India’s yearly budgets are a major driver for unbridled corruption from it’s grass root level

The Indian government has released its Union budget plan for the FY 2019-2020. The country’s economy has been in doldrums since demonetization delivered a knockout punch to it in 2016. Back at the helm of governance for a second term after general elections, all eyes are on the BJP government to see if and how it is going to pull up its straps and get the economy back on track.

Before doing an evaluation of the budget, it is important to understand what the budget is. In the scope of work of the government that gets elected in democracies or what we call as governance, there are a slew of areas that need development and maintenance, such as agriculture, defense, infrastructure development, etc. This is the reason why governments are empowered to levy taxes, control prices and manage money. Budgets help to create wealth and to allocate it to different sectors from where development schemes deliver the benefits to the people. This is the ideal situation but is a Utopian world for us.

A high level perspective of the budget reveals something important. Majority of the scope of the budget is intended to generate more wealth for the government. More national highways means more toll booths and consequently more toll charges. Increase in fuel prices means travel is going to get more expensive, not just for vehicle owners but for people in general. So the government is essentially acting like a financial institution which is lending out money with the objective of bringing in more money. In such a case, it becomes imperative that governments adhere to certain best practices followed in the corporate world.

First one is the Balanced Scorecard which looks at the 4 key aspects of financial performance, customer satisfaction, internal process and organizational growth. This can be easily translated into 1) how effectively the government is using the resources (wealth) at its disposal 2) Satisfaction levels of people (who are the government’s customers) 3) how the government’s internal process can be improved and 4) how the infrastructure and culture of government bodies can be improved. There is a very important model used across industries to help deliver better results from projects and it is known as the RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) model. In the corporate, business strategies when executed as projects are what creates wealth. In governance, budgets are the government’s business strategies and when they are executed through development schemes and taxes generates wealth for the government. Projects are executed using the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time bound) model and development schemes need to be executed using the same model.

But the most important of all is accountability. Where is the report card of last year’s budget with the details of the government’s performance in executing its development schemes and how much money was spent on them? How much money has been gained from taxes and other means? A high level report does not suffice when the country has been segmented into states, cities, corporations, municipalities and panchayats. From the level of panchayats, report cards need to be generated to understand what development schemes were implemented, how much money was spent and how successful are they. Such report cards have to be generated for every aspect of governance. Corporate uses what is called as metrics to measure success using parameters for measurements known as CSFs (Critical Success Factors). Metrics when measured for evaluating performance are known as KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and when measured for understanding risk are known as KRIs (Key Risk Indicators). Insights from data obtained by using these parameters for one FY should be used to create the next FY’s budget.

And what do we have in our country? This FY, there is budgetary allocation of Rs. 65,837 crore and outlay for capital expenditure of Rs. 1.60 lakh crore for railways. Where exactly is all this money going to be used? The trains are still of the same old design, maintained just enough for them to run the intended distances and poor and unhygienic food services (vessels get washed inside train toilets which are themselves stinking dirty). I have heard several cases of people in states like UP, MP, Bihar etc where people muscle their way into A/c compartments, travel without tickets and even ticket examiners (TTs) getting thrown out of moving trains for trying to get such people out. During every year’s budget, a certain amount of money gets allocated to railways and on the ground almost everything remains the same which means governments simply want to keep running the shows with zero interest in improvements.

Stable fuel prices is a critical parameter for stable prices of commodities and maintaining lower inflation levels. We have continuously fluctuating fuel prices which is resulting in higher cost of commodities and higher inflation. Rs. 70,000 crore capital for PSU banks without a clear plan for recovering high value corporate loans that have defaulted to NPAs (Non-Performing Accounts) and stopping black money from getting hoarded continuously out of the country is insensible. In education, there are no schemes to improve government schools across the country and make education equally accessible to all sections of the society. As I have always known, equal education to all would be fatal to vote bank politics on which all political parties are thriving. What worries me is, there is not a word about nature conservation and sustainability which in turn gives corporate a free hand to use and destroy natural resources at their whims and fancies. No mention on air pollution, water conservation (wanton destruction of drinking water resources) and improving quality of living conditions. What value does governance have if it does not help in improving people’s lives?

Budgets without accountability is the chief contributor of corruption in our country. Only 20% of the allotted money for development schemes create value for people and the whopping 80% gets fed into bureaucratic red tape to get the 20% work done. A one nation one transport card has been proposed in the budget but it remains to be seen how long it will take to see the light of the day and we won’t even know how much money is going to get spent on it. We all know how the Aadhaar fiasco unraveled. Any tax breaks or incentives is only meant to cajole people into putting more of their money into the market or borrow more money from the market which in turn will create more wealth for the government. With burgeoning population, omnipresent corruption and very little of the resources getting used for development, it is no surprise that no one gets any benefits out of paying taxes and the entire country is in perpetual struggle for sustenance. Unless the entire system of governance is overhauled, yearly budgets have little effect on people’s lives except the ones who are licking their lips and waiting for their piece of the pie. What is growing is the demand for public sector jobs and career in politics and we all know why.

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The corporate hiring process has deteriorated and needs urgent makeover

The noise over the current hiring practices in corporate companies is growing louder with each passing day, especially on LinkedIn. More people are complaining about the lost value of humanity in Human Resources and are batting to return the “Human” to HR. They are citing many examples from their professional careers to highlight the deteriorating HR practices. At least a thousand of my job applications have been rejected in the last 7 years since I completed my MBA.

At its forefront is the Application Tracking System (ATS) which matches resumes of candidates to job requirements. From software applications, technology has grown in sophistication and matching is now done by software bots. Resumes are basically professional autobiographies written by humans to highlight their career progression, achievements and aspirations and is meant to be read by fellow humans. But they are now being analyzed by the so called intelligent bots whose intelligence is limited to the data humans have fed them. Candidates are now required to format their resumes to fit the comprehension of these bots and fill them with keywords that would match them better to the jobs they are applying for. What is ironic is, if there are software available for filtering resumes, why are there no software that are ATS compliant and can be used to write resumes by simply inputting keywords?

Standard resume sizes vary from 1 page for freshers to 4 pages for top executives. I have to limit my resume to 2 pages and it should contain a professional summary, core competencies, experience, project details and information about academic and contact details. So much in so less space means just selecting keywords that best suit my professional background and connect them with English words. This is what resume writing has been reduced to.

What we write as experience in our resumes with the companies we have worked for is limited very specifically to the role we were hired for. But we may be doing a lot more work than that. For example, when one of my previous employers decided to shift its premise to a new building, I was assigned the task of coordinating with the shifting of employees on one floor of the present building, get their computers and phone connections moved to the new building and ensure that they got network and phone access to get back to work with minimum loss of time. I was the “buddy” for new employees joining different projects in my department. I was their contact person to get desk spaces, computers and phone lines assigned to them and ensure that they had all the software applications and network access to start working in their projects. The head of my department used to take my help in drafting responses to escalation emails from clients. There were so many other tasks which I have performed over the years that were beyond my job profile. Where do I write all of these in a 2 page resume and what’s the point anyways? None of these would matter to the bots. I can showcase all my experiences in interviews when I am able to speak to humans but if the bots keep filtering out my resume each time, there isn’t much that I can do.

Even more bewildering are the interviews where some of the standard questions asked are plain mindless.

1) Where do you expect to see yourself in the next 5 years?

I wish I had the vision to see that far. Life on earth has always been uncertain, for humans as well as for all animals. No living being can claim in certainty that it will see the sunrise the next day. I have heard of ridiculous responses like the candidate wanted to be the CEO of the company or to be in the chair of the interviewer. Though people may be working together in an office in a project, they would most probably have different skills. Some may move out of the company and some may identify and learn new skills and move within or outside the company in 5 years. We can always be ambitious and we can speak about them but I believe those should be more on the lines of activities outside our current role, such as learning and developing new skills, adding value to business and working more at the organizational level and not with respect to a position or role in the company. Rather than looking for position and fame, our focus should always be on learning more and adding more value to our current role. Recognition and growth always follows hard work.

2) What is your expected salary?

This is linked to the question “What is your current salary?”. Every department head or manager will have a budget for each role in his/her team & there will be a minimum & a maximum value which will be conveyed to the HR when the hiring request is sent. The HR will try to negotiate closer to the minimum value with the candidates but has the liberty to go up to the maximum value. When a candidate’s expectation crosses the maximum value, the HR will revert to the hiring manager & check if he/she can exceed the budget which is usually based on how the candidate has performed in the interview and the hiring manager feels the particular candidate is the best fit for the role. Asking for current CTC is the HR’s way of knowing where the candidate’s current salary is with respect to the budget range for the role so as to do better negotiation with the candidate. Prospective employers should offer a package based on interview results, industry standards & other parameters which they are aware of for every role they are hiring for rather than making it compulsory for candidates to reveal their current CTC. A candidate could be working for a low paying job or a low paying employer and he/she could have taken up the job for many reasons, but it doesn’t mean he/she will want to continue working in a new job at a lower salary.

3) What is your biggest weakness?

The question could be asked to fresh graduates to test their self awareness and self assessment but it doesn’t make any sense to ask it to experienced people and especially managers. A manager who admits to having a weakness is demonstrating lack of continuous self management and self improvement and it implies that he/she cannot be a manager of other people. I believe a good way to respond to it would be to talk about a weakness in the past and how it was overcome or how the present company culture is fostering a certain weakness in the candidate or a larger group of its employees and use that as the reason or one of the reasons why the candidate is looking for a new employer.

4) How do you explain the employment gap in your resume?

Unless a candidate had a specific reason for opting out from working for a period of time, the candidate’s profile is out there on job sites and on LinkedIn. It should ideally be just the matter of time before being found by interested employers. Applying for jobs through job sites and LinkedIn is like putting matter into a black hole. These avenues do not even guarantee that resumes of candidates will be looked at by the HR teams. HR consultants also go on full silence after taking resumes of candidates for opportunities and do not even consider it necessary to inform the outcome to the candidates. Only if companies call candidates directly is there hope of at least landing an interview. In most countries, labor laws have been tightened and companies are no longer interested in hiring candidates from other countries. India is facing an unprecedented slump in employment after its government’s currency devaluation fiasco in 2016. But what would matter is what the candidates were doing during the period of job search. Looking for jobs is not a full day activity so what employers would look for are skill development and personal growth of the individuals.

5) Why are you looking for a job change (why did you quit your last job)?

The question has always me wonder whether employers are happy that they are able to find candidates that fit their requirements or if they are looking for reasons to reject candidates. People may quit jobs or look for new jobs for a variety of reasons such as better monetary benefits, bad managers, better roles and location. Why do potential employers have issues if a candidate has or had issues with managers in their current or previous jobs? This is life and bad things too happen. If an employee is leaving a company because of issues with the management, the company HR will not write a positive review about the employee in their records and in all probability is not going to give a glowing review about the employee during future background checks. Then what’s the point in the employee not talking about why he/she is leaving his/her current employment or had quit previous jobs? No company is perfect so there are no perfect jobs or managers. Then why are employees expected to have blot free employment records? It is commonly known that one of the biggest reasons for employee turnover in companies is bad management. Then why are employees expected to be positive and talk nicely about their previous employers? Such unwritten rules and expectations are what makes corporate employment corporate slavery.

6) How soon can you join?

This one pops out inadvertently from the HR after asking the candidates about their notice periods with their present companies. All companies have to serve notice periods with their current employers when they quit and the big companies mostly have 3 months. This is how they dissuade their employees from changing jobs and discourage competitors from poaching their best employees. Buying of notice period was in vogue for some time but it has been stopped by all companies. The same employer who is hiring the candidate will make a hue and cry when the same candidate moves to another company after a few years and requests to be relieved before the entire notice period with the company is served. I had faced this issue with a previous employer during hiring process and had to shut down the HR and hiring manager by asking them whether they will let me go early when I quit the company in the future.

Age is a big factor when it comes to rejection of candidates. I came across a comment that companies are looking for 30 year old candidates with 20 years of experience. This is how ridiculous hiring has become. My parents keep telling me that companies won’t consider me for jobs with advancing age. Unless I start my own company, senior roles in companies always require people with experience and maturity and both come with age through professional skill enhancement and personality development. This is why I chose to take up a professional MBA program after working for 10 years. When my job search faltered after MBA, I used the time on blogging and wildlife observation and photography. Blogging has led me to writing articles on a variety of topics for an online content publishing platform and writing and wildlife photography have led me to author my first book. If a company puts my age above my skills and experience I would be grateful for not having to be part of its journey.

The only factor that matters and will always be relevant is a candidate’s continuous evolution through skill enhancement and self improvement. I used to be a thorough IT professional and could have had continued to build my IT skills, but I have always known that to become either a senior executive in a company or an independent professional, skills other than technology are of far greater relevance. This was why I grabbed the opportunity to work as a part time business correspondent and caption writer with an advertising firm when I was doing my engineering under graduation. The skills I developed from that time were what helped me draft those emails for my department head and created the platform for me to become an accomplished writer. The key is to keep building skills while continuing to look for opportunities with patience and perseverance.

The MeToo hashtags can become the pivots of women empowerment & societal change

In certain jokes floating through the social media I have seen the phrase “That escalated quickly”. Given the situations it gets used, I find it hilarious. The same happened with the MeToo and MeTooIndia hashtags on Twitter but in extremely serious way. They started trending slowly but then hit the high notes so loud that mere hashtags are on the brink of creating a social movement.

It all started with the details of one powerful man floating around. But no one was ready to take out his name. Then someone did. Women journalists pounced on it and his name became a raging wildfire. M J Akbar, a lion in journalism and now a cabinet minister in the central government. Turns out he was a predatory lion, using his mammoth stature in the journalism industry to sexually abuse young women journalists and use his cape of fear of power and influence to devour their self respect and dignity. Then came Alok Nath’s name out. The epitome of culture, decency and manhood. Turns out he is a good old rapist. The burning embers had caught fire. Names of corporate honchos and familiar names from the movie industries followed. Social media has lit up. Journalists and common people alike are baying for the blood of sexual predators.

I got into a row with popular South Indian singer Chinmayi on Twitter. She had called out the name of Vairamuthu, a song writer of almost legendary status who has collaborated on many of the Tamil songs of A R Rehman. Many aspiring singers and artists who had been abused by him were reaching out to her and taking her help in disclosing their experiences anonymously. My problem was two fold. How did the situation deteriorate to the level where so many women in the case of M J Akbar are reporting their abuse sagas and some of them happened 2 decades back? They kept quiet. So I wrote to Chinmayi requesting her to reveal the names of the victims as keeping quiet for so long and hiding behind anonymity are the reasons why sexual abuse has become a daily affair and common practice in the corporate world. She replied saying they have their career to worry about which is why they cannot call out their abusers. Exactly. Abusers are feeding on this fear to continue abusing. If Chinmayi had spoken out about her experiences long back, many younger singers may have escaped being preyed on by Vairamuthu. This is just one aspect of the situation. Victims are compromising on their self respect and dignity by choosing to suffer the indignity in silence. What is more, all men have become potential predators in the eyes of women. It is scary how women see men trying to engage with them in lighthearted conversations as flirting.

Women are also complicit in helping create such a toxic work environment. They have waded into a male bastion demanding equality in work and social status. This is not a Utopian world where men would step aside and let women take over the reins of power from them. What would men seek from women in return other than sexual favours? The ones who agreed laid the foundation stones of the system. From then on, everyone who went on to enter the system were conditioned to live in the system. From bedrooms sex became an accepted practice inside boardrooms. Women who couldn’t digest and come around to accepting all of this were scarred mentally with abuse. The heritage of the system has been handed down to the next generations of men who have only grown on to become more brazen in their actions.

What is astounding now is, other than a few murmurs in the movie industry and corporate offices, there is almost a deathly silence. It is improbable that the world of glitz, glamour, fashion and wealth could be a perfect world. Rather, it almost seems like everyone has taken shelter for the storm to pass. Shobhaa De the acclaimed writer and journalist was on TV to talk about sexual abuse in Bollywood and she said the ones who have been caught in the net are the expendables and small flies. The big and the mighty ones are hiding in plain sight. She was right on the money. Women have had to go through hell and back especially in the movie, aviation (airline) and healthcare (nursing) industries to even hold on to their jobs. But not a single mouth is opening to complain. Goes to show the heights of male dominance which in turn shows how low women have allowed themselves to be buried in the mire of sex, abuse and oppression.

Every individual’s responsibility in the society is to make it better for the next generations. It is not enough that we only try to make our children’s lives better. A life with self respect and dignity should get priority over everything else in society. All urban men who become influencers in the society are raised up in similar environments. Then how do some go on to become such wily predators? It is upon every individual to introspect and ask do we want to continue living inside such a slimy system where we have to keep worrying about our women’s safety and well being all the time. MeToo and MeTooIndia is a desperate call for change. They are the atomic bombs of the urban society. Their explosions have been triggered. What the abusers and predators fear is the mushroom cloud that emanates from it and envelops one and all. This may be the only chance for women to go up in arms against their tormentors. This has to become a movement, cleanse the urban world and it’s fire should then spread into rural heartlands. Women have always called out for equality and empowerment. Their time to take centerstage seems to have finally arrived.

Why the value of the corporate world, it’s management and education system has eroded

Being a Manager has been the most coveted designation in the corporate and industrial realms. Not so much now as designations do not match the actual role the employees play in their jobs in many cases. General Management has gone under the corporate knife and has been chopped into many pieces. There are interesting reasons why management has lost it’s sheen and why the business world has become cold and calculated.

The pyramidal structure of the corporate hierarchy has become pot-bellied through the years. The middle region of the pyramid has been burgeoning because of the exponential increase in the number of managers and manager hierarchy. I see this from a very simple and real life perspective. Consider a big farmland on which different types of cultivation is done. There is paddy, corn, apples, oranges, grapes, olives and different types of vegetables. When the farmland was set up, only a single manager was needed. But as the number of items being cultivated grew, it gradually became impossible for one person to manage it all. So now there is someone who manages paddy, one for corn, one for apples, one for oranges, etc. Up until this point, it looks feasible and relevant. But if they start having different managers for sowing and harvesting paddy or different managers for planting and growing apple trees and yet another manager for plucking apples then it slowly descends into a huge long term problem. Every company goes through corporate restructuring periodically for a variety of a reasons and this is when the biggest problem rears up it’s ugly head. With so many functionalities and managers to consider, it becomes blinding as to what roles and functions are relevant and needs to stay and what needs to be scrapped. A peep inside our history is enough for conclusive proof. The biggest empires of the past all grew beyond manageable proportions and decayed away with time simply because of management issues.

Management is an art we need to keep learning and practicing throughout our lives. The entire concept of management can be sliced into two big pieces. Self management and people management. Self management starts from the time we start walking. Now here is something interesting. Our society has migrated from a community based life to an individualistic isolated lifestyle. But the rules of raising us up hasn’t changed. We walk, we fall, we try again. We are taught the art of patience, perseverance and resilience very early in life. Our preparation on time management also starts very early when we are made to write exams from school days. Now Japanese schools do not think this is right. So there are no exams for kids till they reach the 4th grade. Till then they are not evaluated on their academic or time management skills. The focus is on building their soft skills especially their behavioral skills and making them live like in a community with other kids. There is a very important aspect to this. Kids are made to get their fundamentals in place rather than crowd their minds with numerous aspects of life and confuse them. Science says 80% of our brain development happens in the first 3 years of our lives which makes it most critical time of our nurturing. When we take all of this into account, it boils down to one thing. Good managers start early at learning management.

Then comes people management. Till the 4th grade, Japanese schools focus on developing two critical aspects of the personality of their kids : Empathy and Compassion and they have a reason for this. They follow the Clan organization culture and Democratic method of leadership. It requires a very inclusive mindset of working and decision making needs the consensus of everyone involved, no matter what their role in the organization is. But this culture is in perpetual conflict with that of the rest of the world. Empathy and compassion foster emotional intelligence in us but becomes the biggest roadblock to decision making. Take the example of policemen and lawyers. They are trained to focus only on evidence. If they grow emotional intelligence, no crime will be a crime and there will be no punishments which means there will be no law in the land. Ideally, we just need to add excellent communications skills, empathy and compassion to self management skills to become good people managers. But in the corporate world we are part of, none of these are required. Managers are expected to drive people at work like shepherds drive cattle to graze. Team members are neither expected nor encouraged to learn anything more than what they need to know to do the work assigned to them. There are also organizations where managers are used as thugs and enforcers to hire, intimidate and coerce employees to quit unwillingly which I have seen and experienced.

These are the reasons why the world of business seem so cold and hard. Empathy and compassion have no place in that realm. Banks cannot function on emotional intelligence. No loans will ever be recovered. This is why outside of Japan, kids start writing exams early. Our lives are made competitive and good scores are rewarded so that we focus solely on getting better scores to get the rewards. We are not allowed to grow emotional intelligence and our personality development is done devoid of empathy and compassion. This is why there is growing discontent and ire against the existing education system. The education system is being blamed for creating robots rather than humans that can easily fit into the corporate world. Corporate world runs only on numbers and our lives are far more complex and evolved to be measured and defined with just numbers. A growing population of people are homeschooling their kids simply because nothing much has changed in all these years. Schools are nurturing kids the same way their parents were nurtured, to grow up and fit into corporate jobs. Education no longer symbolizes learning. Older generations have had to unlearn many of the things they learned through the education system to understand the world and life around them.

Brigette Hyacinth, an influencer on LinkedIn has been creating quite a stir in the community by openly questioning the stale hiring policies in the corporate world. Resumes of candidates are being evaluated by automated systems run by software and they use keywords to connect and match resumes with job roles. This is the best example of the corporate world needing robots rather than human beings to work for them. Those keywords take precedence over talent, hard work, skills and experience which filters out people who truly deserve to get those jobs. I have been a victim of this system as well.

But all does not seem to be lost. I happened to read about how people from the corporate world in the US metropolises are quitting jobs and moving to far away places like Arizona to live in organic farm based communities. The owner of a large golf course seems to have redesigned the golf course to start an organic farm which indicates that the situation has become quite serious. On a funny note, this should have been expected as organizations have been creating cattle managers all this time and they must have grown tired of managing people who have become robots. Organizations are streamlining and making their hierarchy flatter with lesser number of managers. The growing support Brigette is receiving for her comments even from the HR community is very heartening. The wind of change seems to be blowing, slowly but surely.

Critical thinking – the worst anti-social activity

Couple of days back, I was watching Prakash Raj, a very well known Indian actor on TV expressing his views in a conclave conducted by a news channel. He was taking on every question, openly criticizing the current political scenario in India and putting the blame squarely on the shoulders of the PM and the President of the political party he belongs to. He is someone who is well entrenched and seasoned in his profession, has contacts wherever it matters and has a prosperous life, so he may have sounded arrogant to many. But then he explained why he is taking such a stand. A well known journalist and a good friend of his was murdered in cold blood last year and supporters of the ruling party were exploding crackers and distributing sweets to celebrate her killing which neither the PM nor any other party leader condemned. He just couldn’t take it and is letting out the rage that has been seething inside him.

The scourge of any establishment and what scares establishments the most is critical thinking. In one of my previous jobs a long time back, my team leader used to constantly tell the team that the work we were doing could be done by someone with just high school level knowledge. It used to feel like he was underwhelming us but he was right. We were just following set procedures and we were not required to wrack our brains to solve problems. We were not required to invent anything new. Simply put, no critical thinking was required. If we look at it closely, the entire corporate, political and religious spectrum works on the same principle. In the corporate, it’s just do the work as you are told to do, take your salary and go home. In politics, vote for one of those people who have been put before you and that’s it. In religion, read, listen and follow what’s written in religious texts.

If we look at all the greatest inventors in history, relatively very little is known about them other than about their inventions and their work. This is because the way they think is a complete mismatch to how the society works. Their behavior and lifestyle has never been considered as normal as per society standards and they were always treated as outcasts during their lifetimes. This is because critical thinking has always been the biggest enemy to the norms of society. Gautam Buddha had to renounce his kingdom and regal life because he understood that only critical thinking can make this world better. But he had to live his life outside the walls of the society. Jesus Christ tried to be a critical thinker within the society and we all know what his fate became. This is how society has always treated critical thinkers. Either keep them out and limit their sphere of influence and if that doesn’t work, eliminate them.

Religious and political establishments have realized long back that critical thinkers are their mortal enemies. When do people start doing critical thinking? When they are content with their profession, earn enough to live a prosperous life and most importantly have access to information and they fully know and understand what is going on around them and in the world. Deny all of these to people and they will struggle to manage their lives and take care of their families which will give them little time to seek out and understand what is happening in the world. First the concept of wealth was introduced, then financial institutions came along and introduced the concept of money. The Renaissance gave rise to industries and jobs and money got linked to jobs as salaries. Thus began our continuous struggle to eke out a living and seek out the elusive prosperity that always seem to be out of our reach. The establishments are also fearful of education which is why rural people in countries like India continue to have less access to schools and colleges and very little practical know how and true knowledge of the world is included in the education curriculum.

The establishments have also ensured that people who can do critical thinking are subjugated to them thereby effectively neutralizing them. A simple example of this is wealthy and distinguished people of the society flocking the establishments of God men. Once they are all brought together under one umbrella, none would dare to go against the establishment. This is also how we find plenty of well educated people being part of and supporting political parties. All of this would explain why the political establishment in India is riled and up in arms against Arvind Kejriwal and his party. He is well educated, had a prominent government job and has a pedigree in social service. That is why when he launched a political party, the entire system went into shock. When the system tried to take him down, he found a way to win elections and become a Chief Minister. What he talks about and the work he has been doing has been clearly highlighting and differentiating what elected representatives have been doing for the people for so long and what elected representatives should be doing. Solving existing problems in society is another huge setback for the establishments. If there are no problems, what is there for the leaders to highlight and talk about? They have no vision for the society and people, they are only concerned about taking care of the needs of the establishments. This problem exists in the corporate world as well.

In his bid to create new and innovative ways of governance, Arvind Kejriwal has been forced to go against the establishments and that is why all of them have ganged up against him. He has made himself a threat to their survival and existence. Similar is the case with Prakash Raj. These people have risen above all influences of the establishments and cannot be subjugated. They cannot be allowed to flourish within the realm of the society. In a Malayalam movie called Red Wine, there is a character who was a students leader in college and fights against the corporate trying to usurp tribal land. The head of the company says he belongs to the firebrand category who will not sway under any influences and can never be subjugated so he has to be eliminated.

Critical thinkers continue to be the bane of the establishments. LinkedIn has introduced a concept called Influencers. These are mostly leaders from the corporate world. Hundreds and even thousands of people follow them. People have to understand that everyone is capable of having their own views and opinions from their experiences in life and do not necessarily have to follow anyone. Until this enlightenment happens, we will all be under the slavery of the establishments and will continue living the miserable lives we have become accustomed to.

 

 

A shameful murder and disgraceful soul shaming

India is aghast and agitated over the cold blooded murder of noted journalist Gauri Lankesh. I am coming across many theories being put forward as the motives for her murder. That she was staunchly allied towards the left and was extremely critical of right wing ideologies. That she was also in the process of hunting down the nefarious activities of some business houses and was planning to bring their veiled secrets to light. Looks like she was fighting battles on many fronts simultaneously.

It does not seem like she was killed for political vendetta. Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela were incarcerated as political prisoners when they could have been easily bumped off. Reasons for assassinations run much deeper. When a friend and ex-colleague informed me a few months back that he had got in touch with some people in Bangalore who were working to start a union for IT employees in the state and the state IT minister was actively taking interest in resolving issues of employees who were being fired by IT companies, I immediately grew apprehensive. How was it that no IT union was formed for so many years? How did IT companies manage to come under the Shop and Establishments act under which they could hire and fire people at their will? These IT companies must definitely be funding political parties especially during elections so I told my friend not to have any expectations from the IT minister. He eventually washed his hands off claiming there were only performance based layoffs and he had no control over it. He cannot be blamed though. He is just a pawn in a system that is designed to work in specific ways for specific purposes and entities. Politicians are just the front men who clear all the hurdles for the corporate to set up and expand their business interests. Political equations change and politicians come and go so there are no long term interests in any particular politician big enough to order a hit on noted and well known people, that too a senior journalist on their behalf.

Corporate gets into elimination mode only when there is an imminent threat to their existence and sustenance. Gauri must have got her hands on to something extremely sensitive and damaging and if she did, she may have been warned enough to let it go and stay low. A case in point here is Arvind Kejriwal. He had made quite a few sensational revelations about businessmen in the past but never backed them up with enough proof. Now he has gone on silent mode and is working wholeheartedly on developing and improving Delhi. I do not know if commonsense prevailed on him and he decided to focus on governance or he was warned off to not pursue his expose agenda.

Left leaning ideologies seem to have their roots in their comrades attaining martyrdom to strengthen and further their cause. There is a movie (Red Wine) in my native language (Malayalam) about a social worker who works for the betterment of tribal people and is warned off from interfering in a business proposal to build a resort on forest land which he brushes off with disdain. The business tycoon is shown telling his people that the social worker belongs to the firebrand category of leftist leaders who can never be swayed from his chosen path, even with the threat of death. The only way to move forward is by eliminating him. Looks like Gauri belonged to the same firebrand category and because of her left leaning tendency she was probably never afraid of death as she knew she would be honored and remembered as a martyr by the people and the journalist community. Maybe she should have chosen a wiser path of discretion and bided for the right time, but none of us including her supporters and detractors have lived her life to judge her and make comments. She knew what she was doing, what she was up against and what could possibly come her way. I wish all of us could become a bit more sensitive and would not resort to stooping low and shaming someone even after her death. Those who are claiming to be the protectors of Indian culture are not doing themselves any good or to the country by abusing her unabashedly.

In her death, she has once again proved that there are no weapons more powerful and scary than the pen and an iron will. Amen to her soul.

Making the right career choices

There is an ongoing debate in my head about whether life is based on destiny or life unravels based on the choices we make. Well, looks like it is a combination of both. I believe destiny plays its role only based on the choices we make. In the timeline of our lives, there are many milestones, like what we choose to study after high school, the first job we take up, the woman we choose to marry, etc. I do not think these are controlled by destiny. Rather, as we make those decisions, destiny decides how many curves and bumps we have to drive through.

Ancient Indian society was broadly divided into four categories or clans: priest, warrior, trader and the worker. Ancient Indian texts also say everyone is born into the worker category; it is each individual’s deeds that decide which category he and his family will fit into eventually. Cut to today and things haven’t changed much except that the trader and worker classes have burgeoned into lot more sub categories and warrior class has become more sophisticated. One significant change that has happened though is, barrier of entry for people from one class to enter into a profession in another class has eased out considerably. But as the choices and options grow, so does the confusion of choice.

High school is sort of a pivot in everyone’s life in these times. In India, it’s a boiling point. Kids are confused as to where to go after high school and parents, friends, relatives, neighbors, everyone gets involved in the decision making process. In a society where everyone aspires to either be an engineer or a doctor, choosing any other path is considered scary and lowly for the fear of being looked down upon. This has resulted in the rise of an infinite number of management colleges across the country where admission can easily be obtained through influence and money, with the consequence that value of engineering and medical courses have diminished considerably unless done from the premier institutes of the country. The situation has reached a point where parents and kids alike are looking at alternate options, the most likely ones being arts and commerce. Both lead to their own areas of professional job markets but then there is another choice waiting to be made at the end of bachelor’s degree: enter the public or private sector. Entering both sectors most probably require further education, either master’s degree or taking up professional courses/programs.

So what are the best options? I believe every one of us is born with innate talents, be it in arts or sports or in some other field. Nurture these natural talents along with formal education. It helps in making decisions on those milestone points. Further, formal education provides one source of income. Inherent talents provide an additional source of income and also a good reason to break away and relax from the rigors of our primary source of income. Skilled people, be it in arts, music or be it blacksmiths, tailors, farmers, etc., will always be in demand. I have come to realize that we suffer only when we start depending solely on our formal education and jobs as our only source of income which becomes a single point of failure. We give the control of our lives to the corporate sector and the decisions on how to lead our lives ahead no longer remain with us. Having a secondary or even multiple sources of income as fallback have become critical in these times.

Now how do kids who are just out of high school going to comprehend all of this or think through this on their own? In India they mostly don’t that’s where the ecosystem of people around them comes into the picture. I was one of those kids who knew what I wanted to study further and why but 90% kids may not be having any targets before them. When people come together to make this decision for the kids, ideas and choices fly all over the place, but it should be taken care that choices should be evaluated only based on the interests and abilities of the kids and not on what the people’s aspirations about the kids are. There is a popular saying that kids are butterflies and butterflies cannot lift stones. So thrusting something on a kid and expecting him/her to excel in it is only going to keep the kid inside the pressure cooker and ultimately destroy his/her self-confidence. Helping kids take decisions on their milestones should be complemented by listening to Pink Floyd’s “Another brick in the wall”. They say “leave ’em kids alone” and they have been spot on.

Demonetization – surgical strike on black money or on a bigger target under the hood?

The act of demonetization and the so called surgical strike on black money launched by the Indian government has taken the country by surprise and storm in equal measure. No doubt the black money hoarders have been affected and the joke going around is that the hardest hit are the Indian wives who have the habit of hiding money from their husbands. They are now forced to bring out all those 500 and 1000 Rupee notes they had stashed away much to the chagrin of their husbands who now have to endure long queues before banks to get the currency notes replaced.

But key questions about the timing, implementation and most importantly, the objective remains to be answered. The government hasn’t been able to fulfill any of it’s poll promises for turning around the country’s economy. Inflation is still high, unemployment is growing and the GDP that government claims is not reflected on the ground reality. The Make in India initiative which was launched with much fanfare hasn’t really taken off. Foreign investors are largely staying away because of bureaucratic red tape. Discontent among people towards the government has been growing and the PM has been increasingly getting ridiculed for not being able to do anything to bring back black money from foreign bank accounts, something which he had vociferously promised during election rallies. Add to it, the ruling party has got trounced in some key state elections and even their grip on states they have been ruling for several years is under threat. Elections for the state of UP is coming up and UP is a key state for swinging votes in the general elections. Something substantial had to be there to talk about in election rallies and they have managed to connect recovery of black money with patriotism. This looks more like a surgical strike on people’s psyche with an eye to swing votes in future elections.

It is a known fact that 99% of the wealth in the world is owned by 1% of the world’s population. The top business and corporate houses are the biggest hoarders of black money. Most of the people who belong to above the well to do category invariably has one or more foreign bank accounts, mostly either in Switzerland, Cayman islands or any of those places and owning such a bank account has become a status symbol of sorts. Black money is getting rolled out of India into these bank accounts each and every day in connivance with some banks in India. Surgical strikes on these accounts as the PM had promised would fetch nothing. 99% of the black money would have got invested in foreign countries in every possible options and some of it may even be returning to the country in the guise of foreign investment. If the government is truly serious about their war on black money, they should have first shut down the banks that are aiding the flow of black money abroad and bottled up all the black money in the country but that has not happened and probably will never happen.

Any sort of action to curb the menace of black money is welcome but it should not be implemented at the inconvenience of the general population. Demonetization of 500 and 1000 Rupee notes has hit people squarely on their faces. People are running everywhere to get these notes out of their hands. For all these days, ATMs were spewing out these notes and when they are made worthless one fine day, the system is bound to go into meltdown especially in a country like India where situations can get chaotic at the drop of a hat. The long queues that start forming outside banks from early morning are excruciating, especially for the older people. Add to it, the new currency notes that have been issued does not fit the existing ATM machines. They have to be re-calibrated and that is going to take at least a few more weeks. A clear strategy has to be backed up by a precise implementation plan but neither seems to be present here.

The larger question is, is this just an offensive against black money or is there more to it? The planning might have started months in advance. It is a known fact that all budget and finance related decisions are taken with the benefits for the corporate world in mind and it is the corporate world that actually holds sway in the corridors of power. After all, it is the corporate world that funds election campaigns. So it is commonsense that any action on black money would have been told to them well in advance and they would have got enough time to cover up their tracks. So the eventual target is small to medium sized hoarders. But there is more happening that is on people’s faces but we probably haven’t seen it yet. There has been no restriction on online bank account operations and on the use of debit cards. Consumers are being herded away from small time traders into supermarkets, shopping malls and online shopping. Compound the situation by choking the flow of currency notes for about a month and it will be the death knell for small and medium sized retailers and road side hawkers. Why else was the currency notes changed without re-calibrating the ATM machines in advance? This might sound like a conspiracy but ground reality is pointing out to the fact that corporate houses are taking over the markets under the guise of weeding out black money. So how will people in rural areas deal with this? That is why bank accounts have been created for these people under some schemes. Those people must have all got debit cards. Is the country being moved to a “haves” and “have nots” based society? There is another aspect to it as well. Government can now monitor monetary movement in each and every bank account closely. Ordinary people who have got nothing to do with black money are going to get penalized heavily for even reasonably high transaction amounts.

People who are crying hoarse about patriotism aren’t obviously able to see through to the larger scheme of things. Blinding people out under the guise of patriotism is an easy way to slip in specific agenda with specific interests and objectives. Case in point is how 9/11 was so meticulously organised, how the disaster was engineered and how it was played again and again in the minds of people as a patriotic tune to garner public support and launch attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq. Who has benefited out of all the bloodshed? Obviously the corporate and specifically the weapons manufacturing industry. If the President of the US cannot bring in regulations on gun ownership in his own country, it clearly states how powerful the weapons manufacturing lobby is and implies that it is even more powerful that the elected representative of the people. This is nothing called democracy, capitalists have enslaved people under the guise of democracy. People forget easily that all people oriented programs are created after the interests of key stakeholders are addressed in advance and everything that gets played out in the public is only with the objective of garnering votes and people’s welfare and improved governance is never on the agenda. The world is being changed, for the good or bad is something only the road ahead will tell.

The rise of the mediorporate empire in India

The fact that media works for the rich and the powerful is an open secret, but the growth of this relationship in India has been meteoric. If we ruffle through the pages of history across the world, we can see that media has always been under the control of the government or the affluent class and so media had to be their mouthpiece. This reminds me of the iconic HMV logo. The logo can be interpreted as “The voice is yours but the words are mine”. This is exactly what media has become in India. The words that come from their voices come from somewhere else.

As we moved towards a more democratic society with the objective of ushering in more equality, the media was expected to play a significant role in highlighting all discriminations in the society regardless of anyone’s social status. That is why media is considered as the fourth pillar of democracy. But little do we realize that in the hindsight, all the media companies are owned by the top business houses directly or have stakeholders who owe allegiance to these business houses and the business fraternity is naturally connected to the political class. Now this is where society gets fragmented into the classes of haves and have-nots. What role does media play here? Any incident involving normal people have little or no interest for the media unless there is any scope for them to sensationalize the matter and increase their sale of newspapers or increase their TRP ratings on television. But when it comes to incidents about the affluent class, media is gagged mainly because of one reason. The perception is that have nots are struggling to make a living and they neither have time to understand the high rise lives of the haves nor it is their business to know. So media doesn’t have to report those incidents.
Nowhere else in the world is the corporate-media nexus so strongly evident as it is in India presently. Media was always under the control of the government until big bang economic reforms opened up India’s market to the world. The corporate world gobbled up a large portion of a rapidly rising media influence in the country. This nexus helps the political class immensely because media and political class are usually at loggerheads and since the corporate class has one foot in media and the other in politics, they ensure that this “triad” is working seamlessly for each other’s benefits. There are enough and more examples to shine the light on.

The Indian media sordidly tried to glorify the achievements of the Indian government in the aftermath of the recent earthquake in Nepal with disastrous consequences. They were trolled, ridiculed and booted out of Nepal by the local people. The same media connived with the corporate to install the new premier of India and with whom they travel everywhere to glorify him at every opportunity. A hit and run incident involving the scion of one of the top industrialists was never made public by the media. The media is just being used as a tool to work in the interests of certain sections of society and to target everyone who is opposed to this elite class.

On top of all this, all that matters to Indian media is their TRP ratings. Some of the things that they do to up their ratings is truly appalling. Like going to a place where people are killed, either by natural disasters or by terrorism and ask the survivors how they are feeling at the moment when all or most of their relatives are dead. There are news anchors who are simply ranting their way through debates and discussions. They carefully choose topics for debates during which they can engage in high octane conversations. Watching most of the Indian news channels has become a disgusting and time wasting activity which gives people no true information and no proper insights into matters of importance in the country. A few of these debates were shown to the people in the US and their reactions were hilarious. They were waiting to see when the war of words would break out into a full blown battle with hands and feet.

It would be a fantasy to even imagine that we can get honest information about current affairs from the media. Social networks are filling up this void very quickly. But internet and social networks are yet to penetrate many parts of India. For those people, newspapers, radio and TV are the only sources to know about what is happening in the country. By feeding them skewed information, political parties are successfully maintaining their vote banks. As it stands, it is not possible to fight this system. Either the “triad” has to collapse on it’s own or educated and experienced people have to step out of the shadows and wage a long drawn battle. Fortunately, one has started in India right from her capital, Delhi.

There was an eye opening perspective about media which I read in an article some time back. Every information media feeds us is to enslave us to the corporate world and to create negative energy around us. This is why issues are sensationalized and we hear so much raving and ranting in debates and discussions. When I watched news channels after I read that article, I could actually feel negative energy creeping into my mind. I have argued strongly with my dad over many issues in the past while watching news channels on TV. I am presently on a boycott of newspapers and TV news channels I usually watch BBC World if I have to know about current affairs across the world. I may be missing out on some genuine news but the benefit of not absorbing negative energy into my mind far outweighs any good information I get to hear and read from the news. All it takes is honest, unbiased reporting but as long as shady corporates lord over the media companies and news is reported by those who have sold their souls, nothing will change and the “triad”will continue to wreck our minds with their banter if we allow them to.

Corporate lessons from the game of cricket

Those who follow the game of cricket will know that the Ashes series played between England and Australia has been the most watched and engrossing series of the game. The just concluded series resulted in a comprehensive victory for the Aussies. What is remarkable is that, England had won the series on their own soil only less than a year back and the Australian team was battered and broken. This astonishing turnaround has huge ramifications, not only for the cricketing world but for the corporate world as well.

The Aussie team was a wreck in the 1980s and their captain had relinquished his title in tears. Then started the rebuilding process when the cricket administration made the domestic cricket league stronger, started blooding youngsters and gave them ample exposure at the international level. Small win became bigger and that turned to domination and domination into might, the might with which they ruled for the game for more than a decade. The team evolved into a bunch of greats, many of them tagged as one-in-a-generation players. But nothing lasts forever. The greats started leaving the arena one by one. New players supposedly ready to take their places didn’t succeed as expected and Aussie cricket started losing it’s way. World titles were lost and their world rankings fell by the wayside. The English team blossomed after a considerable passage of time, when they wrenched the Ashes series from the Aussies. Slowly, their players also blossomed into consistent performers. So after three straight Ashes series losses, the last one less than a year back, how did the Aussies script this remarkable turnaround?

The rebuilding started with the appointment of a new team coach and a change in the environment of the players’ room. Meetings were made more relaxed and enjoyable and opinions of everyone were heard. The coach, an ex-Australian player had built a reputation of extracting the best out of players in his previous coaching assignments. But the most important thing they did was, they brought back players who had lost their place in the team because of inconsistent performance in the past and who were burning in their desire to prove themselves. Everyone involved in managing the team had their own strategies and the captain was given free rein to be innovative with his team. And to top it off, they stuck with the same team through the series. Injuries were taken care of, adequate rest was given to the players but they were firmly told that they were there for the long haul and aches and pains had to be treated as part of the game. It clicked, phenomenally. What differentiated this team from the dominating Aussie team of the past was, that was a team comprised of great players who could single handedly turn the game in their team’s favour on any given day. The present team is a motley crew compared to them, but these guys have famously united as a team and someone or the other have put their hand up and delivered when it mattered the most.

What are the lessons for the corporate world from all of this? Leadership issues plague the corporate world everywhere and most of time, changes are made after a lot is lost. An environment where employees feel belonged makes an ocean of difference. It is said that employees quit jobs to change their managers which clearly indicates leadership woes. Most important of it all is people management. It is ultimately the people who define success and failure, so retaining and having people with the right attitude in the organization is the key. Keeping them enthused and motivated, laying down clear paths for professional growth, handling their professional differences, egos and personal issues tactfully and providing the right environment for them to work are the factors that define good leadership. Employees all thrive as individual contributors, but the onus is on the leadership to drive home the fact every time that the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts. Goal setting is another key factor. If everyone from the top management to employees at the base of the corporate pyramid knows what their roles and contributions are towards the growth of the organization, the whole environment will get into sync in no time.

The most important factor holding back continuous growth is complacency. We are prone to taking things for granted easily in life. It is imperative that we keep reminding ourselves that nothing lasts forever, least of all success. Staying focussed and hungry to learn more and at the same time accepting mistakes gracefully by seeing them as opportunities to improve ourselves are the key ingredients for continued success. This should apply across all levels of the corporate pyramid for the growth of the organization. The Australian team renews it’s quest for glory and I am waiting to see how long their hunger for success lasts before complacency sets in again.