Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Modiji Please Talk to Us

A quick flashback to the 2014 Election campaign showcases only one thing – Narendra Modi the communicator par excellence at work. People across the country lapped up what he had to say, not only the crowds at the BJP/NDA rallies but also the middle class and the intelligentsia. If the medium was the message then, wow, look at how he used the online media. Twitter was his favourite hunting ground and it was a wonderful way to communicate with the people over the heads of the Main Stream Media.

The humour, the felicity with the language, the assuredness of manner and the oratory mesmerized all and sundry. Ranged against him, primarily, was the mother-son duo of Sonia & Rahul Gandhi and then PM Manmohan Singh – not the best of communicators by any reckoning.

Modi rightly criticized the then PM for staying quiet in the face of serious allegations of corruption against his cabinet members. He even labeled him Maun Mohan Singh. All of us applauded Modi when he came up with these witticisms, both because he delivered them with a punch and because they hit home with stunning accuracy.

The rest is history – An electoral victory not seen in the last 30 years, for the NDA but essentially for Modi.  

What contributed to this victory? Apart from the general disillusionment of the people against the UPA II government it was clearly Modi – The Communicator that turned the tide in the NDA’s favour.

Which is what brings me to the current situation, where is Modi the communicator on an issue that seems to be getting murkier by the day – The Lalit Modi episode. Actually it is hardly an episode; it is one continuing road show with tweets from LaMo on a regular basis. There is hardly a statement or even a tweet from the PM.

I find this odd and also at some level insulting. If one were to take a look at the PM's twitter feed there are tweets on a book release, meeting with ex-Australian PMs, wishing Luxembourg on its National Day etc but not a single tweet on the LaMo issue.

Why is there no response from the PM? Do we not need to know what the PM thinks on issues that concern his cabinet colleague and also a CM from his party? Is twitter only tell me that he has released some book and met some has-been Aussie politician?

If he is the ace communicator, which I am certain he is, he should communicate when the nation needs him to. Not just when he wishes to say something.   

To give him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps there is no tweet on this issue because the wheels of the government are in motion and he would not like to engage publicly at this juncture. Now, this is absolutely right. Why jeopardise on-going investigations?

Or maybe the BJP/NDA is actually assessing the potential damage that could be caused by LaMo and is, therefore, a bit on the quiet side. While this is not a very comforting thought it is still absolutely acceptable. After all one would want to figure out the extent of the mess before tweeting about it.

Or it could be the thought that a news break about another issue would bury this one and therefore one need not worry about the same. Given the attention span that most of us and the TV channels have, this is a fair assumption. 

Or it could be sheer brazenness. A ‘dekhte hain kya hoga’ attitude.

It is the last possibility that scares me no end.

The one common theme that I think I have observed in the PM is that he likes to engage on his own terms. Which is fine, who among us would not like to do that. But the issue is that most of us are not in government or even in politics. And therefore we can choose when we would like to communicate and when not. It will not hurt anyone or might impact only a few.

But when the PM of the country, who is otherwise fairly voluble, decides to clam up when something unpleasant about his party comes up it worries me a bit. There is clearly a mess due to the Lalit Modi revelations, I would want the PM to come forth and clarify the issue.

For all that I know not talking to the people on this issue maybe an absolute masterstroke but I for one would like a little more consistency in communication. Primarily because Narendra Modi has raised my expectations so much, that I would like him to address me when I need him to and not just when he wishes to. 

Now is that too much to ask for?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Vocabulary - Greek Myth

A lot of words in English originate from Greek myth. The stories of how names of various characters became words, is very interesting.

Given below is a list of some well-known and not so well-known words that have a myth connection.

Siren song
An enticing plea or appeal, especially one that is deceptively alluring.
The Myth Connection: The Sirens were one of a group of sea nymphs in Greek mythology who by their sweet singing lured mariners to destruction on the rocks surrounding their island.

Of unusual size, power, or difficulty.
The Myth Connection: The word derives from Hercules, the son of Zeus (the Supreme God) and Alcmene. Hercules was a hero of extraordinary strength who won immortality by performing 12 labors demanded by Hera.


Boldly creative; defiantly original.
The Myth Connection: Prometheus was a Titan who stole fire from Mt. Olympus (the abode of the Greek gods) and gave it to humankind for which Zeus chained him to a rock and sent an eagle to eat his liver, which grew back daily. Happy times. ;-)

Achilles heel
A portion, spot, area, or the like, that is especially or solely vulnerable.
The Myth Connection: Achilles was supposed to have been dipped into the river Styx by his mother Thetis in order to make him invulnerable. However as she held him by his heel, it wasn't touched by the water and that meant that his heel was the only spot where he was vulnerable.

A licentious man; a lecher (a man given to excessive sexual indulgence… in short All Men….. oops have I let a secret out???!!!???)
The Myth Connection: A Satyr was a woodland creature depicted as having the pointed ears, legs, and short horns of a goat and a fondness for unrestrained merrymaking.

Reading Comprehension - Irritating Management Gurus

From today, I am starting a series of posts based on ‘Reading Comprehension’, ‘Vocabulary’ and ‘General Knowledge’. This is primarily aimed at all students who are aspiring to take the CAT/CET/GMAT/GRE and Bank Exams.

The objective is to provide, what I believe is,   a one-stop-shop for all aspirants of competitive exams.

The first post is an article from The Economist. 

No. of words: 983
Reading time:
Less than 3 minutes – Very Good
3-4 minutes – Good
4-5 minutes – Fair
Difficulty Level (5-point scale)

The three habits......of highly irritating management gurus

STEPHEN COVEY is fond of telling people that he is writing a book on the evils of retirement, “Live Life in Crescendo”. There is no danger of a diminuendo for this particular guru. Mr Covey is working on nine other books, including one on how to end crime. He also presides over a business empire that is even more sprawling than his ever-growing family (he had 51 grandchildren as The Economist went to press).

Mr Covey has been stretching his brand since 1989, when the publication of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” turned him into a superstar. He followed up with a succession of spin-offs such as “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families” and “The 8th Habit”. He is also the co-founder of a consultancy, FranklinCovey, that markets success-boosting tools and techniques. So far the original “7 Habits” has sold 15m copies in 38 languages and three of Mr Covey’s other books have sold more than a million copies.

His stroke of genius was to blow up the wall between management and self-help. “The 7 Habits” mixes the language of management consultancy—“synergy” and the like—with the moral exhortations that you find in Samuel Smiles’s “Self-Help”, Norman Vincent Peale’s “The Power of Positive Thinking” and the 12-step literature put out by Alcoholics Anonymous and its offshoots. Mr Covey insists that the key to success, for both individuals and organisations, is to unleash the power that resides in everyone. “Private victories precede public victories,” as he likes to say.

It is tempting to dismiss Mr Covey as merely a fringe figure. But this would be a mistake. He is a paid-up member of the management-theory club, with an MBA from Harvard. The club contains many serious thinkers, some of whom, such as Clayton Christensen, have endorsed him in glowing terms. He says that he got the idea for “The 7 Habits” in part from the claim of Peter Drucker, the most hallowed of gurus, that “effectiveness is a habit” and that the third (curiously) of the seven habits, “put first things first”, comes straight from Drucker. FranklinCovey claims 90% of Fortune 100 and 75% of Fortune 500 companies as clients.

Nor is Mr Covey the first to mix management with self-help. In the early 1900s Frank Gilbreth, one of the pioneers of industrial psychology, tried to raise his 12 children according to Frederick Taylor’s principles of scientific management. He discovered that you could cut the time it took to shave if you used two razors at once—but then abandoned the idea when he found that it took an additional two minutes to bandage the resulting wounds.

Mr Covey is only an outlier in the sense that he embodies, in an extreme form, many of the most irritating habits of the guru industry, not least the habit of producing numbered lists of habits.

Three habits are particularly worth noting.

The first is presenting stale ideas as breathtaking breakthroughs. In a recent speech in London Mr Covey declared capitalism to be in the middle of a “paradigm shift” from industrial management (which treats people as things) to knowledge-age management (which tries to unleash creativity). Gary Hamel, who according to the Wall Street Journal is the world’s most influential business thinker, proclaims, “For the first time since the dawning of the industrial age, the only way to build a company that’s fit for the future is to build one that’s fit for human beings.”

But management gurus have been making this point for decades. William Ouchi announced it in 1981 in the guise of “Theory Z”. Elton Mayo and Mary Parker Follet had made much the same point 60 years before. It makes you long for some out-of-the-box thinker who will argue that the future belongs to companies that are unfit for human beings (which it may well do).

The second irritating habit is that of naming model firms. Mr Covey littered his speech in London with references to companies he thinks are outstandingly well managed, including, bizarrely, General Motors’ Saturn division, which is going out of business. Tom Peters launched his career with “In Search of Excellence” in 1982. Jim Collins has written a succession of books celebrating the great and the good of the corporate world.

But do these corporate hagiographies prove anything? The gurus routinely ignore such basic precautions as providing a control group. Five years after “In Search of Excellence” appeared, a third of its ballyhooed companies were in trouble. Andrew Henderson of the University of Texas has recently subjected “excellence studies” to rigorous statistical analysis. He concludes that luck is just as plausible an explanation of their success as excellence.

The third irritating habit is the flogging of management tools off the back of numbered lists or facile principles. Mr Covey reinforces his eight habits with various diagnostic devices such as “the XQ test” (which measures organisational efficiency much as an IQ test measures intelligence). Consultancies like to tell their clients that the key to success lies in “customer-relationship management” and then sell tools to improve it.

But most of these rules are nothing more than wet fingers in the wind. Gurus preach the virtues of “core competences”. But in the developing world many highly diversified companies are sweeping all before them. Customer-relationship management is all about learning about and from your clients. But Henry Ford pointed out that if he had listened to his customers he would have built a better horse and buggy.

Which points to the most irritating thing of all about management gurus: that their failures only serve to stoke demand for their services. If management could indeed be reduced to a few simple principles, then we would have no need for management thinkers. But the very fact that it defies easy solutions, leaving managers in a perpetual state of angst, means that there will always be demand for books like Mr Covey’s.

The link to the original article is here 

Monday, June 15, 2015

You too, Sushma Swaraj?

Et tu, Sushmaji? It is with a heavy heart that I write to you on this issue of you facilitating Lalit Modi’s travel documents in the UK through Keith Vaz.

I always felt that you stood out in politics – both at the party level and in parliament. And once in the Modi cabinet I believed that you stood out not just because of the quiet dignity that you brought to the office but also because unlike your motor mouth counterpart – Smriti Irani – you actually got along with people from all sides of the spectrum and put your head down and got things done in the ministry.

I have seen you endure your share of sexist remarks, but you took them all in your stride to make an impact in parliament and now in the cabinet.

That you and the Modiji & Amit Shah duo have not shared the best of relations was an open secret. Truth be told I kind of admired you when you opposed Modiji’s appointment as Chairman of the BJP’s campaign committee. I remember you actually gave a dissent note when the parliamentary board overruled objections to declare him the PM candidate. You had also argued that Amitbhai Shah should be suspended from the party after the CBI arrested him for his alleged complicity in the ‘fake encounters’. These things endeared you to me because it seemed that here was a politician who stood up for something that she believed in.

These I obviously admired in you and also the fact that like most of the members of the BJP you did not really have any scams linked to your name.

Well, not entirely. There is a not too savoury incident in your political life too. I allude to the Bellary brothers. They really came into prominence when you decided to fight the bye-elections in Bellary, Karnataka in 1999 and they managed to create a mining empire that is rumoured to have controlled the Karnataka government no less. The talk at that time was that they had your protection. Later on you did distance yourself from them but I think that was a bit too late. The damage to your reputation had been done. However, I did appreciate you sidelining them. I had hoped at that time that it was a question of your morals coming to the fore albeit belatedly rather than the possibility that they had exhausted their usefulness.   

And now this?

You admit that you facilitated the UK authorities issuing travel documents to Lalit Modi to head to Portugal because his wife was unwell. Did you bother to check if he really needed to sign any consent document?  His wife was clearly conscious at that time and it was not as if she was not able to sign any consent papers herself. Also, it appears written consent might not be required under Portuguese law. 

You were the External Affairs Minister at that time too. Did you not feel the need to get the Foreign Ministry (or you yourself) to do a bit of background check on the same? All it needed was a Google search.

Or did you not do it because the Lalit Modi connect that you have is more than just humanitarian in nature?

Do you not understand that Bansuri, your daughter, appearing for Lalit Modi in the Dehi High Court when Lalit Modi challenged the revocation of his passport means that you have  conflict of interest when you talk about his getting travel documents from another country?

You got Keith Vaz to put pressure on UK’s top immigration official to grant British travel papers to Lalit Modi, who then got the same in less than 24 hours.

Do you not get ‘Conflict of Interest’? Your daughter appears in a particular case for a ‘fugitive’ of the Indian government and you blithely work toward his getting his travel papers organized by another country?

If the issue of conflict of interest is not bad enough it appears as if there could actually be a quid pro quo to this all. Did you really get Lalit Modi to ensure that your husband’s nephew got into the Law school at Sussex University? If you did then this case just got a bit murkier.

Think about it Sushmaji, it does not look pretty and for god’s sake stay away from Twitter. Better people than you have gotten screwed because of intemperate and badly thought through statements on it. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Rahul Baba - You are the Winnah

And the Winnah is Rahul Gandhi. I am appalled that no media outlet has led with this story in the past couple of days. Don’t they see the significance of THE announcement by Lalu? No? That is ridiculous. I can only put it down to the lack of intellectual heft in the media these days. Damn.

Let me enlighten all and sundry about why I am so appalled at this lack of comment by the media. The endorsement by Lalu Prasad Yadav of Nitesh Kumar’s candidature for CM-ship is a straight victory for Rahul Gandhi. You can’t see it? Good lord, do I have to spell out everything for you folks?

Well then, here it is.   

Let’s take a dekko at the 2010 Bihar Assembly Results. The JD(U) won 115 seats and the BJP won 91 in the 243 seat Assembly. The RJD did not do well at all and won only 22 seats. The congress got 4 seats out of; well, this has to be said sotto voce; the 243 it contested.

No No No, that the JD(U)-BJP combine swept the elections is not the awesome point that I am trying to make. The awesome thing here is that the Congress, through diligence and hard work and intelligent campaigning, achieved the miracle of getting less than what it did in October 2005. It had then won 9 seats out of the 51 it contested. Now, you gotta admit, that is talent.

Flashback done, cut to 2015…

Let’s first look at the Jodi No. 1 of 2010. Ah, but we can’t. That is so because there is this teeny weeny catch – the JD(U) and the BJP aren’t in the tight embrace that they were in in 2010. After a slightly acrimonious falling out, both the JD(U) and the BJP are aiming to win the elections on their own.

Now, whatever else you could accuse the duo of Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar, you cannot accuse them of being uninterested in power. They most definitely are. And we silly geezers can bet our bottom futi kaudi that each of them would go all out to prove a point – that life after the break up isn’t all that bad. And the power that comes with it wouldn’t hurt at all.  

Lalu Prasad Yadav; the clown nonpareil, the consummate communicator, the . . . whatever else; has been pushed to a corner. He is clearly not the strong political force that he once was. In fact, he almost gulped poison while endorsing Nitish Kumar. Alright, that was a bit of exaggeration but he did mention that he would be willing to do that too, figuratively, of course, to stop the BJP from coming to power.  

So what have we got here? We have got a BJP that HAS to win the elections to prove that the Modi wave, not withstanding that Anarchist in Delhi, is up and about. We have an RJD that has to make an impact in this election if it has to stay relevant in politics. And we have a Nitesh Kumar who can kiss his chances of political relevance goodbye if he does not win this time.  
Do or die for the three major political entities in Bihar.

And, in the meantime, what about Rahul Baba’s party?

This time let’s assume it gets to contest about 15 seats given over by the magnanimous JD(U)-RJD combine. What you saying? They won’t be given those many seats? Oh! Come on, Mummy’s gonna help.

Let’s further assume that it manages to win seven of them. I know that would sound far-fetched to a lot of people out there, but bear with me; I am trying to make an important point here.

So even if the Congress wins about 7 seats, about 3% of the seats, my guess is that Congressmen will go to town talking about this ‘victory’.

It will be heralded as the green shoots of recovery and Rahul baba would be hailed not only as a smooth talking, one-liners maroing heir apparent but also as a sharp operator by the Congress cohorts.

And who would not want such a thing to happen to him?

Congrats Baba, you are the Winnah.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Bus do minute

The past few days have seen Nestle getting intense negative publicity across media on the presence of high levels of MSG and lead in the ubiquitous Maggi Noodles.

Quite a few state governments across the country have placed a temporary ban on Maggi noodles. Metro, Big Bazaar, Wal-Mart and others have pulled Maggi Noodles off their shelves. 

In the midst of all this the Kerala Food Safety Department has announced that Maggi packets contain lead within the permissible limits. I wonder what the upshot would be if other state governments also report similar test results. Would this issue die a quiet death or would it get politicized like most issues in India are wont to do?

Either way here is a perfect recipe for a corporate pot boiler.

However, surprisingly, it is not the ban on Maggi or the attendant health related issues that interest me currently. Serious as these issues are, I have been fascinated by only one aspect of this issue – Celebrity Endorsement.  

A district court in Muzzafarpur directed the police to file an FIR against Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit and Preity Zinta for endorsing Maggi. The thought seems to be that celebrities ought to be more responsible about the brands they endorse. This is so probably because we, those who revere these celebrities, blindly buy products just because they are endorsed by one celebrity or the other.  

Honestly, if we Indians are buying some products only because of celebrity endorsement then we are a nation of absolute dimwits. If such is the situation, India has a much bigger problem than MSG in noodles.

Sure a celebrity endorsing a brand gets my attention and helps the company break through the clutter. An SRK sitting prettily in a bath tub attracts my attention. Ads by celebrities sometimes amuse me and at other times they bring about a sense of WTH. However, at no point do I make a beeline to the nearest store to buy the product that is being endorsed. I am fairly certain that this would be the case with most of us.  

Give this context I find it rather offensive when experts insinuate that we make choices of which packaged food product we eat because a celebrity endorsed it. Kids might be swayed by such advertisement but surely not adults. Surely as adults we know we should feed ourselves and our kids what is good for us while keeping in mind what we like to have.

If we do not know all this then we deserve this little crisis. I am sorry, but it is Buyer Beware  – every single time. Unless of course the company has falsified claims, in which case government agencies should come into play.

There is also this brouhaha in some quarters about the need for a celebrity to be socially responsible. What utter nonsense is that? As far as I am concerned there is only one parameter to judge them on – legality. Is the company that hired them allowed to manufacture, distribute, advertise and sell its products? If it is then there should be no issue with celebrities advertising that product. They are just professionals who are working for the company that has hired their services. That is about all.

With specific reference to Maggi, why are we not talking of social responsibilities of the other actors in the ads? The logic here seems to be more in the nature of, hey you are famous and you are endorsing a brand and therefore you ought to have a social conscience.

I think this is outright hypocrisy.

Do we expect professionals in any field to stop working for an organization if it has been found guilty of malpractices? No, we don’t. Then why hound the celebs?

I believe celebrity endorsers are merely professionals who have been contracted to do a particular job. They are not doing this to ‘save the world, they are merely doing these ads to earn money. There is absolutely no “social responsibility” angle to it and we must not try to pin this nonsense on the celebs. When one buys a product endorsed by film stars one should do one’s own damn due diligence and buy and use the product only if one is satisfied. Our experts should just leave it at that. 

Monday, June 01, 2015

Dilli Chalo to Dilli se Bhaago

Gardiner Harris is leaving Delhi, but he is not doing so quietly. He has kicked up quite the storm on both main stream (MSM) and social media by writing about the deadly cocktail of air and water pollution & food borne diseases & flies in our Rajdhani – New Delhi.

Let me back up a bit and give the context to this post. Gardiner Harris is the South Asia correspondent of the New York Times in New Delhi who is leaving the city and India for good because his son was not able to take the pollution that is freely on offer in the city.  

His NYT article, carried by the TOI in India, was quite scathing about Delhi though the language itself was mild. In one emotional sentence he said raising kids in New Delhi is sheer irresponsibility on the part of those parents who could afford to leave the city but who continued to stay on. This was so because the consequences of staying in a polluted environment, like impaired lung function etc, have an outsize impact on a child’s later life.

But my immediate and considered reaction is not to Gardiner’s choice of leaving the country or to his kid’s health issue or even to that of Delhi’s pollution per se.

My reaction is to something much more remarkable – the sober response of Indians to this post online.

The response to this article on various social media sites and in the comment sections of TOI and other papers has been supportive to a very large extent. So much so that it might be an actual first.

I spent quite some time going through the comments section on the article on TOI, and, since this news has been picked up by other sources, the comments on those pages too. And surprise of surprise, almost 95% of the comments has been in support of Gardiner’s claim that Delhi is a terrible city to live in and raise kids due to its abysmal air quality.

No pointless tiranga waving nationalism on display, no racist undertones detected, no ‘why did you even bother coming to India?’ comments and no jingoistic tirade against The Arrogant American. This is especially surprising because the said American wrote a nasty, error-filled article about Narendra Modi at the beginning of his Prime Ministerial campaign a year and half earlier.

What explains this change? I ask this question because usually whenever any foreigner talks about the negatives or perceived negatives in or about India, Indians (the ones online) pick up cudgels on behalf of India and Indians everywhere. Even if their defence makes no sense, even if the defence is jingoistic nonsense and even if they do not seem to have understood half of what the author has been trying to say.

The most horrendous behavior of this kind was on display last year when Maria Sharapova said that she did not know who Sachin Tendulkar was. Indians went crazy online; abusing her on her FB page, calling her ignorant, saying she was worthless and so on.

And now a Modi bashing American journalist who has just said that Delhi is a shitty place to live in gets support on online fora? What’s going on?

There are only a couple of reasons that I can think of for this very restrained and supportive reaction – the situation in Delhi is so atrocious that not even the most thin-skinned of India Bhakts can deny the same. Or it could be because Delhi and/or Delhiites are hated so much across the country that the rest of us don’t mind accepting that Delhi is actually a shit place to live, love and raise a child.

Me thinks it is the former. Study after study has pointed out that the pollution level is getting out of hand. The Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) website gives an in-depth look at the pollution level on a real time basis and those figures are truly scary.

So the “Delhi is really unfit for living” hypothesis explains the reason behind the Sober Online Indian. Ah, mystery solved.   

There is, however, this tiny voice which suggests a possible third reason.

Could it be that Indians, in general, have suddenly become very polite and accommodating and mindful of the serious flaws that exist within us and within our country? And that they are comfortable enough in their own skins to accept criticism from any source?

We are probably getting there but let’s wait and watch, after all one swallow does not make a summer.