Posts Tagged India

Twice Bitten, Nary a Chance to be Shy – The Vodafone Kolkata Tales

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Some years back, during a somewhat extended visit to Kolkata, I was made to jump through hoops and rings of fire after picking up a prepaid Vodafone connection for my local communications during my stay. There was no 3G those days; nevertheless, the experience was distasteful enough to make me launch into an uncharacteristic and rather long and rambling rant in a blog piece. Those of you, interested in going through this rather long piece, will find it here.  [ The Vodafone Pummel ]

Six years later, circa 2013, very little has changed. Or so I discovered when, during another extended visit to Kolkata, a combination of laziness, convenience (in the form of a nearby Vodafone store @ 204, Sarat Bose Rd. , near the Southern Avenue crossing) & possibly a subconscious streak of masochism led me to revisit this onerous institution which could well be representative of the state of Telecom services in India.

Unlike my earlier ramble, intended in parts to be sardonic & mildly amusing, let me confine myself to the bare, dry facts.

After initial inquiries and a brief wait, I was handed over to an executive with the name tag ‘Debashis’.

I made it known to him that I wanted to pick up 3 post-paid 3G/ mobile broadband connections, two of them to be used with smartphones and one to be used, together with a dongle which I intended to purchase, for broadband internet access on my laptop.

After a quick discussion, we settled for a 8 GB scheme for the broadband internet access using the dongle and two supposedly ‘unlimited’ schemes for 3G access on the smartphones (in reality, that translates to up to 1 GB / month at 3G speeds ; subsequently at 2G speeds). After furnishing the necessary documents & identification and making all payments on the spot, we were repeatedly assured by Debashis that activation would happen shortly, possibly in a few hours time.

Later that evening, I dialled a number I was asked to, for activation. After going through the identification procedures, I was assured by the Vodafone person at the other end that activation will happen within a couple of hours. True to form, that assurance fell by the wayside.

The next day I received a SMS about ‘physical verification’. Fortunately, later that evening, a person turned up for the purpose (apparently they are under instructions to pay surprise visits). He went through the process clinically & quickly & assured me that he will be ‘calling in’ his report very soon and that ‘activation’ in a few hours that day itself. That didn’t quite turn out to be true.

Sometime the next day, I discovered that internet access had been ‘enabled’, though the speeds were the painfully slow 2G speeds. I called up Vodafone Customer Care to mention this, registered on the Vodafone site, wrote an email for good measure and requested for a quick resolution of the issue. Despite various platitudes & assurances, nothing happened really for the next couple of days. Someone at the Helpdesk finally told me that if I was indeed interested in a quick resolution, I would do well to visit the Vodafone store and speak to the executive concerned who had sold me the packages.

I did so a couple of days down the line, picked out Debashis from the several front desk salespersons at the store & asked to speak to him. He assured me that he will take care of this right away and complimented me on my patience and tolerance (compared possibly to most other customers who by this stage start getting somewhat prickly & thorny).

Some hours after this, internet access on the smartphones started happening at 3G speeds, though neither on my laptop nor on the smartphones, I ever managed to attain speeds of 7 Mbps or more (Speedtest.net) which, I had been repeatedly assured initially, was the least I should expect.

Despite the delay and several hiccups and the considerable amounts of time spent in even getting the service I had signed up and paid for, I was almost ready to believe that my previous experience was a one-off aberration and that Vodafone had improved in the 6 years that had elapsed since that first experience. Having spent over 3 decades in the IT & Telecom industries across Asia Pacific including India, I should have knownfeline mattress better.

Vodafone delivered the sucker punch a few days later, when the bills arrived. I will spare you the gory details but even for a fortnightly period, the amounts were humongous and not at all in accordance with the postpaid 3G mobile internet packages I had signed up for.

I went through the same routine that I have mentioned earlier and eventually was told by someone in customer care that I should take up the matter with the executive who had sold me the ‘packages’. In less than 3 weeks, I had to undertake my 3rd pilgrimage to the Vodafone store and pick out Debashis.

I was again reassured by him that he will sort out the issue that day itself or latest by the next working day. I was told to remind him through SMS messages and ‘missed calls’ (apparently much in vogue in this city ) if I didn’t hear from him by the end of that day. As I was beginning to expect by now, days passed and there was no comeback from the ‘friendly, reassuring’ Vodafone sales executive, despite my sending out text messages to him with the concerned numbers regularly. Nearly a week passed by during which I received a call late one evening from him, telling me that while he had referred the matter already to the concerned department, there had been no comeback from them till date. Finally, in utter exasperation, I made a ‘missed call’ to his number one evening and he responded shortly afterwards. What he had to tell me this time blew my mind. Apparently, since I had started ‘using’ the services even before my 2nd visit to his store (refer narrative above), after which he taken on the task of getting the ‘3G mobile internet services’ activated, despite the 2G speeds at which the mobile internet  had been operating till then, I had been charged for a few days as per some ‘fancy ad hoc rate’ Vodafone has and not as per the 3G mobile internet package I had signed up for.

If the narrative above is rather too labyrinthine, here’s the elevator pitch. Vodafone, despite repeated promises by multiple agents & individuals, repeatedly delayed activation of the contracted services, failed on more than one occasion to respond promptly and satisfactorily to my queries & concerns and capped it all by sending me a bill which was way too high and not at all in accordance with the package I had signed up for. Subsequently, the concerned Vodafone salesperson  tried to fob me off with the story that I was somehow ‘responsible’ for all this, particularly the ‘erroneous’ amounts reflected in the very first bill. [ Check out update 1 below ]

To be fair, amidst all these crumbling rooftops and falling pillars, the only folks who have responded professionally to some of my emails till now are people who man the Nodal care services for Vodafone Kolkata (nodal.kol@vodafone.com ). The rest of it, as I have endeavoured to explain at some length here, has been a veritable train-wreck in terms of customer service & orientation.

A quick search on the net as well as a glance through Vodafone’s social media pages / accounts tells one that not too many are exactly enamoured with their services. Additionally, Vodafone seems to be under investigation by regulatory bodies like the TRAI for apparently flouting certain laid down norms and by the tax authorities for defaults on taxes payable. The only bright spot amidst all this are some of the interviews by the person responsible for Asia Pacific & Indian operations, Mr. Marten Pieters, that I came across. Well, Mr. Pieters, I am not quite sure what the priorities are at this point of time but, as you can see, things weren’t too hunky-dory six years back and have hardly improved noticeably since then. Possibly these heathens in chaotic developing countries like India need to go through some pain to understand the big favours MNCs like Vodafone are doing to them.

I leave it to the readers of this blog to mention whether this is the case particularly with Vodafone Kolkata or with Vodafone all over the country.  I am also curious to hear about a cross-section of experiences people may have had with some of the other major Telecom service providers in this country.

This narrative, at this moment is an unfinished tale and I will be back with updates in the not-so-distant future. Keep watching this space to find out how the saga unfolds.

Update 1

Emails detailing the problem and linking to this blog by way of details, copied to other IDs which are meant for escalating such problems, one presumes,  were met with stony silence. In the absence of any kind of comforting communication, which is possibly unrealistic to expect under these circumstances, even a mere acknowledgment would have been somewhat reassuring. Possibly, one-off retail customers like yours truly don’t quite merit such attention. A routine mail from local customer care, tried to reiterate the same ‘storyline’ as the one narrated above through an email.  Subsequently someone from Vodafone Care, Kolkata’ called up and needed to be explained in great detail, over & over again, all that has been narrated here. At the end of these rather irritating exchanges, the picture became clearer though. Here is the executive summary.

1. On 31st July, while at the Vodafone store, I had clearly discussed & settled for 3 data plans, 2 of them being the 1 GB Unlimited plan for 2 Smartphones & one the 8 GB unlimited plan which was planned to be used, together with a dongle purchased during that time from the Vodafone store,  for 3G internet access on laptops / other mobile devices. Despite being repeatedly told about the urgency for activation of the data plans, the salesperson in question did not activate the 1 GB Data plans for the smartphones. He did so for the 8 GB plan however.

2. This fact clearly escaped me because the elaborate forms needed were filled up by the salesperson alluded to, who, after obtaining the necessary ID documents & proof from me, got me to sign on the dotted line, assuring me that everything else will be taken care of by him. In good faith, I signed and exited the store, feeling reassured.

3. Due to non activation of the 1 GB Data plans, internet access, after a couple of days, was restricted to the slower 2G speeds. Puzzled by the fact & unable to resolve the issue, as stated earlier, I was forced to make my 2nd visit within a week to the Vodafone store & speak to the concerned executive. It appears that thereafter he quickly activated the data plan, which as per the discussions & earlier agreement, he was supposed to do on Day 1 itself i.e. on 31st July.

4. Vodafone apparently charges such ad-hoc accesses of the Internet at 2G speeds as per some humongously high rates. Unknown to me, Vodafone kept charging me at these rates for several days till the data plan I had signed on for initially on Day 1 itself was quietly activated after my 2nd visit to the Vodafone store.

5. Whether this is an error of omission or commission on the part of the salesperson mentioned, is not quite clear. However, Vodafone customer care executives have been repeatedly trying to obfuscate the issue & claim that they were quite justified and right in billing me the way they did. If there is any intent to redress the wrong done and resolve the issue satisfactorily, it has not been evident from the tone & tenor of the communications, written & verbal, till date.

Update 2

Since multiple people from Vodafone continue to try & obfuscate & distort the issue and fabricate post-facto scenarios in an attempt to cover up for their acts of omission, commission & negligence, I have sent out the following detailed communication to all concerned in Vodafone and to the various regulatory authorities and statutory bodies on the 12th of September, 2013. Here it is, unabridged:

It is now fairly clear to me that Vodafone, Kolkata circle is engaged in a game of hoodwinking first-time & gullible customers, fabricating a sequence of events post-facto to justify their acts of omission, commission & negligence, possibly wilful & deliberate at times & backing up frontline salespersons who commit such acts possibly because they do so with the active encouragement of the management.

It is also evident that despite various fancy names & slogans, Vodafone’s attitude towards the customer is one of supreme indifference & unconcern, bordering on hostility at times.

As would be evident from the various communications below, Vodafone has neither cared to answer several pertinent questions raised during these exchanges but has stuck to a crafted scenario which is, in parts, fabricated post-facto to cover up for their negligence, acts of omission & unprofessional & unethical practices.  Here is a summary of the queries which have not been answered either satisfactorily, convincingly or at all.

1. On 31st July 2013 when I stepped into the Vodafone store on Southern Ave, / Sarat Bose Rd. crossing, Kolkata, as a first-time retail prospect and was directed to a particular salesperson, no attempt was made to either show me the internal forms which are now being alluded to as the defining & clinching document in this whole process. Instead, various talk time & data plans were told to me by the concerned salesperson at the end of which I chose 2 specific talk-time & 2 3G data plans for two smartphones I already had as well as a 3G data-plan solely for usage on internet enabled devices like laptops etc.,.  While I repeatedly requested for a quick activation of all services and the concerned salesperson repeatedly assured me that this will happen in a few hours time, at no stage was I ever informed that the activation, particularly the data-plan activation might take several days. I have subsequently come to understand from informed external sources that this is the case presently. This constitutes a deliberate suppression of facts and an attempt to mislead and provide glib & false assurances for ‘closing a sale’.

2. After asking me for the requisite IDs & photographs, the salesperson was insistent on my paying the sums mentioned on the spot and on my signing on the dotted line in an internal form, assuring me repeatedly that he will take care of all other formalities & processes. At no stage was even an attempt made to explain the various entries in the internal form that is being alluded to repeatedly here; neither was any attempt made to walk me through the form or to get me to fill in any details in the mentioned form. This appears to have been a willful attempt to keep me from reading any fine print in the form and to build up a provision for covering up internal errors & acts of omission and possibly for deliberately misleading customers who may not know any better.

3. It is now claimed that since apparently no data plan for the smartphones had been opted for (a white lie which Vodafone keeps clinging on to & repeating), I was charged for access at slow 2G speeds @ 10 p / 10 KB. At no stage had Vodafone either informed me of this fact or obtained my consent in any manner about such services & charges before or during this event. To state this now, after the charges have been levied already, constitutes clearly unethical & less-than-transparent business practices on Vodafone’s part.

4. It is also now claimed by Vodafone that during my 2nd visit to the said Store on 3rd August, I had opted for certain 3G data plans for 2 smartphones which were subsequently activated.  In fact, the 2nd visit to the Store was to get the issue of ‘slow, non-3G speeds while accessing the internet on my smartphones’ remedied, as advised to me by someone from the Vodafone helpdesk earlier. Since I did not either fill-in or sign any form on that day, how did someone in Vodafone go about deciding that such 3G data plans could now be activated? If, as stated by Vodafone in their several responses, such ‘internal forms’ are essential documents for activation of services, including data plans, how can anyone in Vodafone take it upon himself or herself to activate such ‘paid services’ without a filled-in & signed form from me? If someone can indeed do so, it clearly shows that their internal systems are susceptible to & designed for gross customer abuse.
Further, how did someone take it on himself to activate such 3G data plans for smartphones without ascertaining in any manner or form whether the handsets I have are indeed capable of  accessing such services and operating at 3G speeds? Is this not another example of callousness, negligence & either misleading or demonstrating complete unconcern for the customer?

I now understand from some friends and associates with whom I have shared this experience that several even old-time customers have suffered similarly at the hands of Vodafone Kolkata and that unhappiness with one or more of their services as well as their attitude towards customers in general is the cause for considerable unhappiness among quite a few.

What has been your experience with Vodafone in India? Do share your experiences by commenting on this post.

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India Adrift

 

 

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The observations and comments here are derived from my several posts and comments on the issue in various social media networks. 

The first para largely pertains to a discussion about the TMC’s and particularly Mamata Banerjee’s time in power since her victory in 2011.

Politics is as much a game of building up perceptions (even illusions for that matter) and communications as it is of actually ushering in good governance and delivering on promises made. Mamata falls quite short on at least the first count and matters haven’t been helped in the least by her periodic outbursts, loose comments, whimsical and knee-jerk reactions to events and propensity to put her foot in her mouth on several occasions. Her media managers have done a pretty poor job so far and if at all she has a P.R. agency managing affairs for her, either she needs to replace it with one far more competent and adept or pay greater heed to their suggestions & recommendations.

I can’t help drawing comparisons with someone who has capitalized on the masterplan laid down by his high-powered, expensive, U.S. based P.R. agency and adroitly turned around a disastrous situation which stared him in the face in 2002 to one where he has become a cult-guru of sorts for a section of the middle-class urban Indians who have started believing the carefully cultivated hype that he will return India to double-digit growth days in a trice and solve most problems of governance with a wave or two of his ‘lathi’.

Consider some of the following inconvenient facts, even in Modi’s home state which has been relentlessly touted as a model of development.

  • Gujarat ranked 17th overall within India in terms of literacy when Modi took over. Currently, after more than a decade of Modi-rule, it ranks 18th.
  • Gujarat’s fiscal deficit a year back was the 3rd highest in India, behind W. Bengal & U.P. While W. Bengal & U.P. have never even remotely claimed that they are model states in terms of fiscal management & development, Modi has built his whole reputation on those premises.
  • Hunger & malnutrition are worse in Gujarat than several other large states and the U.N. development Index report of 2011 (which uses govt. data) indicates that 45% of children in Gujarat are malnourished.
  • No political pundit or veteran columnist seems to have qualms about the fact that a man who has little formal education, a family life which is murky (Is Modi married or divorced? Why doesn’t he answer questions about the woman, supposedly his wife, languishing in some village) and whose background largely includes being an on-again, off-again RSS ‘pracharak’ and  tea stall owner previously may not quite be the right choice to run a country as large and as diverse as India and tackle the economic complexities, foreign affairs and social media exposures & inquisitions which are a given in 2014 and beyond.

Check out details about some of these ‘facts’ and issues in these reports:

Deccan Herald – Fact-checks & Statistics about Gujarat

TOI report based on the U.N. Human Development report 2011 pertaining to Gujarat

A word cloud of Narendra Modi’s speeches over the years (most of them used to be in Gujarati & Hindi to the unwashed masses in his early years) would surely show up streaks of his personality and governance style which may not be quite palatable to the discerning. The almost indisputable fact that his P.R. agency and media managers gamed the system by pushing in over 50% fakes to build up his 1 million plus followers on Twitter also doesn’t quite indicate a man who can be ‘trusted’ to lead India in 2014 & beyond.

Some unpalatable truths about Modi’s social media strategy

Ramachandra Guha’s piece in The Hindu about the implications and fallouts about Narendra Modi as PM in 2014, makes some incisive and well-argued observations. Here is the link to the full piece.

Ramachandra Guha piece on Narendra Modi in The Hindu

The alternative to Modi, Rahul Gandhi, attempted to be projected by the Congress, is largely a non-starter too. Rahul Gandhi is widely perceived to be well-meaning but vacuous with no vision or original ideas for governing India.  He is also perceived as someone who has achieved little or nothing during the years that he has been in politics. He seemingly lacks the drive or the decisiveness needed to provide effective governance. While he may come across as charming, he also comes across as someone who has been unwilling to roll up his sleeves and get hands-on when it really matters. As a friend mentioned, had he really wanted to turn things around for the Congress in U.P., he should have shifted base to Lucknow for a couple of years at least and gone about the task with gusto and singlemindedness, rather than the fleeting visits, periodic speeches and occasional photo-op moments that happened to be part of his U.P. campaign over the years. He has also often been silent or even absent when visibility was the need of the hour and hasn’t given any indication over the years that he has either the political instincts or the panache to ‘seize the moment’ which is so important for a politician to position himself in the perceptions of the people.

Ramachandra Guha again touches on several of these points in this interview with IBN

Ramachandra Guha on Rahul Gandhi as a Prime-ministerial candidate

Surely India, a country of 1.22 billion people, with its great diversities and complexities as well as its huge talent pool and major potential, needs someone at the helm, other than these two gentlemen who don’t quite have the attributes to measure up to the task,  who is potentially capable of steering the ship safely past the icebergs after the general elections in 2014!

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Ten Reasons Why I Went to The Ramlila Grounds To Attend The Anna Show Currently On

Anna Hazare - Delhi

Anna Hazare

X.  I don’t like Manish Tiwari of Congress. I thought that Anna, being an ex-army driver, can drive Manish Tiwari into the ground.

IX.  I heard that this year there were going to be two Dussehras and in the first of these, which would be a live event, the new Rama, Anna that is, would be taking care of the new Ravana, Kasab that is.

VIII.  I was told that from now onwards there would be this new supreme being for the country known as Lokpal whose word would be law. I went to have a look at this new supreme Lokpal, Kisan Baburao, whom people lovingly call Anna.

VII.  I was told that there is this new belly-dancer in town, Anna Kejriwal, who will be giving free shows at the Ramlila grounds for two weeks, four times daily. Since I have never seen a belly dancer perform, I was curious.

A Belly Dancer in Marrakech (Morocco)

Belly Dancer

VI.  I heard that someone named Anna was conducting walk-in interviews at the Ramlila grounds for two weeks, starting on the 19th of August,  for a variety of positions like truck drivers, cooks, driver’s assistant and flogger (a newly created position). I wanted to be considered for ‘flogger’, I think I’ll be good at it.

V.  I seem to have read a poster somewhere which said ‘feast’. Now, you don’t want to pass up a ‘feast’ specially if it is one on the house. Only after I landed up I realized that the interim ‘e’ was a figment of my imagination and what was on here was actually a tele-evangelized ‘fast’.

IV. I saw some posters & banners proclaiming, ‘India is Anna, Anna is India’. I went to see how India actually looks like.

III.  Some of my friends were going there to spend the better part of the day and it would have seemed quite boorish if I refused to go along, so I went.

II. My company’s HR was only granting ‘fasting leave’ to those who promised to furnish subsequently a certificate obtained from the Ramlila grounds, stating that they had attended & fasted also to force Mannu Sardarji to adopt the Jan Lokpal bill, no questions asked.

A Ramlila actor wears the traditional attire o...

Ramlila

I. We heard from our associates that they had great ‘pickings’ working the crowds outside Tihar jail while Anna was inside. Given that Ramlila grounds is a much bigger venue and Anna is now outside, we thought we would have a real bonanza working the crowds and ‘picking pockets’ there.

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The Corruption Brouhaha – A Reality Check

This is a conversation on the issue of graft in the country at various levels, between Q and A. Q is a middle-aged, mid-level executive based in Delhi who works for a Telecom firm whose business ethics are questionable. As part of his official duties, Q has no hesitation in corrupting people to get the job done when it is warranted and when asked to do so by his bosses to expedite matters. A is a worldly-wise budding entrepreneur who claims to have ‘been there and done that’. He is quite opposed to corruption in all its forms but realizes that there are times when one reaches a dead-end without ‘greasing’ individuals who help to keep the wheels turning. He also has a good enough understanding of structures, systems, and processes.

Q. This corruption in high places is really ‘killing’ the country. It has never ever been so bad before, has it?

A. If stunted development of educational facilities, poor infrastructure, lack of minimum standards in healthcare, slowdown in economic growth, gross inequities in income levels, runaway inflation & inadequate employment generation are not killing you, why is corruption alone killing you?

Q. Its just not fair, these guys making so much money on the sides, stealing our money actually? They should be brought to book & severe punishment should be meted out to them.

A. Aah, so you are primarily worried about big-ticket corruption? What about small-ticket corruption, harassment bribery? Doesn’t that bother you?

A representation of the Lion Capital of Ashoka...

The Lion Capital of Ashoka

Q. All kinds & types of corruption bother me, big or small. The small guys should not be left alone either.

A. Can you put your hand on  your heart, look your colleagues in the eye & honestly state that you have never ever either indulged in or encouraged, either tacitly or overtly, small-ticket corruption?

Q. I didn’t want to, but I had no recourse. I was stuck and without paying there was no way out. Everybody pays up in these situations you know.

A. Ok, let’s get to big-ticket corruption. How does that affect you directly or indirectly?

Q. It’s my money that they are stealing, isn’t it? Makes me mad.

A. Not really. Big-ticket corruption is usually between two individuals or institutions, one of whom has the power to provide a certain service or grant a favour and the other feels a need for that service or craves that favour for certain anticipated gains. Supposing we reclassify it as a fee being paid for a certain service or favour, would it still bother you so much?

Q. But it’s wrong, it’s dishonest and it’s hurting the country, isn’t it?

A. In some cases it may be speeding up a product or a service which, in the normal course, wouldn’t have been available for a while. Don’t you therefore think that sometimes it may have a salutary effect?

Corrupt Legislation. Mural by Elihu Vedder. Lo...

Corrupt Legislation : A mural by Elihu Vedder

While China may be somewhat better than India as far as corruption is concerned, it still remains quite low down in the ‘corruption rankings’. Most corruption in China is ‘institutionalized’ and of the big-ticket variety. Do you think corruption has impeded in any way the dazzling progress the country has made, virtually in all spheres, over the last two decades?

Q. My blood boils when I think about how corrupt our leaders are!

A. Look, corruption has always been a fact of life in India, particularly during the days of the license-permit Raj. The nexus between big business & politics has always been a reality. With accelerated economic growth & a quantum jump in the size of the projects executed, naturally the total amounts changing hands have increased significantly.

It is also a fact that the media has opened up a lot more than earlier and while certain sections of  the mainstream media

Pranab Mukherjee, Finance Minister

may be aligned with certain political parties there are enough other players in the arena who are always sniffing around for news of this kind and are not either afraid of or inhibited about putting it out. In fact both the 2G Telecom scam as well as the CWG mess were first brought to the notice of the public by smaller media players before the mainstream media picked up the refrain after some months.

Kapil Sibal - Union Minister for HRD & Telecom

The RTI Act which came into being in 2005 is also a pretty powerful tool which can be used both by the citizens and the media to get at certain facts & uncover them. And the growing popularity of social media has ensured that information dissemination and exchange of facts, thoughts & views can take place very, very quickly over cyberspace. It has also given rise to a degree of ‘citizen journalism’ even though this may be in its fledgling stages currently in India.

Q. Thank god that people like Anna Hazare & his group of ‘activists’ brought this issue centre stage!

A. If you carefully check out the facts, big-ticket corruption issues like the 2G Telecom scam & the CWG scam have been very much in the public domain almost for a couple of years before Anna Hazare & his people first emerged on the scene. The media kept on relentlessly highlighting it, it was a hot topic of discussion on social media & the opposition picked up the gauntlet as well, forcing the govt. to appoint a JPC to look into the 2G Telecom scam issue. The Supreme Court also kept up their relentless vigil on the whole issue and did not allow the various government agencies to brush the investigations under the carpet. In an unprecedented move a sitting Cabinet Minister was sacked, investigated and sent to jail along with various other players, including a M.P. who belongs to one of the constituent parties of the UPA and is the daughter of the party’s founder and the erstwhile C.M. of Tamil Nadu.  Several owners & CEOs of Telecom organizations who were the beneficiaries of the Telecom Minister’s benevolence have also been jailed. Suresh Kalmadi, a sitting M.P. of the Congress and a key member of its Parliamentary party who has also been the long-time & undisputed chief of several powerful sports bodies including the Indian Olympic Association has been jailed for the CWG scam together with several of his top officials. Actions of this kind against such powerful politicians, officials & prominent businesspersons has never before been seen in independent India. Bapat (Anna) Hazare and his group leapt into the fray after all this had taken place and thus can be suspected to be possibly crassly opportunistic.

Q. But Anna Hazare is a true Gandhian and is committed to Gandhi’s methods of fast & non-violence to pressurize this corrupt government.

Anna Hazare - Delhi

Bapat Baburao Hazare aka Anna

A. This government is one elected through a true democratic process. However flawed Indian democracy might be, the media is free, citizens can check out vital information through the RTI, contrary views & opinions can be voiced through the media or through many other forums set up for the purpose. There may be good and bad elements who are a part of the government. One may also agree or not agree with what the government does. If one does not agree with most of the govt’s actions & decisions one always has the option to vote out the govt. after 5 years, provided a majority feel the same way. Hence tarring the entire govt. with a black brush is in a way akin to blackening your own face.

Q. Who is going to wait five years every time. Besides all politicians are corrupt and need to be taught a lesson. India badly needs an ‘Arab Spring’ kind of revolutionary change. Jantar Mantar could soon become the new ‘Tahrir Square’.

A. What are your alternatives?  You could dismantle the present democratic structure of course, but then what do you plan to replace it with? Invite the Maoists for a shot at ruling the country? And if you think all politicians are venal, why don’t you actively help in getting a better person elected from your constituency the next time elections are held. Maybe you could stand yourself.

Also have you taken stock of what the ‘Arab Spring’ has achieved so far, if at all. Changes have happened in only two countries, one of which, Tunisia is an inconsequential state even within the Mid-East’s pecking order of nations. The other, Egypt, is in a state of transition with the army in charge currently. While Mubarak’s regime has been dismantled, already Egyptians are divided over whether he should be tried in a court of law and punished for his alleged misdemeanours or left strictly alone as a senior leader who also did a number of good things for the country. When elections will take place and what kind of government will come to power eventually is still anybody’s guess.

Q. Are you trying to say this government has provided good governance and done the right things as far as issues like

Baba Ramdev

corruption are concerned?

A. Not at all. They have had major issues concerning governance. There are many intrinsic problems, including an ‘appointed’ Prime Minister who is a classical wimp and is apparently answerable only to the party chief, Sonia Gandhi. The party chief and her son, Rahul Gandhi, who is one of the General Secretaries of the party, seem to be involved in making all the major decisions behind-the-scenes but they are really accountable to no one in particular. In addition to that there must be major internecine battles going on within the Congress party. All this adds up to a chaotic situation where no one is really in control firmly. This leads to an environment where governance aberrations start becoming more the norm rather than the exception and things just don’t get done.

Q. That is why Anna and the ‘civil society’ took up the cause of eliminating corruption strongly.

A. If you analyze objectively, they have actually made things worse. They ‘pushed’ their way into a government committee, comprising senior cabinet ministers, and got caught between the devil and the deep sea.  The team, including Bapat Baburao Hazare, doesn’t inspire confidence, consisting as it does of a sitting Lok Ayukta from Karnataka whose track record till date is quite poor, two activist lawyers with dubious antecedents who also happen to be a father-son duo and an activist who was till sometime back a civil servant and now runs an NGO.

After a few meetings they restarted the circus and started mud-slinging publicly and going on well-publicized single-day fasts even. Can you ever imagine two sets of people abusing & denigrating each other publicly and then sitting in a meeting and achieving anything substantive at all?

Q. But they have been demanding that the Lok Pal should have jurisdiction over all ministers, including the Prime Minister. Is that an unfair demand?

A. Provided there are enough checks & balances it is not. But then have you given a thought to the process of selection of the Lok Pal and his office? An ‘independent’ ombudsman who may turn into a rogue can be a serious threat to the administration and to an elected government. Such a ‘rogue’ ombudsman may bring decision-making and executive action about any issue to a virtual standstill. A well thought-out system of checks & balances needs to be implemented in parallel with the office of an independent, all-powerful ombudsman. The supervisor needs to be supervised.

Q. You have been mostly talking about what won’t or may not work. Why don’t you talk about what will?

A. Curbing corruption is a complex issue. It needs a whole series of structural, administrative and legislative changes, in addition to a change in the mindsets of people. One of the major sources of corruption is the electoral process in the country. To curb this, political parties need to be closely scrutinized and audited for their sources and usages of funds. Campaign finance reforms need to be initiated at multiple levels. One doesn’t quite see the proposed Lok Pal bill laying any emphasis on such issues.

There was a suggestion sometime back by the Chief Economic Advisor, GOI, about ways of curbing small-ticket corruption or what he termed as ‘harassment bribery’. Do browse an interesting discussion on the issue to appreciate the complexities of the task here.

In the absence of a well thought-out initiative, merely the addition of a Lok Pal may just mean addition of another layer of bureaucracy which, while pandering to populist sentiments, would hardly be effective in curbing corruption. At best, the incremental effect may be fairly marginal, at worst, nothing may change eventually.

A. I don’t want to listen to all your depressing arguments. My friends are right now calling me to join a candlelight march on the issue which they would be starting in the next one hour. I have to leave now. We will win, come what may. { Anna ….. Anna ….Baba …Anna….Baba…..Vitthala …..Vitthala ….Guruji }

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Is India Largely Bereft of Social Capital and Closer to Being A Banana Republic?

The thought or musing rather, expressed in the title of this post was occasioned by several loosely related events and triggers. While it may appear to be a rather staccato style of compiling them, here, without a lot of additional verbiage, are the triggers, issues and musings.

The Prime Minister Won’t Give In; Snap Polls Being Talked of As An Option

As briefly mentioned in the news report that the link above refers to, this was the response of the ruling party’s minions to the Supreme Court’s censure and query about why the PM has been silent & inactive about what is arguably the biggest heist ever pulled off by a Minister of the Union Cabinet. Andimuthu Raja, the Telecom Minister, had just handed in his resignation a couple of days earlier, after the Opposition had raised an uproar about a scam which, according to the CAG report, approximately led to a loss of USD 40 billion for the exchequer. [ Summary of the CAG report on the 2G Spectrum allocation by the Ministry of Telecom ]

If you are wondering why A. Raja is so important and how he could perpetrate a scam of such proportions, here’s a nice little piece about him.

Raja, the Spectrum Scamster and why he is important

The news item (link right at the beginning of this piece) and the associated chain of events, raised a host of issues and queries in my mind. Here they are, in no particular order:

Is it for his chosen minions or for Rahul Gandhi to judge whether Blue Turban is in an ‘embarrassing

Manmohan Singh, current prime minister of India.

Image via Wikipedia

position’ or not or is it up to the people of India to judge that? How can this wimp of a man, who has been ‘appointed’ by the Royal Family of India and who serves as a ‘rubber-stamp’ at their pleasure, be expected to hold his own in any discussion or negotiation, internally or externally, when it is widely perceived that he doesn’t have either the spine or the needed authority to act on any important issue independently? As the PM under whose watch humongous corruption, on a scale unheard of before, has been taking place, time & time again, is he not answerable for it all? Why does the media allow him to maintain a Sphinx like silence on such issues and how can he and his minders decide that filing a response, ‘in camera’, to the Supreme Court’s query about his continued silence & inaction is good enough? Why is he not forced to answer that and several other related queries in Parliament? If Manmohan Singh is the best that a country of 1.2 billion people can put up as its leader, is India really the largest democracy, as its leaders are fond of stating at every possible opportunity, or the biggest third-world banana republic?

Some of the reasons why the media doesn’t quite function like it ought to, if it was truly a vibrant media operating in a well-defined democratic set-up are possibly the following:

As part of a seminar which I attended recently, there was an informed panel discussion on the state of India’s media, backed up by an array of facts & statistics (the only convincing way points can be made and conclusions drawn). A few excerpts and selective sound bytes should serve to give you a good enough idea of the details that were laid bare and the conclusions that emerged. To a large extent, they also vindicated my feelings about the Indian media based on my exposure to two major Indian publication groups during the eighties and nineties, in a professional capacity. I had blogged about my observations based on those experiences in a piece sometime back ( link below ). Following that link are a series of sound bytes from the seminar and the ‘attached’ link which is ‘revealing’ of the way Indian media frequently functions.A 'Telecom' Raja
Why The Free Indian Media is a Myth – A Blog Piece by Me

  1. ‘Other countries have think-tanks to analyze major issues. India makes do with prime-time chat shows.’
  2. ‘In most developed TV markets, roughly 70% of TV earnings come from subscriptions & 30% from advertising. In India it is quite the opposite, possibly as a result of the ‘illegal’ origins of satellite broadcasting in India which meant that channels lost out on large chunks of subscription revenues.’
  3. ‘Given the utter dependence on ad revenues, news as such is a commercial product packaged to suit commercial targets and the lowest common denominators, cutting across all socio-economic & regional classifications that have emerged as boosters of viewership, are Bollywood & Cricket.’
  4. ‘By 2008, numerous regional channels started were openly owned by or aligned with political parties while Doordarshan continued to be a lumbering, state-controlled enterprise.’
  5. ‘Three 24-hr. news networks operate in Bengali out of Kolkata and the heads of all three agree that their biggest viewership is in Bangladesh. Their predominant concern continues to be how to find a way to tap effectively into Bangladeshi advertising.’
  6. ‘Indian television has continued to operate in a somewhat murky legal framework that is more akin to that utterly untranslatable N. Indian word – ‘jugaad’ ‘

Barkha Dutt
[The attached clip documents conversations between Niira Radia, a paid lobbyist in Delhi for Karunanidhi, his daughter Kanimozhi & A.Raja, the erstwhile Telecom Minister on the one hand & Barkha Dutt, NDTV News Editor on the other. Listen to the audio or read the transcripts]

‘Oh God! So Now What? What Should I Tell Them’ – Barkha Dutt, NDTV News Editor


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The Nadir of Commercial Air Travel – India’s National Carrier, Air India

1940s-2007 Air India logo

Logo - Air India

Mascotte Air India / Air India Mascot

Air India's Maharajah

Once upon a time, rather long ago, Air India, started by the doyen of Indian industrialists post independence, J.R.D. Tata, epitomized the cutting edge of air travel in Asia. A number of airlines in various countries in South, South East and Middle East Asia, followed their example in terms of how to run a commercial airlines efficiently and profitably. Its standards of customer service as well as its innovative ad campaigns, characterized by the lovable Maharaja, were closely watched and often emulated by competitors. India seemed well on its way to becoming the standard-setter in Asia of how a commercial airlines is to be run.

This proved to be too much of a good thing to Indian political leaders who somehow couldn’t quite get J.R.D. Tata to bend to their wishes and possibly to contribute to their burgeoning coffers of ill-gotten wealth. Thus Air India came to be nationalized in the late 1960s, much to the understandable chagrin of J.R.D. Tata. From then onwards it has steadily stumbled down the dark treacherous slopes replete with mismanagement, inefficiencies, losses and a poor safety record to name just a few of the landmarks on the way down. It’s sister organization, the national domestic carrier, Indian Airlines, largely had its back broken when the domestic air-travel sector was opened up to private carriers in the early 90s, thus ending its long monopoly.

Air India (Erstwhile Indian Airlines) A319 tax...

Air India about to be grounded?

Ever since then, as corporate entities,  Air India, its budget airlines subsidiary, Air India Express and Indian Airlines have stumbled from one disastrous performance result to the next, year in and year out. Merging Indian Airlines with Air India hardly helped.  As a result of frequent changes at the top where a succession of clueless bureaucrats warmed the hot seat for varying lengths of time, accountability and standard operating procedures went steeply south and became noticeable largely by their absence. Customer orientation and service, never quite its strong point for a number of years, degenerated further into outright customer harassment and disservice.

The stories about Air India’s missteps and poor performance on virtually most counts that matter could take up several chapters. The links below will give you a general idea though about the state of affairs at India’s national carrier.

Court of Inquiry into recent AI Express crash at Mangalore

Financial Crunch Forces Air India to Defer Salaries

Interview with the M.D. of Air India, Arvind Jadhav

Poor Customer Service : Hard Disk Stolen

My recent experience with Air India has only served to confirm to me, coupled with all the other news, that the carrier is indeed a terminal case and no amount of artificial resuscitation or infusion of oxygen would possibly bring about a revival any time in the near future.

The first of the edited messages below was sent to all concerned people in several Air India offices, including senior managers, responsible mandarins in the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Managing Director’s office.  Needless to mention, there wasn’t even an acknowledgement, let alone a response.

This is a message to all concerned at various Air-India offices with copies to the management and the ministry of Civil Aviation which oversees Air India & its subsidiary, AI Express.

I refer to the sequence of correspondences below, stating that while the zzzzz office of Air – India had referred my complaint and entirely justified request to Air India’s Mumbai office, it has now been turned down more than a week after it was first made and hence I needed to effect the needed change in dates by making the amendments online over the web, after paying the applicable penalties and charges.

I must say that the final decision taken at your end is extremely disappointing and leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. I shall confine myself to a few pertinent observations for all concerned.

It is now amply clear to me that customer orientation is an attribute entirely missing across Air-India and its subsidiaries. If your prevailing philosophy happens to be that you are doing a favour to customers who decide to fly with you, especially in economy and budget categories, then I am afraid you are closing your eyes to competition and the realities of the marketplace.

I am surprised that an issue fairly minor in all respects had to be batted around from one office to another over days when any office of AI and any concerned manager should normally have been empowered to take the necessary decisions and resolve it speedily. In a competitive world, the speed with which a customer-oriented organization reacts to customer complaints and handles exception situations are often the determinant factors in giving it an edge over its competition. Conversely, lack of such speed and excessive, stifling bureaucracy at various levels places the organization at a major disadvantage vis-a-vis its competition. If you have been steadily losing out to your competition and bleeding financially too, you don’t need to look much further than the way you treat your customers and their genuine issues and complaints as one of the prime reasons for the same.

You have also demonstrated a lack of concern for fair and ethical business practices throughout this particular episode. While I generally have neither the time nor the inclination to write detailed e-mails on various issues, I took time out and did so immediately after encountering the problem, hoping that doing so would help you to look into and resolve the issue promptly and speedily. Nothing of the sort happened and it was clear that you either weren’t bothered in the least about a problem which arose primarily owing to a glitch in your system or did not quite believe what I had stated. While I do realize that a small percentage of customers do try to take advantage of situations and take recourse to less than honest practices occasionally, treating all passengers as dishonest ones is really tantamount to shooting yourself in the foot. Trust is a two-way street and if you do not trust your customers as a general rule, how do you ever expect any customer to repose trust in your airlines or your services?

Most Indians, whether based in India or outside, love their country and would like to support its institutions, provided such institutions treat them equitably and fairly and demonstrate at least a reasonable level of customer orientation and service. However when you treat an issue like this one, which is both minor in terms of its scope and financial implication and which arose primarily because of a problem at your end, with such disregard, apathy and callousness, how do you expect most customers to continue to patronize your airlines and repose trust in you?

Air India M.D.

Some days after this message, the carrier quietly rescheduled the concerned flights, re-timing one from the morning to the evening hours and changing the return flight from the original date chosen to the early morning hours of the next day.  I received an e-mail, marked to possibly the other passengers on the rescheduled flight as well, informing me about the change and asking me to do a rescheduling of the original flight which had now been cancelled by Air India. The fact that the e-mail was marked to other passengers openly as well, disclosing at least their partial IDs to me and to all the others addressed in the mail as well, demonstrated scant regard for security and privacy norms which any self-respecting and reasonably managed carrier would observe invariably. Utterly bemused and frustrated by the way in which Air – India conducts its business, I could only express myself through another e-mail, sent to all concerned managers of AI, select senior management staff and the M.D.’s office. Edited excerpts from that mail are carried below.

You recently made me do a rescheduling by paying a penalty when the initial, unintended & wrong date on the return sector was on account of a glitch in your system which I informed you about immediately after it occurred. Since the details were already communicated to you earlier,  I will not make the effort to recount them again.

You have now quietly rescheduled both the xxxxx and the yyyy sectors of my flight and have just sent out an e-mail to me  asking me to reschedule my return  flight accordingly. The message incidentally does not mention that the xxxx sector has also been rescheduled to late evening hours, which I discovered while rescheduling my yyyy sector as asked.

Since the rescheduling now is on account of these sudden changes to flight schedules, you are quietly allowing passengers to do this without incurring any charges (coming from AI & AI Express that can indeed be considered a bonanza which might make some customers scream with delight). However when I was forced to reschedule my flight earlier, on account of a glitch in your online system while booking over the web, no such consideration was shown despite my pointing out the problem immediately. You have compounded the situation by unilaterally cancelling the rescheduled return flight, as I discovered when I logged-in online. I am left with no other option but to do a rescheduling to the revised flight timing in the early hours of the morning of the next day. Yet the penalty I had to incur while doing the rescheduling earlier,  for no fault of my own, stays and isn’t even reversed. How unfair is that?

The way you handle your business is a nightmare at least to customers like me. I suspect your ongoing indifference to customer concerns and your  utter neglect of even the most basic customer needs is a horror story many others have experienced many a times. I shall not even mention the several problems you have now caused me by forcing me to reschedule because I am convinced that even narrating them to customarily deaf ears is a futile exercise which isn’t even worth the time and effort.

I am afraid I can’t continue to patronize AI or AI Express or any of its subsidiaries under the circumstances in future. In fact, by way of public service, I think I must spread the word to all discerning customers, be they Indians or people of other nationalities, about what a nightmarish and occasionally horrifying experience it could be to fly with AI or any of its subsidiaries.

Minister for Civil Aviation, Praful Patel

Guess that says it all. While I expect no response from the airlines as usual, this post would have served some purpose if it helps inform you about what a ghoulish experience flying with Air India or any of its subsidiaries can be. If you want to do a good turn to friends, relatives or associates and pass on a warning about carriers they must not fly with, you could share the contents of this post with them to substantiate your well-meaning advice to them.

An Update:

Three weeks after the initial incident mentioned, in response to my mails to all operational personnel concerned and the top brass of AI and AI Express, I received this reply from the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of AI Express. The message is reproduced verbatim below. I have no further comments to offer and would leave the reader to draw his own conclusions.

 

Dear Mr.Raja Mitra,

We appreciate the effort that you have taken to apprise us of the problems that have taken place and assure you that we sincerely regret that you have had to face such a problem.

Whilst understanding your unhappiness at the response provided by AI Express, we may like to suggest that customer relationship building is an extremely important part of our business and we certainly take your inputs in a constructive manner.

We do hope and look forward to seeing you on board AI Express in the very near future.

Thanking  you,

Capt.Pawan Arora
Chief Operating Officer
AI Express

Copy: Chief of Commercial, AI Express – FYI & NA
Copy: ED-HQ

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The Case for India

Taj Mahal, Agra, India.

Image via Wikipedia

India bashing and trashing is an armchair sports that very many Indians indulge in, often during a casual chat with friends, relatives or colleagues in their living rooms over a drink or while commenting on articles online or during interactions in social networking sites.

Sure, there are areas in terms of infrastructure and amenities which need major investments and overhaul. It’s not easy in a centuries-old country, independent for only 60 years and often strapped for resources or funds to get everything needed done in a hurry. Certain shortcomings and constraints in places like London, Chicago or Amsterdam for example which folks living there take in their stride or gloss over generally are also relentlessly highlighted and pilloried, specially by the international media,  in the case of  major Indian metros.

Just when the criticism and the glare of negative publicity seemed to be getting tempered by the very many stories about India’s economic growth and arrival on the world stage as a major Asian and global power, along comes an event like the Commonwealth Games 2010, which, courtesy inept & corrupt officials  and disinterested bureaucrats who are more interested in protecting their own turf than in coordinating with each other, effectively turns into an unending disaster story.

In a way, the government’s and the Indian public sector’s efforts to conduct such events and showcase the nation to the world at large mostly becomes a tragi-comical endeavour. One is hard put to decide whether the reports of rampant corruption, innumerable foul-ups and the inevitable spectacle of people and agencies blaming each other for the shoddy end-product is more comical than tragic. To be fair though, the flurry of negative reports, both during the run-up to the Games and while the Games were on, seem to have been overdone, possibly because bad news sells far more than good news. When one considers that accusations of food-poisoning at the Games food village, bacteria in the swimming pool water and traffic congestion leading to delays have proved entirely unfounded [ Link ] and when one takes into account the chicanery of folks like the CEO for CWG 2010, Michael Hooper and certain journalists [ Link ] one wonders whether there has been an agenda in trashing the conduct of CWG 2010 on a sustained basis or whether it is all attributable to the media’s penchant for sensationalism at times.

Actually events like this further serve to underscore the fact that there are actually two Indias out there.

The logo of 2010 Commonwealth Games

Image via Wikipedia

One, the India of the ambitious and the go-getting professional who, by dint of his initiative and hard work, is increasingly recognized, mostly by corporates and institutions in the private sector.  Several Indian corporations in the private sector, have grown exponentially over the years into multinational corporations and have established a presence globally, largely steered by such professionals. [ Link ]

Looking at the bungling government and public sector largely and making dire doomsday predictions is missing the woods for the trees. Projecting an overly pessimistic outlook, by cherry-picking facts, anecdotes and even none-too-common instances, does not quite stand up in the face of facts on the ground. Plenty has changed for the better, specially over the last 15 years or so, as is evident on the ground and from every statistics and economic indicator available. The India of the politicians and the public sector remains messy, corrupt and inefficient.In a chaotic and vibrant democracy like India, the government and the public sector are neither the standard-bearers nor the ones who set the tone for progress, growth and the shape of things to come in the future.  ( Salil Tripathi: The ‘Incompetence Raj’ Strikes Again )

However, despite its politicians and its PSUs, India has been giving out ample signals about progressing and changing rapidly in the coming years. The process in fact should gather increasing speed and is irrespective of the government of the day and irreversible too. China’s growth and success story is virtually entirely state controlled and directed. India’s, on the other hand, is guided by its thousands of private entrepreneurs, big, medium and small. One needs to bear in mind though, that it is no mean or easy task to govern a country of 1.2 billion people, with tremendous diversities in terms of languages, cultures and religions, inherited fault-lines, hostile neighbours and in one case a rogue one, under the umbrella of a chaotic but vibrant democratic system. Also, as the NYT very aptly remarked in one of its pieces about the CWG opening ceremony ( one of the NYT articles about the CWG opening ceremony ), India can’t round-up the poor living in slums, throw them into guarded camps far away from the city, bulldoze the slums, order the state-controlled media to keep putting out only feel-good stories ( link to a piece which the local Chinese media will never ever carry ) and summarily round up and incarcerate any official or bureaucrat who hasn’t delivered. Indian democracy is chaotic. It is also vibrant and functional and so is its media which can at times go overboard in its trenchant criticisms and exposés.

All developing countries, particularly one as large and diverse as India, have corruption ( check out China’s ranking on the corruption scale by Transparency International) but in very few, if any, is it exposed as relentlessly and criticized as severely as it is by the Indian media. That itself, to me, is a great development and a happy state of affairs. There’s no better check-and-balance act and effective conscience-keeper of the administration than a vocal and free media.

David Cameron is a British politician, Leader ...

Image via Wikipedia

Countries of the world, despite moralistic and idealistic postures that they may indulge in from time to time, are driven almost wholly by self-interest.  Obama recently did not host his first state banquet for the Indian PM out of charity and neither did David Cameron, after becoming PM, make India one of his early stops out of mere courtesy. Like quite a few other countries, today,  it is in their interest to develop robust relationships with India.  As Bill Clinton had famously mentioned during his initial Presidential campaign, ‘It’s the economy, stupid’.

Yet, more so possibly because it is a developing country not situated in the Western hemisphere, trite and superficial pieces highlighting the lopsided ratio of public toilets to the number of cellphone subscribers keep popping up with monotonous regularity in the media. This typical stereotype of more cellphones than toilets cherry-picked from a U.N. report and sensationalized by some journalist wanting to grab a few eyeballs in an ephemeral 8 hour news cycle can be, in turns, both amusing and disconcerting.  While there’s no denying that major improvements are still needed in terms of infrastructure, utilities & amenities, a lot has been done over the last 2 decades or so that is significant and very visible. To put things in perspective though, it’s no easy or mean task to cater to a population of 1.2 billion spread over densely populated urban areas alternating with large areas lying well outside urban and city limits. And of course there will be more cellphones than toilets in any country which has a population anywhere near India’s and which is growing at the rate at which India has been over the last several years.

Indian economy growth graph

The fact that India today is the fastest growing mobile market in the world is a major positive in fact. Mobile phones are not provided by the government, they are acquired by individuals in almost all instances. The rate of growth in fact signifies how purchasing power has increased over the last decade and more.

While on the topic, it is also possibly pertinent to mention that the Indian state by no means follows a classically communist philosophy as far as economic and socio-political parameters are concerned. Thus, given the size, resource constraints and the rate of growth, the administration needs to focus on the big picture and build up conducive environments for urban, rural and commercial infrastructure, education, healthcare, core utilities like power and water, agricultural production and distribution first before venturing into other areas. [ On the Ground in India ]

A visitor to any Indian city is exposed to a large variety of sights and sounds which assail his senses and, on occasions, shock him too. A recent discussion in the leading social media, Facebook, focused on aspects like Indians defecating and urinating in public [ Link ] and generally lacking in civic sense. While, both these are features of most large urban centres as well as rural areas in India, there is a need to view them in perspective.

Civic sense and public manners are inculcated through a host of parameters, some of which happen to be one’s immediate social environment, cultural upbringing, peer pressure, prevailing and enforceable laws and regulations and also the availability of certain facilities [ Link ]. There is no doubt that the average Indian person-in-the-street has quite some way to go before he or she attains levels generally considered acceptable in the developed world. If however, in a place like London which has been part of the developed world for centuries and can rightly boast of having been the global centre of power in the 18th and 19th centuries, civic sense is what it is, as is evident from some of the images posted below, is it any wonder


The Weekend Pub Crawl - London


The Weekend Pub Crawl - London (2)

that a developing country like India,

which has been independent for a mere 60 plus years, has miles to go before attaining the acceptable average standards set by the developed world?

And finally, it’s time to touch on possibly the weakest link in this otherwise largely positive tale about India’s growth and progress: India’s politicians. Barring the stray instances of politicians with education, integrity and vision, they are mostly a venal, petty and manipulative lot lacking both integrity and vision. Cynical as it may sound, isn’t that par for the course for virtually all developing countries?

Bad governance isn’t India’s prerogative alone. In today’s world it is a widespread phenomena, both in democracies and dictatorships the world over.  Large sections of the enlightened global population continue to be perplexed and disappointed by not only bad governance in developing countries but in the developed world too, as is all too evident from the shenanigans of unscrupulous governors in the U.S., corrupt MPs in the U.K. and the fact that heads of state like George W. Bush & Tony Blair who lacked vision, integrity and honesty and twisted facts and figures whenever it suited them,  kept getting re-elected. But then, no one in his right senses can quite claim that democracy is a perfect system. While the majority  muzzling the minority may not often be either a desirable or a palatable option, there isn’t a better political system which has been tried and tested till date.

Therefore it isn’t all gloom and doom as far as India and its future is concerned, as some pundits and columnists would have you believe. Far from it, one can take  heart from the many success stories of Indian individuals and institutions, both in India and outside, in a world which is truly getting globalized. There is plenty of good news going around: Indians being the best educated and highest earning ethnic group in the U.S.A., Indians being the largest ethnic group of foreign students in U.S. Universities, Indians really making their mark in dozens of flagship technology and IT services start-ups in Silicon Valley and elsewhere and Indians often making it to the top of the corporate pyramid in Fortune 500 organizations are just a few of these.

Wipro Chairman, A.H. Premji

There are quite a few feel-good stories within India too. The govt. is going ahead full steam in setting up more premier institutions of learning in India,  while much of the rest of the world went into recession last year the Indian growth story hardly faltered, the Indian stock market has been outperforming most other markets in Asia,  thousands of Indians from all over the world are getting back to India to work and to contribute which was hardly the case say a couple of decades ago, a growing number of Indians who could have led the typical high-flying corporate life or become powerful government mandarins are instead engaged in doing good social work and setting up professionally managed and administered NGOs are just a few examples. The pace of development is accelerating all the while and whether the government of the day contributes significantly or little to the process, it is not likely to slow down anytime soon.

Related article:

CWG is govt. failure, private sector success – S A Aiyar

China makes Chinese; Indians make India – M J Akbar

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