Desh Badal Raha Hai?

Recently I had to get Import Export Code (IEC) for two private investment companies that I handle. Long back, if I recall correctly I had applied for IEC in late 90’s. It used to be a small process but I was then working out of an industrial town 100 Kms away from Madras and with very dicey communications.

The one challenge used to be to get a letter from Bank, which again was 30 Kms away. After locating the latest version of the form and the draft letter and after negotiating with the bank, we would ultimately get the letter. It was a small ordeal just to register.

Now with internet connectivity and the e-governance model in place for some time things have improved considerably. The form is available online. But the server of DGFT (Chennai?) turned out to be extremely slow. Most cumbersome procedures like bank letter has been dispensed with. Scanned copy of a cancelled cheque, only rider (necessary) being that the cheque has to have the name of the account holder pre-printed can be uploaded.

But the real challenge was the digital signature. While we routinely affix digital signatures for MCA and Income Tax purposes, we took nearly a week to solve the intricacies of DGFT site. The problem was the server was using an out-dated version of windows and equally out-dated version of Java. Then the next challenge. After a two day gap I kept verifying the site but it just said that the form had not been uploaded. Fortunately my office is just opposite the Chennai DGFT and I could visit them once daily. But after a week I became frustrated. More than 2 weeks had gone since I started the process.

Out of sheer desperation I tweeted to MoS Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman very late on a Friday evening. There was no response to my tweet. But surprisingly, on Sunday evening I received a tweet from DGFT, Delhi with request to send details to them by mail. I did so on Sunday evening itself. Monday was a holiday on account of Ganesh Chaturthi. Conditioned to Government departments working slow, I checked the site only on Wednesday. To my pleasant surprise the forms had been cleared on Tuesday. Unfortunately, in one case I had given different bank accounts in different places in case of one company and the form was rejected for that company.

My ordeal started again. I had to struggle for more than 10 days now to affix the digital signature. Having crossed that barrier, I was overwhelmed by what I thought would be the bigger barrier. But to my most pleasant surprise, the next day morning I received an email confirmation that the form had been accepted and IEC generated. My next worry was that the IEC had to be updated with DGFT Delhi and the Customs portal. But again by evening both had happened.

I could see a visible transformation in a matter of a month in the way things were handled. It is easy to blame the Government for every minor fault. And certainly things could be better. But what we need to realise is that Government consists of people like you and me. They cannot be better than us.

We need to improve as a society, as a nation.

I realise that there is a leadership in place that will reciprocate it.

Mera desh badal raha hai!

PS: Thanks to Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman and few others who made this possible


To Err is Human, to Forgive…..

The title is a poor translation of the original thirukural I had in mind. The one that i

  • இன்னா செய்தாரை ஒறுத்தல் அவர் நாண நன்னயம் செய்து விடல் (திருக்குறள்)

A rough translation would be “Make a wrong doer feel shy, by doing him a favour.”

This is what many would advice us. Most books on human nature would parrot that.

But not the Hindu Scriptures. If I remember right this story is from the Mahabarata.

A King had a parrot which was a dear friend to him. In time the king had a son and so did the parrot. Though the younger ones too were friends, they were obviously immature considering their age. One day the King’s son in a playful mood kills the Parrotchick. The elder parrot seeing the dead bird, in a moment of anger, pecks at the eyes of the prince making him blind. The King when he comes to know all the turn of events apologises to the parrot and tells it – now that you have had your revenge, we should start our relationship fresh forgetting the past.

The parrot replied – while I appreciate your large heartedness, I would like to leave the palace. The King taken back begged the parrot saying but we both have been good to each other and you have had your revenge. The Bird replied – Human Nature is such it cannot be even. Later when you see your son blinded, you might lose your maturity and give way to anger. All said and done, I have harmed your son and it is bound to hurt you at some point in future.

The parrot left the palace despite the sincere pleadings from the king.

Why I relate this story to the Kural is because of this – It is fine to say “To forgive is divine.” But in real life what happens is both the initial transgressor and the person who magnanimously forgives would carry the burden with them. It would always weigh on each other’s minds later.

I am not saying that we should not forgive others for their errors but just that we should be wary of the effect this would have on the future relationship. It is an Hobson’s choice in reality.

Men and Ideas that changed my Life – Trust but Verify

Science tells us we tend to superimpose our believes into our memories – that we remember things that happened say when we were 4 but the truth is that later talks about them get super imposed into our memory. I have no way of verifying that but implicitly trust it as it makes sense.

One of my earliest friends with whom I am still in touch – thanks to his efforts – is Shankar Venkatraman. Don’t know if he would like being named. We studied together in school but went to different colleges. I did my CA and he went to IIM-A and we both landed up in Bombay around the same time 1992.

1992 was the worst year for Bombay. First very late rains. Started only in End July. Then the Babri Riots and later the bomb blasts in 1993. There were many romors that used to float around. Very nasty and at times fatal too.

One of such rumours was the death of Morarji Desai. I remember telling that to Shankar and he was furious that I was spreading such rumours. That is one conversation I remember nearly 23 years later.

It has become an habit with me to verify from independent sources any news. One reason I hardly trust wikipedia.

It is not just about news but also about work in office by a colleague or say what your wife / son does. Trust them to do it right but also verify.

A word of caution – Verifying sometimes could be like walking on knife’s edge. It can get people to think that you do not trust them. And if they get caught when you verify – remember to give them an honourable exit out of the tricky situation

Men and Ideas that changed my Life – Honourable Exit

When I did my Articles (Practical training for CA) I worked in a firm that was run by 2 brothers. The eldest was technically much more knowledgeable and competent but the younger was more humane.

I practically did all my work with the elder and it has helped me to this date. It has been 23 years since I completed the training but I can relate every positive aspect of my ability to those 3 short years I worked there.

But it is about the younger brother with whom I had very little interaction that I want to write about – his favourite term “give others an honourable exit”. Something I keep telling my colleagues in different words. We generally have an habit of pushing people to a corner in arguments. If only we had the ability to give our “opponents” the space to wriggle out and agree with us without offending their egos.

The past week I must have repeated this a few times, like I have done it many more times over my career to my Juniors – If i am wrong, I say, 2 + 2 is 5, don’t tell me immediately “You fool, 2 + 2 is 4”. Give me some time, the say, “Sir, May be when you studied 2 + 2 was 5, but with inflation now it has come down to 4”.

Jokes apart, what I mean is when a team member with whom you are working makes a mistake, the immediate reaction is to point it out. But this hurts his ego. He waits for an opportunity to get back. But on the other hand if this is gently broken, he would gladly accept his mistake and move on.

If this is true for smaller things, imagine how relevant it would be for major things. It is this attitude of mutual accommodation that creates “Win – Win” situations when major entities seemingly like cheese and chalk coming together and pulling off a successful partnership.

Preamble to a controversy

Recently I was reminded of a person who used to work as a telephone operator in a large factory. Those were the days of manual exchanges and the factory had around 10,000 employees. So naturally the telephone operator had to filter lots of calls and also be brusque with most users. So soon he was called Executive Director – Telephones. The post of Executive Director was the highest post in the factory.

I used to say this as an apocryphal tale – a disgruntled office boy called as Executive Director – Office Services. His job profile does not change. That people treat him like dirt doesn’t change. Not many even remember his name. Or if they remember, call him by name. But his hurt feelings can be assuaged by a simple name change – from Office boy to Executive Director – Office Services.

This has nothing to do with changing India from a sovereign democratic republic to a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic.

Kashmiri Pandits, Vidyasagar & the Great Men of Media

It has been months since I have written a blog post but this article of Swaminathan S Aiyar provoked me to do it.

A tale of two ethnic cleansing in Kashmir

The article is assumed to be about the cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley. Even as the title suggests there is a counter balancing view. Cleansing of muslims from Jammu. To quote from the article –

Today, Jammu is a Hindu-majority area. But in 1947, it had a Muslim majority. The communal riots of 1947 fell most heavily on Jammu’s Muslims; lakhs fled into what became Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. That turned Jammu’s Muslim majority into a Hindu majority. In sheer scale, this far exceeded the ethnic cleansing of Pandits five decades later.

A lay reader would assume that are no muslims today in Jammu. The truth is it is 65% Hindus, 31% Muslims. Muslims have not been cleansed. And Pakistan occupied Kashmir is not all Kashmir. It also includes parts of Jammu. And 1947 was not a normal period. If one has to raise 1947 as cleansing of Jammu, one would also have to simultaneously discuss what happened in Punjab, Bengal and Sindh. To both Hindus & Muslims. In both East & West Punjab / Bengal.

But those were tougher times. Partition and its aftermath.

But what happened in 1989 / 1990 to Kashmiri Pandits were during ordinary times. There were no retaliation unlike in Jammu of 1947 when to use the (allegedly) BJP excuse – Action & Reaction or the more well documented Congress excuse – when a big tree falls.

But in all this what did the Kashmiri Pandits do? The Jammu Hindus are Dogras & the Kashmiri Pandits always felt closer to Kashmiri Muslims than the Jammu Dogras. Something the Kashmiri Muslims or their apologists in media never bothered to acknowledge. The Kashmiriyat is only for TV Debates and has hardly been practiced on the ground.

But what does all these have to do with Vidyasagar?

An incident from his life explains the reaction of Media perfectly. He had gone to his village once and whenever he went to his village he used to give away all his earnings to the suffering villagers. A band of robbers thought if he gave away so much money how much he should have? So they decided to rob him that night. Vidyasagar seeing the large number of bandits took his parents & brothers and vanished leaving behind whatever little he had.

When he came back to Calcutta, the Deputy Governor Hon. Haliday called him & chided him for his cowardice in fleeing. To quote his reply:

Your Honour may now accuse me of cowardice. But supposing, I had faced the numerous armed robbers single-handed, I was sure to lose my life. In that case, your honour would have been the first to say, what a fool Vidyasagar was to meet rashly so many robbers and sacrifice his life for the sake of trifles. Now that I have saved my life and have been able to appear before you, your honour calls me a coward. From this it is clear, that it is no easy thing to please you, great men.

   The Media currently has its most golden period. It consists of only such great men.

Art 370 – How Nehru let down Patel after his death

V Shankar was, apart from V P Menon and Maniben closest to Patel during his last few years. This is an extract from His book *Reminiscences of Patel – Vol 2* Pg 62 – 63. Incidentally Gopalaswamy Ayyangar was close to Nehru and had caused some friction between Nehru and Patel.

Finally, this view prevailed and Gopalaswamy Ayyangar’s draft with necessary modifications was adopted. A last minute plea of Maulana Azad to endorse Sheikh Abdullah’s point of view was turned down summarily and the Constituent Assembly without much debate and with the non-participation of Sheikh Abdullah adopted the Article which later figured as Article 370. I was somewhat taken aback at Sardar’s acquiescence in the draft formula of Gopalaswamy Ayyangar and strongly felt that Sardar had compromised the position of the Indian Union and other States in accepting that formula as the basis. Frankly speaking, I was resentful of Sardar’s attitude and when we returned to his residence during the lunch break, I was silent and sullen and repaired straight to my office room. Maniben came to call me for lunch; I declined to go and told her about the pain and anguish I inwardly felt, adding that for the first time I nursed a grievance of betrayal on the part of Sardar. She conveyed my feeling of resentment to Sardar who sent her back to tell me that I should join lunch table atleast for a talk. I did so, accordingly. As soon as I was seated, Sardar spoke: ‘So you are annoyed with me for having accepted Gopalaswamy’s formula.’ I queried that if he felt that way why did he not indicate his mind earlier. He said, ‘I was deeply concerned at the situation. Gopalaswamy had acted under Panditji’s advice. If Jawaharlal were here I could have had it out with him. But how could I do so with Gopalaswamy who was only acting under orders? If i did, people would have said that i was taking revenge on his confidante when he was away. Gopalaswamy had appealed to me for help. How could I have let him down in the absence of his Chief?”

I then asked why he had left down the country and the other States whose Constituent Assemblies had been scrapped in accordance with his advice and policy. He conceded the validity of the criticism but pointed out the delicate international position of the State and the issue of its relationship with India. We felt that the present situation had to be tided over without giving up the eventuality and this has been done under the formula. He said that after all, neither Sheikh Abdullah nor Gopalaswamy was permanent. The future would depend on the strength we do not deserve to exist as a nation.’

With this high-minded explanation of his action I had no further arguments to put forward and conceded that he had shown both strength and statesmanship in dealing with the problem and acknowledged the sense of chivalry which had prompted him to come to the aid of a colleague in trouble even though the latter had been opposing him virtually as a matter of routine in order to keep Panditji company.

I am happy to state that Gopalaswamy fully appreciated the nobility of Sardar’s action. I was fortunate to have won Gopalaswamy’s affection after Sardar’s death and was a recipient of both his trust and confidence in an unusual measure. When I was working as his Joint Secretary in July 1952 the self same article came in for criticism in the Lok Sabha. In defence, Pandit Nehru took the stand that the Article was dealt with by Sardar in his absence and he was not responsible for it. I met Gopalaswamy the same evening as he was walking on the lawn of his residence. I questioned the bonafides of Pandit Nehru’s stand. Gopalaswamy’s reaction was one of anger and he said ‘It is an ill return to Sardar for the magnanimity he had shown in accepting Panditji’s point of view against his better judgement.’ He added ‘I have told Jawaharlal this already.’