Friday, May 25, 2012

An ISI wish list

Dear God, Here is a list of wishes that we, as ISI, have for our neighbouring country -India. If there is someway you can help fulfil some (all would be great) of these, that will be really nice for us. 

  • The Indian Army should have a shortage of ammunition
  • The Indian Government and the Indian Army should fight, publicly, thereby bringing down the status of the Indian army in the eyes of the people.
  • Sell defective or substandard or old equipment to the Indian army
  • Somehow get an foothold on that blistering cold Siachen place and then screw Indias happiness.
  • Gain an ear into the Indian telecom sector through some dubious entity so they can conveniently eavesdrop into the conversations of India.
  • Get some foothold into selling dubious telecom equipment to India while we are at it.
  • Get a few useful idiots to mouth our wishes on Kashmir by getting them on free foreign trips and some good accommodation.
  • Somehow, get these few useful idiots to advise the government on Kashmir in an official capacity.
  • Somehow, a nice public report advising the government to effectively give up Kashmir should find its way into the public domain with the active blessings of the government. And use that as a starting point in future negotiations.
  • Somehow get India to build an asset in our territory, so Indias neck can be choked without having to move an inch out of our own country. Preferably, like a gas/oil pipeline that can wreck Indias energy security would be nice, eh?
  • As part of death by a thousand cuts, have some other terror movement that is not directly connected to the religiously motivated one that we support. Preferably this terror movement should have its origins in backward areas so that useful idiots will write blaming the gross inequality in India for such movements.
  • Have a few media outlets talk about making peace with us, under the cover of arts, literature and some such shit. And then use this to get some railway locos, oil, electricity and other freebies. While we are at it, a liberal visa regime would be nice too.
  • Get fantastic media coverage each time our puppet visits India on a personal visit and makes some vapourware loose change as donation.
  • Outsource the religious terror movement completely to an Indian entity that then goes about doing its own thing - like the proverbial cats paw.
  • Get someone (as good as Teesta) to advise the HRD ministry on education so that the new generation grows up admiring us, rather than ignoring us.
As you can see, our government has fulfilled most of these wishes...What else could be on this wish list?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Dont demonise the Indian army in Kashmir

Much outrage is being expressed over a new book, The Meadow, authored by Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark which puts the blame on a high profile kidnapping and killing of 5 foreign tourists in Kashmir in the late 90s on the Indian Army and security agencies. The first assumption of course, is that this is indeed true, since as an eminent journalist pointed out in his piece, this has never been spoken about at all - which is a rarity in a world that is notoriously known for "open secrets".

Let us leave that assumption aside and look at the realities.

The fact that Kashmir has been in the throes of a covert and many a time overt war funded and sponsored by Islamic interests abroad (notably our neighbour) is indisputable. This is a reality since the first attempt in 1947 and the last attempt at Kargil in 1999. (Read, India Pakistan and the Secret Jihad by Praveen Swami.) The nature of this overt war has kept pace with the realities of the world. It was open terror in the late 80s and early 90s which resulted in the brutal forced exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits – a sordid episode unprecedented in independent India. Over time thanks to the patience and persistence of Indian authorities, the relative decline of the neighbour into the abyss of a terrorist state and its occupation with its other border, the worldwide recognition of the terror threat have contributed to the decline of the violent movement. The movement has sought to sustain itself on the basis of other means of outrage as seen in the stone throwing episodes couple of years back, which were proved to have been funded by interests inimical to India. A significant part of this is how with the Fai episode, we have seen how the ISI has cultivated the high and mighty in Indian society for the throwaway price of a few junkets and sought to keep the so called freedom movement alive in the media by saying the right things.

What is clear is this. That the part of the entire J&K state afflicted by this Islamic insurgency is a very small one and is largely reflective of an Islamic movement than a movement based on real democratic freedom (where all religions thrive  and all people are equal etc. - which is my definition of freedom). The driving out of the Pandits has made this clear to everybody. This movement seeks to destroy (whatever little is left of it)  Kashmiriyat and replace it with some version of "Islamiyat". The fact that is one is conflated for the other is a failure of our discourse. The fact is also that there is a significant part of the erstwhile state that is under Pakistan and Chinas control where civil liberties practically do not exist.

There is a long story to be told on this, which many other notable people have pointed out better, but the fact of the matter is this. Counter terrorism is not pretty. Wars have to be fought. As we have seen from Indias own experience – in Punjab or in the Naxal movement earlier – we have had to use all tactics in order to win this war. (After all, the terrorists and their funders do much worse and it is in the governments interest to protect its citizens by whatever means.)

And the Narasimha Rao Government in a way did many things that irreversibly changed the direction of India. And this is perhaps one of them. I don’t know – books typically sensationalize stories a lot for a variety of reasons. But, here is the point, if it were true, it is a feather in the cap of Indian authorities to have carried it out with such precision.

However let us not use the book as an excuse to flog Indian agencies for the atrocities in Kashmir. Or believe that everything that happens there happens at the behest of Indian agencies. The truth is otherwise.

Do remember that until terrorism began, there were no soldiers in the state or the valley. And it would be just another of the many states in India that happen to have an international border.

(Published as an oped in The Pioneer Today with some edits)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Online India

Look around you in the major cities of India when you are stuck in a traffic jam. Especially in Bangalore. You will see bike riders with huge bags behind them with names of companies - which may not immediately ring a bell. Indeed the names you will see wont be the usual names you have been used. The names you will see most commonly see are Flipkart, Jabong or Myntra (Atleast these are the few that I have seen here).

Familiar names? Or not? Depending on that, you are clued into or not clued into Indias second e-commerce revolution.

Yes, India did have a first e-commerce revolution. That was at about the same time that the e-commerce area was catching up in US. And then you had these dot coms, portals and a few online shopping and other services as well. The one I remember most was this site called Indiamart (if I am not mistaken) and on the road connecting Bangalore to Electronic City, they had a physical warehouse kind of space. The first time I saw it, I was amazed to see something like that. But over time, I realized that perhaps nothing much happened there. 

My second experience was with a friend who ordered something from a portal and he had to go collect it from a post office (and this was in Hyderabad) and after all the trouble, the object he got was broken. And this experience kind of made me wary about online shopping. And I did not have to worry. Online shopping never did take off in India – though Amul and others did try something on these lines even in the late 90s. Like them, there are many others who tried to offer some kind of online shopping. Online revolution in India did take its time.

And when the dust settled what survived was really, online Banking, online Trading and wonder of wonders – online railway booking. Which is funny, because they are more complex than shopping. But online in India really took off with these services. Indeed IRCTC remains till date perhaps Indias biggest e-comm vendor and works across age groups. Around this time APSRTC had a reasonably wide South India network on the Business side servicing agents and the like. And KSRTC was nowhere. Soon, KSRTC went online, perhaps learning from Indian Railways. And soon took a lead over APSRTC, but both remain first movers in the online bus ticket booking space . Deccan Airlines was very big online and even sold tickets at petrol bunks. But online shopping, never really took off. Along this time, I ordered a legal windows disc and it took me one entire season to reach me. So, two strikes for Indian e-commerce, though the railway and the bus ticketing worked better than the actual railways.

Small portals like Myntra (it was small then), Dilsebol and others appeared and seemed to do well for themselves. I ordered at these places and was wowed by the customer service. But it wasn’t until Flipkart arrived (atleast for me) that the shopping revolution really began. I gingerly ordered a book (having had an earlier forgettable experience from another portal) from Flipkart and I was flipped and hooked. The speed, the price and the service levels were amazing. And over time, I spend quite a bit of money on FP and finally even ordered my phone from them. It arrived without a scratch. And Flipkart has moved to selling a lot more than just books.

And then there are online classifieds and second sales like on Quikr (response times are really good), ebay.

And now there are others. Jabong, Myntra, cbazar, zovi, yebhi, indiaplaza, infibeam, babyoye. And perhaps many others more. And now, slowly, online grocers, online toys are getting into this space. Watch this space as the Indian shopper warms up to the second online revolution!

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The new Don Quixotes

The story of Don Quixote needs no repetition, famous as it is for bringing out the eccentricities of a man who has lost touch with the times and lives in a delusionary world. There are many such Don Quixotes around in India who hang to certain theories a little too much and at some point it goes to their heads.

The latest is the Don Quixotes of India media and public life versus the windmills of social media.

Very recently, an influential journo-tycoon mentioned on twitter, no less, that “Social media is power without responsibility”. The irony of this couldn’t be missed. The TV channels who I assume the journo tycoon think profess power with responsibility have themselves been guilty of callousness of the highest order. And yet, the pot called the media has the gall to call the social media kettle black.

In their kangaroo courts each night, where screaming hacks pronounce various people guilty as per the channels convenience is the first exhibit of power sans responsibility. Then when those cameras are thrust into the faces of those who have suffered immense tragedy, surely, we see responsible coverage.

Apart from this, in their coverage of events, there is a distinct bias towards the ruling party (which is apart from the leftist bias).

Two highlights would suffice. The first, as part of the recent Uttar Pradesh elections, most viewers would have been pardoned for believing that it was only Rahul Gandhi who was fighting the election against an unknown ruling party.  The second and more blatant case where a Congress spokesperson was caught with his pants down, quite literally, in his Supreme court chamber no less.  This entire episode was treated with almost amnesiac ignorance by TV channels. Contrast this with the coverage on the Karnataka MLA porn viewing episode and the Gujarat non porn episode or the case of Swami Nithyananda where media threw caution to the winds and had no qualms showing suspect footage and theories and accusations without either verification or caution.

Social media (twitter, for lack of a better word) took the media apart for this double standard.

It is question worth bearing in mind, whether the resignation of the spokesperson would have happened were it not for social media? It is also a question worth asking, whether the recent exposes based on RTI queries on the highest office in the country would have received such widespread coverage had it not been for social media?

I am not saying that social media is goodness personified, but the conflict of interest that is ever present in media is actually absent with social media. This is a very important point, which people tend to miss.

Most tweeters have a day job and news and politics is their passion. Quite unlike the television channels who make money out of news. Journalists of various ideologies have been found taped in calls, pictured in various parties with politicians and some of them are wedded to them as well. Many politicians own TV channels as well – which all in all points to a nice cosy relationship. Social media is the thorn in this relationship. The relationship between media and politics in this country is an old one – and sadly for TV tycoons, social media is slowly exposing these. This point bears repeating that and might sound counter intuitive, but social media actually has no conflict of interest, unlike media.
The big difference between social media and TV is interactivity. When was the last time you asked a question to the journo tycoon on your TV screen and they answered it? In social media, it is not only possible, it is also desirable. Social medias ability to make TV (or people) answerable is unimaginable, for those who grew up in the days that TV and media had unlimited powers to question people or to shoot and scoot. Today, you cannot. There is a band of netizens who are watching every move, ever ready to question.

Finally, and most importantly social media is rapidly changing the world. The world is networked. And so are people. This is the future. And it is now. Trying to wish it away won’t work. And the days when audiences awaited TV Prime Time news is gone as well. As Seth Godin says, the TV industrial complex has gone. So too for India, the media-politics complex has to end. Sooner or later. And the internet is here – with the power to individual people – and it cannot be gagged.

The sooner governments and people and media personalities realize this, the better, unless of course, they want to be tilting at windmills.

The TV metaphor

I still remember the first time a television set came in our building (yes, in those that’s what we called apartments) to Mr. Shankarnarayan's house. Mr. Shankarnarayan had to keep his door open so that practically the entire building could sit  - starting from the front row for kids to chairs for seniors and up until the stairwell for the rest of the folks. For most of the folks, it was indeed "Door"darshan. And all this was for those old days of Doordarshan and black and white propaganda. Now, Mr. Shankarnarayanan had no choice but to keep the TV in his main room. There were two reasons. One, houses in Bombay were small and second, his main room was the only place where the TV could be kept in a way that this audience could be accommodated.

As time progressed, more and more people began to acquire televisions, so the crowd thinned out. But the TV retained the place of pride in most middle class households. It was meant to be in the drawing room where it was exhibited. It was, also, incredibly like a banyan tree. Conversations flowed and around television – regardless of whether it was a cricket match or a television soap opera. Except, in the heydays of Ramayana and Mahabharata, when conversation stopped, but then atleast in India those were the days.

Over the years, the monopoly of Doordarshan broke, mainly due to their far sightedness (or lack of it) and a thousand channels came in addressing the so called needs of various audiences. There are today childrens channels, movie channels, cookery channels, sports channels, spirituality channels and some news channels as well. What it also did was it created clashes, between the sports lover and the news addict and the serial watcher and the cartoon maniac. The number of channels necessitated (even in middle class households) many families to go for 2 television sets. And obviously, the TV moved into bedrooms. The big plasma display still occupies space in many a drawing room (especially for those family type events like a cricket match), but other than that, it is only in corporate lobbies that one finds a television at the entrance.

So, over the years, the televisions place in the house is reflective of the status of electronic media. From being in the hall, it has since been relegated to the bedrooms where people watch a few things while they channel surf - and mostly when they don’t have better things to do. In the newer generation, audiences are slowly moving from one sided entertainment to contributed participation via social media and the internet.

And in these days of divided attention spans, you can at best get a bit of fragmented attention from the person sitting at the other end of the idiot box. So, all you television channel owners out there, we are talking of some heavy fragmentation which means that many a time, the audience you want is already being fought for by three other channels.

And also, by the way, on TV in general people want entertainment, not too much of gyaan. (More on this later – I have a theory which I will expound when the time comes.)