Friday, March 24, 2006

Juanita Gandhi resigns again

I am taking you forward by 30 years. The date is March 24, 2036. Here’s the news column from that time.

Putting an end to the recent spate of allegations, Juanita Gandhi has offered her resignation from the post of MP from Rae Bareilly. This de facto leader of the nation has in the recent past already ‘sacrificed’ the post for PM and refused to become the leader of Congress Party resulting in massive popularity for her in this nation. Now, in response to new allegations regarding undisclosed assets in Colombia, her native nation, Juanita Gandhi has resigned from the post of MP, once again causing mass hysteria and protests across the nation which may bring Congress party back to power after the recent dismal defeat in the elections. Most of the analysts predict that she may not take up the position of PM (once gain) and instead would pave the way for her 27-year old son’s future (just like what Sonia Gandhi did for Rahul thirty years ago). The son, Arman Gandhi (whose purported actual name is Armanno, just like the way his dad’s was Raul and aunt’s was Bianca) grew up in Colombia since his mother spent most of the time in that nation.

There are many parallels to story of Sonia and Juanita. Rahul and Juanita met in Harvard while studying and got married in 2005 in a very closely guarded wedding ceremony held in Colombia. Though she spent her first three years in India while Rahul was canvassing for the next election, she decided to move to Colombia with her newly born son Arman. Rahul stayed back in India, won the sympathy of people by ‘sacrificing family life for the sake of the nation’, to become the next PM continuing the grand lineage of Gandhi family. Juanita was least interested in Indian politics and spent most of her time in Colombia away from her husband. There were many reports of her lavish life style where each of her trips to India resulted in a transfer of plane-full of goods. Rahul practically lived as a single man in India. Due to a sudden and massive cardiac arrest, Rahul died in 2031 plunging the nation into a mourning state. This event prompted Juanita and her son to come back to the country to attend the funeral during which the people of India (especially the Congress Party) requested and pleaded Juanita and her son Arman to embrace this country and lead it. They called her ‘Choti Bahu’ (since ‘Bahu’ was already taken up her mother-in-law Sonia Gandhi) and the history kind of repeated once again here. In the elections that followed Rahul’s death, the Congress party won by a huge majority resulting in beeline of Congress Party leaders at 10 Janpath, ancestral home of Gandhis, urging, lamenting and requesting Juanita to become the PM of the nation. In a major act of ‘sacrifice’ which closely resembled what Sonia did many years ago, she declined to lead the nation citing her ‘inner voice’ as the reason. That immediately led people to equate her to Mother Teresa, Annie Besant and her own mother-in-law Sonia Gandhi (now popularly revered as ‘Bahu of the nation’). She however stayed back in the country and ‘pledged to restore the greatness of Gandhi family’ and strove to work ‘for the betterment of the nation’. In the whole course of these proceedings, swept by the bereavement of the whole nation at the loss of its leader, nobody bothered to verify if Juanita was an Indian citizen. It was discovered that she never took up the Indian citizenship and she was practically an alien when she was offered the post of the PM. However, in a hush-hush affair, her citizenship was granted by passing a new ordinance in haste, which entitled a spouse automatic citizenship without voluntarily asking for it. Therefore, Juanita became the citizen of India long ago, when she married Rahul- without actually asking or applying for it. Having solved the legal issue of her citizenship, which haunted her mother-in-law long ago, she became the icon, the leader and champion of the Congress party. While Juanita and her newly formed coterie ruled the party and the politics Rajashekar became the puppet PM.

Her refusal to take up the role of PM is very similar to the first few sacrifices made by Sonia thirty years ago and it looks like Juanita has understood the pulse of Indian people much like her mother-in-law. She has refused to give any interviews and spoke from well-rehearsed and written speeches. She took on a low profile while promoting Arman for different cadre positions. She cited ‘her inner voice’ as explanation to many questions without ever having to be accountable or responsible for any decision or action of hers. This seems to have worked well for her mother-in-law and now it is working for Juanita Gandhi as well.

The present controversy, which alleges that Juanita has funneled funds into her native country, that she led a lavish life style where she owned palaces and estates, drove Ferraris and expensive cars, that she has one of the biggest jewelry collections in the world was swept aside by the power of ‘sacrifice’. Yesterday, she burst out in tears on TV while announcing her resignation of MP position saying that she was ‘hurt deeply by these accusations’ especially when she is still mourning her dead husband. She said that she was ‘deeply anguished’ by the ‘false allegations’ and that the only thing she could do was resign. When asked why she has resigned instead of facing the charges to clear her name using legal methods, she said that she has ‘listened to her inner voice’ and that she ‘cannot stoop to the level of the those who are giving bad name to Gandhi family’. She added that she 'would continue fighting for her family and for her nation’. Many analysts feel that she would contest when the allegations are swept under the carpet.

To those who were present during the Sonia Gandhi's ascendancy to the power 25 years when she nominated her son to the post of PM, this comes as complete playback. It looks like Juanita has mastered the art of seducing Indians just the way her mother-in-law has done using the power of ‘sacrifice’. Arman Gandhi is just waiting on the sidelines to get into the arena that her mom prepared.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

IIMs and Salaries

The readers might be aware of the recent spate of news items where each IIM (Indian Institute of Management) upped the ante by reporting how their new poster boy got $180K+ salaries. As I see it, this is nothing more than India’s long held fascination with higher scores and higher ranks culminating now in higher salaries. This fascination is what all school going kids imbibe during growing up phase in India.

Parents in India are extremely conscious of how their kids perform at school- not qualitatively but mostly in quantitative terms. ‘How many marks did your kid score in Science?’ ‘What is your kid’s rank in class?’ ‘Which prize did your kid win in the painting competition?’ And then they go home to compare this with their own kid. The parents rate themselves according to their kids’ performance and feel happy or sad based on the outcome. I know of parents who were not ready get out of their homes because of the shame their kids brought onto them by not entering an elite institute. 

There is great deal of obsession with elite institutes as well. As I see it, IIM is not really a serious business management institute at all- it is just another one of those title-endowing schools which looks great in a resume- like being a member of International Engineering Group - nobody knows what it means, but does look good on a resume. Getting into an IIM is just the next step which follows the long list of other schools that you entered only to tell others how big is your IQ compared to the kid next door. Scoring 92% in ICSE/CBSE exams followed by rank number 228 in IIT-JEE entrance test followed by 99.6% in CAT results followed by $180K job is the prescribed path suggested to all the kids nowadays. Even the household astrologer has started suggesting this path to the so called successful-kid-raising-parents.

I am not sure if this reporting frenzy taken up by different news groups and the colleges is a healthy sign. First of all, I always had serious doubts on the contribution of various IIM grads to any business. Right now, I run my own business and I keep asking myself – ‘Do I really need an MBA grad in my team?’ It’s like asking myself – ‘Do I really need a helicopter so that I can commute from my home to office which is 3 km away?’

Do a survey. Ask any IIM grad this question – ‘What is the purpose of a company/business?’ He/she would answer without even thinking (or even blinking) – ‘To make money’ (or ‘To maximize returns to a stockholder’). When I got the same set of answers from far too many IIM grads, I reasoned- ‘I don’t think so. It has a far higher purpose than just making money’. They came back with an immediate reply- ‘But a company/business would cease to exist if it did not make money’. That’s how they run to the conclusion that ‘making money is the purpose of a business’. 

I have an analogy to understand this. Ask anyone who is next to you– ‘What is the purpose of life?’ and he/she would ponder for long to answer and most probably each of those answers would be unique. What if my answer to this question is ‘To breathe’? Would you agree? Of course not! Many would disagree with me on this, I think. But then I would reply – ‘You would cease to exist if you didn’t breathe’. Hence, ‘To breathe is the purpose of one’s life', I conclude. Sounds absurd, eh? But that’s exactly the same argument a high-IQ IIM grad uses. Founders of HP, Gillette, Apple, Google, and many other business icons of modern era have NOT founded their companies to make money. They all wanted to make a difference in this world- which was much more than just making money. Making money is like breathing, one needs it to exist, but that is not the main purpose of one's existence- they believed.

According to me, IIM grads are in fact useless as far as running a business is concerned. They are too young when they enter a business school. Most of them do not have any industry experience – and even if they do, it is a mere year or two, of which they spent half the time preparing for CAT exam. How does one debate in a IIM class on what should be done to a business given a situation? The solution does not come out of pure number crunching exercise- as every experienced business man knows; it’s far more complicated than that and there are many subjectivies involved. So, without having the experience of going through real life situations how are these grads debating in a class room? To compound the problem, most of the teachers have no industry experience either. What we get to see is a bunch of high-IQ guys thinking and debating theoretically about a practical problem coming up with unrealistic and far-fetched solutions bereft of any accountability or responsibility.

This whole charade of announcing who got what salary is completely childish- it’s like a Tutorial institute in Hyderabad announcing what ranks their students got in a local entrance test. I mean, we should be talking about creating leaders who are worthy of making an impact to a business and society and here we are all talking about CAT scores and salary numbers.

Our fascination with numbers- how much a kid scores in each test gets exaggerated and blown up by the time that kid goes off to an IIM. This kid somehow puts on a smooth tongue and blabbers a pseudo-intellect talk, crunches some numbers and produces flashy reports to bag a job with exorbitant salary. What happens next? How about tracing each of those poster boys and see what happened to them in five years? That would tell us a great story of IIMs!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Indians and Fairness

There is an ad on TV from a skin product called ‘Fair & Lovely’. This ad starts with a dark brown colored lady who is depressed and diffident. She looks at an ad of ‘Fair & Lovely’, applies it, and then becomes ebullient and confident. She gets spotted by a famous director who offers her a position in his new movie. Wow! What a fairy tale.

For some reason, the people who were sitting next to me and watching this ad didn’t find it offensive. I thought it was downright discriminatory and insulting. No one else seemed to share the same thought.

What is with Indians and Fairness? 

Looks like we are obsessed with color WHITE! As such most of the Indians don a shade of brown (ask any non-Indian). But Indians themselves seem to conjure up with ‘white’ to ‘black’ within the color brown. Families wait upon the new born and decide whether he is ‘fair’ or ‘dark’ and the parents are congratulated if the kid is 'fair' while they will be comforted if the kid is 'dark' as if it is a physical handicap. In some languages of India, ‘fair’ is synonymous with ‘white’ (ex. gora in hindi) and ‘dark’ with ‘black’ (ex. kaala in hindi). It is already decided that dark people are inferior; fair people are superior. Sonia Gandhi, no wonder, is easily accepted- so were Annie Besant and Mother Theresa. Imagine a black woman from Africa to be wife of Rajiv Gandhi. I seriously doubt if Indians would have gleefully accepted such a wife as their ‘bahu’ (daughter-in-law).

This flagrant and ignominious discrimination affects Indian girls the most. While growing up, they imbibe this inferiority complex which remains with them forever. As young kids at school, the ‘white’ girls get better scores, are treated better, and win all laurels in school. As young kids at home, the ‘white’ girls get the affection, love, and better goods from their parents. The ‘black’ girls get taunted and insulted all their lives as ‘kaala’ (black). Getting a ‘kaala’ girl married off is tough for parents. They have to shower more dowries to get them wed. And for the bride groom marrying a ‘kaala’ girl is like settling for something less. A man who gets a ‘gora’ wife is considered a "lucky bastard"- he shows her off to his friends and family as prized possession. This induced feeling of inferiority doesn’t allow a ‘kaala’ girl to do well at school or at a profession. Though it is not the same for a guy, even he gets to go through similar discrimination in India.

To a White European, most of the Indians look the same color. He hardly distinguishes between a dark Indian and a fair Indian. And even when there is a difference, he finds us to be of same color but different shade. And sometimes, a dark-brown shade is considered a better tan.
Our obsession with our color is so much that a lot is written about it in all our mythologies where ‘white’ are gods and ‘black’ are demons. And to this day, it seems to possess us so much that an TV ad blatantly conveys the message of correct-the-flaws-and-improve-your-chances perpetuating these discriminatory and insulting feelings across the country using mass media.

Update [13 Feb 2008]:

Sriram has created scripts for many 'Fair and Lovely' Ads. Must read! Don't forget to watch the videos there. You will know what I am talking about.

Links: Unfair Obsession [Added in 2013]