Punish, don’t plan

January 2nd, 2013

Shabana Azmi wants certainty of punishment…someone wants the rapists to be chemically castrated… someone else wants capital punishment…While the 23-year old girl is dead, the political, social and media fights (for the best bite) are still on. And of course, there are the Abhijeet Mukherjees…

While there are no quick-fix solutions, I feel capital punishment is the answer. Anyone who has committed a rape should pay. And I really don’t care about the arguments that say that we should educate, make them realise their mistake and so on and so forth. The worst excuse is… Since, they have seen such things happen in their families… they are dysfunctional… and so on…

And I hate words like ‘sensitise’. What the hell is that? Sorry guys, a rape is a rape. There is no time to change the society.

It’s not that only the uneducated do it, even the educated do it. How much education does one need to understand that when you are forcing yourself on someone and that person is in pain, there is something wrong with it? Not much, I would assume. If any person is blind to this pain, then he/she/it should be made to go through it or simply hanged.

Start with the basics. If there is a first instance of eve-teasing, jail the guy for 7-30 days (depending on the extent of the crime). And, if there is a second instance, jail them for one year or more. Put their pictures in local papers, college gates and railway stations.

Once we start treating eve-teasers as criminals, we will start the process. But yes, to ensure that the law is not misused, there has to be proper investigation with evidence. The idea is to have strong deterrents. Fear is the key.

For the social activists who want them saved and educated, there is a solution. Create an island like Guatemala Bay or India’s own kala pani during British times, which will house rapists from all over India. The activists can always go and teach them in these special zones.

And can we stop this “Nirbhaya, Damini” nonsense?

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Less than a crore is so ‘LS’

October 18th, 2012

Indians have always been extremely conscious about social standing. It began with caste, graduated to class and now, finds expression in the euphemism of ‘status’.

Art imitates life and the best reflection of the Indian obsession with status is seen in cinema. The rich girl who falls in love with the poor guy or vice versa is always told “apne khandaan ke izzat ke bare mein socha hota (you should have thought of your family’s status).” Or, “iski aukaat kya hain (what’s his standing?)” – so LS (low standard).

Anyway, the good part is that the fathers/brothers/uncles in most Indian movies have a change of heart and support the marriage in the end.

Sometimes, even the guy/girl becomes immensely rich/Miss World in minutes to become acceptable.

But this consciousness about status is not just limited to marriage, it extends to ordinary life too. A person with a supposedly high status involved in a petty crime is denounced as “chuha maarke haath ganda kiya (dirtied hands killing a mouse)” – so LS.

In many other countries, society does not look at the status of the offender. So punishments are doled out in the US to celebrities or politicians, according to the crime, which could be community service or even jail.

A Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan have done community service, Martha Stewart served a jail term. Recently, Scout Willis (daughter of Demi Moore and Bruce Willis) was given two days’ community service for public drinking and carrying a fake ID. Even politicians have not been spared.

US Senator John Ensign resigned for violating ethics by paying the family after having an affair. In India, people would snigger at such offences – so LS, many would say.

No wonder, Union Steel Minister Beni Prasad Verma’s comment on Monday that Cabinet colleague and Law Minister Salman Khurshid would not indulge in a scam for an amount as small as Rs 71 lakh does not come as a surprise – So LS…

And while Khurshid has filed a defamation suit against the publication, by trivialising the issue, his colleagues are not helping him at all. Someone should tell them — using another borrowed line — it’s not about money, honey.

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Churn, don’t curtail consumption

August 30th, 2012

It’s an interesting thought floated by a friend over lunch. As usual, we were discussing how India is floundering on everything, primary due to the so-called policy paralysis.

Everyone agreed that the government needed to do something to change things, and fast. The thrust of the conversation was that while everyone keeps harping about global problems impacting India, there is little we have done to address our own problems. But, then, what can be done? – Most of us were speechless, as except blaming the government, there were no answers.

Then one of us said – the solution lies in churn. What… churn? – An interesting discussion followed thereafter. Here’s what we journalists call the edited excerpts.

The argument is simple. Say, someone is selling a shirt for Rs 100. The profit: Rs 20. If he reduces the price to Rs 85 and sells two, his profit will increase to Rs 30. But two people would have bought those shirts because the pricing was attractive to a wider audience.

Extending the logic to other sectors, say a builder’s margin is 30 per cent on a property priced at Rs 50 lakh. If the same property is sold Rs 40 lakh, he will attract more buyers.

Importantly, those buyers will take a smaller loan to buy the flat leaving more disposable cash of around Rs 8,000 – Rs 10,000 in this case, in their hands. This is likely to lead to consumption of other goods, say even a car. The rest follows…more expenditure means more requirement of goods and services…more production and so on.

In the economic parlance, it is referred to as increasing the velocity of money and transactions, as more people participate in a competitive market leading to the economic well-being of a larger section of society. To quote Aamir Khan from Three Idiots… more people should say ‘Aal Izzz Well’.

But, many companies or builders are unwilling to take a cut on their margins. And the approach of squeezing the maximum out of a few is hampering growth by keeping potential buyers out of the market.  No wonder, most consumers think even discount sales are gimmicks. Imagine buying jeans for Rs 5,000 in a ‘sale’.

Recently, Analjit Singh, non-executive chairman of Vodafone was explaining that the approach that governments abroad have is quite different. Globally, governments ask companies to focus to top line growth, bottom line growth will automatically take place – something, we don’t focus on aggressively.

How to increase the churn? –Finance Minister P Chidambaram seems to have taken the first step by asking banks (reportedly) to put pressure on builders to cut property rates to encourage buyers. This action needs to be extended to many other sectors.

The builder community is in deep trouble because they have been unable to sell flats and repay banks. And they are finding it hard to sell because they are holding on to prices through help from investors and refinancing from private equity players, venture capitals and even same banks (sometimes, at mind boggling rates of 30 per cent a year). So, instead of selling property, they are busy servicing debt.

Till recently, banks used to charge a prepayment penalty to retail borrowers if they shifted to another bank and ‘did not pay from their own funds’ – a practice both RBI and NHB have stopped now. Why can’t the same logic of ‘refinancing through own funds or a penalty’  extended to corporate India? This will put pressure on them to deliver.

Banks hold the key here. Aggression on their part will help the economy. It will even help improve their books. Who will bell the cat?

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An open letter to the Little Master

May 22nd, 2012

Dear Mr Gavaskar,

Trust a Bengali to respond to you. But it’s almost funny that almost every cricket and news commentator, most less more qualified than you, lectures Saurav Ganguly. Some even pass snide remarks when he is on the field. ‘Oh, they are taking a second run because the ball has gone to him’ and so on.

Here is a counterpoint. Why are we watching PWI play a match at all or, for that matter, Rajasthan Royals? I have not seen anyone, and I mean real people not statisticians or commentators, who are gung-ho about a Punjab (and they are doing quite well in recent times) or Deccan. Simply, because there is no Dravid or Saurav leading those teams.

While Sachin, Viru, Dhoni and Gambhir automatically qualify for fame and support, I wonder how others teams will get the eyeballs if they don’t have talisman captains or players who attract people, even in their failures.

I would expect someone of your experience and expertise to realise that his presence for PWI is important for not just cricketing reasons (IPL is exactly not quality cricket).

But the argument cannot be that since Ganguly does not need to prove himself and he is doing badly, he should retire. Is there really a problem if he wants to prove himself? In the past, he has done so in adverse circumstances so maybe, he feels he has it in him still. And, that is why he is being watched.

I really wonder how many of his teams members have outperformed (him) in this season PWI or other seasons in KKR (would be interesting to compare Saurav’s numbers in Eden with Gautam’s. Is Gauti doing better?).

Unless he is being blamed him for match-fixing, I am sure others did not underperform because of him.

Why are we so charitable towards Sachin and in this season Dhoni, not Saurav or Dravid? Dravid quit after one bad series, will Sachin ever do that?

At the end of the day, we are what the Australians blame us for, record seekers. Age, fitness and form are important, which is why a Dravid (he is still the best number 3 for India even considering those parameters), Ganguly and Laxman, may not make it to the current Indian team.

But in IPL, you need someone who will make sure teams catch eyeballs. And sadly, even Michel Clarke or Ricky Ponting or Steve Smith will not get Pune Warriors that.

To put the wayward criticism in perspective, here is a headline of a leading paper. “ Pune Warriors is the first team to bow out from IPL” with a Ganguly’s picture on the front page panel (your column appeared in the same paper).

Here are the numbers on that day. PWI – 13 Matches, 8 points. Deccan Chargers – 12 Matches, 5 points. If both Deccan and PWI had won all their matches, it was not possible for Deccan to have gone ahead of Pune.

Two points: One, we have got into the habit of blaming Ganguly for everything. There is almost a sense of glee when he fails. By the same yardstick, Sachin’s star-studded Mumbai Indians (any of the teams Ganguly or even Dhoni has led does not boast of those names) have never won an IPL but we seldom lift a finger against him. And I am still to see if Gambhir can take KKR there.

Two, even a leading newspaper did not care about the real numbers but just said something they felt like.
Fact: Few would even watch a Pune match without his presence (even if to just criticise him, his batting, fielding, tactics and so on).

Maybe, the owners should think about getting someone who can grab those headlines in the next season. Even bad publicity is good.

In my view, Ganguly should walk out of Pune Warriors after May 19. (As a captain, he has a better record than other Indian captains and experts who are commenting about him. As a player, I wonder how many have been better than him in the one-day format. His test record or IPL records aren’t exactly condemnable.)

But then, he might just come back for more pain and bad press… who cares… people will still watch him… is it so bad?

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Raja ki jayegi baraat…?

February 3rd, 2011

Today’s front page headlines ‘Raja, two aides arrested’ left me wondering. Why were they arrested? Means, ok, they might have helped some companies make quick monies, broken a few rules, and there was some loss to the exchequer. But aren’t we used to it.

Come on, guys… have a heart. During BJP’s time, some company (I don’t remember the name off hand) bought some hotels and sold it at a huge premium to another company.

Then, there is Karnataka, Aadarsh, Sugar, Common Wealth Games, Onions, Black Money, Aarushi murder case, Ramalinga Raju (of Satyam fame) and god knows, what else and where else.

The media has been kept busy by, besides the Niira Radia tapes, a whole lot of other scams. Journalists, armed with leaks, hit front pages every day.

But will any of these cases ever see a logical conclusion? – Front page news, media pressure and all are fine. Television channels especially, are quick to point out that a lot of cases have come out in the open because of media pressure. Then, these cases get stuck.

Many of these accused remain just like that, accused. After a few months, newspapers and channels start referring to the accused as ‘allegedly accused’ (well, some play it safe and use ‘allegedly accused’ from the very beginning).

After sometime, the media moves on to uncover new scams. And the ‘allegedly accused’ move on with their lives. Some retire, others hide and yet others are quietly rehabilitated (away from media glare). Few suffer. Then, why bother…

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‘The people of India’ – a much-abused term

January 8th, 2011

The term – ‘The people of India’ – seems to have caught the fancy of everyone. Yesterday, while panning the CAG report’s estimates on the financial loss to exchequer in the telecom scam, minister Kapil Sibal kept on saying ‘the people of India’ have to know the real numbers.

BJP’s Ravishankar Prasad also uses this term quite often while criticising the government.

“The loss incurred by the exchequer is humungous; the people have the right to know how could the government allow this to happen?” Or “The consistent rise in food prices shows that the government was unable to anticipate the shortage. The people of India are asking ….” And so on.

Who are these people of India that our politicians are referring to all the time? – Is it the voter? In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the average turnout was around 60 per cent. I would think that the majority of these voters are rural, and not urban.

I really wonder how many of their issues have been handled well by the government. And for that matter, any Indian government.

As a Mumbai tabloid reported, during the peak of the onion prices crisis, farmers were being paid as little as Rs 4 per kg while it was being sold at Rs 60-80. Then, there has been a sugar shortage. Garlic and tomato prices on the boil.

In spite of the rotting food grains in Food Corporation of India godowns all across the country, the public distribution system has been unable to distribute them to the people. Television channels reported that some of the food grains being distributed had to be fed to dogs because of bad quality.

It’s not just food. Recently a woman killed a politician in Bihar for allegedly raping her for three years. Wasn’t this politician supposed to be a representative of people? Villagers, and most likely, voters are consistently targeted, raped, maimed and killed.

Unfortunately, the politicians representing these so-called ‘people of India’ have let them down miserably. And it is across parties. At the end of the day, barring a very few, most politicians suffer from the lack of a clean image. So much so, that the expectations from politicians are going down by the day.

‘The people of India’ want simple things. You can have your scams, let us have our food. Is it too much to ask?

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When Citi was sleeping

January 4th, 2011

“Citi never sleeps” is the famous campaign of the bank. But then, it was sleeping like Kumbhakarna for almost a year.

If one were to go by news reports, a Citibank employee and his accomplices were investing monies – almost Rs 400 crore – of high net worth individuals through brokerage houses for a while now.

Corporate houses like the Hero group and 20-odd people invested in schemes which were sold to them by showing them forged letter of the market regulator, Sebi.

While the bank may argue that bigger scams have taken place all across the world, including India. But one would expect the bank of this size – another Kumbhakarna feature – to have better due diligence systems.

Aren’t there supposed to be quarterly audits, at least? How do they prepare their results otherwise?

It is slightly difficult to believe that there only one person involved. If the employee was issuing cheques on the behalf of a client, there had to be a second signature.

It is easy to understand that the clients were offered super normal returns (high returns at higher risks) and they fell for it. No wonder, they are cheated often because they do not understand the nuances of the product.

But can a bank, which is supposed to be specialising in these things, plead not guilty of the same? Can Rs 400-crore be diverted/ invested by one person without any scrutiny?

My fear is at a very basic level…

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CWG over :) Let the games begin…

October 20th, 2010

October 14: Common Wealth Games (CWG) closing ceremony
October 15: Prime Minister felicitates CWG Winners. (Suresh Kalmadi reportedly ignored)
October 16: Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandi meet CWG Winners. (Suresh Kalmadi reportedly ignored)
October 16: Sheila Dikshit: The “real corruption seems to be with regard to the money given as loans to the Organising Committee (OC)”.
October 17: Suresh Kalmadi: The OC cannot be made ’scapegoats any more.’ Shiela Dikshit’s aspersions on corruption in the OC were “most disappointing and uncalled for” and that she must indulge in self-reflection on corruption in her own departments. Keeping quiet should not be interpreted as a “sign of weakness”.
In an interview to a television channel … Mr Kalmadi: The prime minister’s office invited me for the felicitation.
CAG, IT- departments probes initiated. Reports suggest that CWG scam worth Rs 8,000 crore.

The CWG hangover is barely over. But both newspapers and television channels are having a ball with all the related ‘breaking news’.
Saina Nehwal, who won that famous last-minute goal medal, to take India ahead of Britain has been relegated back to the sports page. The other winners share the same fate. Instead, we have a bunch of people (read politicians) who are hogging the limelight. As usual, for all the wrong reasons.
But what interests me is something else. Let’s assume that it is proved that there was an Rs 8,000 crore scam, what happens then?
Will the money be recovered, even some part of it, and paid back to the government?
Then, the bigger question: How will the government use this windfall?
Will it be used to bring down the fiscal deficit (even if, marginally)? At least, some international agency will improve our sovereign rating. Or,
Will there be another programme for the poor? At least, 25 per cent should reach them. Or,
Will the taxpayer, whose money was shamelessly wasted, be given some relief?
None, I feel.
At best, we will just identify the culprits and initiate a few more probes.
Let the games begin :)

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CWG: Playing with our money

August 10th, 2010

Kalmadi, Darbari… and whoever else is managing the Commonwealth Games is making… oops, has already made a mess of it. And success or failure of the event does not count.

Every debate on television channels only highlights our lack of preparation. The debate between Congress’s Manish Tewari, BJP’s Kirti Azad, Ashwini Nachappa and Sanjay Jha in CNN-IBN was quite disgusting.

The way Tewari and Azad were screaming at each other at the end of the show was pretty cheap. In fact, the latter was quite controlled for most of the show before he lost it.

But there is something quite funny about the Congress. When anything goes wrong, their spokespersons are quick to point out that it is the UPA government’s problem. I don’t know how they will react if something goes right.

Well, can’t blame them either. In the last one year, there haven’t had many reasons to celebrate. Despite the 200-plus seats and 2,000-point salami by the Sensex on their victory, things aren’t too rosy.

Since then, only bad news has dominated. Naxal killings, railway accidents and Bhopal gas tragedy have taken up most headlines. On the economy front, things are not so good either. Inflation is up, so are interest rates and the Sensex’s stuck.

So money-making is no longer easy unless you are a crook. And the CWG mess proves it. Hiring treadmills at double to price, inflated costs on building stadiums… even toilet papers have not been spared. That too, for a series of sporting events in which we figure nowhere, internationally. And ‘Mahim ka Champions’ don’t count.

Yes, we are decent in a couple of them and have even won Olympic medals. But in most others, we are laggards.

And the blame lies with organisers, not sports persons. All the sports associations are manned by people who have no knowledge of the game. It’s not good enough to “have played basketball in college” or ‘following World Cup Football on television’.

Anyway, am I paying for this nonsense? Yeah!

But I don’t remember paying a cess. Like there was an education cess, why wasn’t a CWG cess introduced? At least, I would have known that I am being officially looted.

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Scattered — pl collect

June 28th, 2010

No, lesser beings like me don’t have a writer’s block. But after writing 200 words on some ‘n’ number of topics for some time, I just decided to put together something (out of sheer frustration and khunnas).

Brazil just missed scoring its first goal against Portugal!

Ok, after losing the battle with Irda, Sebi Chairman Chandrashekhar Bhave blasted the mutual fund industry a couple of days back.

Poor fund houses, first, they have been unable to attract enough long-term money – whether because of mis-selling or lack of understanding among investors is irrelevant – then, they get ‘jhapoed’ by the market regulator regularly.

Insurance companies, on the other hand, have to become more stringent but I have a feeling that their commissions will continue to be much higher than mutual fund distributors. Sebi’s actions, though, have ensured some transparency.

Match drawn! Brazil was quite violent.

Just wondering, since Ulips are being sold as mutual funds or their replacement, why should there be a difference in commissions?

Monday! Yesterday’s matches were great. Germany versus Argentina in quarters will be sad, as one team will go out.

The mid-field magic is missing during this World Cup. None of the teams seem to have magical mid-fielders. In the absence of the Zidanes and Figos, mid-field football has been quite average. Messi is only one looking decent.

Yesterday’s match confirmed my conviction that the so-called golden age of English football is quite a sad team. In the last two decades besides Linekar and Owen, all English strikers have looked average, at least in my memory.

Model Viveka Babaji’s unfortunate suicide was front page news for most general papers. Tabloids are still going full throttle… Just think they should let the incident fade. Do we really need to know what other socialites thought about her? Or, what is the legal position of her present/ex boyfriend?

Awaiting today’s matches. Hope the referees are better. Three cheers for Saina … Can newspapers please ignore first, second, third round exits of Sania?

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