Saturday, January 30, 2010

Fatal insensitivity

The Haiti earthquake has devastated the country beyond recognition. The American government acted with a remarkable sensitivity and rushed succour to thousands of the dispossessed. Hundreds of critically wounded Haitians were airlifted to hospitals in Florida and other neighbouring states for emergency treatment. Unfortunately that has now come to an abrupt end. Florida's governor has pleaded inability to take in any more injured unless the Federal government bears the cost of treatment. This tiff between the state and the federal government is bound to cause a bad name to the U S despite their earlier aid. Maybe philanthropists like the Gates Foundation can step in. In the meanwhile, time is fast running out for the critically injured and fractured.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

America's export drive

How times have changed ! America has now realised the importance of exports to bolster its economy. (India was always aware of the significance of exports. Remember the slogan "Export or perish" ?)

President Obama in his State of the Union 2010 address has announced "National Export Initiative" to double the country's export in 5 years. The initiative would generate 2 million jobs. He has also highlighted the essence of education. "The best anti-poverty programme around is a world-class education".

On adherence to law, he said "no matter who you are or what you look like, if you abide by the law you should be protected by it." Ancient Indians were more succinct : Dharma protects those who protect it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Supreme Court's concern for the disempowered

There are occasional references to the plight of the poor and the dispossessed in some judgements pronounced by the higher courts in India. These are ofcourse only obiter dicta and do not have any enforcement obligations. One such reference appears in the judgement given by Justices G.S.Singhvi and A.K.Ganguly in an appeal filed by Mr.Harjinder Singh who was retrenched by the Punjab State Warehousing Corpn.

The judgement laments that courts including "the last court in the largest democracy of the world" have lost sympathy for the common man in pursuit of the attractive mantras of globalisation and liberalisation. The court has warned that precarious consequences would visit the nation if the courts dilute constitutional imperatives and promote the so-called trends of globalisation. "Judges of this court are not mere phonographic recorders but empirical scientists and interpreters of the social context in which they work." The oft-repeated anodyne that "our constitution takes no account of the portly presence of potentates, goodly in girth" also finds a place in the pronouncement.

Lofty thoughts indeed ! But there is no need to get riled by globalisation in order to appear sensitive to common man's sufferings. There need not be any conflict between globalisation and welfare of the common man just as mouthing 'socialism' ad nauseam would not cure the grievances of aam aadmi. What is needed is constructive action on the ground.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Pachauri and climate change politics

Dr.R.K.Pachauri is coming under fire from the British press for climategate, glaciergate and now Amazongate. Is he really at fault? Why only the British media is furious?

The history of chairmanship of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change helps us to understand this oddity. The founder chairman of IPCC was Bert Bolin, a Swedish climate scientist of repute. He was the chairman from 1988 to 1997. He was succeeded by Robert Watson, an equally reputed climatologist who was the driving force behind the Kyoto Protocol. This protocol was detested by the U S which never ratified it. In the year 2001-02, the ExxonMobil oil lobby in the U S persuaded President George Bush to use his influence to get rid of Robert Watson. Pachauri who was then the vice-chairman was unanimously elected the Chairman.

Pachauri is an accomplished industrial engineer. He is not a climatologist. Climatologists in England continue to be sore that a scientist of British origin namely Robert Watson was unseated by American intrigue.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Corruption in corporate India

Corruption, like God, is omnipresent in India. This seems to be the conclusion of a survey done by MDRA (Marketing and Development Research Associates) among employees of private sector companies in India recently. This is not a shocking revelation at all. 90% of the respondents felt that corruption is 'common' in corporates.

Acceptance of corruption is higher as one goes up the corporate ladder. 'Only' 83.4% of lower management was corrupt whereas venality increased to 88.1% and 90.2% in middle and senior managements respectively.

Corruption involved monetary transactions (39.2%), exploitation (17.1%), breach of trust (14%), fraud (13.3%), sexual favours (12.9%) and nepotism (3.4%).

36% of corrupt practices were noticed in recruitment, 24% in promotion and appraisal of employees, 22% in procurement and 17% in project implementation.

80% of the respondents said that company balance sheets are window-dressed. This was especially so in IT, telecom and retail sectors.

Can a honest person thrive in the corporate world? Cynics among us would want to know 'can such a person even exist in the corporate sector?' It is sad but perhaps true that in order to be successful, one has to be corrupt or atleast tolerant to corruption. One may ask, are there not persons of 'proven' integrity in the business world? Possibly yes, but they may be at the bottom of corporate pyramid.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Governance Drama

A newspaper ad released by the Ministry of Women and Child Development carried the photograph, among others, of a former Air Chief Marshal of Pakistan. This created such a big furore that apologies flowed freely from the Prime Minister's Office and the minister concerned. A detailed enquiry has been set in motion.

This episode raises many questions about the functioning of the ministry and also about fragility of governance. The ministry blames the Directorate of Audio-Visual Publicity for the 'blunder'. DAVP blames the ministry. PMO claims it was not consulted (since a photo of the prime minister also figures in the ad, reference to PMO would have been in order). 'Blunder' is an orphan. Nobody owns it. That unfortunately is the basis of our governance.

After all, why this ruckus about a photograph? If a foreigner is relevant to the subject matter, what is wrong in using his picture? We are over-sensitive to issues that don't matter and totally insensitive to matters of importance.

Friday, January 22, 2010


There is a lot in common between jihadi terrorism and the Chinese intrusion into Google emails. The source of jihadi terrorism namely Pakistan consistently denies it has any role in terrorist attacks on India and elsewhere. Similarly the Chinese government have nonchalantly told the cyberworld that it has nothing to do with Google China's misery.

Both terrorism and cyber espionage are a frontal attack on humanity. Unless the victims of these two crimes get together, speak with one voice and engage in joint counter-attack, there is no solution in sight.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Irrepressible Tharoor

Shashi Tharoor is at it again. He has expressed his view that Nehru was responsible for negative publicity for India as conducting foreign policy as a sort of moralistic running commentary on other people's behaviour. This perception is widely held and therefore, Tharoor has not floated a new theory. To be fair to him, he has also, in the same meeting, acknowledged the stellar role of Gandhiji and Panditji in enhancing India's standing in the international arena. There is unfortunately no place for objective analysis in our political parties. In the Congress party, any criticism, however mild and well-intentioned, of Nehru and his descendants is a strict no-no.

There are some 'holy cows' for the Congress party which all Congress people are expected to respect. Secularism with undisguised support for minorityism is one such. It was interesting to watch a TV show where a Muslim religious leader pleaded that Muslims should more openly decry terrorism and Pakistan's proven role in fomenting trouble in India. He was unequivocal that given Pakistan's nefarious role, air passengers with Pak connection must be subjected to stringent screening. This frankness made Jayanthi Natarajan, a Congress spokesperson overtly furious and she started lashing out against "such racial or national profiling".

Jayanthi Natarajan, quite well-informed as she is, was certainly expressing a view more in line with the public persona of the Congress rather than her own opinion. Thus we see the public behaviour of Tharoor and Jayanthi Natarajan at two extremes. The latter is a political survivor. It is no coincidence that Jayanthi Natarajan was among the first persons calling for punishment to Tharoor when he spoke out his mind even earlier.

Why this difference between the two ? Tharoor has been exposed to and affected by the American culture of talking straight without mincing words. This aspect of his personality ironically was responsible for his losing the U.S. support when he contested for U.N.Secretary Generalship.