Saturday, April 22, 2017

The re-emergence of National Parties

Post independence India always witnessed the presence of regional political parties (RPPs) in different states, with differing levels of strength. Some were fringe players, and continue to do so. Will-nilly, the decadence of the one mass-based National Outfit, the Congress(Indira)- which later on usurped the mantle of the Indian National Congress- also saw the emergence of not only the Bharatiya Janata Party, as a credible opposition at the national level, but also some RPPs - notably the SP, BSP, BJP, NCP, Telugu Desam, JDU, RJD etc...   wielding power not only in the states, but also influencing, and quite often playing nuisance-maker role at the national level. Parties like the DMK ( and with it, the the breakaway AIADMK), the Shiv Sena etc.  have always existed almost since Independence ( or shortly thereafter). Some break-away parties like the NCP, TMC have gained quickie popularity and acceptance, by deftly maneuvering the sentiments of the local populace.

India has always been a global showcase of unity in diversity. However, the parochial focus of the Congress in the "cow belt" ( read: Hindi-speaking heartland) had resulted in " more than equal" status to that part of the country, leaving many other "lesser" states far behind, in economic development. The regional players were quick on pounce on this disenchantment. The main national party had failed to put the nation's interest above petty parochial cow-belt and family politics. The regional outfits found it convenient to climb the popularity ladder, by focusing on regional ( read: linguistic, casteist and religious) disparities.

The collateral damage of this growth of the regional parties is that the narrow interests of a focus group have gained predominance over national interests. It does not help that the constitution did not clearly demarcate Central, State and Concurrent lists when it came to managing the resources of the country in a structured way. With due respects to the founding fathers of the nation, they perhaps were not visionary enough to see what was coming down the road. Some natural resources like water, rivers, land etc, which could have perhaps been part of the Central list, were left out. The seemingly insolvable water disputes between various states across the country that we witness today, could have been minimized, had the rivers been part of the National list. It is a shame that almost all national parties, including the current ruling party, play dirty double games, whipping up passions across the state borders.

I strongly feel that barring the odd ones, most regional parties have only served to divide the country further. Nationalism has clearly given way to regionalism. Objectivity has taken the back-seat, while parochialism reigns supreme. To add insult to injury, more often than not, the regional parties have become cases of the tail wagging the dog. It may be recalled that the AIADMK, with less than 10 members in the Lok Sabha, had played nuisance, and had brought down a central government, in 1996.

In an immature democracy like India, coalition politics directly means rampant horse-trading and corruption. The regional satraps end up enjoying their place in the sun, with very little stakes at the national level. Result? No one seems to take the national cause up seriously, any more, playing mere lip service all along. The present government appears to show some signs of change for the better, in that respect, but it is too early to say whether the nation is going to be put back on the path of a strong self-pride and oneness, by just one political party.

Yes, a strong opposition is required, in any democracy, to maintain the necessary checks and balances. It is easy for me to say that we really do not need a strong opposition for the country to grow and stay proud, if I am to take the example of Singapore. But one must remember the sheer complexity and diversity of India is perhaps matched only by the European Union, which is a loose confederation, at best, as opposed to a single country like ours. There, the member countries continue to retain their individual identities, while sleeping with each other, whenever convenient.  I am not going to entertain any arguments on whether India should remain one or not. To me, that is a given - India is one, and will continue to exhibit unity in diversity. The question then boils down to what is the best option for India - the emergence of RPPs, or strong national parties with a pan-India presence who avoid playing dirty double-games in different states and maintain a principled stand across the country in almost all issues.

If I am to stick my neck out and take a stand, I would rather see the re-emergence of a set of strong national parties. It is time that the national parties stepped up. The BJP is certainly accelerating the process of substituting the RPPs with itself. Whether that will lead to the extermination of these RPPs remains to be seen. Nevertheless,  it augurs well for national interest.

The Chinese had erased all regional identities in their country, including regional dialects, food, language, dress, culture etc., in favour of a unified China. They had even destroyed manuscripts and artifacts,  in order to facilitate a unified China. The Ming Dynasty had started it, and the Communist regime had perfected it. India, however, cannot afford to, and should not be foolhardy, to attempt that. India's strength is in tolerance, and unity and diversity, and we should maintain that at all costs. Therefore, it is incumbent on the national parties like the BJP and Congress ( without the Ghandys) to put aside their own hidden agendas. I see the BJP pushing Hindi forcefully down the throat of non-Hindi speaking population, and that is not going to help anyone, including the BJP itself. The Congress's pushing of "cow belt politics", coupled with the hegemony of one family, has pushed it into a position of an also-ran, in national and state politics, and that should serve as a stern warning for the BJP too.

A responsible set of national political parties with the vision and passion for a strong emergent India, will be the best case scenario.


The re-emergence of National Parties

Saturday, April 15, 2017

नामुमक़िन है

दिल-ए-नादान को रोखना नामुमक़िन है
ज़क्मी सीने को और ठोकना नामुमकिन है।
दिल के आईने से तुम्हारी तस्वीर ग़ाइब है
टूटे इस शीशे को अब जोड़ना नामुमकिन है।

दर्द-ए-दिल को समझाना नामुमकिन है
टूटकर फिर मुस्कुराना नामुमकिन है।
जब तुम चले जाओ किसीके हाथ थामकर
जहां से लौट आना बिलकुल नामुमकिन है।

Pakistan's Machinations

Of late, Pakistan has been busy "catching Indian agents" in "the act". First, it was Kulbhushan Yadav. India alleges that he guy was in Iran, when he was dragged into Pakistani border, and foisted with spying charges, tried and convicted. Whether Pakistan is right, or that they trying to frame, no one will really know. These are spy and war games and anything is indeed possible Today's news below adds more spice. So, is it the Silk Route turing into Spicy route?

To me, these do not appear to be isolated incidents. I see the the breathing of fire of the dragon in all this.

Take a step back and look at the big picture. Pakistan is increasingly cozying up to China, and it just suits China, at a time, when the US is consciously moving away from using Pakistan as the toilet paper to wipe terrorists away. With Trump now in charge, there is immense pressure to declare Pak a rogue state along the lines of Syria, Cuba, North Korea etc. It is in Pakistan's interests, therefore, to take refuge under the shadow of the dragon. And it that plays right into China's hands.

China is being increasingly being marginalized at the UN, in admitting India into the Security Council. So far, they have dodged with their veto power. However, they know that they cannot hold off for too long, and would naturally look for new ammunition against a strong India's case.

Pakistan, to me, is attempting to bracket India with itself. " You call me a rogue state! Now , what will you call India, who are fomenting trouble inside my territory? Call them a rogue state too! Stop all Nuclear shipments with them! Cancel all free trade with them!!"

That could, with one stone, kill two birds. One, the blooming bonhomie between India and the West, could be checkmated, much to Pakistan's glee, if they succeed in this attempt. Two, it gives China the perfect to ammo to stop any of India's dreams of making it to the Council. Plus, China could also easily say " See! We told you so! India is creating trouble in OUR territories like Ladakh, Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh, and Sikkim, and ( when India is sleeping a bit), TAMIL NADU too!!"

What would be India's response? Let us wait and watch.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Is this a sober judgement, your honour?

The recent Supreme Court order banning liquor shops is queer , to say the least. The honourable bench has decided that all establishments that serve liquor in any form, are to be relocated to beyond 220m from a state/ national highway.

I find this judgement very strange, for the following reasons:

1. Sikkim and Meghalaya roads are exempt due to " topological reasons". Strange. Which really means that you can happily drink and drive in these states, because nature wants you to!

2. Keeping the shops away from direct line of sight of the drinkers, is understandable. But it is a well known fact that seasoned drinkers seek "watering holes" , no matter where they are located. All it could take is a little de-tour, and you could fill your gullet with Ethyl Alcohol. And continue with the damage.

3. In making this ruling, the SC has effectively admitted that they are stepping on the toes of the Legislature, for the umpteenth time. Such rulings are to be done by the Governments , and the fact that the SC is forced to do it, in reaction to a petition, is a sad commentary on the total failure of the state governments and their police force in catching errant drunken drivers, and punishing them severely.

4.The small business owners , owning these shops and their lakhs of employees, are effectively paying for imbecile police force.  Nowhere has the SC, in it's ruling , pulled up the state governments or the police forces, asking them why they fail to strictly enforce the rules, and punish the offenders. Effectively, the SC is admitting that it is futile to expect the police to keep law and order.

Your Honour(s), whichever way I look at this judgement, it appears to be more like a knee-jerk reaction, rather than a though-out and holistic approach to reducing road accidents.  I this really a sober judgement, Sir(s)?

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The quirk of fate - My friend Raghavan

t has been a year, to the dot. A year, since my friend Raghavan decided to press the button of the parachute all of a sudden, and headed straight to heaven. He had probably fumbled when pressing the button. Which probably explained the rather gory scenes.
The end was vicious, and totally unexpected. His family was hit by a meteor, as it were. All who knew him, were devastated. But, probably next to his family, I was one of the most affected. I was in the final stages of completing my Chemo regimen when he had died, and my Oncologist had prohibited me me from seeing him one last time, for hygiene reasons. Just 48 hours before he had succumbed to a massive heart attack, we were talking for 3 hours on the phone, and I was scolding him for not doing his exercises regularly, and not taking his health seriously. But then, he was gone. Gone, in a jiffy.
I could not see him off physically then. I am unable to see him off my mind, one year after. Not a day passes without remembering him.
We became friends a quarter of a century ago. Through our respective professions. I had the chance to work with him, while he visited India, on a few projects. We had hit it off instantly. Both of us were very argumentative in nature ( I still am). Our vista of interest was similar, and so, we used to discuss, and end up arguing, on many of them. We used to talk for hours - in person, on the phone, and at work. But, invariably, at the end of it all, we used to smile and laugh the day off.

We were the bouncing board for each other. We used to share our thoughts, feelings, those dark secrets.. what real friends should be doing. We used to chide each other when we felt that the other person was doing something wrong. We were a sort of conscience-keeper for each other.

I still remember that fateful day, when Raghavan and I went casually to the hospital, in 2015, since I was feeling unwell. It took all of 45 minutes to turn my world upside down. When the doctor had broken the news of my Leukemia, Raghavan was the only one with me at the hospital. He had broken down inconsolably. He was a lot more worried about me, than I was, about myself. He probably thought my story was over, then. Little did we all realize it would be rather his story that would end sooner.

While looking for photos of Raghavan for this post, I realized that we had practically never taken photographs together!! I had to dig through my archives
for this decade-and-half old photo! We probably had taken each other's presence for granted. Probably thought that we were going to be around, forever, and never bothered to take portraits.

In anyone's life, people come. And people go. But there are a few who stay. A few, whose thoughts linger. A few, who leave an indelible impression, in one's life.

My dear Raghavan, dont ever think that you can escape from my arguments! God has given a few wonderful and close friends. He took you away from me, for now. But, one day, I will join you in heaven, and we can continue our friendly banters.

Direct subsidies to farmers

Modi is focusing on farmers, at a time when there is a looming national drought. And rightly so!! For too long, the sharks have been swindling the money earmarked for farmers.

Now, the subsidies are going to go directly to farmers. Need to wait and watch the efficacy of it's implementation. I do foresee initial hiccups, but with almost 1.1 Billion Aadhar cards issued, there should not be much problems in reaching out, coupled with Jan Dhan accounts.

A fantastic step, in the right direction, along with neem-coated urea. I want Modi for another two terms please!!

The statues of Liberty and Shivaji

We Indians have a very unique self-persecution complex.

We admire, when a Warren Buffet or a Bill Gates become multi billionaires. But we can't stand it, when an Ambani or a Tata or a Birla makes it to the same league. " Without the sweat of the workers, these guys would not have made it there. See! The workers are still where they are!!" It is as if Gates and Buffet made every worker in their companies uber-rich before they got there!!!

We gape our mouths open, marvelling at the Statue of Liberty. But when a grander Shivaji statue is being planned, our socialistic brainwashing over 69 years makes sure we ridicule that effort. Never mind the economics of it. Once the heart is captivated by the socialistic nonsense of " oh! That money could have been spent on farmers committing suicide in the same Maharashtra!! " , then mind stops working.

The socialist mind ignores the fact that this project us going to have trickle down effect on the city's economy, by way of creating at least 5000 more jobs for the long term, and many more during the period if construction. When the statue is inaugurated, there is going to be ferry services to the island, and that in itself will create multiple jobs on a permanent basis, much like what Liberty is witnessing today. Not to mention the boost for tourism ( give me the name of ONE worthwhile tourist place in Mumbai other than the Gateway, today. Contrast that with what Shanghai , for example, has to offer).

The socialist continues to harp the farmer dirge. Make no mistake. Farmers are in dire need of help. The Mah govt is already taking steps. And much more is needed. No doubt. But why send an economically beneficial project, that has the potential to generate long term jobs and add to the Mumbai city economy, to the gallows, in the name of the hapless farmer?

Did anyone ask what happened to almost 65,000 crores supposedly spent on irrigation projects in Maharashtra state alone, since independence? Did anyone dare to ask " show me the dams, viaducts, the canals and the borewells which were used as alibi, to siphon off money meant for the farmer?" Did anyone dare to ask " by, after 70 years of independence, farmers don't even get basic water facility for irrigation. Why, even after spending so much money, farmers are driven to the wall?"

Yes, farmers need a better chance to survive. Fight for their rights, if you wish to, dear socialist. But on a standalone plank. Question the expenditure of the allocated funds. Make sure there are no pilferages. Make sure that the money meant to be spent for the farmer, ends up just that way. If you do, you can keep both the farmer happy, and the face of the Shivaji statue sporting a majestic smile, from the Arabian Sea.

But, in the name of the helpless farmer, don't exhibit your "crabs in the open basket" attitude. Don't try to kill a project that will be seen as prestigious, not only for Mumbai, but for the whole state.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Supreme Court bans non BS-IV velhicles

On the face of it, today's Supreme Court verdict confirming the ban of sale of any vehicle that is not BS-IV compliant after April 1, is welcome. This will certainly help improve emissions across the country, especially in the bloating metros over the long term. A few metros have also worked on pollution compliance of public buses . taxis and autos. These measures will bear fruit over a longer horizon.

It is amusing to see some non-compliant auto compaies cry foul. They were intimated to move to BS-IV in 2010, and here they are, 7 years later, sitting complacently and hoping that the SC would oblige their lobby to continue to produce and sell polluting vehicles. It is even more amusing to see them cry about a possible 30000 crore loss, citing unsold inventory. Who asked them to produce, until the last date, knowing well that there is a strong possibility of this ban happening?

That having been said, the question to the central and the sate governments is - what have they done about the 1960s Fargo lorries, Ambassadors, lakhs of lorries that resemble mobile mosquito fumigation machines than trucks, and all other old vehicles that simply do not deserve to be on the road?

I will still give the benefit of doubt to the governments, both central and state, and hope that they come out with a practical plan to take old, dilapidated and polluting vehicles off the road - in spite of those mighty bribe-receiving arms of the RTOs.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The "Metrosexual" Musician

The very mention of "Carnatic Musician" would typically bring in images of either a man with a kudumi, with layers of Vibhuti or Naamam, dotted liberally in between, with Kumkumam, in a Silk dhoti and Angavastram ( later adapted to silk shirts), or a lady in nine-yard sarees, face awash in turmeric, and a big Kumumam on the forehead, garnished by a liberal dose of gold and dazzling diamonds.  

Sartorial preferences have morphed over the last 3 or 4 decades, in tune with changes in the societal preferences. For the ladies, the gold and diamond seem to get "richer" in looks, and so does the Silk saree, which has shorted mostly to six yards now. For the men, those  symbolisms of religion ( Vibhuti, Naamam et al) have all but vanished from the forehead. A half-beard, to compete with the latest film hero, is in. Shirts have given way to Silk kurtas, though the Dhoti has largely remained. Quite often, the kurtas compete in glamour with those of the music band that leads a marriage procession! Clearly, religion is passe' , and haute couture is in.

But time has not only touched upon the musician's exterior. His content has undergone huge changes too. Rather than sticking to the songs of the  famed "Musical Trinity" , musicians are unafraid of dishing out hitherto unknown and unsung songs of composers in the vernacular languages. So a Tallapakka  Annamacharya or a Muthuthaandavar today jostles for lung space as much as a Shyama Shastri or a Dikshithar, though, by and large, the instrumentalists prefer to "play" it safe, with "known" fare, for obvious reasons. After all, you don't want the listener to grope in the dimly lit Sabhas on what song is being dished out.

But more! Today's musician, on the average, is suave, well-travelled and rather well-heeled. Unlike many of the musicians of yore, today's musician is well educated, in the conventional sense. Because he gets to see the world, literally and figuratively, his thought process has undergone a tectonic shift, too. Sometimes, you even see the odd musician fancying himself as a "liberal". He is not shy to discuss his favourite brand of Scotch in public. That would have been nothing  short of a disaster, not so long so, when the norm used to be slip to the back-stage and quietly gulp that peg rather surreptitiously. Today, the musicians clearly are at ease, discussing social topics, from LGBT to caste to politics to Cricket, and, on to films. And I personally am able to FEEL the reflection of the musician's thought process, on the performance on stage. While tradition is still being stuck to, by and large, innovation, and even invention on stage, are increasingly taking a bigger share of the pie.

Is this all good for Carnatic Music? Well, I leave that to you to decide.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

When to exit long term stock holdings

This is not for short term punters. Nor for swing traders, who look mainly at charts for entry and exit. This is also not for investors who remain in a stock for 2 to 3 years max and then jump ships. This article is for those long term investors, who are willing to wait out in select stocks, hang on to them for sweet compounded annual rates of return, but then do not know when to call it quits.

I have been one of those investors who has hung on to quite a few of my investments over the long term. I do punt in some select stocks, I do take undue risks in some fancy small-cap stocks, but my main investments remains with stocks in whom I have believed over the long term. That belief has kept me hanging on to them even in the "worst" of stock market times.

I had invested in stocks like HDFC ( my all time fav stock), Lupin, L&T, Mahindra and Mahindra, UPL etc. since the early 2000s. I had hung on to them even during the great meltdown of 2008. In fact , I had added to my positions when the markets crashed. Before the crash , about 40% of my holdings were in such long term (LT) stocks. Just before the crash, I had fortuitously smelled the oncoming crash, and had exited about 30%, leaving my 30% in the market to suffer the pangs of the crash, along with the blue chips.

I used the spare cash, to " square off " some of the 30% positions in the market, but also to add to my LT stocks. Over time, I came out unscathed, but there was a lot of short term pain. But even during those painful days, I had refused to quit the HDFCs of the world.

So, what parameters did I use, to either hang in, or exit? The yardsticks I used were a few:

1. How strong is the management? How ambitious are they? Do they have the track record? Is their ambition not over-ambition?

Example of HDFC - they passed on all the above. I am still holding on after 15 years. Same with Lupin.
Bad example of Renuka Sugars - I was stupid enough to believe in a strong management in a cyclical industry, that , in hindsight had bitten off more they could chew. I had to book a huge loss and get out

2. I do not bother much about valuations, which are transitionary, over the long term. What looks like overpriced today, could become more affordable tomorrow, with earnings growth. Key then is - are earnings likely to continue to grow?

Example here is for M&M, which I had quit: M&M had diversified business under the strong leadership of Anand Mahindra. Their tractor business used to balance out any vagaries in the other parts of their business and vice versa. But circa 2012, I realized that their earnings were unlikely to grow much, given that the tractor biz got flat. IN hindsight, my call was spot-on.

Bad example is L&T, which I continue to hold. They pass the muster in the parameters of point 1 above, but I was not able to foresee the global oil price meltdown coming in 2014. I am still holding on, because oil too is cyclical, and it is a matter of time before it picks up again. The moot point is - whether in this interim period of 3 to 5 years, my investment could have yielded better returns in an Eicher or a Bosch. The answer is Yes- which is why I call it a bad example, even though my logic of staying on per se, is right.

3. Are the companies doing whatever they are doing, absolutely right, and is there any risk of their going wrong or a threat of looming competition? Surprising as it may sound, some companies get into a sweet spot in the market from which they are seemingly not dislodgeable. Examples are : Balkrishna Industries, Lakshmi Machine Works, Bosch, Page Industries, UPL , and to a lesser extent, Eicher Motors. 4. And then there are those quiet performers, which do not warrant an exit for decades, because they keep doing more of the same, and in the best possible manner. You wont get multbaggers here overnight, but your investment is in safe hands, and would yield decent returns. I know there are people out there, who argue that, rather than staying on forever, it is better to go in and out more often to maximize your returns. As I said, I bank on my punting stocks for that, and would leave the better part of my money in such stocks above. If you wish to go in and out of stocks every third day, then that is purely your call. Accordingly, your choice of stocks will change too.