Posts Tagged ‘Oxford’

NaMo, PaChi, chai, MaShAi and Mahabharatha

20 February 2014

Those who know Gujarat politics know that its chief minister Narendra Damodardas Modi‘s claims of having been a tea-seller at Ahmedabad (or was it Vadnagar?) railway station in his youth is a minor “fake encounter with facts”. Sonia Gandhi‘s man friday from the land of Amul, Ahmed Patel, has helpfully clarified that Shri Modiji was only a fafda-seller at his uncle’s shop.

Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped some Congressmen from revealing their upbringing.

Mani Shankar Aiyar with Doon school, St. Stephen‘s college and Cambridge in his curriculum vitae said Modi could sell tea at the Congress office, prompting the BJP (or its corporate sponsors) to do some “Chai pe Kharcha” to organise Modi’s “Chai pe Charcha“.

More recently, when Modi began doing some major fake encounters with economic facts, finance minister Palaniappan Chidambaram, with Harvard on his CV, stepped in to remind the world that what the BJP’s “prime ministerial candidate” knew about economics could be written on the back of a postal stamp.

The condescending comments revealed the class prejudice prevalent in Indian society and politics, writes P.M. Vasudev in Deccan Herald. But it is not something Aiyar and Chidambaram discovered with Modi on the horizon; we have grown up with it since the time of the Mahabharatha:

“With many of the negatives in contemporary India, it is possible to trace to the Mahabharatha the attitude underlying the statements of Aiyar and Chidambaram.

“At the display by the Pandavas and Kauravas on completion of their training in military skills, their guru, Drona, dared any person in the assembly to challenge Arjuna.

“When Karna rose to do so, Drona insulted and humiliated him about his lowly social position as the son of a chariot-driver and questioned how he could dare challenge a prince.

“Of course, in doing so, Drona brushed aside the main issue – namely, the skills of the contestants.

“Betraying deep-seated rank prejudices, he taunted Karna about his social position. It is a different story that Duryodhana, who had his own agenda to put the Pandavas down, stepped in and made Karna the prince of a small state, so he could compete with Arjuna ‘on a par.’”

Read the full article: Class prejudice, competence & spirit of democracy

Photograph: courtesy Daily Bhaskar

Also read: Do they teach this at Harvard Business School?

CHURUMURI POLL: Has India lost moral compass?

23 October 2012

In its 62nd year as a Republic, India presents a picture that can only mildy be termed unedifying.

Scams are raining down on a parched landscape with frightening ferocity. From outer space (2G, S-band) to the inner depths of mother earth (coal), the Congress-led UPA has had it all covered in its second stint. Meanwhile, Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of the first family of the Congress, has taken charge of scandals at or near sea level.

Salman Khurshid, the smooth-talking Oxford-educated law minister, thinks it is beneath his dignity to respond in a dignified manner to charges of pilfering Rs 71 lakh from the disabled. The Harvard-educated finance minister P. Chidambaram and his family is happily busy gobbling up parts of the east coast from farmers. Etcetera.

But what of the opposition?

The BJP’s president Nitin Gadkari is neckdeep in a gapla of his own,  one that threatens, in fact one that is designed to deprive him of a second stint in office. “Scam”, of course, was the middle-name of party’s Karnataka mascot, B.S. Yediyurappa. From Mulayam‘s SP to Mayawati‘s BSP to Sharad Pawar‘s NCP, from Karunanidhi‘s DMK to Jayalalitha‘s AIADMK, money-making is the be-all and end-all.

The less said of the corporates who have pillaged the country since time immemorial the better but Vijay Mallya presents its most compelling side as he shuts down his airline while his son hunts for calendar girls. The do-gooders of Team Anna and now Team Kejriwal are themselves subject to searching questions on their integrity levels. And the media is busy getting exposed as extortionists and blackmailers.

Questions: Have we as a country completely lost our moral and ethical compass? Are we going through an “unprecedented” phenomenon or is this what the US and other developed democracies like Japan have gone through in their path to progress? Or does it not matter in the greater scheme of things? Is all this leaving the citizenry cynical and frustrated or do we not care because all of us are in it, in our own little ways?

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

Graduates of Indian Universities need not apply*

1 June 2009

The new council of ministers of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has drawn attention for the number of alumni from St Stephens College in it, the number of women in it, the number of first-time MPs below the age of 40, and sundry other attributes.

It is also remarkable for one other reason: the number of products it boasts of from foreign Universities.


Manmohan Singh: University of Oxford, and University of Cambridge

P. Chidambaram: Harvard University

Kapil Sibal: Harvard University

S.M. Krishna: Southern Methodist University, Texas; George Washington University, Washington DC

Jairam Ramesh: Massachusetts Institute fo Technology

Prithviraj Chauhan: University of California at Los Angeles

Salman Kursheed: University of Oxford

M.S. Gill: University of Cambridge

Shashi Tharoor: Tufts University, Massachusetts

Agatha Sangma: Nottingham University

Sachin Pilot: Pennnsylvania University, Wharton Business School

Jyotiraditya Scindia: Harvard University, and Stanford University

* Except to fill the quotas of alliance partners, and minister of State posts

What’s so wrong with wooing voters with sarees?

12 April 2009

ALOK PRASANNA writes from Oxford: Whoever else wins or loses in an election, saree makers, liquor manufacturers, flag and poster makers always seem to have a field couple of months during election season.

If a Sensex listed company manufactured any of these things on a large scale, you can imagine erudite analysts on CNBC telling us that the stock has just spiked on the announcement of election dates by the EC.

Every other day brings us news of so many bottles of liquor seized here, or this many sarees confiscated there. It is supposed to make us feel better that the authorities are doing their best to conduct a lawful election. Yet, I cannot shake away this unease whenever I hear the glee with which these confiscations are publicized.

For one thing, I think we should really thank elections for putting black money into circulation in the real economy. This seems a far more cost-free and efficient way to retrieve black money than penal taxation or “let’s-go-to-Switzerland” bravado.

It is a direct transfer of wealth from the incredibly haves to the desperately have-nots. What’s wrong with that?

You say liquor is bad? Sure, it is. But, we haven’t banned the trade of liquor have we (save for Gujarat)? Even if liquor is bad, what’s so bad about sarees? Or televisions? Or any other totally harmless product (like, oh say, Modi-masks) handed out by political parties during election time?

In fact, I think soon all parties will cut out the middleman altogether and just hand over bundles of notes to the voters, thus sparking a burst of economic activity that works better than any “job creation scheme”.

I don’t know about you, but this law (and its implementation) smacks of middle class paternalism where the masses are not supposed to be able to make a reasoned decision when tempted with material goods.

Apparently they should vote on the basis of, I dunno, religion maybe?

Or caste?

No, no, you say, they should vote on the basis of the manifesto, the content of the character of the candidate, the familiarity of the name, or some such noble and “democratic” ground. Of course they should, but why can’t they accept a gift or two in the process?

It’s not like any of us would stop working if we stopped getting bonuses (unless of course we are investment bankers, in which case Thank God!). If the regularity with which incumbent governments are thrown out for non-performance is any indicator, we know that the voters are not stupid or blind to such issues.

But wait, you say, you haven’t dealt with the problem of money power in elections. Surely, you point out, we don’t want elections to be determined solely by money power alone. Of course I don’t. I want elections to be determined solely on the grounds of who has the better mike throwing arm. But we all can’t have what we want all the time.

It is a fact of life that running for elections costs money. You need money to organize rallies, to get your message out to the masses, to print posters of your Photoshopped face, copies of your manifesto, and, believe it or not, getting people to come out on a holiday and cast their vote for you (obviously).

Issues are important of course, but how do you get your viewpoint across if you are not willing to spend money to tell anyone?

Let’s face facts here. The average Lok Sabha constituency size in India is more than a million voters. You need to convince at least 500,001 of them to vote for you, or even accounting for low turnout, 300,001. The current level of spending caps leaves a candidate about Rs. 2.50 per person in the constituency.

Let’s face some more facts here. The reason why crooks, liars, cheats, rapists, murderers and Pappu Yadav (who is in a category of his own) keep getting elected is not because they have a superior fund raising or spending capacity, or some secret tap of inexhaustible funds. It will not even do to blame just caste calculations since pretty much every party (except the Communists) know how to appeal to which caste (nominate a member of that caste) so they cancel each other out.

At the end of the day, it is still the refusal of middle class India to do the work that is necessary to get elected to the legislature.

The “work” is not a fancy CV or a college degree or any of the typically middle class markers of “success” (or for that matter winning a game show called �Lead India�). It involves actually being involved with the community and working with the people at the ground level.

Despite the disparaging remarks of the Republican Party, “community organizing” got Barack Obama started off as the fine politician he now is. If middle-class India refuses to contribute at ground level governance, how can it expect to be given the reins of power at the highest level?

And how will seizing truck loads of liquor or sarees get us there?

An outsider looking in spots what insiders don’t

4 January 2009

Ramachandra Guha on the sociologist M.N. Srinivas, in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“Another reason that Srinivas wrote so insightfully about modern India was that he was always, in some sense, an outsider. He was born and raised in Mysore, where he was a Tamil living among Kannadigas. He then took a PhD in Bombay, where he was a Kannada speaker among Maharashtrians and Gujaratis. He later did another doctorate at Oxford, where he was a brown among whites, an Indian among Englishmen.

“After his return to India, he taught at universities in Baroda and Delhi, where he would have been seen as a south Indian among north Indians. In between his degree and his jobs he undertook long spells of fieldwork in southern Karnataka, where he was a townsman among rural folk. In all these situations, because he could not take the culture or language for granted, he captured aspects of its working that eluded the unselfconscious and unthinking insider.”

Read the full article: The sensitive sociologist

Benazir Bhutto, Karan Thapar & premarital sex

27 December 2007

Karan Thapar, India’s premier television interviewer, was an old friend of Benazir Bhutto. They had known each other since their days at Cambridge and Oxford, respectively. Benazir, according to Thapar, had tried to get him married (unsuccessfully) for 18 years. Thapar says he spoke to her just four days and had asked her to “stay safe”.

Thapar says Bhutto also had a fine sense of humour. At one Oxbridge debate on “sex before marriage”, Thapar recalls that he rang the bell and asked her if she dared to practice what she preached. The hall went up in laughter. And after the last laugh had been heard, Benazir, says Thapar, pulled out her spectacles, screwed her eyes, and said: “Certainly, but not with you.”