Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Perfect Storm

The Perfect Storm

The lead feature titled "Perfect storm that shook the PM" (Telegraph, 29 Sept. 2012) paints a grim picture of India's economic situation. The chart accompanying the report provides a summary of the stress factors and the prescription suggested by the Vijay Kelkar panel. Whether it's politically inconvenient or not, it's pretty obvious that, if the right medicine is not administered at the right time, the diseases will not go away. Whoever is in charge of running the government must bite the bullet at some point in time or face the "Perfect storm", sooner or later. However, I am surprised at the fact that the "prescription" fails to recommend the abolition of tax waiver on agricultural income, abolition of farm subsidy and  the supply of free electricity in some parts of the country. When the times are tough, why shouldn't every section of the society sacrifice equally?  Holy cow syndrome?

I agree with the statement in the report that "it is hard to immediately see the parallels with 1991". But it is not "because the data points are difficult to compare". It is because the current economic and fiscal trends in India, and the possible consequences thereof, should be compared with those obtaining presently in some of the European countries, especially Greece and Spain. These countries should hold a mirror to our political class, because comparison with Europe would make more sense than with 1991. It would then be very clear that if half-hearted measures or no action is taken, India is certain to go the way these countries have gone. The hardships for the common man would then be even more difficult to bear, the political consequences more bitter and unmanageable. Fortunately, we still have time for the necessary course correction. 

We have a fair idea why some of the European countries are facing severe hardships today, and why some of them are on the brink of bankruptcy. But global situation notwithstanding, no "prescription" is complete without identifying the causes of the disease. Surely several reasons for bringing the country to this dangerous state must also lie at door step of our government too? Where did the Indian planners and the successive governments go wrong? The citizens of India, who are always being asked to make sacrifices, deserve to know what has brought India to this "do or die" situation. Would someone please tell us the reasons?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Will Tendulkar ever retire?

The retirement of VVS Laxman from international cricket rings the curtain down on another on another illustrious cricketing career. His contribution to Indian cricket is immense. Yet, no one could have played forever, and surely Laxman was way past his best. It is somewhat unfortunate that only after a gentle nudge from the selectors did he realise that “this is the right time to give opportunities to the youngsters…”, and felt that it was the right time to move on. Pullela Gopichand put it very correctly (Prefer he goes out now, 19 August) when he said that, “At 37, I feel that he had had a long and illustrious career and I would prefer he goes out now with his head held high…”.
What surprised me was the concerted criticism directed at the chief selector for pointing out to Laxman the obvious, that his best days were indeed over. I wonder if those same people (former captain Sourav Ganguly included) were similarly critical of Cricket Australia for informing Steve Waugh, the then captain of the Australian cricket team, in no uncertain terms that the sooner he announced his retirement the better, or be dropped from the test team. Selection to represent any country ought to be made on the basis of current from, not on past achievements or sentiments.
Having initiated the process, I wonder if Mr. Srikkanth would do a great service to Indian cricket, to those youngsters waiting in the wings, and to Mr. Sachin Tendulkar by having a similar chat with him soon. Tendulkar too is well past his best. He is not fit enough to suffer the rigours of a long cricketing season. His reflexes have slowed down considerably. By not playing regularly he has become rusty – as was evident by his painstaking 19 runs scored yesterday (23 August 2012) against New Zealand during the first Test at Hyderabad. It's only in India that the official selectors wait for a player to make up his mind to announce his own selection according to his choice. India cannot afford the luxury of having him make himself available for selection as and when he pleases, cherry pick the matches to play, or to simply block the place of other promising youngsters (like Cheteswar Pujara – he scored an unbeaten century). Tendulkar has no more mountains to climb, anyway. It’s high time he too bid a formal farewell to international cricket.

Mamata's money demands

Let’s get one thing clear: no one, but no one requested, cajoled, blackmailed, begged or forced Ms. Mamata Banerjee to become the chief minister of West Bengal. It was absolutely her own decision and her own achievement, first and last. She fought for the chair tooth and nail, achieving what had seemed an impossible task. The financial condition of this state was never a big secret. She knew very well what she was getting into. She was fighting to wear what was no more than a crown of thorns.
She did not “inherit the enormous debt and a state in such dire circumstances”. The baggage that she carries today was consciously taken on by her – if fact, she waged a long war for it. It is, therefore, incorrect to say that she has “no choice” (Stolen March, Telegraph, 23 July) but to use “a combination of cajoling, threats or entreaties”, or beg for doles from New Delhi. She walked into this mess with her eyes open; she can very well walk away from it if she so desires. She has a choice – one always has.
She is in her chair for more than a year now. Her choice was to follow in the footsteps of her predecessors, or chart a new course to develop the state (ask Bihar). Sadly, she appears to have chosen the former. She continues with populist measures even if these continue to drain the coffers of the state. She seems to believe more in gimmicks (read trident street lights, blue paint, renaming stations and water tanks) than hard core development for sustained, medium and long term gains. She could have taken a leaf out of the books of Bihar or UP. She still can, she still has a choice. However, she cannot have her cake and eat it too. The sooner she realises this, the better for her.
Hardly one year into her reign, she complains about nothing but fiscal deficits. The lady doth protest too much, I wonder why! If the Left Front government could live with the pathetic state of West Bengal for 34 years, surely so can she! She could continue the way her predecessors had, or start right away on the path to painful, un-populist but badly needed reforms. She still has a choice, but her time is running out.

Friday, June 08, 2012

A "small" step for the Rotarians...?

As per the figures published in Rotary News, the regional magazine of Rotary International for India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, in its issue of May 2012, Volume 62, Issue 11 (page 12), as on 31 March 2012 the total number of Rotary members in India stood at 109,718. The total number of members in South Asia stood at 121,223, the “world total” being 1,194,855. Page 4 of this magazine informs us that the current annual subscription for Rotary News is INR.480.0 for India and USD.24.0 for “all other countries”. Incidentally, it is worth noting that subscription to this magazine by every member of a Rotary club is compulsory.
These numbers triggered a few thoughts in my mind. What if the RI issued only electronic versions of its monthly magazine, the Rotary News -  say either through e-mail or by putting the same up on a website? What would the impact of this "small" step be?
A back-of-the-envelope calculations shows that for India, the amount that could perhaps be saved every year would be something to the order of Rs.52,664,640.0. That for the members of the entire South Asia it would be Rs.15.2 million approx. (at Rs.55 per USD).  For the whole (Rotary) world the estimated annual savings could be Rs.1,432.4 million approx. That’s about USD.26 million every year. Add to this the cost of printing, packaging, distribution and labour.
Apart from making better use of this not too insignificant sum, just think of the overall impact on the world environment. If we base our calculation on a ballpark figure of 84 pages per issue, an annual circulation of 1,194,855 copies translates to approximately 1,204,400,000  pages (two sides of a single A-4 sized sheet) consumed every year. If the RI switches to the electronic mode for the issue and circulation of Rotary News, think of the number of trees that can be saved every year through this single step!
Why not take that step right away? Let the benefits accrue from today itself! Any takers?

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Genesis of the crisis in Europe

Europe is going through a financial crisis. It's becoming worse day by day, final outcome unknown. 
Many reasons have been offered for it. However, I came across an article titled "The idea of Europe" by Prabhat Patnaik (The Telegraph, 5 June 2012) which throws new lights on its origin.
I did follow the financial meltdown since it erupted on 15 September 2008. Read many articles on it. But, must admit that I didn't come across any analysis that seemed so much to the point. The analysis is from a totally new angle, is very interesting, and - once you read it - seems perfectly logical.
I'd be happy to present a summary of his main arguments, if you are interested. Do leave your comment/request below.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Walking the dog

If you are one of those who take regular morning walks, you'd have certainly observed those who take out their dogs for their morning routine. You'd also have noticed how they manage their pets while on their respective 'walks'. Broadly speaking, these 'dog-walkers' (if I may call them so) demonstrate two distinct characteristics. 
The first do not take the trouble to keep their pets on a leash. Their pets are free to roam, sniff or minutely examine whatever catches their fancy, taking their own time to do so. The 'dog-walker' is mostly patient. He/she keeps a sharp but indulgent watch, all the while leading it on to cover the distance they together set out to, maintaining a certain casual tempo.
The second type of 'dog-walkers' are made of sterner stuff. Members of this type have their wards tied to a leash. The animals are not allowed any leeway whatsoever while on their morning rounds. They are not allowed to stray, not permitted to sniff around or pause here and there for any length of time, or examine anything it considers worth a closer look. Their masters appear to be on a mission - determined to get it over with, and to be back home as soon as possible.
Four years ago we had been on a group/conducted tour to Western Europe. We enjoyed the trip immensely. Last year we'd been to Viet Nam. The experience was even more satisfying, frankly speaking it was unforgettable (the best till date). Late last month we traveled through Spain and also spent two nights in Lisbon - on another group/conducted tour. On this latest outing, the feeling that we came away with was being under the thumb of the second type of 'dog-walkers'.
But....whichever way you look at it, the fact remains that a tourist on such conducted/group tours lead a dog's life. Don't agree with me, huh? Wanna know why???  O.K. Here comes the last throw of the dice... 
While on morning walks, you'd have noticed dogs lifting up their hind legs to leave their mark at every lamp post or bush. So also on group tours  (especially in Europe). Throughout such tours around Europe we were encouraged to do what they do - at every 'loo stop'. "Never ignore a lamp post" - or a bus(h) stop -  appeared to be the motto, the way of life! 
Reasons: Vehicles are not permitted to stop anywhere on the highway. The drivers must take a break every two hours (it's the rule there). One cannot relieve oneself anywhere except at the designated public conveniences - most of which are located only at the service stations, petrol bunks or restaurants where the buses are allowed to stop. Hence.....
Oh, what a (dog's) life we tourists lead sometimes!    
Conducted tour is a conscious, necessary compromise. It is here to stay. Yet, if you are fortunate to have a 'conductor' (your  'dog-walker', the tour manager) who belongs to the first group (the patient, indulgent type), your tour can still be very memorable indeed.