Friday, January 31, 2014

What is ailing Ranbaxy?

USFDA has repeatedly taken Ranbaxy Laboratories to task for not maintaining specified quality in its manufacturing facilities. The facilities at Paonta Sahib, Dewas, Mohali and recently Toansa in Punjab have failed the test serially. This is very surprising because the US market is important for the company and therefore the management should have taken very strict steps to ensure quality once it came to be known that USFDA was looking askance at it.

So what went wrong? One explanation is that there are disgruntled employees who are deliberately creating quality problems and then informing USFDA. Who could they be? The Boston Consulting Group is advising the company on productivity improvement. One of the obvious recommendations is letting go of some employees. Are the exiting employees creating trouble? If this is possible, BCG must have warned the management in time. If it has not, it means the consultant is also facing quality problems.

Daiichi Sankyo group of Japan bought the company from its original promoters. The Japanese group has accused the promoters of not divulging all relevant information while selling their stake. While the truth in this accusation remains to be tested, is it possible that the employees supporting the original promoters are playing games?

Parties and policies

Satyapal Singh, esteemed Commissioner of Police, Mumbai has resigned; he says he will contest the upcoming elections to the Lok Sabha. He also says he has offers from AAP and BJP and that he will soon choose one of these two. Earlier, Uttam Kobhragade, the influential father of Devyani Khobragade had also said he has offers from quite a few political parties.

Do these instances mean that political parties cannot be distinguished based on their policies? Can we cynically say parties don't have policies; they only have privileges? Is this what politics is supposed to be?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Division of Tamilnadu

News about sibling rivalry is the rage in Tamilnadu now. Differences between Alagiri and Stalin is threatening to cut DMK asunder. Nothing is more toxic to self-respect of Tamils than a split in Kalaignar's family.

The problem is not intractable. In fact, the solution is very simple. Why don't we divide the state into North Tamilnadu and South Tamilnadu? Stalin will rule the former and Anja Nenjan the latter. Where there is a will, there is a way.

This remedy will not cause any loss to the state. So, Manmohan Singh will readily agree. (On second thought, I am not so sure. Is it a fact that the prime minister will agree to any move only if there is at least some notional loss?)

If Karunanidhi assures poll alliance with Congress, he will be awarded Bharat Ratna and family peace.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Two unnatural deaths: Similarities and Dissimilarities

Sunanda Pushkar was 52 and Karl Slym 51. Both encountered marital discord. Both were found dead in a hotel (Leela and Shangri La) in capital cities (Delhi and Bangkok). Similarities end there.

Investigations into these unnatural deaths are poles apart. The Thai police are professionally trying to crack the case. The Delhi police is coming under intense pressure to obfuscate the case. The Thai police began its investigations in right earnest. The Delhi police keeps playing hide and seek between the crime branch and Delhi south police. Karl Slym's death is most certainly a suicide. Sunanda's is most certainly a murder most foul.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Rahul Gandhi's interview

It is welcome that Rahul Gandhi has finally been interviewed for his views on a variety of issues. Being grilled by Arnab Goswami for more than an hour is neither pleasant nor easy. RaGa withstood the ordeal quite creditably. He did not lose his cool.

Gandhi's performance far exceeded what was expected of him. He has so far evoked only low expectations from the public. This was now obviously to his advantage. However, as a person who is a potential prime minister, he came out poorly.

Time and again, irrespective of what the question was, he delivered his nostrum: "Rahul Gandhi is against the present system where power is concentrated in a few hands. RG seeks to go to the core of the problem. RG is not interested in superficial issues. He is not attracted by power -----" Someone must have advised him not to appear egoistic by using 'I' many times. Is that why he kept saying 'Rahul Gandhi' again and again?

He referred to his notes on a few occasions even while talking about his objectives. There was evidently someone around who was not shown in the telecast and to whom Gandhi signalled a couple of times facially indicating how he had perhaps cornered Goswami !

On the whole, it was pretty entertaining.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Shashi Tharoor - an update

Investigation into the sudden and unnatural death of Sunanda Pushkar was transferred from Delhi District police to Crime Branch in view of the 'sensitivity and complexity' of the case. Within a couple of days, the case was transferred back to Delhi police. This is prima facie evidence of a) unbearable political pressure at play and b) obvious and incontrovertible findings which are not palatable to the powers that be.

The following are some of the crucial pointers in the sad case:

1) It was ensured that post-mortem and cremation were hastened. 

2) Post mortem revealed more than a dozen injuries and a 'deep' teeth-bite. Resemblance or otherwise to minister's teeth should have been checked. This was not done. It was only reported that these injuries did not cause the death. The information regarding teeth bite was released to the public after a lot of delay.

3) Shiv Menon, Sunanda's son, has certified that Tharoor was not capable of causing physical injuries to his mother. Tharoor was not interested in knowing from others who caused the injuries. Menon's certificate reads like Tharoor's production. Shiv Menon is staying in Dubai and has reasons to be under threat to his life if he did not cooperate. Sunanda's brother, a colonel in Indian army, has also put out a similar view. As a red-herring bonus, he has added that he was a participant in the joint journey of the couple! These conduct certificates showered on the minister look like an extension of "Stockholm Syndrome". Alternatively, and more probably, they are acting under pressure and apparently in their self-interest.

4) Tharoor and his relatives initially claimed that the death was a suicide and was not a homicide. Relatives of any suicide would normally claim that it is a case of natural death. By extension, relatives who commit murder would assert it is a case of suicide. Belatedly, perhaps as an afterthought, her son and brother asserted that she was too strong-willed a person to commit suicide. At the same time, they or whoever was guiding them, brought in the improbable theory that it could be a case of negligent mix-up of medicines!

5) Sub-divisional magistrate who was under legal compulsion to conduct investigation by virtue of unnatural death within seven years of marriage concluded that police should look at the possibility of both murder and suicide. He also meaningfully added that the relatives had no suspicion of foul play. Apparently he foresees emergence of blame on third parties if murder is established. SDM has tried to be sincere to his role.

6) There are contradictory versions regarding CCTV. One report was that CCTV was non-functional in the floor where the event took place. Was it deliberately disabled?

7) After heated verbal exchanges at the airport and in the flight between the couple, Sunanda drove straight to Leela Palace. Tharoor followed in a different room and after a day went to Sunanda's room.

8) It was put out that the couple chose to stay in the hotel because of her dust-allergy as their house was getting painted. Painting was later changed to fumigation. Domestic servants are reported to have denied knowledge of either. When the spousal spat was public knowledge, where was the need for obfuscation? The latest version is that the minister's house is being renovated.

9) Sunanda had threatened to spill the beans regarding his role in IPL and had informed her friends of her decision to quit the marriage. Why did Tharoor continue to chase her and also manhandle her? Over a dozen bodily injuries and a deep teeth-bite could not be self-inflicted. 

10) An apparently joint tweet was put out that all was well in the marriage. Prior to this makebelieve announcement, allegations of hacked tweets had surfaced. Tharoor was tweeting for Sunanda also.

11) Tharoor waited for quite some time after he returned from the Congress meeting before checking up on Sunanda. Was he keen that sufficient time was allowed to ensure that she was no more?

Updated as follows on 1st March,2014:

Following report appeared in DNA on 25th / 26th February: (These details strengthen the case that it was murder, plain and simple. Injection mark on the right wrist of a right-handed person is not suggestive of self-infliction. We can expect the 'honourable minister' to come up with some self-serving mendacious explanation or more probably he would ignore the gravity of this disclosure in the autopsy report since he can anyway influence the police investigation.)

"An element of mystery and doubt has been infused into the tragic death of Sunanda Pushkar, wife of Union minister Shashi Tharoor, with the post-mortem report saying that there was an injection mark on Pushkar's right wrist which caused her death.
All injuries on her body "were caused by blunt force, simple in nature and not contributing to death, except injury number 10, which is an injection mark," says the report.
Sunanda's body had 15 injuries, caused in 12 hours before her death. Injury number 12 was caused by a teeth bite. Injury number 10, an injection mark, remains a mystery, sources said.
A mild, foul-smelling gas emanated from her body during dissection, the report, signed by Dr Sudhir Gupta, said. It, however, doesn't spell out the details of injury number 10.
"Only the viscera report will reveal the nature of injection," sources said. The viscera report is likely to come out in March.
The Delhi police have written to the Central Forensic Science Lab last week seeking the report at the earliest.
An overdose of anxiety medicine Alprazolam was supposed to be the cause of her death so far. A sub-divisional Inquiry had also indicated this. But only "circumstantial evidences are suggestive of Alprazolam poisoning", the post-mortem report says.
Sunanda, 52, was found dead inside Leela Palace hotel in Delhi on January 17."

Update on 2nd March:

The minister has started saying that he will not respond to 'the smear campaign' against his wife launched by the left parties in Kerala. He is obfuscating here. The campaign is against him and not against his departed wife.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

GIST: Mass Prayer

Here is a message received from Gandhian Initiative for Social Transformation :

"Vande Matharam,

Happy Republic Day

To continue to celebrate the Republic, let us take a pledge NOT to vote for,
Corrupt, Criminal, Dynastic, Caste-communal candidates/parties

Mass Prayer [Koottupprarthanai]
At 8.00 am on the republic day the 26th Jan 2014, let us all – 123 crore Indians/78 crore voters – pray the Almighty simultaneously from where ever we are at that time for 2 mins, to save this nation from the strangle hold of
‘Corrupt, Criminal, Dynastic, Caste-communal candidates/parties’

Kindly spread this message [forward to every one of your contacts, post in face book, twitter etc.]

Satyameva Jayathe
K. Raja Rajan
Founder – President
Gandhian Initiative for Social Transformation"

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Political capture and economic inequality

Oxfam briefing paper dated 20th January, 2014 says, inter alia, the following:

"Extreme economic inequality is damaging and worrying for many
reasons: it is morally questionable; it can have negative impacts on
economic growth and poverty reduction; and it can multiply social
problems. It compounds other inequalities, such as those between
women and men. In many countries, extreme economic inequality is
worrying because of the pernicious impact that wealth concentrations can
have on equal political representation. When wealth captures
government policymaking, the rules bend to favor the rich, often to the
detriment of everyone else. The consequences include the erosion of
democratic governance, the pulling apart of social cohesion, and the
vanishing of equal opportunities for all. Unless bold political solutions are
instituted to curb the influence of wealth on politics, governments will
work for the interests of the rich, while economic and political inequalities
continue to rise. As US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously
said, ‘We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in
the hands of the few, but we cannot have both.’"

The paper talks about political capture by the stinkingly rich. Combination of wealth and political power is toxic to democratic governance. As a consequence, the rich, if they happen to be politically powerful, can get away with murder (please see the previous post).

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Shashi Tharoor

Demise of a spouse is normally a matter for personal mourning and not for public debate. The sudden and unnatural death of Sunanda Pushkar is on a different plane and one is obliged to make some observations.

When the IPL - Kochi scandal broke out embarrassing and perhaps incriminating the then Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Tharoor had to resign. In response to an uncalled for and uncharitable remark by Narendra Modi on the relationship between Tharoor and his then would-be spouse, Tharoor made an equally uncharitable comment that bachelors could not comprehend the nature of love and the need to respect women. Tharoor, presently the Minister of State, HRD Ministry must be repenting that comment now. It is an irony of sorts that a much divorced minister who is unable to maintain stable relations with a spouse is in charge of developing human resources.

We may never know whether Sunanda Pushkar was murdered or she committed suicide. It is a sad reflection of times that police reports and autopsy reports have long ceased to be reliable. It is quite possible that if a lesser mortal had been in the place of Tharoor, he would have been taken into custody at least to prevent destruction of evidence. But then different rules apply to ministers.

A few facts stand out. There were heated open arguments between the couple at the airport and during the Thiruvananthapuram - Delhi flight. It was first made out that the couple preferred to stay at Leela Palace. It turned out that it was Sunanda who decided to stay at the hotel. Tharoor followed in a different room. The initial excuse for the hotel stay in Delhi was that their house was being painted and that she was allergic to dust. The excuse was later changed to fumigation of the house. It appears from the evidence of a domestic employee that no such work was going on. All these may not be a conclusive proof of foul play. But these are enough to create reasonable suspicion even in the most gullible mind. Sunanda had also threatened to speak out on the IPL scandal.

Is the minister being honeytrapped by our smart neighbours? In that not unlikely event, is not our prime minister taking a big security risk for the nation? As the saying goes, an open door tempts even a saint. And Pakistan and China are not exactly saints.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Thuglak's 44th annual meeting

Chennaivasis celebrate three main festivals every year. Deepavali, Pongal and Thuglak anniversary are all looked forward to with great fervour. Of these greatest gusto precedes the last function. It is a badge of honour for the helpless middle class to attend the annual function despite the physical strain it involves. Earlier we had an occasion in this blog to compare this Chofest with Nani Palkhiwala's talkathon on annual budget. In terms of crowd frenzy, however, the former takes the cake.

This year it was no different. On 14th January, the normally indolent and inexpressive middle class converged at the Music Academy to coalesce into a mesmerised mass ready to take up cudgels against political atrocities. The vehemence, of course, dissipated as soon as the crowd disassembled after the 3-hour odd meeting. For the function to start at 6.30 pm, the hall was fully occupied as early as 3.30 pm, a full three hours in advance! The theme of the 44th meeting was "General Elections 2014".

Recording of Bhagavad Gita and its meaning by Cho was broadcast in order to keep the eager attendees engaged and to benumb their physical discomfort. If Krishna were to deliver his message to Arjuna today, Krishna would readily declare, "Among critics, I am Cho".

Cho Ramasamy followed the usual format in conducting the proceedings. There were four parts. First, the Thuglak team was introduced to the applauding crowd. Next, some Thuglak readers were given the opportunity to voice their questions. Paeans of praise were expectedly showered on the editor of the magazine by randomly chosen readers. Cho responded to the questions then and there except the question on whom to vote for in the upcoming general elections. (Gist of Cho's response is given in the later part of this post.) The third part was the address by three political leaders namely L.Ganesan of BJP, T.K.Rangarajan of CPM and Peter Alphonse of Congress. The concluding and the most awaited part was Cho's address.

Ganesan had an easy run thanks to multiplicity of scams under the UPA regime. An interesting argument he advanced was whereas all political parties (including BJP) readily express sympathy for any minority in distress, BJP is the only party to console Hindus in distress. This in his view is the reason why the party is mistakenly attacked as non-secular. He compared Manmohan Singh to a kid who was asked by his mother to keep an eye on milk when she is away for some time because cats may turn up. When the mother returned home, the kid dutifully explained that he watched a cat really turn up and drank all the milk. (Cho subsequently explained how the prime minister is a lot worse.)

Rangarajan was comparatively unimpressive. He said that only communists understood that politics is nothing but 'concentrated economics'. He regretted that Cho is keen on decimating communism. (Not one to let go an opportunity, Cho wondered how something as dead as communism and dodo would be a candidate for decimation.) Rangarajan desired that India should not overexploit its natural resources and as expected cited China as an example of a model country that does not overexploit its mines. Cho countered this also. Rangarajan compared BJP and Congress to devil and the deep sea. They are also 'political cousins' taking similar views on Lokpal Bill. Rangarajan demanded that the bribe-giver should also be punished like the bribe-taker. He had in mind the 'corporate devils'.

Alphonse had the unenviable task of defending a party that has become a synonym for scams. (I wonder why no one highlights the presence of 'con' in congress.) In the event, he handled his job deftly save an uncalled for reference to Sonia Gandhi as 'the only leader' who was genuinely interested in the safety of prime minister Vajpayee when the terrorist attack on the parliament took place. The crowd could not resist its derisive laughter. He cleverly claimed that the audience present were unlikely to vote for his party and thus preempted scowls from the listeners. A difficult job neatly executed. He claimed that scams are not exclusively associated with any one party and that the credit for 'so much economic progress in the last 66 years' goes to Congress. (A funny argument of heads I win and tails you lose.)

Finally came the chef-d'oeuvre. Cho straightaway launched a missile on Congress calling it the fountain of corruption. If others are only in second or third standards, the Congress has completed a Ph.D. in being corrupt. He extended the story of cat. The kid even advised the cat not to drink milk. The kid also told his mother that he also noticed someone come in and take away the vessel. The kid pleaded that he sincerely carried out mother's instruction to keep an eye. (I think Cho is giving some benefit of doubt to Manmohan Singh which he may not deserve.) Cho added how Kapil Sibal came to kid's succour trying to establish there was no milk, no vessel and no cat.

Cho felt that though Raja was certainly guilty of corrupt practices in the 2G scam, disallowing his presence before JPC was only to shield persons like Chidambaram and Sonia Gandhi. He referred to the practice of the prime minister receiving chits from AP (Ahmed Patel) on coal allocation. Surprisingly, he did not refer to AP figuring in the helicopter scandal also. Age catching up? (Doesn't Sonia Gandhi have a Godlike omnipresence in all scams?)

Cho came down heavily on Aam Aadmi party. He said it is forcing itself to be an Aamaam party ('Yes' party) to Congress. He ridiculed its tendency to be high on promises and low on delivery because of compromise. From a stand of 'no politics', Arvind Kejriwal has traversed through 'no electoral contest', 'no link with Congress or BJP', 'no acceptance of power' etc.He claimed that AAP would get itself lost in its contradictions. (As if to confirm this prediction, Vinod Binny, an MLA, has started rebelling within AAP.)

Earlier Thuglak readers who spoke had wanted to know 1) why Hindu temples should be governed by a government department, 2)role of regional parties, 3)why TASMAC should function in the state and 4)why he was not contesting any election. He responded that government had a legitimate role in safeguarding the assets of temples though it should not interfere with religious practices, regional parties came up because Indira Gandhi destroyed leaders of Congress in various state including Atulya Ghosh, S K Patil and Kamaraj and the vacuum was filled up by jingoistic parties, Prohibition is not an implementable policy though timings and location of TASMAC need regulation and that he can never win any election since voters look for capacity to compromise which he sorely lacked. Rajaji, he said, was also a victim of this incapacity.

While on state politics, he continued to support AIADMK praising Jayalalithaa's leadership qualities. DMK's influence, in his estimate, continued to wane. He said DMK and Congress would continue to need each other's company to guard against their total decimation in the state.

Added on 16th January: As expected, Cho supported Modi for prime ministership. Modi, according to Cho, is assertive, decisive and honest. He disagreed with the view expressed by a reader that Gujarat under Modi was falling behind in various social parameters. The reader tactfully compared Gujarat and Tamilnadu and said Tamilnadu is progressing much faster on social indicators. Sensing the trap, Cho wanted Gujarat's progress to be assessed independently. He also desired that BJP and ADMK should discuss the possibility of mutual coordination. When a few readers of Thuglak wanted him to convince Jayalalithaa on this, he said that the general impression that the chief minister consulted him was overblown. "Jayalalithaa is an experienced administrator, capable of understanding issues and a very decisive person. Where is the need for her to consult me?"

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Indians in insider trading

Anil Kumar and Rajat Gupta are the names that come to our mind whenever anyone talks about the evil of insider trading. They formerly worked for McKinsey and Co., perhaps one of the most prestigious consultant firms in the world. The fact that top ranked officials in such a firm could indulge in the nefarious practice rattled several erstwhile clients who trusted the character and capacity of consultants.

Indians figure disproportionately in the list of suspected insider traders. The latest to appear in this abominable list is 39-year-old Mathew Martoma whose name was Ajay Mathew Thomas before he was expelled from Harvard Law School for forging his 1st year grades in applications for clerkship with judges. He had also studied in Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

The charge against him now is that he indulged in insider trading while being a funds manager at SAC Capital Advisors promoted by Steven A. Cohen. He is alleged to have made illegal use of non-public information relating to an experimental drug for Alzheimer's disease. This transgression of law is supposed to have fetched additional profit of $276 mn. for the company and a consequent $9.3mn. bonus for Martoma. This episode of insider trading is notoriously called as "the most lucrative insider trading scheme ever charged". Of course, this record may not hold for a long time!

Mathew (let us call him so because this is common between his old and current names) has been described as an intelligent, ambitious and 'idealistic' young scholar by his friends and as extraordinarily intelligent, remarkably analytical and wonderfully fair-minded individual by his professors.

What is the message from this developing story? Do we succumb to greed for pelf when business pressures mount? How does an idealistic person become an insider trader? Are there both Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde in each one of us with the latter always waiting for an opportunity to manifest himself?

The New York Times on Chennai

The New York Times has released a list of 52 cities all over the world as places to visit in the year 2014. Why 52? Perhaps one city every week! Chennai figures as the only city in India. The newspaper says the following about Chennai:

"Chennai, in the state of Tamil Nadu (and formerly known as Madras), was long considered the gateway to popular South Indian tourist destinations like Kerala but was overlooked as an attraction itself. It is, however, a national cultural capital and home to several dance and music schools like Kalakshetra for dance and the Music Academy for Carnatic South Indian music, which both regularly hold performances around town. There are also historic sites aplenty, including the Kapaleeswarar Temple, built in the name of the Hindu god Shiva. Fresh buzz makes this city especially enticing: Several major hotels including the Park Hyatt have recently opened, and there is a slew of new and trendy clubs, boutiques and restaurants, including Ottimo for excellent pizzas."

The Marina beach is notably omitted. Anyone coming from abroad will not miss the neighbouring Mamallapuram (formerly known as Mahabalipuram), a sea-resort famous for historical sculpture. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Devyani Khobragade's grief and relief

It is ironic that it is  the American legal system that produced both grief and relief for Devyani Khobragade. Faced with a similar situation, any other country would have declared her persona non grata and the matter would have ended there.

Had an American judge not issued summons to Sonia G., Devyani might have been left to fend for herself. At any rate, Salman Khurshid would not have been hyper active playing tit for tat.

According to usually unreliable sources, Khurshid who had earlier called Sonia Gandhi 'our mother', went to her to receive a pat for a job well done. He also told her that if he was the Law Minister, he would have advised a District judge to issue summons to a leading politician in America.

Sonia summoned Kapil Sibal and chastised him for his unpardonable omission. Not one to be outsmarted by a cabinet colleague, he told her that there is no one in the U.S. who is as important to that country as Soniaji is to India and issuing summons to an American politician would be a mistaken recognition of his comparable greatness.  Gandhi was mightily pleased.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Manmohan Singh's revelation

Though reticent, prime minister Manmohan Singh is a shrewd observer of people. In a rare media conference today (3rd Jan.), he observed without batting an eyelid: "I have ruled myself out as a PM candidate if UPA comes back to power. Rahul Gandhi has outstanding credentials to be the PM candidate."

Rahul Gandhi's credentials, invisible to others, have been noticed by Singh. Is Gandhi such a good actor that he can hide his credentials from all others?

There is only one problem with PM's remark. Does Gandhi have credentials only to be PM candidate? Is he not qualified to be PM? I am sure Soniaji is not impressed with Singh's loyalty.

N.Ram's advice to AAP

Recently N.Ram advised the Aam Aadmi Party members to speak less so that they can concentrate on work. This is a very sane advice.

Arvind Kejriwal has started redefining aam aadmi and has posited the existence of God conditional on his victory. He has made the following statements in the Delhi assembly today (2nd Jan.):

"Giving a definition of who is an aam aadmi, he said that it was one who wanted to live honestly and by truth whether he is rich or poor.

Fourth and Eighth of December, a miracle happened. I was an atheist but now I realise there is God. People of Delhi proved truth can’t be defeated,” he said."

So 'aam aadmi' has become a flexible term. If you are with me, you are a common man irrespective of your wealth. If you are against me, even if you are poor, I will call you as dishonest and thereby preclude you from aam aadmi group. Very convenient.

If I win, I will accept the existence of God (as if I am doing Him a favour). Else He ceases to be. How logical!