Deals and dreams


Sometimes your best investments are the ones you don’t make – Donald Trump

True to the sign of the times a mobile company rang the final bell on a company that once dominated the desktop. Verizon Wireless has closed a deal to buy Yahoo’s internet business for an all cash $4.8 billion bringing an end to an era in tech history. Yahoo, once the poster boy of the tech world, the opening para in the digital history of the world, is now reduced to being a footnote in the same history. What a fall!

Two Stanford engineering students went to Yahoo in 1998 to sell at 41 million their small company which wanted to send the visitors to its site to other sites and earn money. Yahoo again walked away angrily at the price quoted by that same small company which now grow big at $5 billion. That small company was named Google! In February 2008, Microsoft offered to buy Yahoo for $44 billion, a price Yahoo felt it was too small to sell itself at. Eight years is a long time in today’s world.

It is a season of mergers and acquisitions. Yahoo’s deal comes after the great grand acquisition of LinkedIn by Microsoft for $26 billion. Two marquee companies which led the tech revolution have now been gobbled up. The question everyone asking as is always done is, will these mergers and acquisitions work? History of M&A is littered with more disasters than winners. A look at some of the M&A’s will help set the right perspective before we examine few win and most fail.

Worldwide some of the most successful M&A’s are: Disney & Pixar, Sirius and XM Radio, Exxon and Mobile. Bad ones that top the list are Benz and Chrysler, Mattel and The Learning Company and Sears & Kmart. Really, really bad one’s are Quacker & Snapple, Sprint and Nextel, AOL & Time Warner. You can read more details about these M&A’s here

Closer home we have had our share of good, bad and ugly mergers providing rich fodder for management theory and strategy. Cases like Hindalco-Novelis, Tata-Jaguar, Mahindra & Mahindra- SCHONEWEISS were a source of pride as Indian companies bought over western companies. Back to the question why M&A’s fail?

On the face of it one company buying another to become big seems easy but isn’t. According to Harvard Business Review, between 70 to 90% of all M&A’s fail. Here are few reasons culled out from various studies:

Hubris: Quaker bought Gatorade and made it a success. Buoyed by the success, Quaker went and bought Snapple without complete study. Result a financial disaster and body blow to Quaker. Each M&A is different.

Culture: Daimler was a German company which was “conservative, efficient and safer”and Chrysler was “daring, diverse and creating”. If there is an example of culture effecting coming together of two companies this is it. The culture gap between these companies was wider, deeper and tumultuous than the Atlantic. It is something no P&L or analytic chart can map or worse predict.

Paid too much: Microsoft walked out of the proposed deal with Yahoo in 2008 when asked to pay beyond $46 billion it offered. Yahoo once walked out of deal to buy Google at $5 billion . One company on different sides of the table and both turned out to be ruinous for Yahoo. What is the right price? Your guess is as good as anyone else.

Due diligence: Hewlett-Packard acquired British software maker Autonomy for $11 billion in 2011 and ended up taking a charge of $8 billion on its balance sheet a year later. Reason, HP discovered false accounting details, fudged numbers and much more financial malfeasance on part of Autonomy ‘after’ the acquisition. Simply put, bad due diligence by HP. Closer home Diageo and United Spirits (Vijay Mallya’s company) and Global Trust Bank and UTI Bank (now Axis) merger are examples of failed due diligence.

Customers: Many pharmaceutical companies committed the mistake of making the acquisitions work rather than focusing on acquiring customers. Dissatisfied customers are easy prey for competitors.

Mergers and acquisitions are not bad and many companies have grown inorganically thanks to buying out talent and ideas. Facebook today is an amalgamation of Instagram, Whatsapp and many more small entities which added value to its core offering. Google’s big channel is YouTube which is an acquisition.

What makes an M&A a success? The search for the right formula is on and may never be found. Deal making is much a science as it is an art.






Games we play


You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation- Plato

Pokemon Go, the new augmented reality game that has captured the imagination of millions across the countries where it was launched. It is a game that has added billions to the value of Ninetendo, the makers of the game. Created by John Hanke of Ninatic Labs an ex-Googler who had earlier created Google Earth, it asks the players to step out of their homes to catch Pokemons’s using Google maps functionalities.

It is a craze like no other. Reports of people trespassing into neighbours’ homes to catch pokemons to people crashing into each other walking on the streets with their heads bent down to track the location of their pokemons on their maps to a man who crashed his car driving while playing the game are abound. Mind you these are adults!

In half a decade mobile games have grown to be a big, very big industry. An overview of mobile gaming industry drawn from various research reports gives the right perspective. There are approximately 1 billion mobile gamers in the world. The industry is worth $12billion dollars. True facts: Clash of Clans earns $1.2 million every day, Candy Crush $1million a day and Kim Kardashian (yes!) about $750,000 a day! What is it that drives us to get addicted to mobile games?

As people we have a very important need – happiness. For many happiness is equal to success and social recognition. Mobile games fulfil both the needs. You win in a game, you are happy which makes the brain release the happiness hormone dopamine. Brain remembers the equation; happiness =playing. After sometime dopamine release reduces and to increase the same you play more. And then you are addicted with attendant consequences of not playing – withdrawal, nausea, mood swings and much more! There is a lot more than technology in the design of mobile games.

How does the mobile game industry work? A company creates the game puts on Apple store or Google PlayStore or even a direct link though the first two options are preferred. To generate traction after launch, mobile companies use mercenary companies who will artificially inflate downloads of the game for a price.  The game (!) is to get into the top ranks of Apple App Store and Google Playstore. According mobile analytics consultancy Distimo, if an app is in the top 100 and gets featured, it will jump 42 places on Android market and 15 places on the iPhone App Store.  Top 25% of apps in iPhone store generated 15% of all revenue. This translates into big numbers in business terms.

Once up there the challenge is to build stickiness and virality. Almost all games are free to download and play. The challenge of the game sellers is to migrate the free players to paying ones. The paying gamers form just 0.15% of the total players. There are some who pay thousands to get ahead in the game! Industry has a name for them – whales! For example, you are stuck in CandyCrush and need to move to the next level, you can buy on the store steps to make it easier to clear the level. The other challenge is to keep the free players continued to be interested in game hoping that he/she will upgrade to a paying member. It is done by social proofing the player. You can update your level in social media, say Facebook and hope to get wowed but will get booed if you are at a lower level than your friends. How to be on par or even ahead of your friends circle? Buy those extra moves to help you get ahead and boast to your friends! Psychology marries commerce perfectly on the mobile!

Now to the social effects of mobile gaming. A big and devastating one. Mobile gamers, both children and adults, are suffering from attention deficit issues, carpal tunnel syndrome (your wrists that ache from using mobile too much), Texting Thumb and many other digital diseases which we didn’t know even a decade ago. Our anatomy, nor our brain has been gamed to play these games!

Playing in the sand, running to catch insects and butterflies, cricket match fights…can digital world ever replace this world of ours? If it does, it is our mistake. Keep the mobile phone away to play real games which helps you make friends and also makes you better humans.



A quarter that’s half full


India is the greatest functional anarchy in the world – John Kenneth Galbraith in 1960’s

It was a summer solstice like never before. 25 years ago on June 21, 1991 India changed forever. By force or by chance. P.V.Narasimha Rao was sworn in as India’s Prime Minister exactly a month after the brutal assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. He unleashed a swathe of economic reforms which changed the face of India forever. The sleeping tiger was stirred to action.

As we complete 25 years of liberalised India, it is time to take stock. My good friend Kartikeya Kompella has edited a book containing views of the stalwarts of India who saw, participated, precipitated or furthered the liberalisation process. Very well compiled book (What’s Changed, available on Amazon India at 1991 prices!) that gives you more than a glimpse of what’s changed or didn’t in the last 25 years and it’s a must read for all. Bollywood, brands, media, women, philanthropy, education and more has been covered. One miss, I felt. Markets, money and real economics. Kartik is not money minded and hence is excused!

When India got freedom, we were unsure what path to take to build an equitable India. Make money and then distribute or distribute while we make the money. Nehruvian socialism as an idea was torn between the riches of the west and the socialist Soviet bloc. Choosing the middle path, we aimed for mixed economy. Straddling two paths we ended up nowhere. Mixed economy ended up with being a mixed-up economy. Crony capitalists and mafia dons ruled while jholawalas either wrote long articles which no one read or sat in dharnas which no one noticed or even worse ended up being naxal sympathisers.

The 1967 Hazari Committee report is an eye opener. It laid bare details of the shenanigans and strategies applied by industrial houses to play the license raj. The licenses were taken not to build and create a new India but to block others from growing big. The strategy was simple. Apply and take a license to set up an industry but sit tight on it with no action. It prevented others from getting a license thus killing entrepreneurship. “I will not grow, I will not allow you to grow” was the strategy of big corporates. Corruption was rampant and the masses got stuck in the morass as the few pocketed the licenses. Public sector undertakings became the biggest source of industrialisation and also employment with concomitant inefficiencies and bureaucracy.

Crisis is the mother of reforms. In 1991, such was the magnitude of crisis in India that 40 tons of gold was pledged with Bank of England and 20 tons was pledged with Union Bank of Switzerland to get $2.2billion dollars of loan to mitigate the crisis. A plane was charted to carry the gold bars accompanied by finance ministry officials! From the crisis emerged the reforms and Manmohanomics under the stewardship of Chanakya Prime Minister.

After 25 years of reforms have we achieved economic freedom? Harshad Mehta, Ketan Parekh and many more such swindlers gave pain to countless Indians who wanted a share of the new liberalised India. Banking is out of reach of many and money lenders rule the roost in many places leading to tragedies. Mutual funds and life insurance firms did not cover themselves with glory. Far from educating or selling these instruments many big firms converted them into quick rich schemes. Life insurance agents sold their soul and indulged in mis-selling for that alluring foreign trip. Social security in terms of financial security is distant dream for many Indians. True freedom comes when an individual is economically free. Not rich but free.

In these 25 years the world has given up on communism as an economic idea and then gave up on capitalism based on the tragic scenario in the past decade. Western model of capitalism has come into question with the 2008 financial crisis. Joseph Schumpeter’s prediction that socialism will emerge from the decomposition of capitalist society may come true. The emerging economic order is an interesting to watch.

India’s next 25 years are more critical as we have the youngest population in the world. Reforms will make them or they will make reforms. History is in the future and is going to be made by our children.

Advice – no advice


“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” E.B.White

It was a typical morning post (forward) on Whatsapp. It was for those above 40 and the way to live life in your 40’s. It exhorted “spend that money, explore the world, don’t slave and save for your children as you may make them parasites”. You get the drift. Reflecting upon these points, closed the message and looked up another one. “Financial planning mistakes in your 40’s” was the title. Chastising the middle aged crowd for dipping into their retirement nest and not planning a legacy for their children so that they can lead start over their peers…I bet you have read similar ones. Question: both are sound advices, but which advice to follow?

After jokes the one thing that social media is flooded with is advice. 8 successful habits of sportsmen, 10 things not to do and 15 things to eat, how to be a millionaire and the likes. There is no subject that is left uncovered- money, health, relationships, parenting etc. Surprisingly most of the advice is contradictory and ever changing like the life above 40 advice/s cited above. Butter and ghee were a no, no but a yes, yes now. How to know what works and what doesn’t?

In 2008 his company invested billions in quadrupling their stake in an energy major. In a few months his company ended up licking massive losses running into several billions. His company then bought $2billion worth bonds in an energy utility company. Now they are worth $878million and in a few months may be worth zero. The investor is Warren Buffet of Berkshire Hathaway. 5 out of 10 investment advices you receive are inspired by Warren Buffet. If what’s good for Buffet is not good for Berkshire, then what’s it worth for you and me. Don’t copy the lifestyle and portfolio of Buffet but try to imbibe his discipline and hard work in your investments. No surprise that Buffett never advises!

Do advisors change their advice? You bet. The best of these turncoats are on the business channels. One day they are out their giving cocksure projections on companies and the market with buy or sell recommendation. Few days later they are back telling you to do the opposite! What has changed, the circumstances! It is as good as looking out of the window and predicting the weather. If they know so much why don’t they go out and earn those billions instead of giving free advice to you? Think.

English language has complicated the plot even more; we got two words ADVISE and ADVICE. First is a verb and second is a noun. In more practical terms, advice is what you get when you ask for a recommendation. Advise is what you get sometimes without even asking (salesman’s advice). (Any English experts can guide and clarify here).

“Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment” advised Polonius to his son Laertes in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (Act 1, Scene 3). Bard is right once again. Like the advisors on business channels who change their views based on circumstances, we also need to get the right context for your inspiration. If some great man wakes up at 5 am don’t ape him and wake up at 5 am (and go back to sleep at 5.05 am!). Check how and why it is beneficial for him when he wakes up at 5 am and also check when he hits the bed in the night. Also, it is dangerous to follow only one habit of a successful person. Follow few more also and importantly check if those habits suit your work and plans.

What drives us towards seeking this free advice and chasing role models is a psychological trait called Survivorship Bias. Story about a man who came from a small place in rural India who made it big in Bollywood without any godfathers is inspirational. What is not shared is the story of thousands of similar men and women who probably with more talent didn’t make it. All or nothing is a great story when we read about the ‘all’  and is not when you read about ‘nothing’.

Good diet, physical activity, reading, honesty and helping others are the good advice which we all received from our parents and teachers which are good enough to lead a happy life.  The best advice you can get from the inspirational men and women is their dedication, their struggle, their never give up approach and their hard work. If you adapt those attributes, if not successful, it will definitely make you a better human being.




P.S.: One man said, “I get so much advice on Facebook and Whatsapp, but where is the time to implement as I’am always on Facebook and Whatsapp!”

Crisis of Chrysalis


Childhood shows the man, as morning shows the day- Thomas Hardy

Much has been written – smuttily, commercially, and crassly- on the suicide of Pratyusha Banerjee who captured the hearts of many India as Anandi the child-bride. She was hailed as a child prodigy in the field of acting and a great future was envisioned. Sadly, her life came to an abrupt. RIP Pratyusha.

This blog is not another salacious piece on her life or of her partner or the case. Having seen probably half an episode of the serial starring her (I’m a serial killer!) I lack the emotional connect to the individual. What I wish to reflect upon is the tragedy of child prodigies. Is there is a crisis of chrysalis? Why many a promising bud fails to bloom to be the charming flower?

The child prodigies are gifted with a very high IQ. What they do with that high IQ makes the real difference. Child prodigies excel in their fields and taste success at a very age. However, the fundamental error most commit is (try) being the best among the best and the rest. For all their intelligence, they do not strive to be original!

Who are they creators of new products, ideas or companies? The class toppers? Na. The creators are the ones who want be only. Class toppers make present things better, while the creators create new things. The creators urge to do something different makes them break from the mould and they build something new. Their objective is not to build a better mousetrap; but to build a world without mice. Their world is not made up of triumphing against other hard working students or employees. Their world is a blue ocean, in which they wish to chart their own course and build their own island. If Mark Zuckerberg wanted to top his class in Stanford, he probably could have. But he wanted to be only, which drove him to create Facebook.

The role of parents is very critical in managing child prodigies (or any child). It is not easy to manage fame and money – when they come or go, it is a flood – even for a grown-up. Imagine the stress on a child. It is often noted that parents get greedy of the easy money that their child is earning and quickly convert him or her into a money making machine. Parents end up stealing childhood from the child. It is not a surprise that alcoholism, drugs and psychiatric problems are far too common among successful child artists and sports persons in their teen years. Before writing this piece, read a few articles about Pratyusha. She was just 24 years but has experienced the combined trials and tribulations of 3 or 4 sixty year olds!

Question that faces every parent is this – how to shape the future of my child? The answer to that is a very simple but deep. Every child has only childhood. As an adult we can reconstruct our life many times over. But for a child it is the parents who create/build/manage the childhood and the child cannot create it. What you the parent, want to trade your child’s childhood with – money, fame, glory or failure? A happy child, when he grows up tries to create a happy world. An unhappy child will add to the misery of the world when he grows up.

O Henry’s “The guilty party” is a brilliant short story of a little girl who is dismissed by her father when she approaches him to play with her. She grows up to be a vagabond adult and is killed in a street fight. Her case is put up to God seeking maximum punishment for her bad behaviour. God declares that it is not the girl but her lazy father who is the guilty party. How true.

Now reflect, who is the guilty party in Pratyusha’s case? Her boyfriend(s), media, the other woman or her parents?




Man vs Machine


“I visualize a time when we will be to robots what dogs are to humans and I’m rooting for the machines” – Claude Shannon

It was a classic the world had awaited. Man was finally up against his creation- the machine. In February of 1997 six chess matches were played between Gary Kasparov, probably the great chess master ever and DeepBlue, the chess playing computer designed by IBM. The score ended 1-1 with four draws.

In March 2016 we had Google’s DeepMind AlphaGo defeat the champion Lee in the abstract board game Go, 4-1. DeepMind and AlphaGo are a preview to the Artificial Intelligence future we can look forward to. Is man finally meeting his match, the machine which he created?

Every day we are bombarded with the amazing skills of modern systems. Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, 3D printing, cloning etc are changing the way we live and enjoy this world. The technology that runs these machines is very high end – deep neural programming, search trees etc. Alphago today can predict 57 of the moves to be played by its opponent!

Humans are about intuition, machines are about ingenuity. The best example of this comes from the first battle between man and machine – DeepBlue vs Kasparov. In the first game on the 44th move DeepBlue made a wrong move which Kasparov quickly capitalized and defeated DeepBlue, a first victory for man over machine. In the next match DeepBlue defeated Kasparov after which Kasparov drew the remaining 4 games. What happened in the first match is the real story.

Computer games like chess are built (written code) using strategies which have been used by many players. In essence, Kasparov was playing the ghosts of few dozen grandmasters when he was up against DeepBlue. What then actually defeated Kasparov? A bug!

The wrong 44th move in the first match was a programming error – a bug! Here’s where we move away from machines. Kasparov was surprised by the silly 44th move but it was always at the back of his mind and spooked him. He didn’t realise that DeepBlue committed a mistake and Kasparov was guarding himself against such surprise moves which affected his natural game. DeepBlue had no such memory hang over and kept playing as if nothing happened. Human intuition carries emotional baggage, while computers/machines have just vanilla ingenuity to work with.

What sets machines apart from us? Sheer calculating power. In the chess game, to calculate 3 forward moves (3 for you and 3 for the opponent) would throw up 4.1 billion options. A computer can calculate that in 20 seconds. A champion like Gary Kasparov would require 43 years, without even taking a bathroom break!

In the future to be built and managed by computers and machines, we are in danger of working and living without emotions. What are humans without emotions, feelings, mistakes and failings? A monkey with a typewriter has one in a million chance of coming up with a Shakespeare’s quotation. That does not make the monkey a Shakespeare, worse it does not make Shakespeare a monkey!

In an Issac Assimov’s futuristic story, a man is caught with a surprising skill. He can add, subtract and multiply without any machines and the authorities wonder what the use of such a skill is!

Human essence is about human existence as much as human existence is about human essence. In the race to build a better machine, we may end up making a poorer version of ourselves. Beware! Lest Claude Shannon’s words come true.




PS: Claude Shannon (RIP genius) who expired few days ago was the first man to visualize computer as a chess player. Back in 1949(!) he published a paper, Programming a Computer to play Chess.

Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye!



Success = Some Talent + Luck
Great Success = Some Talent + A Lot of Luck

Daniel Kahneman, 2005 Nobel Prize Winner

He was a terrifying fast bowler. With unexpected bowling style and fierce pace he could walk into the current team of West Indies or any country today. He just played just 27 tests for his country and deserved to play more but couldn’t. Same story with this man from India. He was an exceptional spinner of the highest quality. Would have been the lead strike bowler in the current Indian team. However, he never played a test for India. What denied them the glory we believe they deserved, when we look back at their abilities and capabilities?

Luck. Fortune. Fate. These words are used by us to describe our own failures and tribulations that engulf our lives. But success. It is all because of our hard work, intelligence, strategy…and more importantly, don’t we absolutely deserve it! Luck as a factor in success, has been given less weightage than what it deserves.

What is luck? Being right at the place at the right time with the right…that’s luck. Michael Lewis, the bestselling author, attributes his career break to be seated next to the wife of a Wall Street big wig at a dinner. It was she who forced her husband to give a job for him at Salomon Brothers, which was the place where we future of Wall Street as we know today was being shaped. He learnt a lot about Wall Street which he used to writing his books. If he was at any other seat at the dinner, would it have been Michael who?

On a philosophical front, it boils down to fatalism and determinism. Fatalism holds that things will happen to you no matter what you do. Que sera, sera – jo hona hai, woh hoga.  Determinism holds that what you do is part of the universe’s chain of events and you just play your part. Question which we need to address is, how to deal with the factor of luck that is so prevalent in our life?

Gratitude (thanking our luck) should be the first attitude. No matter how talented you are, just imagine if you were born in war torn Syria or Afghanistan your chance of success is less than someone with half your talent but was born in a more free and entrepreneur friendly country like USA. Hence it is important to recognise freedom of speech, food security and basic comforts as a blessing which many do not have. 1 in 9 go without food every day in this world. If you had had your breakfast, lunch and dinner you are among the 8 who are lucky to have 3 meals in a day. Start counting many such lucky things in your life, it will make you a different person.

Now to some research on luck. It has been found that gratitude increases our willingness to contribute to the common good. In an experiment at Northeastern University USA, research subjects were stoked to feel grateful. They and a control group were given an opportunity to take actions that would benefit others at their own expense. Subjects in whom gratitude had been stoked were subsequently about 25 percent more generous toward strangers than were members of the control group. Gratitude makes the world a better place.

Even more interesting is the study that reveals that recognizing our luck increases our fortune. University of Miami researchers in an experiment asked a group to note all the things they are grateful for, a second group of things that irritated them and the third to do nothing. Researchers found that those who felt grateful of things were happier, slept well and experienced less aches and pains. Other two groups did not find any improvement.

Recognising luck helps in controlling another dangerous trait – ego. As E. B. White once wrote, “Luck is not something you can mention in the presence of self-made men.” As they say, count your blessings. And remember to share the proceeds of your blessings with those less blessed.

Please help luck feel lucky!



P.S: The West Indian fast bowler is Colin Croft and was born in the era of Garner, Holding, Marshal and Roberts. The Indian spinner was Padma Shivalkar who was born in the era of Chandra, Prasanna, Bedi and Venkat.

16 different people


Proper study of mankind is of man – Alexander Pope

Each is one of us unique. Be original. Be yourself because there only one of you in this universe.

The above dose is part of the daily diet of messages received from our good friends, who wake-up early in the morning (God bless them!) to send to us. They also send us – usually by afternoon – messages like “birds of same feathers flock together” or ” how to find like-minded colleague/soul-mate” etc. What are we? Unique or part of a similar set of people? There are 7.4 billion people on earth. Are there 7.4 billion unique samples or few categories of people?

Carl Jung, Swiss born analytical psychologist stepped out to clear this confusion. He set out identify few unique traits in individuals and categorised them into 3 buckets. Attitude – Extravert (E) or Introvert (I). Perception – Sensing (S) or iNtuition(N) and Judging – Thinking (T) or Feeling (F). These characteristics are functions (dichotomies) that an individual importantly displays or carries about himself in a dominant way. Example: one’s dominant feature is either Extrovert or Introvert but not both.

Mother-daughter duo Myres-Briggs added another dichotomy to the above three- Judging (J) vs Perceiving(P). In total there are 8 dichotomies which are grouped into sets of four that describe a personality. A person who is an Extrovert (E), Sensing (S), Thinking (T) and Perceiving (P) – is an ESTP personality. Various permutations and combinations result in 16 different personality traits – Myers Birggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Each type has been given a word to indicate their personality – eg: ISFP’s are Artists. This does not mean they run around with a paint brush. It is that their style is artistic in dealing with the world – kind, friendly, sensitive and quiet. They can be artists too!

You can take this test at and find out what type of personality you have. There is nothing good or bad of any personality type and like all things in psychology need to be taken seriously only under expert guidance. After all it takes all types of people to make this world.

Over the years these tests have been used by organisations, counsellors and therapists to understand and help people live a better life. DISC personality test (Dominance, Influence, Steady and Complaint)is a four quadrant behavioural model developed by William Marshton which is extensively used by organisations to study better fitment of their employees.

Now that we have arrived at the fact there are 16 different personality types in this world, the question is – what is the frequency of personality type in the population? After extensive studies across the world, a mix of the types of people has been arrived at. ESTJ’s are the highest and INFJ’s are the rarest. Here is the break-up in a graph:

16 personalities

I’m an INFJ . What’s your personality type ?



Camp(u)s of dissent


Freedom begins between the ears – Edward Hubby

Time is a cruel equaliser. The very youth power which catapulted the present disposition to the seat power has unleashed itself once again against it. Jawaharlal Nehru University, the venerable seat of learning has become the battleground of nationalism. Here’s my two cents on the issue.

If Kanhaya Kumar and his friends did indulge in sloganeering that supports the cause of those who support Kashmir’s freedom from India, it is a case of an opinion, which I’ve right to disagree. To call it sedition, is to stretch the argument a bit too far. Basing the entire case on a purportedly doctored tape, questions our fundamental right to disagree. We exhort populace of western countries to raise up and reign in their governments from their hegemonic designs. If they do, we consider them fair and just, not unpatriotic to their country.  Sometimes, no reaction from governments (which is the case in 99% of the time on all issues) is the best solution. Sad it is to see our political parties make university campuses their battleground.

Is there something in university campuses across the world to become the launch pads for revolutions across the world? Young blood, new found idealism and outside influence (positive or negative) make them a tinder box, awaiting a spark to set off chain reactions. India, is not alone in this, it’s a world-wide phenomenon.

May 10, 1968 is a date etched forever in the history and minds of French. On that day students of various Paris universities joined civil unrest and general strike by workers and brought the country to a halt. On May 13, a million Parisians – university students, high school students, workers, officials, teachers – marched, prompting the government to call for fresh elections. Many observers feared civil war or revolution; the national government itself momentarily ceased to function after President Charles de Gaulle secretly left France for a few hours. Although the events sometimes turned violent, they also had artistic and festive aspects with numerous quasi-improvised debates and assemblies, songs, imaginative graffiti, posters and slogans. It was a revolution that never was.

Gwangju Uprising in South Korea in 1980 (May 5-18) was in protest against the actions of Chun Doo-hwan government by the people of Gwangju city. Chun Doo-hwan came to power in a military coup which the students of local Jeonnam University were protesting against and were calling for restoration of democracy. Chun’s regime hit back. About 600 –some estimate 2000- students were killed by military which had silent backing of US under Jimmy Carter (who incidentally won a Noble Peace Prize later!). Incidentally, students are back on the streets of Seoul since November 2015, as the present government, ruled by the daughter of an ex-President who has a dark side, wants to rewrite the history text books which might help her father look better!

The role of university students in Chinese uprising in 1989 or the growth of Naxalism in Andhra Pradesh and also in the formation of Telangana is very significant. World over, students are increasingly getting active and restive. Students in US are protesting in an organised way against the ballooning student loan debts which total nearly $1 trillion! In Bangladesh, students are raising their voice against taxes on tuition fees.

For governments, universities are both the centres of future and revolutions. In India, we are even more uniquely placed. Never before in the history, are so many young men and women seated in the classrooms of a country. Economic and social equality along with economic opportunities need to be ensured by the governments of today and tomorrow. The way our political parties demonstrated their credentials in the Hyderabad University and JNU rows, political reformation is need of the hour.

Let’s not forget the words of the great Chinese philosopher Confucius: Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.

Too much and too little


Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone- John Maynard Keynes

62 =3,500,000,000.

Let me simplify. 62 is equal to 3.5 billion. Not possible? Yes, it is. The total wealth of 3.5 billion poorest people on earth is equal to the wealth of the top 62 people in the world. Wealth inequality was never at its worst and is growing worse. Two years ago the equation was 86=3.5 billion. Shocking but true.

OXFAM, the international confederation which works to fight against economic inequality and elimination of poverty puts out this report just before the annual World Economic Forum in Davos. Rich get richer, poor become poorer is an aphorism which is sadly turning into a truism. It has become the world of 1% (or even less).

In India the situation is same, if not worse. Reportedly 1% of rich Indians own 53% of the total wealth in the country. That is, based on the declared wealth. Adding black money and benami holdings, the numbers get scary. Twenty-five years of liberalisation has widened the gap ever more.

Strangely the gap has increased in the recent decade when the world is going through a long economic depression. Take the case of Bill Gates, among the richest men in the world. Got nothing against Bill Gates (thanks Bill for the free Windows 10 upgrade!) but his wealth build up is a lesson in capitalism. Between 2008 and 2015 his wealth doubled – from $40 billion to $85 billion! A rate of growth of about 10% p.a. Now the surprise. Last seven years have been tumultuous ones for global economy wherein economic growth in US and the world was nearly flat with surging unemployment and decline in living standards. Not just Bill Gates, the rich got richer; the number of dollar millionaires have gone up and the economic gap has increased. How to bridge the gap?

The world is made up of haves and have-nots. There are actually another set of people – have-not-paid-for -what -they-have’s. To simply, tax – wealth and income tax. Tax havens and tax laws have ensured that the salaried class pays their share while the super rich can hide and avoid their riches to grow even more rich. It is a documented fact that the heiress of a great cosmetic company is worth $11 billion but declares an income of $5 million on which she pays taxes! Thomas Piketty , the French economist, believes has an answer to this problem.

Inheritance, Piketty identifies, is largely the chief cause of the prevalent economic inequality. The afore mentioned cosmetic brand heiress worth $11 billion has not worked even for a single day in her life! Capitalism permits you to earn your riches through innovation and hard work. Inheritance changes the setting as some have a great start ahead for no reason except for being born in the right family. The rate of growth of the world economy is lower than the rate of growth of returns (through inheritance)on capital of the few leading to instability and inequality. Tax on inheritance and increase on income tax on the rich along with sustained effort to dismantling of the tax havens is the recipe recommended by Piketty and other economists with similar views.

Before we concluded with a bleaker view of the situation, need to note the positives. World poverty as a whole is coming down, the triad of sanitation, education and health is reaching more and more people. Importantly, philanthropy is playing a large part-lead by the likes of Bill Gates- in making the world a better place. Trickle down effect is on, though its just a trickle.

The gap is too huge to be plugged in a few years. Hope and concentrated efforts will make our world more equal than it is today.