Friday, 5 October 2012

Citizens of a mighty country called Facebook

Facebook now has one billion users every month. If it was country it would have been the third most populous in the world. The company says that those billion users were to date responsible for 1.13 trillion "likes", 219 billion photos and 17 billion location check-ins. How has it affected our lives?

On an average, I spend almost around 30 minutes on Facebook every day. I access it both on PC and on my smart phone. Since 2008, on a conservative estimate, I might have spent around 3000 hours doing something or the other on Facebook.  Being in the profession of media and communications, at one point, my job required me to engage only with social media tools. While at University in Scotland I actively used Facebook for recreation, heated debates and intellectual stimulation.

This is just me. Most of you who might be reading this could be spending (unknowingly) a similar amount of time on Facebook.  Depending upon the purpose you are using Facebook (and other social media tools) for you might say: ‘that’s really an awful amount of time – I just didn’t realise it.'

Many of us also suffer from Facebook syndrome. How many times have you sat in front of computer just to type even when you didn’t want to visit the site? And what do you have to say when you hear that riot police in Netherlands were forced to break up crowds at a teenager’s 16th birthday party after 3,000 people turned up because she left the Facebook event invitation open!

In a nutshell, Facebook is a part and parcel of our life. Appealing to people of all age groups, Facebook not only serves as an interactive one-stop platform that enables someone to share messages and photos with their friends; it is also becoming a powerful media tool for citizen journalism, allowing people to express their opinions on a scale that has been unprecedented in human history.

During the Egyptian revolution in 2011,  Wael Ghonim, the Egyptian-born Google marketing executive, who first played a role in organising the opposition through Facebook, told the American audiences that without Facebook and( Twitter) their revolution ‘would never have happened.’   

For businesses and brands, Facebook enables them to directly get in touch with their core customers. It helps them to create communities, and brands such as Starbucks have more than 300,000 people following or liking them.  Whilst some see Facebook as an informal way to reach key buyers, others see it as their prime marketing tool. Brands today are increasing creating their Facebook page, and luring people to ‘like’ their pages to create brand loyalty.

Probably, in the years to come, Facebook can go beyond just being a social media tool.  It might want to integrate host of media platforms under one umbrella (which it already does to an extent) and charge subscription rates for its services.  Facebook can make available premium on-demand media content at very negligible price given its reach and ability create buzz.On the other hand, it might want the companies to pay an access charge to its billion plus users. It is often noticed that consumers are more convinced about a brand when they hear or see it on Facebook.

Facebook needs to have a business model where it can charge businesses for hosting their pages, and work more innovatively to penetrate in to the new emerging markets. Facebook has a massive data about each user. Without violating the privacy regulations, it can take permission from the users to display content or links of things that the user is interested in. 

A McKinsey report on mobile –internet revolution points out that  more than  70 percent of India’s urban consumers already spend about $1 a month on content and services through offline, unorganized retail channels—a market estimated to be worth more than $4 billion annually. Much of India’s young population loves to download videos and music, but not everyone is affluent or well educated. Due to their illiteracy or poor English they might not necessarily have the luxury of using an interactive tool. Facebook might want to pop out of the computer screens and develop tools that are easy to access and use. It might also contribute to areas like e-learning and beyond.

Over the years, Facebook has been offering the same things with a bit of tweaks.  The core strength of Facebook are its users, who patronise it and love it. Facebook has created a virtual (and largely a utopian) country. It is about time it lays the strong foundation to that country so that it can sustain itself in long run - it needs to offer us something new and more meaningful.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

OH MY GOD! - my freedom of speech is safe

Bollywood’s  Oh My God! shows that satire on religions can be constructive, educative and can help balance freedom of speech with religious sentiments.

It is true that all major religions of the world have been around for centuries and millennia. They have certain values, ethos and have contributed to the global culture and development of societies around the world.  Any mockery of these epic establishments cannot really undermine them.

It is also true that religion is for people; it plays a dominant role in our societies and it is governed by the people. In many ways it is for the people, by the people (though the leaders are not always democratically elected) and is for the people. And given these virtues, religions in democratic societies should be subjected to scrutiny, criticism and satire.

However, the recent global events that saw a large scale violence across Middle East and south-Asia including a heinous murder of an American ambassador in Libya, following the release of an amateur provocative film Innocence of Muslims, has once again brought into question the legal and ethical standing of the freedom of expression particularly in relation to respect of religious beliefs.

Freedom of speech is supremely important. It is an empowerment right that allows people to demand other rights – the right to health, to food, to a clean environment to religion etc. It is a vital right and any means to curtail it is not acceptable.

Also, in a democracy (as observed by the Venice committee, instituted in 2007 by Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe) religious groups must tolerate criticisms in public statements and debates related to their activities and beliefs as long as the criticism do not constitute deliberate and gratuitous insults or hate speech, an incitement to disturb public order, violence or discrimination towards people who adhere to specific religion.

Innocence of Muslims might have been extremely distasteful and provocative but it was made by some unknown person who probably has little comprehension about the greatness of any religion for that matter. The reaction that followed in the Middle- East and in Pakistan was therefore completely uncalled for.

But other actions like the repetitive publication of the images of the Prophet Mohammed by mainstream French and other European newspapers are equally needless and nasty in taste.

In this regard, the latest Bollywood film can be seen as an example to the world where a mainstream medium was used to ridicule the absurd beliefs and practices of major religions – mainly Hinduism in this context.

The film is a comedy but it critically lampoons gurus, clerics and priests for their manipulative ways to mislead and exploit people in the society. It questions the logic of religious rituals (some of which are extremist in nature) and the existence of God itself. In the film, God is taken to the court after the protagonist is denied claims by his insurance company when an earthquake damaged his property. The reason being: it was an act of God!

What was impressive about the film is that though it was very critical of the absurd religious practices, it also highlights the greatness of each religion, and quotes text from the holy books to substantiate its arguments.

Making a film on religious theme, or expressing controversial religious views in a religiously charged society like India is never easy.  Right wing groups of major religions are very active and easily resort to violence including acts of vandalism and burning of cinema halls. Oh My God! had to tread a very thin rope to drive its point and has been hugely appreciated by the Indian audience.

Most democratic societies particularly in the West have enormous cultural resources and massive pool of highly talented creative pool who are freely allowed to express their views through theatres, plays, movies, music, drama, art, sports and beyond.  Their work have greatly inspired people all over the world; it is about time that the Western intellectuals take up projects that talks about religion tolerance and liberal ideals that characterize their societies like the freedom of speech and multiculturalism. If a cartoon can sully the image of the West amongst an identifiable group of people, greater work of art can do the job of crisis management and strengthen the liberal values.

By doing so, we will be safeguarding the majority of moderate voices who were not party to the violence in the Middle-East or the American citizens who didn't approve the provocative movie on Islam.

Oh My God! does show  a middle path- the international community must learn and emulate.


Saturday, 29 September 2012

There is something sweet about Barfi

I am not really a movie buff. I haven’t watched a lot of Bollywood movies, and never really keep a track of what’s going on in world of Indian cinema.

Last week I went to see Barfi- a latest Bollywood blockbuster. I was excited to watch the movie. It's filmed in Darjeeling, a majestic hill station on the foot hills of Himalayas. I went to an Anglo- Indian boarding school there, and when I saw the trailer on the TV, the memories of the place came rolling back.   

Barfi is a celebration of love and life. The characters and the story blend with the idyllic beauty, innocence and the simple life of the people in the hills. It shows silence can be golden, and happiness is nothing but a state of mind. Humour is the essence of the movie though there is an undercurrent of something nastier in the plot.  Like the Big Ben in Virginia Wolf’s Mrs Dalloway, the chugging toy train meanders through the time reminding that whilst something in life remain constant and static, life itself has to go through some sharp curves and turns in its journey.  Life can be cruel at times but it our positive spirit that helps us to be triumphant at the end.

The movie has a message. The two central characters are physically challenged. The protagonist can’t hear or speak and the girl he eventually marries is autistic.  In a very romantic but in a subtle way the movie touches on the rights of disabled people in India. The fact that they have the right to live with dignity and they are just one of us is brilliantly illustrated in the movie.

India has 96 million people who are disabled and a vast number of them particularly in Northern India face severe discrimination and abuse. India also doesn’t really have the infrastructure that is disabled –friendly. Whilst steps are been taken to change this, Amir Khan, one of Bollywood’s super star who recently did a popular television  show aimed at making people aware of some of the serious  social problems in India says : “there are two kinds of reaction to the disabled people in India: one, that they must have done something wrong in their previous birth and therefore deserve what they got; two, let us use them as a ticket to heaven — make a donation to an organisation working for the disabled, or give money to a disabled person asking for alms, and score some brownie points with God.”

Mr Khan insisted that education is the only way out to prepare people with disabilities to be productive, look after themselves, and their families.  For this to happen people in India must change their attitudes and the mainstream educational institutes should make provisions to educate people with disabilities.

Coming back to Barfi, it is admirable that it deals with a social issue is a very creative manner. It reveals class tensions, but above all what it shows is that status, money and power cannot buy love and happiness. Simplicity has a priceless appeal and we don’t have to look far to experience the small pleasures of life. The actors convey this without any speech. Sounds unrealistic, but not when you leave the cinema with a hearty glee - this is possibly the sweetest thing about Barfi.

* Barfi is a name of an Indian sweet

Friday, 14 September 2012

The Duke, the Duchess and the media

I was among the many to gather in Central London for their grand Royal wedding. I cheered for them and prayed that they live happily and inspire millions around the world through their acts of charity, grace and influence.

Prince William and his wife Kate Middleton are majestic. They are the modern symbols of Britain’s age old royalty.  But, I wonder if they should be at the centre of international media spotlight as they have been this week.

 They are in news for two reasons: one for their tour of south East Asia, which the BBC World Service news decided to treat as a headline in all their bulletins, and secondly for the publication of sunbathing topless pictures of the Kate Middleton by the French magazine Closer.

The second incident is very unfortunate but not utterly reprehensible. For long the British royal family has been a public diplomacy tool for Britain. They represented British values to the world and in the early days of post- colonialism it was quite accepted.

Lady Diana, the princess of Wales, changed things: single handedly and in a very non –conformist way she broke with the royal protocols and campaigned for causes that really needed global attention.

Things however have changed. Prince William and Kate Middleton’s global stardom (as the BBC likes to portray) has a lot to with fashion, youth and glamour. They are like what David Beckham and Victoria are to football.

They might be going around the world as the Queen’s representative, but it is the gloss and sheen of their visits that make news.  However, the manner BBC spoke about Kate’s first public speech in Malaysia was like a parent, who rejoices hearing a child speak for the first time -a strange obsession with the princess! The news is good for Britain but don't really know how it is important for the BBC World Service audience.

The BBC must realize that in the 21st century, people are least interested in things like public diplomacy and British values. It is worth talking more about the constructive side of things like the charities they have chosen to support and the things they do which actually make a difference to the world.

Outside Britain Kate is only a celebrity. I understand that her privacy should be fully respected but she should have been bit more careful. Topless sun bathing is very much a part of European culture and to be photographed in that context is not really a big deal.

International popularity has its own down side,but I hope that more responsible media like the BBC will mellow down a bit when they talk about Britain’s beloved Duke and the Duchess of Cambridge- the title sounds very ancient indeed!

Monday, 20 August 2012

India’s ethnic tension – a kind of cyber -war

India needs to urgently brace up for the new set of internal challenges. The best solution to avoid them will be to ensure corruption free governance.

What’s happening in India is deeply unfortunate: people of north- east (mostly oriental looking) fleeing cities in southern and western India simply because of building rumour mills of ethnic violence spawned by MMS and social media tools.

Social media's potential to incite violence is not new. Last year, during the London riots, organized groups and individuals used Blackberry mobile phones and other social media tools to spread insidious messages. Elsewhere, in the Middle East during the Arab revolution, social media has been a boon to circumvent the authorities’ regulation of the media.

 But the Indian case is different in the sense that a ethnic violence along the religious lines - that should have been easily controlled by the authorities - in a remote part of the country has suddenly erupted into a nationwide crisis. The Indian Government has blamed elements in Pakistan and gone on to ban up to 250 websites suspected of adding grist to the rumours. This is possibly the first case of a new type cyber- war with an international dimension.

 But the recent events in India are alarming for a number of reasons.  It has shown that the threat of cyber –war can go beyond the wires, and can be easily used to disrupt social harmony in a country like India, where a large number of mobile phone consumers( the real targets of MMS generated rumours) may not be educated.

The radical mob that took part in vandalism in Mumbai to protest against the violence on Muslims in Assam were nothing but a group of possibly unemployed youth whose religious sentiments were fanned presumably by some extremist elements.

Likewise, most people who are fleeing the southern states are mostly migrant economic workers who have moved to the bigger cities post –globalization in search of better jobs.  People of some sections  of  north-east India have always felt alienated from the main stream because of socio-economic and political reasons. But years of insurgency and economic deprivation on the face of India’s economic growth has made them look for better opportunities in other parts of the country.

Whilst many migrated, and contributed to the of economy of the host state, what this incident has highlighted is that there is a great degree of mistrust between the people of the north –east and  the rest of country because of  a number of sometimes shallow idelogical reasons; and more importantly, the absolute apathy of the intelligentsia and the government to address these  vexed issues. It is not surprising when a foreign journalist recently said that Kabul looks like a luxury when compared with Imphal.

There are broadly few lessons for the policy makers from this incident: 
  •  Race and ethnic tensions in India are volatile. Unless there is a careful distribution of wealth including management of water and other natural resources, this could be the beginning of a new trend of ethnic violence waiting to happen.
  • Indian government needs to do more to check illegal migration especially from Bangladesh and protect the rights of the small tribal groups. Religious leaders should be encouraged play a more active role to preserve religious harmony.
  • There is a need for Indian state to do a bit of image management aimed at strengthening the secular credentials of the country. People of the north-east must be assured in all possible manner that they enjoy all the rights like any other citizen from other parts of the country.
  • The threat of cyber war on national security is real. Information and communication
    technology(ICT) should be used to counter the negative effects of social media. There is a need to launch a campaign to educate people about the ill effects of social media.
  • The real forces and motives of this crisis are at best open to speculation. It is really up to liberal and secular citizens to come forward and urge the people of the country to remain united against the forces that are increasingly trying to fuel religious and ethnic tensions.
India is going through a great economic and cultural revolution of unprecedented scale. It is an unequal society trying to re-orient itself with the dynamics of cultural changes sweeping the country.  At the very core, what India needs is good corruption free governance if it wishes to see itself as a force to reckon with in the 21st century.

Friday, 27 July 2012

London and the Olympic Games

No other Olympics city has possibly evoked so much excitement and curiosity as London is doing. As the London Olympic Games are declared open tonight, the organizers of the games will have to pat themselves for the extraordinary challenges they had to overcome to see through this day. For those living in the UK will be well aware of the heightened pessimism and anxiety –mostly generated by the media- about the successful staging of the games.

It was of course not easy given the worst recession Britain (along with the rest of the world) has faced since the Second World War. In the UK, the economy is practically seen a zero growth rate; London had to grapple with an awful riots in a generation last year, and despite great planning for which the Britain  is famously known for, there were a last minute glitch with the security. However, all said and done, the stage for the greatest sporting event is all set in one of the greatest nations on earth.

What makes London Olympics so special is because of the global character of the city. It is a city where one is likely to find people from almost every country on this planet.  As a melting point of cultures, there are over 300 languages spoken in this city, with almost third of the population living in London are foreign born.
It is also because of Britain’s highly open, encompassing and tolerant ethos that people and the international media are more enthusiastic about Britain in general. For example, Bollywood super star Amitabh Bachchan carrying the Olympic torch in Southwark has sent positive ripples across India. Ordinary people in India are far likely to take note of the events in London because of the honour bestowed on this famous Indian.

Amitabh Bachchan
Also, as the Olympics begin tonight, ten and thousands of young people from China, India, Far East, Africa and Central Asia who have studied in the British universities over the last decade will proudly admire and feel associated with the games. This is one of Britain’s strength and a public diplomacy success of the past decade which usually go unnoticed.  As a British graduate myself, I can testify how my friends across the world appreciate some of the values they have learnt in that country, and how at times they say that they miss being in Britain.

 The BBC, which has always been a public diplomacy tool of the British government outside the UK, has been admiringly playing a leading role in educating and entertaining the global audience about London and the British culture and values. Anyone who has been watching the programme ‘London calling’ on the BBC World Service online, television and radio will appreciate the objectivity of the programme. It not only highlighted all that is great and unique about Britain but also critically showed the challenges and the problems of modern Britain. BBC’s campaign is admirable because it also speaks volumes about transparent and unbiased reporting.

It is precisely because of the genuine ideals of freedom, tolerance, pluralism and great work ethics that make the UK one of the most existing countries on earth.  Though off-late Britain has been less welcoming to the global work force, it really needs to adopt polices where the rightful and talented immigrants are welcomed.

The London games are a big opportunity for Britain to re-invent itself at the world stage. As the head of the Commonwealth Britain has a unique position  and is loved by many across the world. Britain’s history in the 21st century will be shaped by the people of various ethnicities who proudly call Britain their home. On this great occasion,the British prime minister David Cameroon has rightly said: ‘Let's put our best foot forward, we're an amazing country with fantastic things to offer. This is a great moment for us, let's seize it," – he is indeed right.


Sunday, 24 June 2012

Shaping the aspirations of Arab awakening

One thing for sure, the countries that saw the Arab awakening have a vibrant,educated young population that loves technology and are desperate for freedom. In fact, one of the striking features of the Arab revolution was that it was driven by youth and technology.

 At the peak of the revolution in Egypt, 87, 293 had signed up the Facebook page “We are all Khalid Said”(Khalid Said, a 28-year-old Egyptian from the coastal city of Alexandria, Egypt, was tortured to death at the hands of two police officers became a symbol of the protestors). 

Later, Wael Ghonim, the Egyptian-born Google marketing executive, who first played a role in organising the opposition through Facebook, told the American audiences that without Facebook and Twitter their revolution ‘would never have happened.’
Similarly, when it came to the protests in Tunisia the main stream media took time to get into grips with the situation, whilst hints of unrest was already brewing on Twitter soon after Bouazizi ,the vegetable vendor, who later became an immortal face of the protests set himself on fire.
In many ways, the zeal and the enthusiasm of the youth in particular, and their smart adoption of social media tools to propel their revolution debunked certain stereotypes about the youth of the region. The misperception amongst many in the world that the region is traditional, inward looking and adverse to modernity and technology was unfounded.
In fact, when the young protestors went to the street in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere, they also sent out a clear message to their rulers and the world at large that they too have the aspirations to live in a world that is based on the principles of dignity, justice and freedom.
Now that the Arab awakening has taken its course and in the dictators toppled, it is largely in the interest of the world that the aspirations of the youth are given shape and their dream is not lost.
The top 10 points of  Burson – Marsteller’s   Arab Youth Survey  indicate in general the views and the concerns of the youth from the region. While they say that lack of democracy and the civil unrest are some of the biggest obstacles facing them, their personal preference is however to able to earn a good pay and lead a decent lifestyle. And this is a priority number 1.
Their demand is clear: they want a transparent, corruption free government that creates amongst other things, good job  opportunities and guarantees a decent life . Democracy, they say is of no use if it doesn’t improve their lives or is replaced by a system that is equally inefficient or more corrupt than the dictatorial regimes that preceded them. The survey shows that the youth across the Middle East increasingly look at UAE as a model that their countries should emulate. 

The political crisis in Egypt is unfortunate. However, whoever takes charge of the nation eventually will run the risk of triggering another mass movement if their aspirations are not satisfied. At the end of the day, as Hillary Clinton says, it is up to the Egyptian people to determine their own future but there will be will no going back on the democratic transition.

Whilst such assurances are welcome, the West must also understand that it can takes decades or at least a generation before the democratic institutions in these states can mature. Democracy in the Middle East should conform to the culture, history and tradition of the region. In a recent interview with the BBC, Tariq Ramadan, the Islamic philosopher at Oxford University says that if democracy in the region has to succeed in the future, it is important not to follow the Western model blindly but it should based on innovation that premises on local values and progressive aspects of culture and tradition.

For the world outside, one of the best ways to help these young democracies will be to use the aid money to built modern education institutions and  help develop teachers training programme that acknowledges progressive education based on universal values. Such initiatives alone can guarantee peace and democracy in the region as well make the newly formed democratic institutions stronger in the long run.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Beyond China's public diplomacy

It is interesting to note how an emerging power’s arrival on the world stage generates an unprecedented media attention, and the innovative steps the country itself takes to promote its culture and voice to the world.
The Economist now devotes a special section on China - carving it out from the Asia section. The newspaper says for the first time in 70 years, it has devoted a section on a country (the United States was last to be included in 1941). Likewise all international media has a section on China (some also on India).
And why not: an interactive map comparing Chinese provinces with countries on the Economist website shows the country’s economic might: For example, Guangdong's GDP (at market exchange rates) is almost as big as Indonesia's; the output of both Jiangsu and Shandong exceeds Switzerland’s. Shanghai’s GDP per person is as high as Saudi Arabia’s (at purchasing-power parity), the poorest province, Guizhou, has an income per head close to that of India.
A student in Confucius institute
It is not that the world has suddenly taken interest on China. Over the last decade China has invested large amounts on public diplomacy to educate the world about Chinese culture. It has established 356 Confucius institutes in fifty different countries. In the UK alone there are ten.  This is at the back of huge aid and foreign investment in dolls out to other developing countries particularly in Africa.
On the digital sphere, China Central Television (CCTV) is increasingly expanding its global operation. Reports say Chinese state broadcaster is looking to increase its overseas staff by tenfold by 2016, and aims expand its audience base in Africa with English-language services produced in Washington and Nairobi .At the heart of operations will be six hubs: two probably in London and Dubai and others in South America and the Asia Pacific region. I have been watching CCTV in the UK, and must admit their reports are world class.
This is not just a state initiative.  A host of Chinese private channels have registered themselves in London to reach out to the Chinese diasporas across Europe.  However, close sources say that they are yet to see any dividends on their investment.
CCTV HQ in Beijing
On another front, Chinese second tier cities have embarked on global promotion and branding exercise to allure foreign investments and tourist particularly from Europe and the US. The city of Chengdu frequently run adverts on CNN , but also has an ambitious plan for a worldwide promotion which includes inviting international film starts, hosting a friendly English premier league football match and organizing an economic forum probably in London. Through a London based media company they are promoting the city by using classic panda pictures on 150 London taxis!

All these are really admirable initiatives and show the strong appetite of the Chinese to be right on the top. I remember listening to Professor Jonathan Spence, sterling Professor of History at Yale University and is recognised as one of the foremost scholars of Chinese civilisation on Reith Lectures a few years back. In the concluding part of a four series lecture on China, he talked about ‘Li Yang movement’. He said, Li Yang, a charismatic teacher had opened thousands of English language schools in China. 
 He demanded that his students shout every English word learnt to get over any fear of not  able to interact with  foreigners.  Professor Spence felt it is this shouting of English which probably has helped to equalize the sense of nervousness about coming and studying abroad. Li Yang’s banner read ‘conquer English to make China stronger’ – not surprised: most of my classmates in my master’s programme in Scotland were infact Chinese students.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Poverty in India's North-east

Pop into some of the dance clubs in down town South Delhi and adjoining Gurgaon, you will see oriental looking girls dressed in skimpy clothes, dancing in groups to ’entertain’ the men in the clubs. I later found out that they are hired (or given free entry) by the clubs to allure customers, and some of the girls are indirectly involved in prostitution.

Almost unseen to an outsider and sandwiched between posh neighborhoods of South Delhi is Munirka – an urban village.  It provides affordable accommodation to thousands of students, young professional and other migrants. It is crowded, cosmopolitan and is bustling with small businesses. This is also home to thousands of migrants from India’s North- eastern states- mostly from of Manipur and Nagaland, and also Nepal. Many of the girls dancing in the clubs also live here.
One of the local landlords, who recounted how this urban village has transformed in last 15 years due to the development of South Delhi, told me that when the oriental looking people first arrived, the locals – mostly rich but  uneducated – thought they were from Korea or Japan. 'We had no idea such people existed in India’!
India's Northeast has been historically underdeveloped, geographically isolated area, home to diverse tribal groups and far from the political capital. It has been a centre of militancy and secessionist movements, and has not benefited much from the country’s rapid economic growth.
The latest  poverty figures of India shows that the levels of poverty has significantly increased in five states of North-east  - Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland. This has forced thousands particularly from Manipur – an impoverished state that has been ravaged by insurgency- to move to bigger cities across India in search of work and better life.
Once in Delhi, the migrants from the northeast increasingly find difficult to get along with the local mainstream cultures .Regional sentiments run high. They complain of racism – they are generally referred as ‘chinkis’ ( a derogatory term for Orientals). The locals say they are ‘immoral’ and bring in foreign (western) culture.
The problems of the North- east are acutely complex and it is not possible for policy makers in Delhi to even conceive a solution without visiting the region. Writing in The Assam Tribune, an English daily, Sanjoy Hazarika, an eminent journalist, points out how the former home secretary, Gopal Pilai was appalled to see the desperate poverty while visiting a remote area, and made immediate donations for toilets to be constructed in a local school. He says it is this process of discovery that is needed not just by the government officials but also the media and other scholars.
The local and the state governments also should make concerted effort to boost the economy of the area through a combination of infrastructure development, cross-border diplomacy with China and Myanmar, and strategic marketing, bringing prosperity to the region.
The region has suffered immensly due to neglect of the succesive  federal governments and corruption at local levels. It is imperative to give a new sense of hope to the people of the region and make them a part of India's economic success.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

India is changing for the world, Indians not for themselves.

A day after my arrival in New Delhi from the UK, I went to buy a bottle of Coke. It was twice the price it used to be four years back. I told this jokingly to the shopkeeper. He winced and told me in Hindi: des taraki kar raha hai, sir (The country is making progress, sir!)
Progress indeed:  four years of absence from India can mean a lot. The country’s urban landscape is changing at a staggering pace.  For someone who has lived here, the changes meet head-on. As you land in New Delhi, you can only marvel at its swanky world class air port. The city now has a state –of the art metro system, the cranky old buses have been replaced by sleek air-conditioned high capacity buses and good roads and giant flyovers dot the city.  
It is precisely this image of modern India that the world is looking at (alongside China) with both awe and envy. India’s economic miracle, the rise of its huge middle class, its growing military expansion offer enormous business opportunities for various businesses in the western world. In 2010 -11 the leaders of the P5 visited India in quick succession. Britain in particular called for a ‘special relationship’.
India’s flair for frugal innovation and entrepreneurship and the giant strides made by Indian conglomerates in terms of global mergers and acquisitions are catching the eye of the world. India’s Tata is now the largest industrial employer in Britain.
This is the good side of India the world knows about, and I had come to India on a professional visit with a great hope of working with a trendy young work force with a high sense of work ethics and professionalism. But to my dismay, things were utterly disturbing at the management level.  Whilst I found people here are hard working, have tremendous aspiration and go an extra mile to help you, they are let down by a system or a culture of work that is highly demoralizing and pays scant regard for the people they manage.
The inefficiency is a result of a number of factors:  it is an agonizing mix of ego, sense of superiority, lack of empathy, ownership and good manners – all at the administrative level. The combination of these factors creates an impregnable bureaucracy where there is little co-ordination between departments.  It results in an incessant delay for getting a simple work done. 
Private sector in India is a beacon of India’s hope and pride, but for Indians to be happy at work and prosperous in their careers; issues in management structure have to be addressed. Attributes like inability to communicate politely, or failing to take ownership of an issue, or using rough language indicates there is something fundamentally wrong in the manner we approach work.
 What is needed is a proper training in human management and communication skills to create a work culture that promotes efficiency and professionalism.  Mangers at all levels must be trained to behave in a more humane and professional manner. They must be taught good leadership qualities along with basic manners like  how to smile, empathize with subordinates and trouble shoot a problem within a fixed time frame.
The first glimpse of unprofessional behavior is witnessed   at the New Delhi’s swanky airport itself where the immigration officers lack even the basic courtesies - clearly demonstrating how incredible we are.
The biggest problem, however, is that no one wants to listen to you, let alone understand your problem. It is really disheartening when educated citizens of one of the world’s most literary cultures behave in such an appalling manner.