Posts Tagged ‘Enron’

Montek Singh Ahluwalia gets a Padma for what?

29 January 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: Unlike the Padma awards last year which had the media doing cartwheels over the inclusion of the controversial New York hotelier Sant Singh Chatwal for the Padma Bhushan, the 2011 roll of honour has barely created any bubbles in the champagne glasses.

The silence of even a committed partypooper like P. Sainath might make it seem as if the scam and scandal-tainted Manmohan Singh government has finally got something right. But has it?

Au contraire, we present item No.7 on the list of the 13 awardees chosen for the nation’s second highest civilian honour, the Padma Vibhushan.

No. 7: Montek Singh Ahluwalia.

Discipline: public affairs.

Stranger things have happened in India id est Bharat, of course, but it’s strange that the inclusion of a serving bureaucrat who is the serving deputy chairman of the planning commission should go uncommented upon in the business press that is currently lying in the lap of neo-liberal luxury in Davos.

Question #1: Is it a good idea for a serving babu to be elevated to the exalted status of a Padma Vibhushan?

A diligent user of Wikipedia will be able to see if pen-pushers have been similarly provided a “service lift” before sadda Montek, but that is not our beef with the career-bureaucrat”s selection. It is more primal. It’s like WTF is his contribution to humankind to deserve the Padma Vibhushan?

WTF, as in What’s The Funda, yaar.

Generally but not always, the preferred method of picking up a Padma Vibhushan is to carefully pick up a Padma Sri first and then even more carefully pick up a Padma Bhushan.

Take Azim Premji. The Wipro boss, who has provided employment to a few thousand people, got a Padma Bhushan in 2005 and had to wait till 2011 for get his Padma Vibhushan. Or take the actor Akkineni Nageshwara Rao (ANR), who has provided pleasure to a few million people, who went through the long route.

But our brilliant babu gets fast-tracked to Padma Vibhushan just like that—sans a Padma Sri, sans a Padma Bhushan—in fact his name preceding Premji’s, who’s ninth on the list? WTF.

WTF, as in Who’s The Fu Manchu, yaar.

Question #2: Are Montek Singh Ahluwalia’s qualifications so immense, his achievements so mammoth, and his contributions to his countrymen and women so extraordinary that he deserves nothing but the second best award the nation can give straightaway?

Even a cursory glance at Montek’s Wikipedia page tells you that there is nothing particularly out-of-this-world in the man.

Words and letters like DPS, Bishop Cotton’s, St. Stephen’s, Oxford, BA, MA, MPhil are littered all over. He apparently picked up one half of his strange accent as the youngest “division chief” in the much-abhorred World Bank; and the other half as a director in the even more abhorred international monetary fund (IMF).

But that’s typically the trajectory of most high-achieving climbers—creepers as some call them—and for that we decorate him with a Padma Vibhushan?

WTF, as in Wisconsin Tourism Federation, yaar.

Question #3: Is Montek Singh Ahluwalia the only officer among the 5,159 IAS officers in the country doing yeoman service in the year of the lord 2011?

However, it is the timing of Montek Singh Ahluwalia’s choice, given his record past and present, that is most baffling.

Montek’s role in the Enron scandal in fixing sky-high anti-consumer electricity charges that ultimately turned the Dabhol Power Company belly-up is much documented to be retold again.

As the advocate Prashant Bhushan wrote in 2004:

Jyoti Basu called him a “World Bank man”…. As revenue secretary and then finance secretary through most of the 1990s, Ahluwalia spearheaded the neo-liberal economic policies in India, exactly according to the prescriptions of the WB/IMF. But his enthusiasm for privatisation went beyond the most basic financial prudence that even the World Bank observed.”

In suddenly awarding the Padma Vibhushan at this juncture it is as if Manmohan Singh—the father of LPG: liberalisation, privatisation, globalisation—is fobbing off his blue-eyed boy with a piece of chikki having failed in accommodating him in the reshuffled ministry a couple of weeks ago.

(Montek recently figured in the Niira Radia tapes, courtesy his kinsman N.K. Singh, as eyeing a ministerial portfolio.)

And then there is the ultimate irony of it all.

When food inflation and fuel inflation are screwing the aam admi, when Maoist violence is shining a light on planning in the tribal areas, when farmer suicides are going on unabated, when bureaucratic redtape has made India the worst business destination in Asia, the nation decides to decorate the deputy chairman of the planning commission with a Padma Vibhushan!

For what, pursuing growth at all costs?

Question #4: By rewarding a fellow-traveller, has Manmohan Singh sent the clearest signal yet that he may not be around as prime minister this time next year to do the needful?

History might not give a rat’s posterior to the Padma Vibhushan, but it will surely remember neo-liberal Montek’s neo-conservative George W. Bush moment last week.

Just like the US former president blamed the global food crisis in 2007 on hungry Indians eating more, Montek observed that “the high inflation number points towards people eating healthier food, better lifestyles“.

As the food expert, Devinder Sharma writes:

“Montek Singh Ahluwalia has been at the helm of India’s planning process for quite some time now. It is during his tenure as the deputy chairman of the planning commission that India has been pushed deeper and deeper into the quagmire of poverty. With the largest population of hungry in the world, the Global Hunger Index 2010 has placed India in the pit.

“I wasn’t therefore shocked when I read Ahluwalia blame the hungry for the rise in food inflation. From someone who literally lives in the ivory tower of the Yojana Bhawan, anything can be expected. But what, of course, surprised me was the audacity with which he blamed the poor and hungry in the rural countryside for the rising inflation.”

And for this Marie Antoinette-esque moment, we decorate the deputy chairman of the planning commission with a Padma Vibhushan? WTF.

WTF, as in Who The Fuck is Alice, yaar.

Question #5: By goofing up with Sant Singh Chatwal one year and Montek Singh Ahluwalia the next, surely something is rotten in the Singh Parivar?

Of course, similar questions can be asked about some of the other business choices on the 2011 list: like, is there some rule that everybody on the Infosys board should get a Padma honour (as evidenced by the choice of “Kris Gopalakrishnan, for what?) Or, what really is ICICI bank chief Chanda Kochhar‘s stellar contribution?

It’s just that Montek Singh Ahluwalia gets our goat nicely, thank you.

Also read: A Padma Bhushan for K.V. Kamath?

A Padma Bhushan for the BGS swamiji?

Why Rajdeep Sardesai, Barkha Dutt must decline Padma Sri

How come media did not spot the Satyam fraud?

8 January 2009

A requiem for Indian business journalism, in the delightfully breathless style of Juan Antonio Giner, founder-director, Innovation International Media:

‘Satyam’, meaning truth.

India’s fourth largest software services provider. The darling of Hyderabad.

An outsourcing company with 53,000 employees that serviced 185 of the Fortune 500 companies in 66 countries.

A company which now says 50.4 billion rupees of the 53.6 billion rupees in cash and bank loans that it listed in assets for its second quarter, which ended in September, were nonexistent.

India’s biggest corporate fraud ever.

Hell, India’s biggest fraud ever: customers, clients, shareholders, employees, families down in the dumps.

India’s Enron.

We have heard all the big questions being asked. So far.

How come the analysts did not know?

How come the auditors did not know?

How come the regulators did not know?

How come the directors did not know?

How come the bankers did not know?

Yes. But where is the other question?

How come the media did not know?

Yes.

How come the English newspapers did not know?

# Not Deccan Chronicle, not The Hindu, not The New Indian Express, not The Times of India.

# Not The Economic Times, not Business Line, not Financial Chronicle, not Business Standard, not Financial Express.

How come the foreign newspapers did not know?

# Not New York Times, not Wall Street Journal, not Financial Times.

How come the Telugu dailies did not know?

# Not Eenadu, not Andhra Jyoti, not Andhra Prabha, not Saakshi.

How come the general interest magazines did not know?

# Not India Today, not Outlook, not The Week.

How come the business magazines did not know?

# Not Business Today, not Business World, not Outlook Business.

How come the English news channels did not know?

# Not NDTV, not CNN-IBN, not Times Now, not Doordarshan News.

How come the business channels did not know?

# Not CNBC, not NDTV Profit, not UTVi.

How come the Telugu channels did not know?

# Not ETV, not ETV2, Not Gemini, not Maa TV, not TV9, not TV5, not Doordarshan

So many media vehicles, but so little light on the infotech highway yet so much noise.

But who is asking the questions?

Is journalism that doesn’t shed light journalism?

Or puff?

Or PR?

Or Advertising?

Also read: Is this what they really teach at Harvard Business School?

Is Satyam alone in creative accounting scam?

New Year card Ramalinga Raju did not respond to

POLLCAST: Who are the IT guys backing in poll?

7 May 2008

[odeo=http://odeo.com/audio/19165203/]

“Who are the IT guys backing?”

That is the kind of question anybody who equates Bangalore with IT and IT alone asks.

Nobody asks who the garment guys are backing although they are far more in number than the IT guys.

On one level, the question “Who are the IT guys are backing?” is based on a presupposition. And a vague assumption that the more literate IT guy is somehow more politically aware and therefore more demanding of his politics than the guy who works in, say, BEL or BEML.

Is there any evidence of that?

On another level, it is revealing of the exaggerated role IT has come to occupy in our public discourse. America is going to the polls in six months, but has anybody seen a story on whether Microsoft is backing Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama?

Tapping into the IT consciousness of Bangalore has, in other words, become a lazy media’s first response of sneaking their preferred names and brands into the copy under the mistaken assumption that what is good for IT is good for the city.

And by extension for the state.

That can’t be completely true, can it?

Therefore the answer to the question “Who are the IT guys backing?” is not simple.

The IT community is obviously not a homogeneous whole. It is not as if all the companies and all their personnel, Indian or foreign, big or small, all have the same thoughts, same wants, and the same political leanings.

IT in Bangalore is not just Infosys and Wipro, IBM and Intel. There are at least other 2,000 other IT companies besides them.

The other reason why an answer is difficult is that many of those who work in the IT industry, in fact most of those who work in the ITES and BPO sector, are not all registered voters in Karnataka, having come from various states.

So when somebody asks you who the IT guys are backing, you wonder if the IT set like Lingayats and Vokkaligas and Kurubas is now being seen by the outside world like another caste, with its own demands, with its own leaders, with its own preferred party.

Imagine, an IT mutt somewhere in Electronic City, and a bearded IT swamiji with bluetooth and BlackBerry instructing his devotees with a raised eyebrow or a wink to vote for this or that party or politician.

But these facts do not stop the media from trying to feel the pulse of the IT industry.

All through this election campaign, there have been odd newspaper reports of how the RSS has opened its own IT shakha and so on. But this is more propaganda than reality.

What is the likelihood, for example, that some team leader would be going around instructing his team to vote for a certain party?

Is this kind of activity allowed after the hoo-ha that broke out after the Sasken guy wrote that allegedly offensive poem on Kannada? And if the IT guys are really smart, would they be listening to some pumped-up bozo telling them which button to click on the electronic voting machine.

In asking who the IT guys are back, we make the fundamental mistake of thinking that IT workers are professionals first before they are citizens.

The truth though is that despite their fat paycheques, they have pretty similar needs as most of the rest of us. Wider roads, greener parks, easy to walk footpaths etc.

Maybe some of them would throw in wi-fi, hassle-free airports, and gated communities.

Still, they use the same water supply, drainage facilities, and garbage removal as normal human beings. So IT guys who are eligible to vote will therefore make his or her choice the same old-fashioned way.

Maybe he will just send an extra email or type Google in his browser before he does so because he has the bandwidth.

Somehow though one suspects that when people ask who the IT guys are backing, they are really asking not about the thousands of foot soldiers but of their generals, the IT chiefs.

What they are really asking is, “Who are the IT companies giving money to?”

On the face of it, though, the squeaky-clean IT chiefs say they do not pay and will never pay. Since most of the big ones are listed companies, an expense of this nature even if it is listed under “education” as Enron did, will get reflected in the annual results.

But you would be really naive to believe that, wouldn’t you.

Despite all the liberalisation, globalisation and privatisation, and the single windows and udyog mitras and all that claptrap, the government still plays the critical role of provider.

Smart IT chiefs recognise that there is valuable land to be gobbled up, STPI licenses to be renewed, tax concessions to be got, etc. So they use their smarts to stay on the right side of the right politicians and massage their egos.

A key indicator of who the IT guys are backing is to be seen in the pages of your newspaper.
Quite clearly it is not JDS and Deve Gowda, especially not after the humble farmer outlined in his manifesto a promise to reserve jobs in IT companies for Kannadigas.

So, of the main parties, it is a toss-up between the Congress and the BJP, with the former having a distinct edge in this area because of the S.M. Krishna experience or at least the perception of the S.M. Krishna experience.

But with no guarantee that Krishna will become CM again, even if the Congrss wins, will the IT guys back the Congress?

On the other hand, the BJP likes to paint itself as the laissez-faire party that wants fewer controls, lower taxes, etc. So, will the IT chiefs plump for BJP after the Atal Behari Vajpayee experience? But what is the guarantee that the BJP will come to power at the Centre?

All very confusing, you see.

The buzz in Bangalore is that a former IT guy is collecting dough for the BSP.

But if the IT companies are so smart, if their CEOs and CFOs and chiefs are so smart, why would they wait all this while to cosy up to their politician or party of choice?

And then again, if they are so smart, they would just spread their favour like the Khodays apparently did a long time ago, and keep everybody happy. So regardless of who wins, it is a win-win for all.


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