Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Opposition leaves government red-faced

If you want to know a great article on how to write about the BJP, here it is. In all its glory. For details, just refer to this article.

United opposition leaves Modi government red-faced, it screams. United opposition. United by what? National interest? Or scoring points? Doesn't matter. When you want to paint a picture that shows a #blowtomodi, you use everything. Like in cricket, it doesn't matter where the runs come from as long as they come.

The Narendra Modi government suffered an embarrassment in Rajya Sabha on Tuesday when non-NDA parties joined hands to force an amendment to the motion of thanks on the President's address to amplify their charge that the new regime had failed to curb high-level corruption and bring back black money allegedly stashed abroad.

Cant you see the glee? Suffered, embarrassment for government.
Joined hands, force, amplify for the opposition.

The amendment, moved by CPM members Sitaram Yechury and P Rajeeve, was accepted with 118 votes in its favour and 57 against it, brutally exposing the government's lack of numbers in Rajya Sabha — a handicap which has kept it from enacting laws that it believes will help accelerate growth.

Brutally exposing, handicap, that it believes (of course, they had no such doubt when the great UPA came up with amazingly regressive laws) for government.

Though the setback is just symbolic, the deficit of numbers is an old story which is not going to change anytime soon. It will, however, rankle the government because is now party to a resolution criticizing itself. In fact, the opposition remorselessly pressed home its huge numerical advantage immediately after the PM had stoutly rejected the charge of failure on the black money issue. Yechury and others in the opposition rebuffed parliamentary affairs minister M Venkaiah Naud's repeated pleas not to press for amendments. The opposition said it was not allowed to seek clarifications from the PM.

This was the fourth time when the opposition forced amendments to the motion of thanks on the President's address — all instances reflecting the mismatch in the numbers of the two Houses within two years of Lok Sabha elections. The previous examples were in January 1980 (Congress had swept LS polls but its opponents controlled Rajya Sabha), December 1989 (V P Singh helped by BJP and Left had a majority in LS but RS had a Congress majority), and in March 2001 (BJP along with its allies had a comfortable majority in LS but not in RS).

Note the words again. Setback, government criticizing itself, repeated pleas for Modi.
remorselessly, numerical advantage, rebuffed for their favorites.

The setback brought out the government's failure to win over friends from non-aligned benches, especially from among those who are hostile to Congress and to each other. Arch rivals CPM and Trinamool Congress as well as SP and BSP voted in favour of the amendment. BJD, which was ambivalent about opposing the government until recently, joined in, ensuring that the amendments, which already had the support of Congress, JD(U), CPI and DMK, went through rather smoothly.

The margin underscored the tough task awaiting the government as it seeks passage of contentious legislations like land acquisition, insurance and others. The opposition frustrated the plan to pass the insurance bill by sitting tight over it, thus denying the government even the opening to call a joint sitting where it, with its superior LS numbers, can overwhelm the opposition. The government had always anticipated the problem and had tried to get around it by promulgating ordinances, and plans to hold joint sittings. But the challenge has proved to be more nettlesome and has already delayed the government's plan to hit the ground running.

Non aligned benches in opposition. Well, when it comes to opposing Modi and BJP, every one of these parties has aligned under the banner of 'secularism'.
Tough task for government, contentious legislations (did you see those words used for the junk like RTE, LAB, FSB?), denying an opening, nettlesome - yes, see where those words are used
Frustrated the plan by sitting tight over it,  challenge...brilliant.

BJP is in a minority and will, even it does well in the elections for major states, remain so until mid-2017. Its "communal" image prevents it from garnering allies. In fact, its resurgence and growth in new areas has been the catalyst for the coming together of rivals like CPM and Trinamool.

The amendment, moved by Yechury and Rajeeve, regretted that "there is no mention in the (President) address about the failure of the government to curb high-level corruption and to bring back black money". Since the House passed the amendment, it will now be added to the President's address.

And there you go, communal BJP. All others, seculars, raise your hands. Remember there was a time when the BJP was asked to be bipartisan. We see no such thing in the editorial pages while when the BJP was in opposition disrupting the parliament for very valid reasons, all the papers screamed bipartisanship (borrowed from Obama). Now, that the shoe is on the other foot, bipartisanship has been erased from our lexicon.

Now see this article from 2012, when BJP disrupted Parliament over Coal Blocks (perfectly legitimate as you might imagine? Especially in the light of the latest round of auctions of coal blocks?)

But see the verbiage - starting with the heading. Monsoon session washout: PM blames BJP for disrupting Parliament?

Catch that? Opposition leaves BJP red-faced, but PM blames BJP. How cool is that?

BJP is accused of 'negating democracy' no less. But the current situation - the words used for the opposition are so encouraging.

BJP was adamant - Congress said a flat no. See the verbiage again.

If the Winter Session of Parliament last December, with the 2G logjam and the war over the Lokpal Bill, is one of the worst that the country had seen, this Monsoon Session gives it a tough fight. In the words of Vice President Hamid Ansari, "This session likely to be remembered for work not done."

How sweet.

If you thought that was NDTV, which is anyway the BJPs best friend reporting, the other newspaper is no better. Indeed, the headline goes, Opposition disrupts Parliament, BJP demands PMs resignation.

Notice that they did not leave the government red-faced on corruption allegations. But today, the opposition has made the government red-faced on a non-existent random allegation.

So, thats your style guide for today. Feel free to use it. 

Monday, March 02, 2015

On high speed trains

Was reading this piece in Swarajya Mag on high speed trains by Bibek Debroy and it is a indeed a fascinating piece. On the feasibility of high speed trains of India. Bibek says,

However, 175 km/hour cannot be high speed.  In response to my question, most people mention a speed of 300-350 km/hour.  That’s what they have seen in France, Japan, China and other places.  That’s an aspirational objective, at least from segments of the population.  Why can’t India have trains like that? [Swarajya]

My question though is a little more fundamental - though Bibek cautions a few reasons as to why a 300kmph plus train may be a long way away. And maybe nomenclature wise, 175 mph is not high speed.

But look at India today - the average speed of any train - for example the Udyan Express - covers the BLR-MUM distance of 1200 kms in 24 hours. Take any train - with the express nomenclature and its average speed is 50kmph. Superfast is probably in the 60kmph average range. Rajdhanis touch perhaps 100 plus on average.

At 50kmph - the speed is the same as what it was 50 years ago when steam engines ruled the roost. Today, with the condition of roads being what it is (really good, but not great) a BLR-MUM bus takes an extremely comfortable 18 odd hours depending on which part of Mumbai you get off at. This with varying traffic conditions, driving through cities in between and even with built in rest stops. That is an average speed of some 66kmph. And it keeps getting better.

Why can't a train - that is not dependent on traffic, blocks get to 100kmph?

And that is all India needs - today. At a 100kmph, most intercity distances can be covered overnight. Anything unto 1200 kms is within an overnight intercity reach. At 120kmph, 1500 kms is an overnight journey.

Longer distances can be covered by airplanes, but upto this distance, the railways may even make good money and offer good competition to airplanes with some good railway stations, faster checkin than airplanes and so on.

People can drive for shorter distances and there there are buses as well.

But if we can cover 1200 to 1500 kms in a night train across the country - including NE, we have got it.

And that is achievable - that is the speed of our Rajdhanis.

Why not look at creating Intercity expresses on the lines of Rajdhani - and have a network of Rajdhanis and mini-Rajdhanis that cover the cities? And this may not be so difficult...especially since the current trains run on the existing network, cover most parts through the night and so on...Why not go for this incremental approach?

Sunday, March 01, 2015

On Adai and Dosai

As part of figuring out a nutritious snack for the little ones, I hit upon the Adai.

Adais are perceived to be a poor cousin of Dosai. Atleast, I thought it was, while I grew up. So, all of childhood, I was a rather reluctant Adai eater - it was thick, tough to eat. The taste was a bit mixed, often spicy and it had to be eaten with jaggery or with honey. The Dosai on the other hand, was easy to eat, thin, had accompaniments like Masal and Sambar and Chutney and of course, was easily available at restaurants and was very very tasty.

And while dosais are available around the globe (and that is no exaggeration) and in a zillion flavours ranging from Masala to Sada to Mysore to Onion, the Adai barely finds itself in any restaurant - even in Tamil Nadu leave alone outside. A pesarattu can be found in Andhra menus. Maybe Adai can be found in a handful of restaurants in TN. Beyond that?

So what gives? The adai is easier to make, has very little standing and preparation time and is nutritious, far more than the dosai. And yet, the adai continues to remain a less glamorous cousin of the adai.

Is it the looks? Is it the taste? Is it the thickness? Is it the color - a deep dark brown as opposed to golden doses? What is it - I don't know.

And the prospects for the adai in restaurants don't look very bright. While the dosai has captured the imagination of many a country.

(The little ones, in the meantime, have started a protest campaign against Adais)

Saturday, February 28, 2015

A short history of Indian IT

I was a regular blogger about the Indian IT industry until I began to blog on politics. The entire list is here, in case you are interested!

The Indian IT industry rode on the Y2K boom. First there were plane loads of coders we sent to exotic locations around the world. Y2K, went down as the greatest damp squib ever pulled off on humankind in the 'internet' age. But it got Indian IT a foothold. Somewhere along the way, there was a rash of body shoppers who promised to send you to the US if you as much as recognized a computer language. There were many small time providers who supplied people to various IT departments in the US. And again, the coding skills here were not great - definitely not for the majority who ended up there. They started off at a basic level, many scaled up, most did not, but they glided because of their knowledge of that one or two applications that they were masters of that made them airborne.

Until the biggies realised that they could provide bodies and also get projects to work on. That effectively killed the small timer bodyshops. Then came large scale IT contracts, driven primarily by manpower. Large projects, indistinct milestones and a lot of throwing people at the problem method of IT. In some sense this was the golden age - rather the easy days of Indian IT. You got a large project, you married it, you settled down, it delivered greenbacks to the company, green card to the employees and all was well. Along with this came large maintenance projects, support projects on all sorts of obscure software.  This could have been milked for only so long and many of the smart companies realized this by diversifying into enterprise apps and started building their own apps and platforms and so on.

But let us stay here for a moment. Till this point, IT companies hired the best manpower (and they scaled up and did whatever was asked of them) and sent them abroad. But as time progressed and margins shrank, the companies went down the skill scale and hired almost anybody they could find. This was the time when I was interviewing people with 4 years experience and many of them told me that they had done enough coding and now wanted to get into people management.

(It was also the time the best people stopped coming into IT services. They sought careers with product companies that, by then, had set shop in India. Apart from pay packets, they gave them a lot more meaningful stuff to work on.)

People management was the name of the game at that point. Everybody wanted to be a people manager. If you were a good technologist and wanted to just be that, it was tough - though some companies let such people be. In my mind, this was an inflection point - because it dumbed down skills of some really hungry folks and made them complacent (they sure deserve a share of a blame of that - not just the companies). People management also came with administrative management - the quintessential middle management - who basically worked as couriers between US and India, or onsite and offshore or top management and the guys who actually did the work. They delivered status reports, forecasts, metrics, filled up xl sheets, had regular conference calls and had designations. Communication skill was a prized asset.

The smart companies in the meantime, figured out that tapping India for development was a smart thing to do. The product companies  and some analytics companies figured this out and attracted the best and brightest in the industry. (Aside: the analytics guys are shining brighter than ever than any other part of the industry).

For the companies who did not stress on skill, the stress on project and people management is coming to bite them back. For companies because of a huge layer of flab at the middle lever. For people, because they have no skill to fall back upon. As Karthik says, the end of experience.

And if you were in the industry this was visible a few years ago, just that people and companies refused to acknowledge it. A few companies I know were looking for hands on experience of 15 years while just a few years ago, at that experience all they wanted was management.

This is where the middle management in Indian IT is being asked to shape up or shift out. Either they scale up to handle global responsibilities or they get out of the way and let someone (the Filipinos, the Poles or someone) handle it. This was all the more imperative because as time passed and companies handed over IT contracts to vendors, there was very little tacit knowledge left with them - so not only was this as a shift, it was also a necessity.

Those who survived this phase with skills did very well - and are in hot demand now. But those who stayed in people management careers are facing very few options today - unless they have scaled to that level of management.

And that is where the industry is today. Greater automation, smarter applications, lesser need for people, lower margins, move to mobile, the cloud - that eliminates the need for a large IT infra at every company and so on and so forth. Many reasons for this to happen.

This inflection point, as usual, has all the wailers crying that this is the end of Indian IT, but hold on to those dirges. Watch how Infosys has hired a product guy to turn it around. Watch how the others are shifting themselves into different skills to stay relevant. And then there are the apps. And the products. And watch the product companies from India - quite a few of them have scaled up to develop stuff from here. And that is the future.

Will they all make it? Most likely not. Will it throw a new set of stars? Almost sure that they will. There are a bunch of start ups trying out their skills. A lot of them are in the mobile space. Will the Indian IT industry stay relevant? I am and continue to be a fan of Indian IT and I believe that it will see this through and enter a stronger phase.

This inflection point though, is tougher than the earlier one - this one demands skills.

Lets see what happens. In the meantime, if you are a new entrant in this industry or aspiring to get into it, learn coding. Stay coding. Go deeper. Get better. Improve. Learn every single day. Stay hands on. Don't lose sight of what got you here.

And stay out of bullshit bingo terms like People Manager.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Corruption facilitates business and other analysis

Top level corruption down in Modi govt, fingers crossed. Screams a headline.

It is important to create doubt, when you write a headline. Especially when it comes to the Modi government. Oh wait. Modi government. Not NDA.

Do you recall the UPA government ever being called Congress government or Manmohan government (as much as it was not his) or Sonias government (she who shall not be named)?

But this is Modi - the bete noire of the media for 13 odd years now. And continues ( as I noted in piece in December)

The headline is also an acknowledgement that top-level corruption was high in the previous government. But did they tell you that when that government was in power? No. They did not. They actually waited long and hard before they finally had to make it public. Case in point: 2G scam, Coal Scam,  National Herald scam. And this blog has documented much of it through the years.  Why that is because of the Congress-media complex. Remember, the UPA was an NREGA at all levels - including the latest of a Nobel laureate whose last name is Sen - who was too hoity toity to explain why he did what he did without following rules.

Lets go back to the article linked at the start.

It starts off with some 'sources' named, 'top industrialist', 'prominent businessman' and finds it necessary to carry a statement like this from a 'top banker'. (Note the diversity of sources)

'A top banker, while acknowledging that no significant proposals were coming to his investment committee had an interesting theory on one of the possible reasons for the empty pipeline: 'Operation Clean-Up', he said, may have actually created a different kind of uncertainty for business. "For years, businessmen knew how to get things done in government. Suddenly, they find the game has changed; the old ways of doing business no longer work. Ideas and proposals are being considered on merit. I can't say what'll happen tomorrow, but as things stand, there seems to be greater transparency." (He said the other reasons for lack of new investments included uncertainty on land and labour reforms; industry was wary of committing large funds on the basis of executive ordinances instead of legislation passed by Parliament).'

So, Mr. top banker, thinks that the empty pipeline is because of lack of corruption. Well, sir, that is priceless analysis - hats off to you. Surely, all the corruption in the UPA government flooded our coffers with money I am sure. So, that is my learning for today. Corruption facilitates business and thus by going after corruption, the Modi government may be stifling growth. 

Do read the whole article. It credits everybody with this change, except Mr. Modi (of course, Prime Minister it says). It also credits the Supreme Court - but as far as I know, none of this was suo moto cognizance, but responding to cases filed by the likes of Subramanian Swamy, Prashant Bhutan etc. 

Then there are others who will find fault with everything that the government does - like this worthy writer does. But a quick click on the other articles said worthy has written quickly reveals her unbiased nature - towards the Congress

Not to forget the new Rahul Gandhi on the block (I agree calling him that is a bit of an injustice, but well, for now, this basking in reflected glory is unnecessary) has his twenty five paise to say which the media must of course cover, because he is the latest NKOTB against Modi.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Modi, Delhi elections and then some

Since everybody has shouting from the rooftop as to how unimportant the Delhi elections were and yet writing more and more about it, let me also write in my 25 kb worth of words into it. After the elections everybody claims they knew everything and therefore, pet theories and confirmation biases are peddled as opeds. All it requires is reasonably good grammar.
This was the latest - pick up any oped and I challenge you, any one and they will say the same thing. The exceptions are bloggers who are saying slightly different things.

In  my view, there are two things for Modi to learn from this entire Delhi episode.

One, that Delhi based media will never ever support him and that is the silver lining in this entire episode. The Congress media complex will flock to the AAP, sources and all in tow.  As you can see in this video (LT @amitmalviya)

The moment you are with BJP everybody gangs up against you.

Second, media therefore will amplify whatever suits them. Whether it is statements made by inconsequential persons or random things that happen around. If Modi falls into this trap, he is doomed. The next 5 years can be spent managing churches in villages and answering media - a trap which he so cleverly avoided while on the campaign trail.

Third, he needs to get out of this statesman bullshit - this is the same garden path that media walked Vajpayee up in NDA 1 and he set out reconciling with Pakistan (why that wretched country remains a favorite of our media needs to investigated - a hundred Fais will toppled out is my guess). And offering grand gestures to the Congress - which they are highly unlikely to repay.

Fourth - Modi needs to go strong on reform and breaking the shackles imposed upon it by Congress and its 60 years rule. And reach out to the masses (even if he does this in the last one year it is sufficient). 

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Amar Chitra Katha to Devdutt Pattanaik

We grew up reading Amar Chitra Katha, as did many in our generation. That was the place we got a 'consistent' version of our teachings, stories. Whether it was the Mahabharata or Ramayana presented in a simple, concise form. Whether it was the Jatakas tales or the Panchatantra it was the one series that we were hooked onto.

There were other wannabe books, but nothing like ACK.

Why books? Because there are only so many stories that parents and grandparents can tell you, so ACK taps into the speed of reading and that way you cover more than you can ever. All in all ACK was a winner and now, I see how it helps kids get an idea of a large part of our heritage better than any textbook ever can.

Not sure, if were not for ACK how we would have ever learnt much of these, because most schools barely cover any of the traditions. I am sure, somebody would have marketed and figured it out, but yes, for what it is worth, I am thankful for ACK for having bridged the gap and continuing to do so.

But what after that? I have been reading Devdutt Pattanaik for a while - not regularly, but intermittently and with a mix of curiosity and confusion. I really loved Jaya and even Business Sutra which I thought was about bringing a different perspective of learning from the stories that we have learnt from childhood.

But a few weeks ago, I read the 'Seven Secrets of Vishnu' and I was blown away. For the first time, I realized that his books take us deeper than ACK ever did (and in the format and age group it addressed it probably could not). But interestingly, atleast I felt that without the base of ACK it was impossible to read his works.

But all in all, it is a great path he has charted, of bringing traditional stories into the mainstream. It must have been difficult - given the general suspicion any Hindu tradition brings especially in the corporate arena and for this some credit must go to Kishore Biyanis Future group where Devdutt works as Chief Belief Officer. And Devdutt has been a trailblazer in this place.

I also think that the time is ripe for many more such initiatives that bring many of these traditions into the mainstream and make it more accessible for Indians and foreigners alike.

So, yes, thanks Devdutt for doing what practically nobody has managed to do - bring out the nuances behind the stories and be successful at that.