Wednesday, October 30, 2013

India's industrial lobbies are crumbling

The return of these institutions to the fold of big business houses and the consequent weakening of executive control in these chambers have damaged their credibility and are detrimental to their sustenance

On hindsight, it is safe to say that India Inc no longer runs through legitimate lobbies. Recent years have witnessed a sharp fall in the quality of leadership at India’s premier business chambers — the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the Confederation of Indian Industry, the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India and the National Association of Software and Services Companies. This has led to sagging morale in business circles, with furious voices emerging from the inside.

The return of these institutions to the fold of big business houses and the consequent weakening of executive control in these chambers are detrimental to their credibility and sustenance. These institutions are more the victims of inner strife than the economic slowdown that has plagued Indian industry in recent months.

It is worthwhile to recall that ‘lobbyism’ is itself a hyper-materialistic term which is often used to refer to the clout of the old boys’ network that uses the backdoor approach to get things done. Lobbying is an established phenomenon in the US, but clearly what may be fine in an alien land is not acceptable in India. Still, some people like a former CII chief (whose untainted reputation lost much of its sheen after the

Radia tapes came into the public domain) have sought to push the culture of lobbyism. UPA2, with its propensity to plunder public resources, has ensured that such systemic ills happily flourish. It is unlikely that the Government’s insensible use of the carrot-and-stick policy which pampered business tycoons, will lead to any improvements. It will only encourage sleaze in business and accelerate the downward spiral in trade.

The crucial issue here is that the Government rarely does anything that is notionally wrong, but routinely falters at the implementation level. The converging of politicians’ business interests with those of the industrialists can only fudge the lines between politics and business.

A recent case in point is the FIR lodged by the CCenttral Bureau of Investigation against Kumar Mangalam Birla. The Government sought to spin the news in its favour but the Supreme Court and a former Coal Secretary did not allow it to hide the Prime Minister’s Office’s explicit mishandling of coal block allocations. Moreover, the UPA’s own Ministers, including Mr Anand Sharma, spoke their mind and expressed displeasure over the Government’s risky adventure against Mr Birla.

The Ministers fear slowing growth in such circumstances — already, India’s corporate entities are turning incompetent. There is also a disconnect between intention and action, making it highly unlikely that the Indian economy will return to its lost growth trajectory soon. There is not much for trade bodies to look into at this point, as the current mess has happened at a high level, leaving no space for third parties to intervene.

The fight is on to save the face of the Government. And, except for the Supreme Court and the Election Commission, no other institution has effective authority to challenge the regime. Through indecisiveness and preferential treatment, the Government is doing its best to damage the entrepreneurial spirit in the country. Unfortunately, no voice can be heard against such moves from the industrial community, instead, it only whines on specific issues wherein its immediate interests come into play. The trade representatives are now pantomime actors.

Besides, these institutions had ceased to be the knowledge institutions long time ago, when motley groups of tainted management consultants begun supplying second-hand wisdom from within the various chambers’ crumbling blocks. Clearly, it is tough to be either on the side of the Government or the industry.

China has controlled its economy and implemented progressive reforms for over three decades, yet, it hasn’t been able to join the league of high-income nations. It is impossible to see India walking a smooth path in the coming years. If the country’s economic performance has to improve, steps must be taken renew faith in institutional frameworks.

Industry is a vital component of the nation’s growth and ‘profit’ is really not a dirty term, if it has some redistributive bearing. Economic growth and redistribution of wealth can happen simultaneously, if the Government and trade and industry learn to work together.Finally, industry chambers too need to wake up and get their act together, if they wish to remain relevant. Or else, they will soon have no role to play at all.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Pioneer on October28,2013)

Book Review: Fiction/ The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, Random House, p.340; Rs495 (Hardback)
Jhumpa Lahiri has been established as a prominent literary voice, with her previous works of fiction: Interpreter of Maladies, The Namesake and the recent one, Unaccustomed Earth. And now, her latest novel, The Lowland, is giving her unprecedented acclaim and readership—besides offering a short overture with the Booker Prize.

The Lowland is a kind of intelligent work, which is consciously written in the two frames of mind. Sometime, they are in proportion—sometime they are not; nevertheless it makes the narratives able to continue with the spontaneous choices of the author.

The first half of the book reflexes Jhumpa’s greater intimacy with the scenario and characters set in Calcutta of troubled 1960s. Doing this, she becomes a formidable chronicler of Naxal upsurge and a family, devastated through its consequences. Though another half seems less coherent, where the major portion of the book rests in the US surprisingly, Jhumpa appears a better catcher of intricate realities of India rather the US, where she has spent more time.

The bondage of boundaries is frail here, not allowing the book being in the grasp of simpler convictions. Rather the quest is to look into the complexity of the matters, which made the family corresponding with tragedies without shock or awe. This is realistic as the fighting or giving up to the odd circumstances never follows a particular pattern—the ‘variance in approach’, what inspires to be collected for coming in terms with the wider truths.

The novel is about the two inseparable brothers: Subhash and Udayan Mitra, who at the same time have different orientations. Udayan, a more impulsive idealist, gets attracted towards the Naxalite movement just like other youth of his generation.

The brutality in action was shaped so accurately by the state authority, the movement not only died but permanently scared the ‘culture of dissent’. Still, the earth’s largest democratic skeletal is being confronted with the resistance, quite often than not.

Subhash, a dreamer and doer type feel drawn to the life in the academic circle of the US—then a dream place for the detached souls from the cramped third world. He returns to see his grieving family, following the death of brother, who was both different and alike to him. Time spent at home, feeds him with nostalgia and sense for getting involved with his family, which seemed drifting apart.

Parent living a certain kind of shock chose to be less sensitive for Gauri, Udayan’s wife. Subhash shares her grief and responsibility, by coming into matrimonial term to give the child a secure future. Immigration of Gauri to the US empowered her to forget Calcutta but not Udayan. Her feeling were fallen and found no particular reasons to establish a normal leniency for Subhash or her estrange daughter.

Her change of mind and existence are juxtaposing her own self. Consequently, her perils are independent and somewhere directionless. The cultural degradation following the alienation among the different core family members creates a void among the lives. The alienation also grows to the level, where the significance of places and cultural attributes dwindle, and get no proper space in the cognition order of characters.

The exile leaves a heavy toll on Subhash and others, so fiercely to be not approached by the constructive interludes. Jhumpa has succeeded to make a fine balance between complex emotion and bitter turnout of the situation, through a rare elegance in expression.

V S Naipaul’s idea of knowing the quality of fiction, based on gender rather substance is fitted to be fail—he too may sense it, if he gets time to read this highly engaging work of a writer, with immaculate sensibility and no preoccupations for the locale. Jhumpa is cosmic, and hence an Indian too.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in Rising Kashmir on October25,2013)

Train to partition

Book Review: Non-fiction/ Punjab: A History from Aurangzeb to Mountbatten by Rajmohan Gandhi, Aleph, 432; Rs695 (Hardback)
From Aurangzeb to Mountbatten, the history of Punjab is replete with uncomfortable events, but Rajmohan Gandhi provides a compassionate account.
Normally, we hear of Punjab and think about the partition that horribly divided it into East and West. The scare is permanent, as one of the world’s bloodiest human exodus took place in its terrains in 1947.The leadership was incompetent then, and sadly things have hardly changed even after close to seven decades.

Rajmohan Gandhi, a gentleman and scholar has his argument well placed. He believes in the potential of ‘course correction’, which could happen with different groups making honourable compromises and settlements. Though his genteel wishes never ignore the realities of historical setbacks, which turned the region into the centre of bloodbath during Partition, Gandhi keeps his chin up when he speculates on alternatives.

An unprecedented wave of killings and suffering was the byproduct of virulent political-religious agenda. Gandhi’s Punjab: A History from Aurangzeb to Mountbatten has a message, however. ‘Partition could have arrived with proper settlement and talk, though it arrived with a bit of uncertainty and terrible violence that uprooted millions’, he says. So, during those uncertain times, even the promise of democracy could hardly deter the ‘wildness of few!’

From Aurangzeb to Mountbatten, the history of India is replete with uncomfortable events—Rajmohan Gandhi has chosen to dwell on them and elucidate the bygone times with his own findings through years of years of tireless research. Gandhi’s love for history and research is exemplary—his last two works being A Tale of Two Revolts: India 1857 and The American Civil War, outcomes of his erudite devotion to the past.

This book, too, heavily relies on the facts—and not all are in circulation as far as mainstream ideas and ideologies are concerned. At places, facts do justice with the plots but the thin appearance of perspectives tilt the balance of the book closer to academic studies. In that, it reads well. The book etches in detail throwing light on the history of undivided Punjab and the life and times of the ruling classes. Apart from that, it also brings out the untold story of the Punjabi Muslims.

So far, stories of Punjabi Muslims have been mostly neglected by historians. Surprisingly, there isn’t much historical records even from Pakistan in this regard. Contrary to the trend, Rajmohan Gandhi covers almost 250 years of undivided Punjab, from Mughal, to Sikh to British rules, with a sound back up of research into what can be called the ‘subaltern egoes.’ His findings on the diversity amongst the Muslims of undivided Punjab and their cordial living with Hindus and Sikhs are both refreshing and substantial.

The need, however, is to ponder more on that phase of history in order to defy the lateral ‘hate base’ created before Partition, which has not halted yet. The Punjab has seen an endless wave of invasion and experiments with dangerous politics, which have turned this otherwise mild land into a zone of ceaseless tragedy.

Today, the two divided Punjabs on both sides of the border are weaker on all counts. But the book is hopeful of a better time ahead, and indeed it is possible—even if only few leaders in India and Pakistan would realise the follies of staying perpetually at loggerheads with each other.

Rajmohan Gandhi recalls a very turbulent past of Punjab, to pave way for a humane discourse on this land. Instead of pursuing obsessively high-decibel diplomacy inevitably mixed with ugly battles—the Indo-Pak relations would only improve through such softer sides of exchange.

The Partition story and preceding times need a thorough reassessment from historians and public intellectuals alike. Gandhi’s truthful interpretation of history will open a new chapter of understanding—both India and Pakistan need it urgently.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in Millennium Post on October13,2013)

The case of a falling nation

Soon to be posted..

-Atul K Thakur
(Published in Millennium Post on October06,2013)