More than any other country on this planet, I would say that India needs free access to the internet to help it leapfrog to the next stage of its already large economy (the Indian GDP just surpassed that of the U.K.). In order to sustain its economic growth, remove system inefficiencies, open up new opportunities for entrepreneurs and alleviate poverty levels, India needs to subsidize access to the internet for citizens earning less than USD 10 per day.
That figure is a mind-boggling 500M people in my estimate, mostly based in rural towns, and villages. Even large cities have huge populations of people with no access to electricity, or even potable water. Given this situation, is it not laughable that I am suggesting internet as a free (or almost free) utility for the people to use ?
No, it is not a matter to be sniffed at. Given that tablets are now available at less than USD 50 (though not great looking), access to the internet utility becomes the major constraint for those masses of people who are at the fringe of the Indian economy which is still slated to grow @ 7.5% or more this year. The key enabler for these people is going to be knowledge and application of knowledge to their vocations and school learning. And, how is India going to deliver knowledge and actionable learning to the masses when its educational infrastructure is so weak ? How is India going to develop its intellectual capabilities beyond the IITs ? There are many questions but it is unquestionable that people provided with opportunities at the right times in their lives make it to a successful life later in their lives. Opportunity is critical and the Indian economy would not be in a position to deliver opportunities to the roughly 10M people coming into its workforce every year, most of them waiting for a job. That is close to 1M people every month!
Facebook and Google are opening up the airwaves in India by offering WiFi access in railway stations and other public places. While their goals are not entirely philanthropic, such initiatives by private corporations have to be commended when the national resources are tight to deploy access throughout the rural areas of India. I believe that India stands to benefit in a huge manner when all its villages and rural population are connected via satellite-based internet. Already 400M Indians are connected to the internet via their mobile phones.
India is not only a huge consumer market which is becoming more knowledgeable about the products the people wish to consume. It is also a melting pot for all kinds of experimentation that companies would like to pursue in the interest of testing their offerings. India is also an entrepreneurial nation of youngsters rushing to launch their new ideas or adaptation of ideas which have worked elsewhere. Given that the government is pushing the idea of a “Digital India”, it is not surprising that the population is warming up quickly towards the concept of all time and real time connectivity to test ideas, consume products, evaluate anything and everything. This is nothing short of a revolution in the making.
The good thing about India is that there is space for everyone. With its English-speaking workforce and modern orientation, India will become the third largest economy of the world by 2030, if not by 2025. It is critical that India offers opportunities to its aspiring people via the concept of free internet. Such an offering can even be positioned as free for 3 years, followed by USD 1 per month thereafter, for segments of the population which has an annual per capita income of USD 2,000 or less. For people earning above this figure upto a cap of USD 5,000 per capita, the rate could be fixed at USD 3 per month. People outside this cap would have to pay the commercial price. Such a subsidy scheme would go a long way in facilitating internet access to the teeming millions of Indians, transforming the country towards a Digital India.
I do hope this happens for the benefit of all Indians.
11th June 2017
You thought wrong. This is not about Indian IT companies getting the much-coveted H1B visas for their IT professionals, which is under threat from the Trump Administration.
This is not about getting any visa to the U.S. As you are well aware, the U.S. will not grant visas to human rights violators, criminals, and convicted offenders. For more than a decade, the U.S. Government applied this policy against the entry of Indian Prime Minister Modi, till it was gently revoked without much fanfare. Mr Modi’s violation? He was accused of turning a blind eye in the midst of killings of around a thousand Muslims in his Gujarat State in 2002, where he was the Chief Minister, in the aftermath of violent riots.
President Obama reversed the long-established American policy after the Supreme Court of India could not find enough evidence to implicate Mr Modi and his state administration. Not only that, he embraced Mr Modi and his reformist agenda.
However, President Trump is not Obama – in fact, he detests any comparisons with Obama’s rule. Trump thinks he has achieved more than any other president of the U.S. in the first 100 days of his presidency. So, it was not surprising at all that he continues to delude himself, in the hope of achieving a lasting legacy. Not just for the next 1,360 days but may be for another 4 years after the conclusion of his first term, which is not inconceivable though there are a multitude of constituents who would dread that possibility.
Now, American human rights policy has hit dirt. President Trump has invited President Duterte of the Philippines to visit him in the White House. He has already met with the dictatorial President of Egypt – Mr Sisi, at the White House. He has welcomed the consolidation of dictatorial powers of President Erdogan of Turkey. He also used to like the strongman president of Russia, Mr Vladimir Putin.
Mr Duterte would not even be considered for a visa in the light of his murderous streak, killing thousands of his own citizens (more than 8,000 at last count) in the name of elimination of drug trade in the Philippines. How can a legally elected popular president be allowed to use his law enforcement machinery to kill the citizens in cold blood? Where is his Congress? Where is the Church of the Philippines? Where are the Courts of Law? And, finally, where is the conscience?
And now, President Trump is going to entertain President Duterte at the White House and legitimize all the killings which have happened and which are going to continue unabated because the leader of the so-called “free world” has endorsed the actions taken by Duterte thus far. How ridiculous it can get?
The U.S. Congress should not allow this visit with all its power and voice. Of course, Trump will do what he wants, but the U.S. should now clearly realize that it has irretrievably lost its bully pulpit of human rights advocacy around the world because of the completely wrong, adhoc actions of its President without much thought or advice whatsoever.
The ASEAN Summit, of course, cannot condemn any killings in member states, as that would be construed as interference and the construct of ASEAN is based on non-interference and non-criticism (I do not agree with that philosophy however). But for the U.S. to show a welcoming approach towards President Duterte at the current juncture is very wrong and is going to damage the standing of the U.S. in the eyes of the free world. There is no more free world in any case. Europe is the last bastion of freedom and democracy and even there a severe test is happening in France.
So to get a visa to the U.S. any elected representative has to commit murders – more so for the invitation from a sitting president. I do not buy the argument that Duterte got the invitation to ensure the Philippines remains as an ally of the U.S. against the interest of China – that shift has already happened.
What about the other dictators? Should they kill more of their own before getting the invite from President Trump?
01 May 2017
Europe needs and deserves a firm leadership against terrorist attacks which try to disrupt peaceful co-existence of the 28 countries in the European Union (EU).
Like any other association of nations, the very purpose Europe came together is for trade, employment and joint defense (against U.S.S.R. in the Sixties and Seventies). Similarities in cultural backgrounds help in all such associations, though a common religion plays a much less role. Europe has always been willing to take in immigrants from non-European countries, though various countries in the EU have their own restrictions. Some of them are very liberal, some of them are quite restrictive. Germany is an example of a generous nation, well-to-do people, who have accepted immigrants as long as these folks can adapt to the local culture and learn to speak the German language. The history of Europe is laden with wars and refugees, and crimes against humanity, so it is not surprising that the Europeans are more open than others to war refugees.
However, we will soon find out if Europeans remain tolerant to the vagaries of the refugee influx, especially from Syria and certain other Middle Eastern countries. France is a case in point. Paris has been diligently attacked by terrorists who do not like the French way of living. While it is easy to cast aspersions on a particular religion for these incidents (including the one last week), the French people will do well to recall that their freedom did not come easily – they had to fight for it every inch of the way in the Second World War with the help of the Allied Forces. They had to fight against Nazi occupation – they were refugees in their own country. It is critical to take stern actions today to defend French freedom, no doubt about it. However, it is rather easy to swing to the far right and attack the whole philosophy of Europe and the EU. What positive stuff can come out of it? Why would France try to isolate itself from the rest of Europe?
Colonial powers such as France and the U.K. cannot escape their histoy. If there are millions of Muslims in France, that is the result of French invasion and occupation of North African countries several decades ago, may be a century ago. Clear-headed, rational thinking is called for when a government is dealing with all kinds of its citizens – they do not always come with the same colour, race, ethnicity or religion.
Nevertheless, Europe faces tough times ahead. Elections are a way for the far right to assert their extremist philosophies and gain governance after a long wait. That did not work in Austria and Denmark, and is unlikely to work in France. Germany, in my opinion, will remain centrist for quite some time, unless jobs disappear and crimes increase as a result of uncontrolled immigration.
The solution is to give law enforcement more powers as they are called to face and deal with militant elements of societies. Governments have to make it absolutely clear that cultures and philosophies would not be trampled upon in the name of giving big space to immigrants. Everyone has to live together peacefully, and the message has to go out loud and clear that if immigrants are not happy to adapt and accommodate, they should be free to return to where they came from. This message is critical and needs to be delivered by all types of political parties or governments. immigrants remain as guests of the welcoming host nations till they earn the right to become permanent residents or citizens and start a new way of life. Why should they want to replicate the lives that they lived in their respective repressive countries?
Europe remains a beacon of an elitist kind of democracy that other democratic nations can only aspire to become. It should not be split radically into segments which then cannot work together in the European Union. That would be disastrous for the future of this world.
23rd April 2017
My views on the unnecessary importance that we ascribe to religions in our lives and the extraordinary negative impact that the segregation of people is having on societies around the world are well established via this blog communication in the past. I have written about the destruction caused by religions over the centuries and how religions divide, rather than unite us.
While nothing much has changed in our societies with regard to the treatment of religions and the impact that the religions have on societies, it is now widely accepted that multiple religions with differing philosophies have succeeded in dividing people, and polarize their views about what is right and what is wrong. Strong indoctrination of religious principles which are not subject to debate and discussion, has further fomented these divisions. Only a few religions are pacific, the rest push for indoctrination of principles, adoption of basic tenets, and followership of the “cult” to the exclusion of all others.
Added to the above religious divisions forged by major religions, the caste system perpetrated in India (for example) has further deeply polarized the society. While the caste system in itself is deplorable, the adoption of non-economic criteria in stratifying a country’s population into haves and have-nots has worsened the deep divisions in society, and has led to the departure of meritocracy from running of the society and the country. India was accordingly set back by several decades when compared to caste-less societies such as Japan or China, which are much more homogeneous in population demographics and treatment of citizens.
We argue vigorously oftentimes that equal treatment should be meted out to equal votes from citizens. Such is not always the case even in developed countries. There are very few examples wherein countries do not even differentiate based on gender – these are the Nordic countries which have reached a very advanced state of development, not found even in the wealthiest and more developed nations such as the U.S., U.K., or Germany. The treatment that citizens usually receive in countries such as India is dependent on religion, caste, race, colour or gender. We tend to ignore such treatment from society in the hope that economic advancement will eventually obliterate such divisive tactics. I am not so sure.
While we have felt the acute impact of religious and caste divides in our current generation, somehow we have been able to navigate our way through not just one system, but multiple systems, during our lifetime. This may be because of the early experiences that many of us have had in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, which had made most of us rather matured for our time. The ability to navigate the world in an equitable and non-offensive manner, while keeping our heads firmly on our shoulders, has been a key characteristic of our generation who are now in our fifties.
But, what about the next generation and the one after it?
My worry is that the next generation who are in their teens and twenties are not yet experienced the way we were – probably they will never get our experience because they have grown up mostly outside India. The conditions are vastly different and meritocracy is the norm rather than the exception, and societies have matured rather aggressively towards equal and equitable treatment in a conscious way. This did not happen overnight of course, but took several decades of enlightened governance with the interests of citizens at heart.
However, as we move towards our twilight years, we need to be concerned about how our future generations will shape up and react to the world at large when it comes to the articifical divisions caused by religions. I always believed that we should set an active example, by following our own religion in a light manner (not with a lot of religiosity) without too many rituals which segregate us even from our own people (meaning other Indians in my case), and have an inquisitive mind on any subject matter thrown in front of us as an “accomplished” fact or a done deal. I wrote recently about thinking, and it is an extremely critical concept. If we do not think for ourselves and the world, then we would be doing what our ancestors had been doing over centuries without questioning their larger impact. If I am not considered as very religious, that is by my own design. I do not wish to be “special” in any category that divides me from others. I go to temples, but I also visit churches and mosques occasionally. We should look not for conformity, but for unity in what unites us all. I have communicated my thoughts to my family members, and sometimes to my close friends. I have not always received a positive sync, but I thought there indeed was a sense of appreciation on my thinking for myself. I do not of course, wish to indoctrinate anyone!
Coming to the conclusion, it is my earnest submission that people should look for similarities while maintaining their individuality. Non-conformance to a tenet or philosophy does not mean any kind of insult is proferred. Every individual has a right to his or her own thinking. It is most important to shape the thinking of future generations accordingly.
Let us all think! It is the most important thing to do today!!
Cheers, and Have a great weekend,
15th April 2017
There are a million reasons which could be found for dividing people, but very few for uniting them.
Some of the dividing reasons pertain to race, colour, religion, national origin, ethnicity, caste, etc., Most progressive nations have tried to equalize these reasons except for the purpose of identity. There is no special reason why a person of one specific category should be preferred over a different person, for achieving a specific purpose. Nations should have one uniform code for all their citizens – whether legal or social or religious. People should have no unnecessary categorizations or “walls” which distinguish them from others in the same society.
I find that when I belong to a particular group, such as my school/class alumni group, or my college alumni group, the divisions that existed before vanish due to the camaraderie and the need to connect with each other, regale the group with old memories, joke on current world affairs, et al. There is hardly any discussion on topics which divide us – we are composed of people of different religions, castes, and even living in different countries for a long time. This means that we all generally tend to believe that there is an apparent rationale behind uniting even beyond our existing differences, for the cause of common good and rejoicing. Being part of a class in a school or a college has such a strong pull.
The same strong pull exists when one belongs to a religion or a caste system. I am not denying that fact. However, the need to belong is far less justifiable despite its apparent strength. While one may be lucky to surround oneself with successful people from his/her own caste or religion (which happens), there is no strong reason that is necessarily good as compared to another group which is not focused on a caste but is just composed of golf players for example. The composition of such a group, by design, is made up of successful professionals or businessmen of different backgrounds of all kinds, who have a collective objective of having a good time on the golf course and improving their handicap. Such a group then enhances each person and ensures each person contributes to the collective success, with the possibility of business alignment in future with a reference value.
While there is nothing wrong with a group made up of a particular religion or caste, or colour, the need to associate should not be driven by the need to align with an ideology, with the end goal of deriving comfort by association. We see the effects of such groupism and the bad impact on several countries in today’s world. This very same strong need to associate precludes many others from the same group, because of their religious inclinations or because they do not wish to participate in any case. Either way these excluded or precluded folks become “enemies” of the particular group, thereby causing dissensions and creating a need for appropriate counterbalance.
In the end, it is very clear that divided people fall – there are any number of examples for this argument. Even people of the same ethnicity or religion have been defeated because they were divided, either amongst themselves or divided by an external force (a good example here is India falling to the British in the 18th Century). There is nothing like a united people – the argument here is that a strong united people will defeat any divisive ideologies from splitting them. People need to see the benefits of a union. Agents of religion or government or caste or political party should not be in a position to divide people for their benefit, and it is unfortunate that this is happening in the world today, even after all the growth which has brought us successfully into the 21st Century.
People can get united if they see the strong rationale which should be based on a benefits argument for union. If they perceive weakness in the logic, then it would become easy for them to retreat into their shells, which then divide them within their own society. Any intelligent government should never allow this to happen, as a reversal towards a strong union will take a long, long time. The whole thing is based on trust, and a recognition of the fact that there are excellent benefits to be had in the union, and a huge amount of risk in case they are divided for ever.
People who know me well have apparently recognized by now the logic of all the above arguments. I see strength in a union of people, even across nations. But then national priorities take precedence, and it becomes almost impossible to achieve an elegant solution to the world’s problems. You then realize why cross-cultural teaming is very difficult when there is no rationale or logic which unites the people of even different kinds.
There is more to come on this topic soon, given the status of our ever-dividing world which is causing divisions all around us.
26th February 2017
The world is rising against elitism, which is just another word for “learned segmentation”. It means that elitists are rather segmented folks – like a specific group of well-to-do people, a set of people who do certain things with a unique taste, a group of alumni from prestigeous institutions, a bunch of guys who drive Ferraris, a group of ultra-orthodox religious folks, a caste group (in the Indian context), and generally a bunch of well off folks who do similar things and think almost in the same manner, to the exclusion of almost all other people.
Personally, I have tried to stay away from any group with a label stuck on it. I exited the IIM-B Alumni activities as my socialist leanings are not compatible with an entrepreneurial or corporate money bags kind of people, though they may be my class mates. I have rarely seen any one of them doing charity, or engaging in philanthropic work for the downtrodden. They may well wish to do so, but evidence is limited. I even avoid brands – I don’t want to be seen driving a Mercedes or BMW or Audi; I do not wish to have a Rolex watch; and so on and so forth. I was without a Mont Blanc pen for a long, long time and could not say no when my children decided to gift one for my last birthday. When I am seen on the road, I just want to be a normal guy with no accessories which could define me in some way or the other.
The reason why young people are rising against elitism is the strong perception that they have about the relationship which exists between elitism and wealth, almost in an unholy manner, which in turn leads to inequalities in income. Wealth generates more wealth and income for the elitists or the rich folks. Others are excluded, and the exclusion is almost surreal. Things go on as though nothing has changed, everything is hunky dory. People who make obscene money on Wall Street continue to make that money year after year. Similar groupism and exclusions can be cited in almost every scenario. The insidious reach of money and networking power has to be seen to be believed.
One can argue about the merits of meritocracy in this context. I refute strongly the link and the necessity for any society or government to promote meritocracy at the cost of the rest of the society at large. What about the 95% of the people who cannot make it into that “special” list of people who will keep getting promotions and scholarships? In a nutshell, why would the special people be any different from their predecessors? They belong to a particular school, university, way of thinking, family, et al. That does not mean the rest of the people are stupid, or below average, or even average. There is this argument that societies and institutions prosper because a set of meritocrats has been handpicked to manage them and deliver results that are expected. While in a limited set of circumstances this may be true, in the larger context a social mix would provide better stability and sustainability with deeper understanding of societal issues and challenges.
I have not seen a huge difference between people with prestigeous MBAs and non-MBAs in the corporate context. There is only one difference – there is more structured thinking when you have some MBAs around you, and less of that when you have staff without MBAs. Apart from that, outcomes are not particularly impacted because MBAs are driving the businesses or even governments.
So, let us come now to the issue of “de-globalization”. Is there a relationship between “anti-elitism” and “de-globalization”? What do you think?
I believe that the movement against globalization has to be seen in the context of social elitism which predicates that globalization is the way to go for the world as a whole, since societies, countries and organizations can work together to produce better than average results for their combined economies. As a social theory, it is fantastic with an altruistic bent to it, no doubt. However, as a practical application of an interesting theory, it comes short as the results have been less than spectacular. The idea is not “win-win” but rather “win-some win for some time-lose-lose ultimately”. This means that not all sides are winners in a globalization effort. In the outsourcing example, India and the Philippines can be winners to a large extent, the U.S. and the U.K. are initially winners from a corporate cost-slashing perspective, but later become losers when the enhanced business competitiveness cannot continue at the cost of increasing job losses for locals.
The argument that outsourcers make the U.S. businesses more competitive does not hold water for the long term (it is fine in the medium term), as competitiveness in this context refers just to increased business profits. Competitiveness in terms of enhanced proficiency can also be obtained by training the locals to a large extent. Let us not forget the increased business profits come because of lower wages paid to foreigners as compared to the locals.
The liberal thinking is that globalization is great for increasing the volume of trade, and as more nations trade goods and service, eventually the world will become one homogeneous market. Great idea, no doubt. But it is naive and misses out on key economic fundamentals – that average per capita income across supplying and consuming countries need to be similar in order to enjoy true globalization. When India has a per capita income of USD 3,000 (on a PPP basis), and China has USD 8,000, the difference is huge between these two nations and the developed countries which have upwards of USD 40,000 per capita. So, a job loss in a developed country is going to have a major impact in its society.
For the elitists, it is okay – as they are perched on the top anyway. Armchair theorists won’t do anymore given the disarray in the developed countries. Fresh thinking is needed. The answer is not coming from anti-elitists only, but governments and economists have to think harder in terms of sustainable solutions.
Is it any wonder that social democrats such as Bernie Sanders enjoy rock star status? It is easy to jump into a movement and start shouting at the top of your voice, but harder to derive economic solutions which will stand the scrutiny of society. Anti-elitism and de-globalization are not new fads or book topics, but social forces which would make policy makers think deep and in a totally new way.
19th February 2017
For the past five to six decades, democracy as a form of government has been hugely celebrated, not just because it allowed the representation of all citizens in electing a democratic government (which will then be allowed to rule the country for a set period of time), but also because it allowed the functioning of true enterprise capitalism. Democracy permitted the creation of wealth (in most, but not all democratic countries), nourished free enterprise to create employment for the benefit of the entire country, and allowed freedom of expression and speech to all. It also laid the foundation of all governmental and quasi-governmental institutions, which started operating in a democratic way, most conducive to establishing a system of checks and balances.
Great, isn’t it? Yes, it was for all these years, but the inherent instability and deficiencies of democracy as a form of government were evident for a long while. Democracies in most cases, also nurture inefficiencies in most of the things they do, allow politicking in the name of democracy, and further, worst of all, allow nepotism and corruption to rear their ugly heads despite all the checks in the system. Meritocracy became an antithesis of democracy, and incompetency was allowed to flourish in the name of “unsackability” of government employees who almost always had the luxury of lifetime employment which allowed them, in turn, to establish a system of embedded corruption. This happened in most democracies, including some of the Western democracies, resulting in terrible lack of progress in achieving societal goals and imbibing into the heads of the citizens that it is OK to be corrupt to achieve quick results, and it is OK to be incompetent as long as one can get into a government job. And, so on and so forth.
But, the worst thing which happened is “inequality”. Due to bad memories of past lives, governments became beholden to old and established caste, race and religious affiliations of its people, which divided them rather than united them. Only few democracies could escape the tentacles of this government-engendered inequality. Apart from this inequality, there was also the bane of economic inequality, when businessmen and industrialists considered close to the powers that be, enjoyed favours doled out by the government against all rules and regulations in return for financial or other incentives. This “people division inequality” and “economic favouritism inequality” generated people who are then divided into “haves” and “have-nots”.
In advanced countries, the financial industry generated outsized profits for a long time, and when it got into troubles, tax-payer money was used to bail the financial titans out of their troubles, in the name of “too big to fail”. What nonsense………In a democratic system faced with crisis, the only way to take big decisions affecting the people and their tax money is to go back to the people for a democratic referendum. There is no other way to determine if what the head of government wants to do is the right thing to do under the circumstances.
So there we are – in the middle of what is derogatorily called as “populism”. People want to have a say in what even an elected government wishes to do (sometimes in unethical manner), especially when their monies are involved. People want to have a say when government policies create more divisions amongst the people, in favour of one sect of people against the other sects of people – all the more so, when each person has one vote to elect or dismiss the government. People want to have the right to know how and why financial institutions can get out of troubles when it was their greed which decimated peoples’ dreams in the first place. And so on and so forth.
All of us can easily agree on one thing – there are no easy answers to the “populist” demands of our citizens. They are right to raise these questions and demands, after all democracies survive on people electing them to rule over the people. Governments function at the pleasure of the citizens, not at their collective displeasure. Things will get very lucid if countries make voting in all elections mandatory for all citizens, propagating the view that voting in elections is a bounden duty of all citizens.
Is there a way out of the morass that we find ourselves in? Is there a better way to govern people? Is democracy as a form of government going to be dead soon? What are we all going to do in the meanwhile? How will existing democratic governments respond to the situations on the ground? Are people going to ultimately lose their collective cool and revolt against their governments? Will inequality persist in democracies?
Good questions to have at the start of the year. Time to think. I will write more about related topics in the near future, as I do have some solutions. In the meanwhile, think and enjoy what is left of this weekend, folks.
8th January 2017