Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Of Swamijis, cults, crooks and Indian economy

As cult leader Nithynanda is caught in a sex scandal and his organization torn down in India, it is time to ponder on this spread of cultism and proliferation of “holy men” in India. I asked spiritual oriented elders in my family about this and they believe that such enlightened masters are very few in any society. They come once in a generation. But India has now got millions of such guys who claim to be “enlightened”. How?

Since 1990s, the “holy men” count in India has grown manifold. (If only India had half as many scientists as saints we would invented time machine.) They come in all forms, all kind of hairstyles and all kind of fashion. They all establish a big temple and organization around themselves, throw out some general good statements (like Dont be evil, don’t lie"), quote from Hinduism’s holy scriptures and sooner or later the sheeps in Indian society will declare them as saint and god.

Till late 80s there were only a handful of these groups, but suddenly what happened? Is there some cosmic event that created 1000s of saints out of ordinary mortals? Well, it has probably got less to do with religion and spirituality than about economics.

As India got economically liberated in 1991, people particularly those in IT found new wealth, new dreams and new environments. When wealth comes so sudden, so is fear, anxiety and doubt. People were also more staying more away from families and work pressure & competition. They took on more adventure activities like hiking and river rafting to relieve the pressure, but it was not getting enough. They needed some spiritual adventures. Everybody wanted a slice of this nice thing called “enlightenment”.

In economics supply always meets where there is demand. In come all these ordinary joes in saffron. They claim to have an answers to these spiritual problems. They throw out good feeler words and slowly build a cult. Most of these cults are centered around India’s IT clusters – in Bangalore and elsewhere, because that’s where the main market lie. These fellows also frequently visit the US, where diaspora Indians, hippie Americans and Caucasian females – provide a very lucrative market to them. They collect a lot of money, build huge temples and (sometimes) even some good things like schools and hospitals. They create an aura where everything in the ashram moves around them.

As they say about “markets are the best instrument to separate money from the fools”, the Indian IT folks were pouring money on these cult leaders. There are 3 day, 3 week and 3 month courses on enlightment from these cult leaders that charge outrageous sums of money. What these paying guys were secretly wishing is for a short cut road towards spiritual enlightenment. And everytime they wish for these short cuts they strengthen the crooks and charlatans.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Green hunt and India’s war on ultra left-wing

After dilly-dallying for a few decades India has stepped up the war on India’s left-wing Maoists who seek to bring an ultra-left communist ideals to India through violent means. Operation Greenhunt seeks to deploy 20000 paramilitary troops in the communist affected regions and smoke the terrorists out. It is probably India’s biggest anti-terror operation outside Kashmir.

India’s “revolutionists” come under the banner Naxalites named after the town Naxalbari in east India from where they originally started the movement. Though Indian government understates the problem, it affects 220 of the 450 odd districts of India apart from the neighboring nation of Nepal.

The issue partly stems from the fact that India’s development doesn’t always reach the interior which is beset by a variety of problems including faltering agriculture, encroachment from unethical corporations and greater competition for the rich mineral resources – all the problems that afflict sub-saharan Africa. There is acute poverty that politicians and bureaucrats have not always addressed.

It is a well known phenomenon worldwide that regions far away from oceans and major waterbodies will have significantly lower development, but various Indian government failed to appreciate this fact and add greater developmental measures to compensate for this handicap. The red-belt (red stands for communism) also doesn’t have a major city apart from the tech center of Hyderabad near it and that has deprived the locals from modernization and urbanization. Most of the villages don’t even have electricity and social ills like hunger, illiteracy and infant mortality is rampant.

While the problems are genuine, there are some evil elements that try to make use of the issue to implement their extemist ideals. The Naxalites are a brutal organization and have conducted many a brutal beheadings in Taliban style. Like Al-Queda they are highly decentralized and very sophisticated. This kind of barbarianism is further disconnects the region from world economy and exacerbates the poverty.

Over the decades, Indian governments have thought this as a law & order issue that must be dealt by the provincial governments. However, the provincial government lacked the resources and determination to put out the menance. So, finally Indian federal government has started this war that now has 5 batallions and 20000 paramilitary soldiers on the ground.

While brutal force must be used against the naxals, extraordinary care must be taken not to victimize those tribals who have no part in this. We don’t want to increase the ranks of the disillusioned. The federal government must also studiously monitor the excesses of the military force that is often an issue in Kashmir and the north-east. But, most importantly the root cause for the socio-economic ills have to be solved. The federal government must start a massive project to bring electricity, roads, markets and other infrastructure to these regions at war-footing. Integrate them with national & world economy at a great speed and bring substantial investments and development to this region. And anything that stands in the way of this development must be thrown out at once.

The federal government must also try to give more autonomy/separate statehood to some of the regions in the affected zone (including the creation of Vidarbha & Telengana) to prioritize the developmental issues that affects the red-belt. By separating the red-belt of Vidarba and Telengana we would free up the prosperous states like Maharashtra & Andra Pradesh to focus on issues different issues – like how to bring their regions to world standards.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Shiv Sena and MNS set new records in hating

The Sainiks first hated the Muslims and wanted them to get out. Then they hated and rioted against South Indians (particularly Tamils) in the 1970s. Then they hated and asked the north Indians to get out of the state. Then they hated the India’s arch rivals in Cricket – Australia and Pakistan and not play in the state. Due to this hatred and threats, Indian Premier League had to keep the Pakistani players out of the format in which they are champions and worsening Indo-Pak relations.

But, Sena is not contended. They hated Shah Rukh Khan (a resident of Mumbai and the top star of the Bollywood) who acted in patriotic movies including Swades and Chak de India. Then they hated the city born Anil Ambani (who ranks among the worlds top 5 businessmen) and Aamir Khan – the actor of Rang de Basanti & Lagaan. Well, these are all “outsiders” – those who are not native Maratis, so it is ok. But, they still don’t want to stop with that.

Now, they hate Sachin Tendulkar – the god of Indian cricket who is loved by people beyond regional, linguistic and national barriers, and a Maharashtrian himself.  Then they hated their political allies – BJP and the ideological masters – RSS. All because they dared to speak the obvious – Mumbai is a part of India and every Indian has a right to it.

As Sena, MNS and its followers keep setting the records on hating, we Indians need to ponder on what allowed these parties to exist and get votes in the first place. How can rational and patriotic Indians support such dangerous elements that threaten the fabric of India? The problem is not just in Maharashtra, but exists in some form or the other throughout India. Regional parties of Karnataka, West Bengal and of course the Dravidian parties of Tamilnadu used fear & hatred of outsiders to gain votes and grab power. They have manipulated their electorate and nurtured a sub nationalism that run counters to the one Bharat idea.

As Indians we need to nip this in the bud. Let’s get rid of parochial regional parties and support politicians with a vision to unite India and solve its real problems. And Maharashtrians and rest of India have a lot important problem of farmer suicides in Vidharba to tackle before discussing the stupid language imposition on taxi drivers. And Sainiks should also ask themselves if Shivaji Maharaj and Bal Gangadharar Tilak approve of their hatred of non-Maratis.

When will India and China overtake US in GDP (nominal terms)?

Here are some charts from Goldman Sachs research. China is expected to overtake US around 2035 and India is expected to overtake US in 2040 and then it will be the race between the two Asian giants.


Monday, February 01, 2010

Indian cities under threat from surrounding states

Today I was appalled to read the statement from a former Lok Sabha speaker (head of Indian legislature)  Murali Manohar  Joshi that “Mumbai is for only for the people from the state of Maharashtra”. Mumbai is the economic & entertainment capital of India and how can it be closed only to the people from its surrounding state? Mr. Joshi does not limit to just words but through his party has contributed to enough violence against “outsiders” – Indians from other states. Think of what would happen if NYC declares it is only for ethnic Newyorkers and start burning those coming from Pennsylvania or Maryland ?

The problem is limited not only to Mumbai but in other cities too. India’s tech capital of Bangalore experienced riots and violence against Tamils and other “outsiders” in 1990s, and some of its leaders blocked developments to the city like a monorail plan arguing that the Kannadigas (natives of the surrounding state of Karnatka) outside the city are being left out. The other tech city of Hyderabad is caught in a tussle between regions of the state of Andhra Pradesh. It is a shame that 3 of the major tech centers of India are now a victim of such chauvinism and sub-nationalism that both threatens India’s unity and economy.

It is time for Indian government to put its foot down and reinforce the idea - “India is for all Indians” and there cannot be any linguistic/regional/casteist group that can threaten this idea of India. Any Indian is free to move/settle in any part of India and state/local government that thinks otherwise must be threatened with dismissal. Any leader who incites violence in the name of subnationalism should better spend time behind bars.

But, more importantly Indian government should consider separating the major metropolis from their surrounding states and give them politcal autonomy – under Union Territories classification. China has this way and cities like Beijing, Tianjin, Chongqing, Hong Kong and Shanghai are autonomous & don’t belong to other provinces. This allows the cities to pursue their development and handle their problems independent of their adjoining states.

Just like how national capital of Delhi was carved out of the state of Haryana, metropolitan cities including Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, Kolkata have to be carved out of their parent states and be given autonomy as Union Territories. This will prevent different communities fighting to attach the metropolis to their own region similar to what is happening in the state of Andhra Pradesh, and will allow the city to devise its own transportation and urban development infrastructure.

Chandigarh, Pondicherry and New Delhi have had no problems by not being a part of a major province and I would like to see other metros too in this. There could be a unified city development council at the center that can manage and guide these autonomous cities.

And coming to Indian politics, if the national party of BJP doesn’t rein its ally Shiv Sena and get out of such narrow minded interests it will permanently damage its electorate in the rest of India.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Business models and Entrepreneurs


Wonder 1:

What is the difference between startup entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs? Is it that one of them has a great notion about business strategy while the other doesn’t? No. In fact, both of them don’t have a friggin clue about business models. The difference is one of them takes the forward step with a mix of guts, greed, passion and appetite for risk. The other doesn’t.

Wonder 2:

Why do all those strategy and business professors, with apparently lots of business ideas, don’t make a dime making something, while Steve Jobs or Larry Page who don’t write about strategy still make billions? The difference is the profs are waiting for a perfect business idea that satisfies all their models, while an entrepreneur lifts up his finger and just does it. The people who talk about strategy more often than not have little clue of actually building a business. They can talk & analyze post-facto, but cannot predict the success/failure before it actually happens.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Revival of religion in India


For a few decades since its freedom from British in 1947, Indian policymakers and thinkers tried hard to keep religion out of Indian society and politics. India declared itself as secular socialist and its first prime minister – Pandit Nehru, had his own inhibitions against religion. He wanted Indian’s dams and industries rather than temples to be the places of worship. The liberals sold the common people the idea modernism means keeping Hinduism out and faith & development couldn’t go together. It was as though secularism is a virtue by itself. It was as though one cannot enjoy the marvels of technology and religion at the same time – you have to pick and choose only one. They made it fashionable to become atheistic and educated people were abhorred from displaying their faith. Populist leaders broke Hindu idols in public ceremonies and political leaders tried to keep a completely non-religious aka modern outlook.

There were two ironies here. First, International economists call the Indian economic growth between 1947 to 1991 derisively as “Hindu rate of growth”  - for its lean and anemic nature, while during that time Hinduism had its lowest point as policy makers have successfully kept Hinduism out of the society. Second, the Indian liberals equated development with atheism by pointing to the West, where curiously religion had far more status than in India. While Indian populace were made to believe developed nations are completely secular, they were unaware of the fact that American goverment’s official motto is “In God we trust”, Head of British state also heads the Church of England and Shintoism & Buddhism continue to be a central part of Japanese society. Rather Indian liberals were enamored with the Soviet’s failed ideals of anti-religonism.

The liberals also forgot history. Almost every major civilization evolved with a religion at its core. Mesopotamians produced the first recorded religion, Egyptians had their Sun worship, Harappans had their Shiva like god, and Greeks and Romans came with their own pantheon of gods with Zeus and Jupiter as centre. There were no real atheistic civilizations. It was Renaissance in religion in the middle of 16th century in Europe that brought the continent to its central place in world history. In fact religion and cultural development almost always go together. By keeping out religion the liberals attacked the very glue that bonded the society. Faith plays a great role in spread of moral values and can also be a great antidote to urban crime. Without religion’s role in answering deep philosophical questions, societies can quickly unravel. Economic cycles can deeply strain people’s lives, as economies move from expansion to recession to expansion and if people don’t have the faith that there is some good being on top of the things, mayhem can result. A calm, non-violent, philosophical religion is a must for every society.

As the dawn of economic revival started in India in 1991, so did the start of the end of Indian secularism. As people started to get more educated, more of them started to believe in religion. they also came to realize that intellectuals like Einstein, Da Vinci and Gandhi had a faith to back their glorious work. The color of the religion matters less compared to the fact of possessing faith in something.

While Hinduism had taken some bad elements (with the infusion of all those self-professed  Swamiji’s or “holy men”) there are many good elements too in its new flavor. The religion has become more inclusive with people at all levels now included in the new revival, not just the high class urbanistas. Various rural faiths are merged with the mainstream Hinduism that has added color and strength to the mainstream. Village deities like Aiyappan of the southern state of Kerala and Mariamman of the state of Tamilnadu, are now successfully merged with Hindu pantheon. Just like European Renaissance, Hinduism sprang back up – much to the chagrin of Indian socialists, and has slowly started to get official patronage too. Over the past 6000 years, Hinduism had survived many a crisis, and now it has survived one more at the hand of Indian socialists.

Role of media in impacting India’s foreign relationships


These days when I talk to my friends in Pakistan, China, Australia and elsewhere one common theme I see is their complaints on our media. As Internet has brought content around the world to anybody’s home PC, our media is gaining more attention and has become extremely notorious abroad. This attention is increasingly straining our relationships, as the recent Australian incidents have shown. Australians complain about the hysteric reporting of the crimes; Pakistanis, Banglas & Nepalese complain of the “arrogance” when it comes to media description of India’s neighbors; Chinese complain about jingoism and over-extended comparison with their juggernaut economy, and the Americans complain the overstressing the importance of Indian IT players and the ever present talk of the next “superpower”. English are more generous but they too are irked by the neo-Indian attitude.

With my overseas friends, I would often defend that given India’s democracy media is bound to have full freedom in expressing their thoughts. But, I’m myself not satisfied with the reply. USA and UK are also great democracies and I subscribe to UK’s Economist, Financial Times and Guardian and America’s Wall Street Journal, TIME and US News. However I don’t see the journalists there on a sensational spree. They take far less liberties when talking about other nations than when talking about their own. And when they criticize they try to be more sensitive. America’s journalists might slam Federal Reserve, White House or other authorities in strong language, but they talk respectfully about India and other countries. We should extend the similar respect when reporting about other countries.

Sensational reporting of the Australian attacks is the perfect example of what is wrong with our media. Our journalists fail to comprehend that assaults and other crimes are pretty common in the West and not always due to racism. When I lived in Baltimore, US I used to frequently see violent crimes in our city in vastly greater proportion than in major Indian cities. You can get mugged or even killed right in sight of Capitol Hill in DC whether you are white, black, brown or yellow. And Australia’s per-capita assault rate is 20 times that of India (UN crime stats 2007) and people in every demographic become victims.

Parts of Melbourne &  Sydney are pretty notorious for crime and given our population size in Australia (250,000) statistically it is expected that some of our guys could be in that victim list. Let us be aware of the statistics and be more sensitive towards the crime there. Nobody wants to be called a racist for no fault of theirs and by continuing to call them as racist would invite more ire & attack on our citizens in the future. Already Indo-Australia relationships are looking at an abyss, thanks to the media.

With respect to Indo-Pakistani affairs, I have often found Dawn to be a fairer observer than Indian newspapers. Our media should be less biased and patriotism should not color its perception of truth. Our journalists should be open to tell Indian people that India was not so innocent in Indo-China war, nor was our wars with Pakistan outright victories. Our soldiers fought bravely with conviction, but so did our opponents. We complain about vicious tactics of our enemies, but when you look impartially so do some our actions.

Part of our problem is that our journalists in top newspapers are significantly younger & inexperienced compared to their counterparts in the US & UK. They are given to more rage than reason. This makes it absolutely important for the media houses to train them on “International sensitivity” and encourage them to temper their language while firmly pushing their viewpoint. Media persons should be more rational than emotional, and facts & statistics should be their fundamental friend and not assumptions and accusations.

Let media be a bridge to build relationships with other societies. Let it not be an impediment to our society’s relationships with others. Let it not damage the hardwork done by our diplomats and non-residents. We fight so hard to build friendships with other nations - please don’t derail all of them with improper reporting.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

India: A cop left to die while 2 ministers were showing the height of apathy


A cop was brutally stabbed by a couple of gangsters in a case of mistaken identity, in southern Tamilnadu in India. A government convoy accompanying 2 ministers happen to come that way. However, for the next 20 minutes they showed height of apathy and inaction as the cop pleaded for life and left to die. They claimed that they were waiting for an ambulance (that never came in the end). In the end the district chief took the injured cop to the hospital but it was too late.

Tamilnadu government must immediately fire the two ministers and suspend the cops who were at the scene. Inaction by public servant is as worse as committing the crime itself.

Warning: the video can contain gruesome scenes.

India – Aus: Crime rate comparison – let’s look at stats


Here are UN stats for crimes measured per 1000 people.

1. Assault: India – – 0.2/1000 Aus 7/1000. US – 7.5/1000


2. Burglary: India – 0.1/1000 Aus – 21/1000 US – 7/1000


3. Murder: India – 0.034/1000 US – 0.043/1000 Australia – 0.015/1000


4. Rapes: India – 0.014/1000 US – 0.3/1000 India – 0.77/1000



As the India-Australia relationship getting heated up due to a spate of attacks on Indian students, it  pays to watch the statistics. Australian authorities and media have stated that crimes do happen in India and so there is nothing to be alarmed. Sure, crimes do happen in India and elsewhere. But, that is not an excuse. The reason for the crimes are more important. In LA more people die of murders every month than the September 11 attacks, but you cannot equate them both. In Mumbai more people die in metro trains every week than Nov. 26 attacks but they are not the same. What India is worried is whether the cause for the crime is racist. I’m sure most Australians are not racist, but you need to pursue the criminals to find if there is a small minority who are. You need to assure us that you are capable of arresting these petty criminals and prove without doubt they are not racially motivated.

But, more importantly, Australia’s crime stats are alarming if you measure per-capita. Except for murders, Australia has a worse crime rate stats than India. While it is fashionable to say that third world countries like India are crime-ridden and unsafe, the stats don’t say that. India has a lot lower crimes per capita than most countries and lower than we guys assume just that multiplying by billion makes it look big. Although I agree some of the crimes are not reported in India, still there is a huge difference. I hope you guys take the stats and use the crimes against Indians as an excuse to start a  war on criminals.