Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mumbai's Mahabharat isn't over yet

Are you feeling angry and frustrated at what is happening in Mumbai? Yes? So, what are you doing about it? Some of us are writing angry blogposts while others are venting their anger on the government.

Well, here we are. In the midst of a war. On the killing fields of Kurukshetra, and it is incumbent upon us, the Indian people, to pick up our Gandiva and fight for what we believe is right. Fight we must, because embracing defeat is unacceptable. We have to plant our feet firmly on the ground and fight for what we believe in, to leave a better legacy for our progeny than what was left to us by our predecessors.

How does an ordinary Indian like you or me take part in this war? Remember most wars are won not on the battlefields but in the minds of the participants. The first step to be taken is to realize that this is our war and that if we forfeit our responsibility, no one is going to do our job for us. It is time to stop blaming the government or our politicians, because who put them there? You and I, by either participating or not participating in the political process. If you voted them in, you should now understand that it was a mistake. And if you did not take part in the election process because of apathy, it is time for you to make amends.

I strongly urge all of you to read B. Shantanu's earlier posts, here, here and here. And decide for yourself if you are also sick and tired of bad governance and sick policies which have led us to this stage. If you agree, then the next step would be to check out the Freedom Team’s Google Groups. Or perhaps you can seek out some other group of people who are aggrieved with the current state of the country and are trying to find a remedy. The thing is, you have to become active, because this is your war as much as it is anybody else's.

India at war

Mumbai is a city cursed by the "T"s. If it is not the Thakres, it is the terrorists who want to keep it in the news. Even as I type this, the encounters are going on and every news channel is devoting all its airtime to covering this event unfolding at various locations around the city.

And they have succeeded. They have proved that India is a soft state and that they can strike at will, whenever and wherever they want to. They have shaken us out of our stupor and made us realize that we are at war and that they have the prerogative of choosing the battlefield.

How did we arrive at this juncture? Why was the Indian socio-politic entity divided and subdivided on the basis of language, ethnicity, religion and casteism? Where did our forefathers go wrong in their thinking? There is no unity in diversity for us, it seems. Why can't Indians in general, not rise above their perceived petty identities which tell them that they are either Hindu or Muslim, or perhaps Marathi or Bihari, or Upper or lower castes, and just think of themselves as Indians?

Who is the enemy here and what can we do to defeat its ominous intentions? Is it a foreign power? But then how can a foreign power succeed in wreaking so much havoc without the active help of some of our own Amichands and Mir Jaffars? Should we start distrusting segments of our society because of what has been happening?

Does the answer lie in accepting a reduction in our own liberties and freedoms? Should anyone under investigation, be presumed guilty till proven innocent? I am afraid that might be the temporary answer if we as patriotic citizens, are concerned with the safety and security of our fellow citizens and wish to prevent further such attacks from happening. There is no alternative but to strengthen the hands of our investigative agencies with wide-ranging detaining powers and allowing them to work independently of the political establishment.

But that is just a temporary solution. The permanent solution will lie in reversing the damage done by the follies of our forefathers and removing all discriminating laws, and the social, political or religious entities which accentuate our differences. Because our Indian-ness has to dominate over our religious or regional identity, if we wish that our children and their children,do not have to deal with the same issues.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Being a lone wolf or a team player

What would you rather be, a team player or a do-everything-on-your-own individualist, that is the question. If you had a multi-faceted job at hand, what would you rather prefer to do? Some people would want to do everything by themselves and would give up control only under duress or extreme fatigue or when they finally realize that they need more resources than they themselves can muster.

Delegating responsibility is a management technique for not just businesses but also mundane day to day affairs as well as in organizing elaborate social functions. Including people in the decision making process and providing them with information as it becomes available, gives them a stake in the affair and makes them a part of your team. Some people adopt the policy of disseminating information on a need to know basis. Unless there is a good reason to do so, withholding information and being secretive just leads to rumor-mongering and creates unnecessary animosity.

At times, this is just a result of the clash of strong egos. Perhaps you may be angry or hurt at somebody and you want to show them that you can manage without their help. But think about what this will mean in the long term. Side stepping anyone will make them feel left out and dejected. What you end up with is creating unnecessary grudges and further complicating your already mangled relationships.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Zardari is at it again.

I have written about this earlier here. And I still believe that he is just playing to the international media and trying to mollify his western benefactors by uttering platitudes. The fact remains that he has no control over either the Pakistani Army or the ISI which are the defacto policy makers regarding Pakistan's policy towards India.

Remember the Pakistani Army waging a war in Kargil without authorization from the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif?

For the record, India has already declared its nuclear 'no first use' policy, under Vajpayee. What Zardari has said is that he favors it, but has not declared it as state policy yet. Perhaps because he does not have the power to do so, or perhaps because he is just testing out the feelings this might invoke in his own country. Because how can one end the hatred for India, which is the raison d'etre for Pakistan? This hatred is the unifying factor that Pakistan relies on to exist as a viable state.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Maritime Piracy, then and now.

A couple of centuries back, the shores of the Southern Arabian gulf were known as the piracy coast. Merchant ships passing through the narrow Straits of Hormuz, plying between Mesopotamia and India, were prey to those pirates who would dart out of hidden coves and raid merchant shipping.

Till one day in early January 1820, when a strong sea and land expedition by the exasperated British succeeded in defeating the pirate stronghold at Ras Al-Khaimah. And led to the signing of a truce between the British and the Arab chiefs, which virtually eradicated piracy in the Gulf. The piracy coast came to be known as the Trucial coast after this truce.

With the passage of time, the Trucial Coast transformed into the Trucial States and in 1971, the seven tiny sheikhdoms which comprised it, federated into the United Arab Emirates. Today this part of the world is enjoying an economic boom and prosperity fueled by oil, trade and construction.

Vela International Marine Limited is a fully owned subsidiary of Saudi Aramco, which is based in Dubai in the U.A.E. It is engaged in the business of transporting crude oil and refined products manufactured by Saudi Aramco, to the rest of the world. It owns several Very Large Crude Carriers or super tankers as they are called. The Sirius Star is a VLCC with a capacity of carrying 2 million barrels of oil and it was yesterday hijacked off the Somali coast by pirates and has been taken to the Somali port of Eyl which is the pirates stronghold. Negotiations are reportedly underway for the safe release of the 25 crew members as well as the ship.

The Somali pirates are doing this just for the money. They have latched on to a cash cow and will not give it up easily. The failed Somali state makes the task of prevention next to impossible. India has already started playing a role in protecting our shipping, but it needs to be enhanced and co-ordinated with other friendly naval powers. Because after all, what is the purpose of a navy if it can't afford protection to merchant shipping? That is one of the primary functions of an armed force, protecting civilians. And piracy is just another form of terrorism.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

How the financial markets actually work

It was autumn, and the Red Indians on the remote reservation asked their new chief if the winter was going to be cold or mild. Since he was a Red Indian chief in a modern society, he couldn't tell what the weather was going to be like.

Nevertheless, to be on the safe side, he replied to his tribe that the winter was indeed going to be cold and that the members of the village should collect firewood to be prepared.

But being a practical leader, after several days of contemplation, he got an idea.

He went to the phone booth, called the National Weather Service and asked 'Is the coming winter going to be cold?'

'It looks like this winter is going to be quite cold indeed,' the meteorologist at the weather service responded.

So the chief went back to his people and told them to collect even more firewood.

A week later, he called the National Weather Service again. 'Is it going to be a very cold winter?' 

'Yes,' the man at National Weather Service again replied, 'It's definitely going to be a very cold winter. '

The chief again went back to his people and told them to collect every scrap of wood they could find.

Two weeks later, he called the National Weather Service again. 'Are you absolutely sure that the winter is going to be very cold?'

'Absolutely' , the man replied. 'It's going to be one of the coldest winters ever. '

'How can you be so sure?' the chief asked. 

The weatherman replied, 'One of the key components of our forecast model, The Red Indians, are collecting firewood like crazy. That is how we deduced that this winter will be the coldest ever.'

And that my friends, is how the financial markets actually work!!!

h/t RamSarit

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

You get what you deserve

The USA has to be lauded for having a political system which can land a relatively unknown quantity like Obama to the ultimate job. Who had even heard of him a couple of years back? The US electorate got a chance to scrutinize him on the election trail and liked him and brought him to power. While In India, we are stuck with a stupid system where you have to spend decades greasing political palms and earning brownie points with those who matter, before you can even be considered for a minor position.  And if you are not from a political dynasty, you can forget about making a difference. The most you can achieve is land a secondary or tertiary position and enrich your own coterie with favours. Thus perpetuating the system.

The Indian blogosphere is abuzz with quite a few searching for India's Obama. I have a question for them, when was the last time they went out and voted in a general election? Did they ever take part in the political process? Do they feel that there is something wrong with a process which constantly rewards corruption and divisive politics? Do they consider themselves good citizens and fulfill their civic obligations?

It is good to seek change when one is sick and tired of the rot that one sees all around. The answer is not in seeking out a single leader who might or might not fulfill our aspirations, but changing ourselves and the system so that this becomes a constant process which rewards virtue and weeds out undesirable elements. Remember that the cost of maintaining a good political environment is constant vigilance on the part of the electorate. The problem is that most of us have become indifferent and disillusioned with politics as it is practised in India today.

So we want to be spoon-fed Obamas, right? Like chicks in our cosy nests, we look upwards with beaks open, waiting for some imaginary mama-bird to provide us with an Obama. Well, I have news for you. You are not baby-chicks any more. Our democracy is 60 years old. And it is YOU who has to work towards making it better. If you don't do that, you get what you deserve.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

For Obama the election is over, the task has just begun

Let the euphoria die down. Now this is a fact. the USA has its first black president-elect, who will be taking on the presidency come january 20th, 2009.

Obama will be inheriting a few wars and the stupendous financial mess that is still unfolding. The world and the US public in particular have to tone down their expectations a little bit. Obama simply can not perform miracles. He will need time and his own space to tackle each of these problems one at a time, in the manner he sees fit. The world at large has been mesmerized by his personality, watching him daily on the election trail. But that is what he is good at, motivating people. Transforming it into action is a completely different ball-game. And he will need time and perseverance to prove himself good at that as well.

What Obama's election has done is that it has broken all glass ceilings and shown the world that the US electorate can rise above all prejudices to let the better candidate win. Translating that into our own situation and asking questions like 'When will India get its Obama moment?' is foolishness. The answer is when a candidate of that caliber presents himself/herself. I have faith in our democratic system that when the time comes, it will rise to the occasion and catapult the correct candidate to the post, irrespective of his religion or caste or gender.

But, for the time being, let us start treating Obama as the human he is, instead of the symbol that he has become. He will have a tough time anyway, without trying to live up to people's raised expectations of his presidency.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Redistribution of Wealth

Cartoon from the Augusta Chronicle. Not much fun when it is YOUR wealth getting spread around.