Saturday, December 28, 2013

The year 2013 and what to expect in 2014

The last week of the year is a good time to look back and analyse the main events. I have chosen the ones that I feel are important from the point of view of the future and thus have chosen to overlook some larger events that impacted the present more than the future (like Sachin’s and Mr Tata’s retirements). Happy reading!!
Bharat Ratna To A Scientist
This is the highest civilian honour to be conferred to a civilian. This year it goes to our cricketing super hero Sachin and one Mr CNR Rao. He is a brilliant chemistry scientist and only the third Indian scientist (out of the 43 total awardees till date) to be honoured with the Bharat Ratna after Nobel Laureate C.V. Raman in 1954 and former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam in 1997.  All our scientific accomplishments have been from the distant past, it is high time to encourage scientific achievements and reclaim our lost scientific glory. I hope we have more such chances to celebrate in the future.
Social Awareness
This was the year of the socially active. AAP success was in a large measure due to this phenomenon. We as citizens became very aware of our rights (not so much of our obligations) and were not afraid to take to the streets to show our likes (or dislikes – as the case may be).
I am sure this will carry on the next year as well with the elections giving enough opportunity to people to remain active. I also hope that this trend continues beyond the next year as well.
Gold Crashed
Gold is down 30% in the international market. It is down about 20% in India because of the 10% import duty being charged by the government to discourage imports (from Rs 35,000 to 29,000). This is the highest single year decline in the price of the precious metal in the last 20 years. Expect the price to remain here or head further down the next year as well. Note – I am not a great fan of the yellow metal (I held the same view when gold was doing very well, my earlier blog “Is gold a problem or a solution”) so the same should be read in that context.
Mars Mission
ISRO has been one of the rare great institutions that the government has built. Our satellite launches cost a fraction of what it costs anywhere else in the world and our missile programme also derives a lot of its success from our space programme. This year we did the impossible – we are on course to send a rocket on Mars. It is a very big deal indeed (we will be the fourth country in the world to achieve this) and expect us to become very serious players in the space market. The moon mission is also under way and more glory awaits this great institution.
Salute The Indian Manager
This year belonged to the Indian manager. While the trend has been picking up for the last few years, it became really big this year. I am avoiding names here as there are just too many. The managerial capabilities of Indians are now well respected the world over. Our culture also plays an important role – we are tolerant and hard working by nature and are not bogged down by diversity which is common in the global workplace.
Expect more Indians to occupy the corner offices of the global corporations in the years to come.
Powerful Men Can No Longer Get Away
Lalu, Asaram, Tejpal, Sen, Jignesh, Mallya, Deccan Chronicle promoters, Phaneesh, Rajat, Kahn, Berlusconi – the list is long and the charges different but the message is the same – you will be held accountable no matter how higher are you in the society. Outside India the justice was served without delay – in India we wait still for the bad apples to come face to face with their makers and then pay for their sins.
Presidential Activism    
Pranab Da worked hard to restore the legacy of his office. He had hard work to do specially to undo the work of his predecessor Mrs Patil (mind you, this year she finally chose to return all the gifts that she had taken home). And boy, did he deliver? Kasab and Guru (who waited for 10 years for presidential pardon) were sent to the gallows while he delayed signing the legislation protecting the tainted legislators will it was famously “torn and thrown to the dustbin” by RaGa. Great work indeed. Encore expected this year as well. May God give him the strength to do what should be done.
Supreme Court Activism
Thankfully the SC stepped in where the government failed. They had a lot of work to do this year as the government practically didn’t do anything at all. All the major policy decisions were shaped by the SC – rather the government worked for the fear of the apex court. We will see the more of the same next year – an incompetent government being pushed into action by an active judicial system. Reminds me of the famous lines of the Joker to Batman – when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object, the result is.....
Time for a Political Change
The momentum is building up for the general elections next year. Change is in the air and the UPA and its constituents are feeling jittery, to put it mildly. The disastrous 10 years that Mr Singh has been the PM of the country have been the worst that I have seen – endemic corruption, systemic breakdown of public institutions, very high inflation, very low growth, no employment generation, negative sentiment in the business community, worsening fiscal situation both at the centre and the states, currency going for a toss – Mr Singh and Mrs Gandhi leave a legacy that RaGa will have to pay for by sitting in the opposition benches for the next 10 years – maybe it will also be good for him and the grand old party – they have been so addicted to power without accountability that a long “rehab” is advisable for them. This is no anti incumbency – see the incumbent state governments of Gujarat, Bihar, MP and Chattisgarh being voted back to power. This is a message to the political system that for too long the Indian voter has been taken for a ride and the time has come to change this.  
Disastrous Foreign Policy
If you thought the current government had a worst economic policy, you need to see the blunders in our foreign policy. The world’s second largest democracy and our natural ally the US is now cold to us. Our old friend Russia is indifferent. China is claiming larger and larger parts of our country as theirs – they even did a mini Kargil in the northeast. Sri Lanka has been driven to the open arms of China. Afganistan will be in a vacuum once the US leaves. The leader of the party who thinks for us is under trouble from extrmists in Bangladesh. The real perpetrator of Kargil is back in power in Pakistan. Maldives publicly humiliated us by unceremoniously throwing out a large Indian group out of their country. Nepal doesn’t care. The blog of Indrani Bagchi captures all this beautifully
Although I am itching to write about the AAP’s proposed policies that will turn out to be disastrous, that will have to wait for a fortnight. Next week we will look at how the BJP is undermining itself by doing its best to lose the momentum that it generated.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Thank You

The last two weeks of the year mean different things for different people. For most of us it is a time to plan for a party – to celebrate the year gone by and welcome the coming year in high spirits (literally). For some of us (including me) it is a time for introspection – hits, misses and the plan for the next year. But it is also a time of intrigue for me as most of the western world heads for almost a 2 week holiday. I wonder how can countries practically shut down for 2 whole weeks. Thanksgiving and Christmas are the festivals responsible for this annual shutdown.  While Christmas (Santa Claus - a very good example of globalisation and a connected world – I am sure he can be recognised anywhere in the world) is widely celebrated across the world, I think Thanksgiving is equally important.
Thanksgiving was originally the harvest festival of the west – people celebrated a good agricultural season and thanked Gods for the same. As a festival it is celebrated across the western world, although on different dates. I find the idea behind the festival very compelling – thanking the almighty and all others who have made a difference in our lives and is one of the things that I should have added to my previous blog – what we can learn from other religions (21 Sep). Even in India various states celebrate different harvest seasons but thanksgiving as a festival concept is still uniquely western in nature.
Come to think of it – there are multitude of people that make our lives better every day. While some of them can be thanked directly – our families, friends, colleagues, service providers and many others, most of them are working earnestly but are not in our line of sight. How about a special day for thanking them? A day spent thinking about the positives and to thank the almighty for making our lives beautiful. Although I know and fully understand that things are not perfect and lot of things could be a lot better, still there are a lot of things in our lives that we should be thankful for, as things could easily be a lot worse than they actually are. While we are formal in our approach and thank a lot of colleagues for helping us out (or not creating un necessary obstacles – as the case may be) we don’t thank our family enough (at least I don’t). Relatives are a different discussion altogether – although most of them can easily be classified as a pain in various body parts – some of them are blessings that we should be thankful for.
A day spent in counting our various blessings and thanking everyone for the same will indeed be a special day. For us as it would create a lot of positive energy. For the receiver of the thanks for it will make them feel special, valued and encourage them to keep doing the things that made them special in the first place. A show of sincere gratitude indeed goes a long way in keeping the “positive feedback” cycle going.
I think it is something that we all must do. It is definitely something I will start doing. This should be on the top of our list in the concepts and culture that we are in a hurry to copy from the west. Let us copy it and modify it for our society by adding humility to it.
As we head to the last week of the year I wish all readers an amazing festive season. Next week we will look at the year and 10 major events that will have a disproportionate impact in the times to come.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

What I may do VS what I will never do

Life is full of choices. Come to think of it – every decision that we make is a choice between 2 or more options. Although choices make life more exciting, they also bring about the pressure and post decision stress – have we made the correct decision. The plethora of choices is not always a good thing – I always find it more difficult to make a purchase decision if there are too many options to make a choice from. Some friends have been happier to make a marriage decision (arranged marriage – a very imp one in life) by limiting their choice to five or less candidates, others have been far unhappier to look at close to 100 candidates and then realising that the 6th one was the “better” choice!!  
The question that arises is – should choices always be available? Are choices always good? Maybe not. There are many things that would rather not have choices – what we can call the “negative list” these are the things that one would not do no matter how compelling the choices. For example – I cannot stay in UP although most of my relatives are there, I cannot indulge in anti national activities no matter what the payoff. Most of the moral questions should find their place in the negative list.
That also leaves us with another question – can one determine the choices that one can have in life? Or is it better to keep options open and then decide what is best from the available choices. In this case the negative list helps – if we don’t have to do something then the choices don’t matter.
The opposite of the negative list can be the “positive list” this is where we can have choices or must have choices. The positive list can be very exhaustive and may be impossible to compile. Hence it is important to have a small negative list and follow the same.
Problems arise when everything is fungible, including the choices in life. It is important to have goals in life and work towards achieving them and the choices that we make in the process are extremely important.  The negative list can prevent all the indiscretions that people indulge in and then the repent.
In the last 2 weeks there have been various reported instances of powerful men having made wrong moral decisions and having seen their lives and careers being dissected by the media. Come to think of it – how can one go wrong on these very basic moral questions? I guess it is about the choices or options available. Maybe if there was a non negotiable negative list for these people these indiscretions would not have arisen.   
So think through to create your own negative list and may God bless you with the power to make the correct choices.