits being taken for a ride?

CHURUMURI POLL: Is Dalit Dinakaran above the law?

4 reasons why Jairam Ramesh is right about IITs

25 May 2011

By BHAMY V. SHENOY

Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh has done a signal service to the IITs and IIMs by calling into question the “world-class” qualifications of their faculty

Jairam should know: he is himself an almunus of IIT Bombay, where his father Prof C.K. Ramesh was on the faculty of the structural engineering department.

However, instead of appreciating the minister for his candour and assessing how we can go about applying correctives, the alumni and faculty of many these institutions are up in arms. (We can easily excuse the politicians for their politically motivated comments.)

I agree with Jairam that IITs and IIMs are well known today because of the outstanding performance of their BTech students and not because of either their PhDs or research output or teaching faculties. Of course, there are few outstanding world-class professors at these institutes. But they are an exception and not the rule.

Before holding Ramesh guilty, can we try to get answers to the following questions?

1) Compared to even the second tier institutions in the world, how does the research performed by IITs and IIMs compare both in quality and quantity with other world-class institutions?

2) How many BTech alumni and MBA alumni with PhDs are professors in IITs and IIMs? We are likely to find far more of them in foreign countries than in India. Why? What does this say of the quality of IIT and IIM faculty?

3) Just about every government institution suffers from lack of proper management coupled with poor governance. What has been the efforts of the IIM faculty to study and contribute to their improvement? A world-class faculty would have taken such a challenge to contribute to India’s development.

4) Every one knows about India’s energy crisis. A world-class faculty would have taken up the challenge of contributing to this sector. Has any one heard of any great breakthroughs in energy sector by IITs?

I am an alumnus of IIT Madras and have worked in different parts of the world in the international oil industry.

My effort to promote an energy institute (most leading world class institutes have such institutes) did not get any support from the faculty members of IIT Madras. A world-class faculty would have established such energy study centres and many such critical centers of excellence a long time back.

I rest my case.

Also read: Why Tata Steel (and others) won’t recruit IITians

‘Mediocrity is fast becoming a way of life in India’

CHURUMURI POLL: Do our B-schools have a problem?

External reading: Forever third-class

CHURUMURI POLL: Why did Mohandas Pai quit?

17 April 2011

In normal circumstances, the exit of a lone individual from a giant company would not have attracted too much attention. But then, T.V. Mohandas Pai is no ordinary employee; he was chief financial officer (CFO) of India’s bellwether information technology company, Infosys, and a director on its board.

Pai claims that it was not a sudden decision; that he had decided to leave a year ago; that he discussed his exit with Infy chief mentor N.R. Narayana Murthy nine months ago (a conversation Murthy remembers), and that he had said “no” when asked if he was looking at a higher position like a COO or CEO.

However, most media reports hint at the opposite: that he was indeed piqued at the possibility of never becoming CEO in the normal course of things.

Rumours that Pai, the most visible face of the company after the departure of Murthy and Nandan Nilekani with a view on everything under (and beyond) the Bangalore sun, wanted to enter politics, have been shot down by Pai himself, saying he wants to devote 30 per cent of his tie to higher education.

Pai, 51, says he never had aspirations to be CEO and that he had left the company to pave the way for youngsters, although just a week earlier, he had featured in an Economic Times lead story saying he was “front runner” to be chief operating officer (COO). In other words, the claim that it was not a sudden decision or that he wasn’t looking for a bigger role are both bogus.

However, most media reports on Pai’s resignation also overlook the enormous activity that’s been building up on the human resources (HR) front, an area Pai was directly involved in as director.

Attrition rate continues to be very high. A controversial HR initiative called iRace that resulted in the demotions of 4,000-5,000 staff has attracted much criticism. An Infosys employee (a Muslim) fired from his job after the 2008 Jaipur blasts, has been ordered to be reinstated by the courts. And, above all, Infosys is facing plenty of heat in the United States over misuse of H1B visas and age discrimination.

So, why do you think Pai left?

CHURUMURI POLL: Do B-schools have a problem?

8 March 2011

Now in its 10th year, India’s top B-school, the Indian School of Business, is facing a serious crisis of credibility. Founded by some of the “best minds from the corporate and academic worlds“, and working in conjunction with such top B-schools such as Kellogg and Wharton, key personnel of ISB have figured in two very big scams.

First, its dean M. Rammohan Rao had to quit his exalted post ignomiously in 2009 after the Satyam scam. Reason: he was a director (in his individual capacity) on the board of the company. Another high functionary of ISB, Anil Kumar, too, had to follow suit. (A Harvard worthie, G. Krishna Palepu, was similarly embroiled.)

Now, Rajat Gupta, one of the co-founders of ISB, has had to resign or is on the verge of resigning, after being slammed with charges of insider-trading by American authorities, for giving illegal tips about Goldman Sachs Group Inc, based on information available to him as board member, to a scamster. He is now an accused under-trial.

To be fair, the individual indiscretions of ISB’s faculty or founders should not tar-brush an entire institution, especially for one which has consistently figured in the Financial Times ranking of the top business schools in the world. But is there a larger problem with B-schools that ISB seems to showcase?

As it is, many private business schools have had a well-earned reputation of being money-minting machines, with poor faculty, poor placement, bogus claims, etc. On top of that, if a school such as ISB reveals holes in its faculty’s clothes, does it point to a deeper malaise, on the pitfalls of having too close an interface with industry?

Also read: Is Yale turning India into a dynastic democracy?

Graduates of Indian Universities need not apply

Do they teach this at Harvard Business School?

SAY ‘NO’ TO INDIA’S BLOGGER CONTROL ACT

7 March 2011

Indian bloggers are rightfully indignant at the rules that are being sought to be notified (by the ministry of information technology) to the Information Technology (Amendment) Act of 2009.

As if the government of India has cracked all the problems confronting this vast and wonderful nation, the terms “blogs” and “blogger” have been defined. And the rules framed have all the hallmarks of control freaks who were behind censorship during Emergency in 1975 and the defamation bill in 1988.

There is an over-emphasis on the activities of blogs and bloggers; vast and vague reasons for blogs to be blocked or shut down; and above all, there is a specific rule on ‘due diligence on intermediaries’, which, in the context of the internet, can include readers who post comments.

Id est, you.

According to the website Kafila, the new rules, if notified, amount to little less than a Indian Bloggers’ Control Act.

The rules, which would really amount to shutting down the internet if it does not suit governments, institutions and individuals, reveal a near-complete disdain for such a thing as freedom of expression, and even less regard for those who appreciate it and aspire for it in the age of corporate media.

The Hindu has an editorial on the topic:

“The blocking of a blogging website, even if only for a short period, raises the disturbing question of curbs imposed on free speech in India through executive fiat. There is a clear pattern of Internet censorship that is inconsistent with constitutional guarantees on freedom of expression. It is also at odds with citizen aspirations in the age of new media.

“What is worrying is that the rules governing online publication are being tinkered with periodically to facilitate such filtering. The rules specifically mark bloggers for scrutiny, and require intermediaries such as service providers not to themselves host or publish any information. Evidently, this can be interpreted to cover blogs and other websites.

“What is worse, the rules propose to authorise the intermediaries to remove access to ‘infringing’ material if they themselves have actual knowledge or are asked to do so by a mandated authority. These are retrogressive provisions that weaken constitutional freedoms and the parent law.

“As it stands, the IT Act merely requires the intermediary to exercise due diligence and does not talk of not hosting or publishing information. Ideally, the only criterion online publications should have to meet is compliance with the general laws of the land.

“For instance, draft rule 3(2)(a) for intermediaries requires the user not to publish or display information that belongs to another person. Potentially, secret documents ferreted out by investigative journalists or whistleblowers in the public interest may be interpreted to belong to a third party — and blocked from the public domain.

“It is inconceivable that such a restriction could be applied to traditional media, which have a robust record of exposing corruption in high places. What all this makes clear is the need for wide public debate on any move to impose restrictions on online publishing.”

Image: courtesy Freedom of Speech

Read the full editorial: Blocking out bloggers

Read the Kafila coverage: India’s blogger control Act

Should NRN open world Kannada conference?

28 February 2011

The letters to the editor of Kannada Prabha carries this epistle from the Kannada writer, Baragur Ramachandrappa (translated):

“I am writing this letter against the backdrop of reports that Infosys chief mentor N.R. Narayana Murthy has been invited to inaugurate the Vishwa Kannada Sammelana (world Kannada conference), to be held in Belgaum from March 10 to 12, 2011.

“If there is any truth to these reports, my humble request is that the honour should instead go to Kannada cultural personalities or to VIPs like the President, prime minister or vice-president.

“I do not have anything personal against Narayana Murthy. He is a Kannadiga entrepreneur and we are justly proud of him. But that is exactly why we must be getting him to inaugurate the global investors’ meet, not the world Kannada conference.

“Outside of his entrepreneurship, what is his contribution to Kannada? Not even a Kannada font has come out of his multinational company. On top of it, he has been a vociferous champion of education in the English medium from the first standard itself. It is to be noted here that learning English and teaching in the English medium are two different things.

“It is also to be remembered that he had lobbied with the S.M. Krishna government to change the State education policy to open English medium schools to help children of his employees, and had even had a discussion with me when I was chairman of the Kannada development authority in this regard.

“Besides, the income-tax department has only just slapped Infosys with a demand for Rs 450 crore for wrongfully claiming tax exemption.

“Instead of Narayana Murthy, the invitation could have been extened to poet laureate G.S. Shivarudrappa, Jnanpith Award winners U.R. Anantha Murthy or Girish Karnad, veterans like Patil Puttappa, D. Javare Gowda or M. Chidananda Murthy, renowned poets like Chandrasekhar Kambar, Chennaveera Kanavi or Nissar Ahmed, etc.

“Or we could have called upon a folklore artiste.

“On the other hand, by calling upon somebody who is just a entrepreneur to inaugurate the Vishwa Kannada Sammelana is an insult to Kannada culture, literature and folklore. If the invitation cannot be revoked at this juncture, it is best Narayana Murthy is invited as a ‘guest’ to the inauguration.”

File photograph: N.R. Narayana Murthy watches and Infosys CEO and MD, ‘KrisGopalakrishnan, speak at a conference organised by the all India management association, in Bangalore in October 2010 (Karnataka Photo News)

***

Also read: Narayana Murthy and the Netaji Bose fixation

The Mahatma, Narayana Murthy and information technology

Who’s U.R. Anantha Murthy? What is his contribution?

Why more South Indian firms aren’t on Sensex

14 February 2011

North versus South is an evergreen theme to explore for newspapers and magazines and, of late, some TV stations too.

For decades, journalists, historians and pop-sociologists (all usually South Indian) have compared and contrasted politicians, filmstars, cricketers and others from either side of the Vindhyas to drive home their point (usually that the South is somehow better for the reasons they listed).

In most such scorecards, the South gets good marks for “culture”, simplicity, frugality, artistry, education, filter coffee and the masala dosa. Routinely, south Indians are accused of being docile, decent and civilised but lacking in drive and ambition unlike their thuggish, loud-mouthed northern counterparts, whose cut-throat killer instinct is blamed on their survival mechanisms evolved while combatting brutal invaders and an even more brutal climate.

Etcetera.

The February issue of the newly launched edition of Fortune India looks at businessmen from peninsular and heartland India. And the piece (written by a North Indian and a South Indian), like most previously published pieces, is replete with the usual sweeping generalisations about the South that leaves you wondering as always, “Gee, are they really talking about us?”

It says:

# “Companies in the South are seen as generally conservative, non-aggressive and reactive, while their counterparts in the North are considered aggressive risk-takers. The differences are sometimes so stark that they seem like two different countries. That’s an outcome of history, tradition and cultural ethos.”

# “The Bombay stock exchange was set up in 1875, while the Calcutta stock exchange was incorporated in 1908. The oldest exchange in the South, the Madras stock exchange, was established only in 1937. Perhaps because of their historical familairity with, and proximity to, the stock market, the average North Indian business is more willing to raise funds from the stock market than a southern company.”

# “Only two south Indian companies find a place on the benchmark 30-stock BSE Sensex. Both these are IT companies and both were moved to the South. Wipro was founded in theNorth by a North Indian business family belonging to the Ismaili community. Infosys, started by a Kannada Brahmin, was set up i Poone before it moved to Bangalore.”

# “Southern business houses are not in favour of chasing stock markets for better valuations and leverage and do not want to be driven by quarterly expectations…. Even when there is a need for funds, the first option would be internal accruals. Raising money from the market is the most expensive form of fund-raising.”

# “The stark difference between businesses on either side of the Vindhyas is a product of the way they look at growth. Businesses in the South behave like the tortoise in the fable. They move slowly but steadily. Companies are legacies to be inherited and passed on, not just cash cows to be milked dry.”

# “The North which has seen several invasions has provided fertile ground for entrepreneurs and risk takers. For those who have witnessed periodic destruction, being aggressive and acquisitive and living for the moment comes naturally. The mayhem following Partition only strengthened that feeling, especially among those who had to abandon flourishing businesses in what is now Pakistan.”

# “Diversification is more common in North Indian companies, while core competence is valued down south…. When it comes to growing inorganically, North Indian businesses lead.”

# “The ability and willingness to risk capital means that North Indian businesses are more open to going global. South Indian firms are content to grow organically and in their home territory. Fiscal prudence and frugality in the scale of operations prevents South Indian companies from making expensive global plays. Even when they have matching resources they are reluctant to enter the global arena.”

# “It’s not just global forays; companies in the South are often unwilling to cross the Vindhyas. Slow and steady growth has its advantages but the focus on stability could cost a group in terms of missed opportunities.”

# South Indian businesses are generally seen as legacies, so importance is given to succession plans, and handing over begins during the patriarch’s lifetime. Lack of this has dragged down many North Indian businesses. Bitter, open battles led to court battles that lasted for years.”

The only concession the Fortune India piece makes to “Madrasis” is in doffing the hat to the GVKs, GMRs, Satyam and Maytases of manna Andhra Pradesh.

“Andhra guys are an aggressive bunch, says the Fortune India piece. Most of these companies are promoted by families that made their fortunses in farming. They are comfortable taking risks because they know that they can always fall back on agriculture if all else fails. Like most traditionally agrarian communities, they have a feudal mindset. They typical Andhra-backed business hosue is seen as more corrupt than its other South indian business counterparts, an impression fostered by tis willingness to go to any lengths to get its work done.”

Photograph: courtesy Seattle Examiner

Also read: ‘Secret of Anil Kumble‘s success is his un-Kannadiganess’

CHURUMURI POLL: South Indians in the World Cup?

CHURUMURI POLL: Can’t South Indians play Twenty20?

RAMACHANDRA GUHA: An outsider looking in sports insiders don’t

CHURUMURI POLL: Are North Indians lawless?

A World War would have made South India(ns) different?


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