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Monday, September 26, 2011

My Best Reads of Sep 18-26


After I read an article, I ask myself if its worth sharing with my readers (especially the student community visiting this blog). If the answer is yes, then you will find it in this space. How do I arrive at an yes or a no? 

If the article adds knowledge, especially in the way of preparation for GD /  Essay-writing / Interview (essential stages in the b-school selection process), then the answer is yes. Its as simple as this.

One note of caution: When I post the link to an article, it is not always true that I subscribe to the view / opinions of the writer / journal. The objective behind this exercise is simple: share learning. 

  • Is the Chinese economy slowing? (NYT)
  • China's rise is inevitable. (Foreign Affairs; registration required; it's free!)
  • A rogue trader committed a U.S.$2 billion scam at UBS, one of the largest global banks. How do rogue traders do it? (BBC)
  • Palestine's bid for UN membership: Q&A on bidIsraeli viewPalestinian view (BBC)
  • James Gleick on how information became a thing. (Discovery mag) I suggest that you read  Gleick’s Chaos, a compelling read.
  • Ram Jethmalani on why the proposed communal bill is highly divisive. (The New Indian Express)
  • The Return of Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin. (FP)
  • Stupidity is alive and kicking. How? (Science)
  • How to make money from printing money (BBC)
  • Neutrinos faster than light. (Nat Geo)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Derived Snob Value of UN Membership

The title of this post sounds like an ad-line for securing membership of one of those odd but coveted social clubs. There is always a certain snob value attached to such a club, especially if it is hard to get into. Little wonder then that people wait for years to get into hi-society clubs, if not for the real deal then for the attached snob value. 

One such club is the United Nations. 
Frankly, I have never been a great fan of the United Nations, a global body, with 193 members and a few territories with observer status. It is  a club with derived snob value (of the moral type), and that's why it still is coveted. However, it has little real actionable use when it comes to solving some of the world's most intractable problems, like the Israel-Palestine tangle, the crisis in the Korean peninsula, and resolving disputes between the warring factions in numerous African nations.  

The most the UN can do is to levy sanctions, especially of the economic variety, against some countries to punish the political dispensations in power. If you look at the countries where such sanctions are in place currently, like North Korea and Iran, they affect the regimes less and the common people more. So much for the collective wisdom of the global community. 


The last country (i.e. 193rd nation) to get into the UN was Switzerland. The latest one seeking the UN's membership is Palestine. I will not get into the merits of its case for membership; rather I will share an infographic (sourced from the Reuters blog) that details a few facets of the Israel-Palestine crisis and the process involved to get the membership of the UN. 


T
rust me, Friends, this is the kind of serious material that can prove handy in the rigorous b-school selection process.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Right Write Ideas

The B-School entrance test season is about to begin. Often, there are verbal ability questions, based on the fine difference between words that are generally interchangeably used, albeit in a wrong way. 

A few days back, I found an infographic highlighting a few commonly misused words in written communication. Run through this infographic to get a hang of the right usage of these eight + eight words. I do not remember where I found this terrific infographic; however, all copyrights belong to the original creators. 



  

Monday, September 19, 2011

Global Women Leaders

There are very few countries in the world with women leaders at the helm. In India, we have Pratibha Patil in the largely ceremonial role as the President of the State. On the Reuters blog, I found this interesting infographic that details various women political leaders, either in executive or ceremonial roles.

Look at the 2011 names, like Dilma Rousseff (Brazil) and Yingluck Shinawatra (Thailand); they might just make an appearance in one of those GK sections in the SNAPTest / IIFT / IRMA, or any exam with a GK section! 

Click on the graphic for a larger view.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mother, Son, and the INC's Political Culture

We, including Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, know that Sonia Gandhi and her family control the reins of the UPA government at the Centre. Rather than being coy about such an unpalatable fact, Diggy Raja the Loudmouth (aka Digvijay Singh) and his ilk often go around the town bragging about Madam's remote control power. Sycophantic Congressmen are always in a race to outdo each other to become sycophant par excellence. 

Most political observers know that all Congress leaders have had a small coterie who would 'give' the Leader (with a capital L) her so-called political sagacity. Sonia Gandhi is no exception; access to Madam is restricted and even senior Congress leaders have to pass through this coterie to get an audience with their Leader. Talk about exclusivity!


For years, it has been an open secret that Ambika Soni and Ahmed Patel are part of this coterie. Now Wi
kiLeaks has shed more light on the coterie and the Congress culture. To cut a long story short, I will reproduce excerpts from two U.S. Embassy cables (with my highlighters in bold) on the dubious nature of politicking in the corridors of power.

Please note that this cable was sent from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi in 2005. Since then, of those names mentioned in the cable, Arjun Singh is dead, Natwar Singh is out in the cold (because of the UN report on food-for-oil scam) while Shivraj Patil's political career is in the loop line. 
Otherwise nothing much changed in the Congress party except that the levels of morality have plumbed new depths. 

Congress Culture Defines Sonia Gandhi's Role (Link to cable here)
 Summary: Since the Congress-dominated government has been in power, there have been widespread allegations by the opposition BJP and media commentators that party President Sonia Gandhi has been pulling the strings of government.  Our conversations with a wide variety of insiders suggest that her role is more muted and nuanced.  She has deliberately attempted to preserve the image of being ""above the fray"" politically, taking maximum advantage of Congress culture, which prescribes that the party figurehead be surrounded by an ""inner coterie"" to provide advice, and shield the leader from criticism and dissent.  The Gandhis remain coy as to which of their many advisors are ""in"" and which are ""out,"" leading to endless speculation, and large numbers of people claiming to be ""close to the Gandhi family.""  Mrs. Gandhi also heads the National Advisory Council, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Steering Committee, and a committee that administers relations with the Left Front (LF).  She restricts her role in these meetings to presiding as chair and utilizes senior Congress leaders to do the talking.  Embassy contacts emphasize that Mrs. Gandhi prefers to wield power behind the scenes, relying on discrete back-channel communications with key figures in Congress and allied parties to address outstanding problems.  While this elaborate system protects her from blame for GOI shortcomings, it also complicates honest assessments, as her handlers strictly control information flow and access.  End Summary.
The Web Around Sonia
For decades, Congress culture has had an ""inner coterie"" around the Gandhi family, to offer them advice and protect them from dissenting opinions and criticism.  The family has been secretive about who belongs to the inner circle, which makes it difficult to define the current membership.  Embassy contacts claim that this complex web assists and inhibits Mrs. Gandhi to wield power.  While the BJP accuses Mrs. Gandhi of acting ""as a shadow Prime Minister,"" our contacts generally agree that she and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have defined their roles, with the PM acting as a corruption-free technocrat handling governance, who remains above the political fray, while Mrs. Gandhi concentrates on the constant give-and-take associated with running an enormous political party with tens of millions of members and a disparate coalition. Mrs. Gandhi's three principal advisors, Ahmed Patel, Ambika Soni and Jairam Ramesh, have served the Gandhi family for many years, and derive their power through proximity to her.  Party insiders believe that Soni is on the ascendant and currently among those individuals that Mrs. Gandhi trusts the most.  Ramesh is primarily viewed as a thinker and wordsmith, who drafts Mrs. Gandhi's speeches and helps shape her views.  Insiders dismiss Ahmed Patel as an intellectual lightweight, known primarily for his skills as a political ""errand boy"" who gets things done behind the scenes for Mrs. Gandhi.  His star has fallen after allegedly mismanaging recent assembly elections in Jharkhand and Bihar. 
Unlike the advisors, who tend to remain with the Gandhis over the long-term, individual politicians move in and out of Mrs. Gandhi's inner circle.  At present, the three most prominent include HRD Minister Arjun Singh, Party General Secretary Digvijay Singh, and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar.  All three are extremely ambitious and would like to become Prime Minister.  According to our sources, Arjun Singh's chances are fading, as he is viewed as too old and too overbearing.  Sharad Pawar, once plagued by ill health, seems to have recovered and is considered one of the most senior and competent of the old Congress leadership. Digvijay Singh, the former Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, is highly regarded as one of the few senior Congress leaders with the ""common touch.""  Foreign Minister Natwar Singh, Home Minister Shivraj Patil and Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee occupy a separate orbit of super Ministers whose long-standing personal ties to the Gandhi family and seniority in Congress politics allow direct personal access to Mrs. Gandhi, and routine input on Congress decision making across a range of issues.  Of these three, Mukherjee is clearly the most formidable -- and reportedly harbors the greatest hope of some day becoming Prime Minister.
Sonia and the NAC 
Mrs. Gandhi's role as NAC Chairman provides her with Cabinet rank and a ""secretariat"" with a complement of civil servants and staff that report directly to her, as well as office space and a travel budget.... Contacts tell us that while Mrs. Gandhi nominally chairs the sessions, she restricts her involvement to brief opening and closing statements.
Since the NAC has been largely moribund, some political observers theorize that Congress created it to provide Mrs. Gandhi with needed Cabinet rank and infrastructure, to help convince the Communists that it was serious about the CMP, to help burnish Mrs. Gandhi's image as a ""compassionate leader"" who cares about the poor, and to provide entre for NGOs in the policy process.
Sonia and the UPA
There are three components that must be placated and balanced to keep the UPA government in power: Congress, the Communist parties, and the regional/caste parties.  Sonia and the Congress leadership complain about Communist obstruction, but are convinced that these parties, although ideological, are not ""irresponsible.""  In the eyes of Congress leaders, most Communists are ""pragmatic,"" projecting an image of looking after the poor and downtrodden, in order to mollify the party faithful, while not preventing government from functioning.
 While many in the Congress inner circle have some affinity with the Communists and work together with them on selected issues, they view the regional satraps of the UPA allies with disdain, and prefer to keep them at arm's length.  The recent Congress fiasco in Bihar, for example, convinced many in Congress that Bihar-based politicos Laloo Prasad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan are ""loose cannons"" who cannot be trusted.  Their disdain for these often rustic regional politicians has prevented Congress from properly managing the UPA coalition.  Because of these engrained prejudices, Congress has been unable to focus on the BJP as its principal adversary, and instead has become mired in internecine squabbling. 
According to our contacts, Mrs. Gandhi plays a similar role in the Steering Committee meetings as she does in the NAC, sitting silently through meetings without participating.... these meetings, which are held largely for public consumption and to demonstrate to the public that Congress is a responsible party interested in "coalition maintenance."
As one of the world's oldest and largest political parties, Congress has evolved an elaborate culture aimed at protecting the Gandhi dynasty.  Mrs. Gandhi's inner circle carefully controls her access to information, and inoculates her from criticism, while her carefully scripted public appearances protect her from making gaffes or missteps.  This has the advantage of preserving the ""sanctity"" of Mrs. Gandhi and the dynasty, but can also complicate her efforts to wield power.  This system prevents Mrs. Gandhi from asserting herself and reduces her charisma, and makes her overly reliant on a selected group, which may not always have her or the party's best interests at heart.  She appears more comfortable working with the often high-caste and well-educated Communists than with regional satraps of the state-based parties, which suggests that the bumpy Congress/UPA relationship is likely to continue. 
The Son Also Rises (Full cable here) 
Congress Party supremo Sonia Gandhi appointed son Rahul Gandhi to a senior position in the Congress Party on September 24, a move that gives Rahul a formal role in the party organization and is seen as ensuring a clear line of dynastic succession.... Rahul is widely viewed as an empty suit and will have to prove wrong those who dismiss him as a light weight.  To do so he will have to demonstrate determination, depth, savvy and stamina.  He will need to get his hands dirty in the untidy and ruthless business that is Indian politics.
Congress Party officials and workers reacted with enthusiasm and fanfare to the elevation of Rahul Gandhi and the infusion of the younger MPs into the organizational structure.  Unfortunately for them, the buzz surrounding the appointment was short-lived.  It was overshadowed immediately by euphoric nation-wide celebrations when India lifted the cricket Twenty-20 World Cup on September 24 by defeating arch-rivals Pakistan.
Much has been made about Rahul Gandhi taking a party post once occupied by his father en route to becoming the Prime Minister.  The political landscape that Rahul steps into, however, is very different from what Rajiv Gandhi encountered in the eighties.  The Congress Party then was by far the most dominant political force in the country.  Except for a brief post-Emergency period, it had been in power continuously since independence.  It had a clear majority in Parliament.  It controlled most key state governments. Opposition parties, including the BJP-precursor Jan Sangh, were mere irritants to Congress Party rule.  Rahul Gandhi enters the national stage in starkly different circumstances.  The Congress Party is a much weakened entity.  The Dalit-Muslim-Brahmin coalition that kept it in power for so long has unraveled.  The party no longer has a presence in Uttar Pradesh, once the seat of its power in Delhi.  Regional parties have gained at the expense of the Congress Part as they have better harnessed regional aspirations.  Coalition government is the rule rather uthe exception in Delhi.
Little is known about Rahul Gandhi's personal political beliefs, if any.  He is reticent in public, has shunned the spotlight, and has yet to make any significant intervention in Parliament.  His singular foray to center stage during the UP elections was unremarkable.  He is widely viewed as an empty suit and will have to prove wrong those who dismiss him as a lightweight.  To do so he will have to demonstrate determination, depth, savvy and stamina.  He will need to develop his own networks of loyalists and operators. He will need to engage with coalition allies and cross words with the opposition.  In sum, he will need to get his hands dirty in the untidy and ruthless business that is Indian politics.  Relying solely on family inheritance may get him the top job but it will not be enough to make for a successful long-term political career in India.
Let us look at how things have turned out for Rahul Baba since his entry into politics. His impact on Congress' electoral prospects everywhere has been zilch. Look at Uttar Pradesh: all his efforts to galvanise the INC at the grassroots level have flopped. Forget Gujarat; both mother and son were swept away by the Narendra Modi tsunami. And Jayalalithaa pricked their bloated egos in Tamil Nadu. 

Any electoral win is attributed to the charisma of the mother-son duo but any electoral loss is the result of the opposition's money and vote bank politics as well as the weakness of the local Congress leaders!


Rahul Gandhi was nowhere in the picture when Team Anna lauched the Jan Lokpal agitation. Even when he emerged toward the end days of the agitation, he sided with the UPA government. So much for his ideals of a corruption-free and all-inclusive society. 


Till date, he has not defined his political beliefs. Not that they are needed if you happen to belong to the Gandhi Dynasty. 


Saturday, September 17, 2011

22 Most Misunderstood Words in English


Most aspirants to this blog are either MBAs or MBA aspirants. Folks belonging to the latter category sit for entrance tests, which have loads of vocabulary-based questions. I have found, much to my dismay, that most students do not like learning vocab through the good old way of reading extensively. They wish to cram or mug up vocab!

On the other side, those who wish to learn are often faced with the problem of understanding and using words that are seemingly easy; but scratch the surface, they  often end up either misunderstanding the word (i.e. its meaning) or wrongly using the word in the right way or, worse, both. 

I found two interesting infographics on Grammar.net, which detail 22 most commonly misunderstood words. The lists, though not exhaustive, are very informative.


Click on the graphic for a larger view.


Friday, September 16, 2011

The Top Five Articles of Sep 12-16

Tehelka has a story on the Air India saga. This is easily the best article I have read this week. Here's an excerpt from the story:
The financial ill-health of Air India is attributed by a civil aviation expert to a “systematic failure of the political and bureaucratic masters who have run the airline like their own principalities for years now. And the merger of Air India and erstwhile Indian Airlines in March 2007 under Patel’s directives has led to an unmitigated disaster”.
Ironically, adds the expert, global consulting firm Accenture, which was hired to draw a road map for the airlines’ merger, was paid Rs. 90 crore for services provided. There are also whispers about why, while other airlines in India hire pilots at a salary of $8,000 per month, Air India hires from a particular placement agency at $10,000. The agency, it is learnt, is run by the son of a former Air India official.
Last year, the Committee on Public Undertakings (COPU) termed the merger as a “marriage of two incompatible individuals” and slammed the government for the “ill-conceived and whimsical” decision.
Read the complete article on Tehelka.

One of the largest ten economies in the world, Italy now is neck deep in shit. It has asked China to help it stave off from what can be a potential debt trap.The Economic Times has more on this. 

The U.S. and the European nations have rejoiced at the flight of Muammar Gaddafi. One major power that is visibly uncomfortable at the turn of events in Libya is China. The Economist has an interesting article on the Middle Kingdom's growing unease with the Libyan developments. 

For the tech-minded, Tech Crunch ran a story on the declining usage of Google+ users. If you are a Google+ fan, that's not so cool news.

Another story for the tech geeks, Mashable has an interesting piece on how once-tech-gadgets-from-the-realm-of-fantasy from the Star Trek sci-fi drama have come become real life technologies.

Happy reading!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Infographic on Inflation


Inflation relates to the sustained rise, over a period of time, in the general price level when there is a rise in demand (for goods) without an equal rise in supply.
In today’s interconnected world, a lack of stability in the prices of goods and services characterises all types of economies, be it in an emerging economy like India or in an advanced economy like the United States or underdeveloped economy like that of Senegal. But as we all know, any kind of uncertainty is not good for business; so is the case with price instability. 
If you wish to read a comprehensive article on inflation, check out The Explainer on Inflation I had written a few weeks ago on this blog.
Here's an infographic I sourced from Mint.com (as you can read from the infographic below) on the phenomenon of inflation and how it affects us all.Trust me this is easily one of the best infographics I have come across.



Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Jobs: World's Biggest Employers & Shedders

Walmart is the world's biggest corporate employer, even bettering the humongous state-owned companies in China. In this list of the planet's top 15 employers, you will find seven public sector companies and one private company from China. 

Foxconn, the biggest Chinese private sector employer, is the largest producer of iPhones for Apple. In fact, it produces nearly, according to some estimates, 85% of all iPhones. However, it has a dubious distinction: tens of its employees have committed suicide, especially after jumping from the rises of the manufacturing giant's plants. 


The superb infographic below, sourced from The Economist (click here for the link to the chart), captures two important sets of facts and figures: world's largest corporate employers and job cullers. Given the already weak global economic scenario, especially in the U.S. and the Eurozone, more companies will shed huge number of employees in the days and weeks to come. 

Indian Railways, with 1.2 million employees, is a notable name missing from the list; it could be because rather than a state-owned corporate, it is a departmental undertaking of the Ministry of Railways, Government of India.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Angry Birds Phenomenon

Angry Birds is one of the most popular games in the history of the gaming industry. A lot of folks are addicted to it; in fact, I know a couple of such addicts. Here's an AYTM infographic on the global appeal of Angry Birds.


Angry Birds Addiction Infographic | AYTM
Infographic by: AYTM Market Research

Monday, September 12, 2011

NASA's Moon GRAIL Mission

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the key space agency of the United States. It has, to its credit, several milestones, including the first-ever human landing on the Moon, Earth's only natural satellite. 

Last month it launched the GRAIL mission to the Moon. Here's a Reuters infographic that captures the important details about this important mission. Somewhere I have a hunch that this will turn up as a GK question in one of the entrance tests, like SNAPTest.




Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Explainer: The War on Terror - Part I

In the last two weeks, I have not published The Explainer. Most of my posts in The Explainer Series are full-length and in Q&A style. From today, most of my posts in this series will be short and will come in installments; I have seen it works best when we read important ideas relating to one crucial central idea in one short go and then refresh it with another one a few days later. So here's my first endeavor in this direction: a short Explainer of the U.S.-led War on Terror.

How did the 9/11 attacks unfold?

I think rather than write any description of how the attacks unfolded on that unfortunate day, here's an infographic that's sourced from Reuters

Click on the picture for a larger view.




What is the War on Terror?
The September 11 2001 attacks on American soil remain one of the most defining moments of our age. The attacks, in a way, shattered the myth that geographic isolation of the United States, flanked as it is by two massive oceans, would protect it from such large-scale terror attacks.


About four weeks after the devastating terror attacks, the U.S. launched the War on Terror, with a dire warning for friends, foes and fence-sitters: ‘either you are with us or against us.’ It was not a solo effort from the U.S.; it involved several European governments, African nations (like Ethiopia and South Africa) and American allies elsewhere (like Australia and New Zealand).

The term War of Terror was first used by the then U.S. President, George W. Bush; however, you should know that this is not the official term used for the worldwide anti-terror campaign. Rather the current U.S. government uses the staid legal term, Overseas Contingency Operation, to denote the War on Terror.


The War on Terror uses not just military but also ideological, political and legal means to destroy and dismantle terror networks and regimes that lend support to such terrorist organizations. While the War on Terror’s main target was, and continues to be, Al-Qaeda, it has run disruptive operations against other terror networks, like the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT).
Where is the War on Terror being fought?
Ten years after it was launched, the War on Terror is being waged across the globe, with Asia as its main theatre. To put in perspective, major anti-terror operations are being carried out in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Central Asian nations (like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan), West Asia, and Africa (Somalia).
However, the border areas along the Afghanistan-Pakistan boundary (called the Durand Line) have emerged as the Terrorism Central in the War on Terror.

What is Rendition or Black Site?

When you read stuff on the War on Terror, you may come across esoteric terms, like Rendition and Black Sites. 
Let me explain these terms in a very brief and simple way:
  •  Rendition: This involves capturing terror suspects in different parts of the world and holding them without charge. Such operations are carried out by the U.S. anti-terror squads, belonging to the CIA, in collaboration with the local government in that part of the world.
  • Black Sites: These are sites where the terror suspects are imprisoned. In short, these are detention centres (or jails) in pro-U.S. countries like Thailand, Romania, and Poland. However, since neither the U.S. government nor the local government acknowledges the existence of such sites, these are called Black Sites.
  • Guantanamo Bay: This is an American naval enclave on the island of Cuba. It houses a massive U.S. naval base, with an infamous prison named Camp Delta. This prison is home to some of the world’s most dangerous terror suspects. 

Name a few major terror attacks after 9/11.
Year - 2002; Place - Bali; Who carried out - Jemmah Islamiya, a local cell of Al-Qaeda; What happened - bombs detonated at two popular nightclubs, frequented by foreign tourists; How many died - 202.

Year - 2003; Place - Baghdad; Who carried out - Al-Qaeda in Iraq; What happened - Truck laden with explosives rammed into UN headquarters; How many died - 19, including the UN Special Representative for Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello.
Year - 2004; Place - Madrid; Who carried out - Not established, but Al-Qaeda suspected; What happened - 10 serial blasts on 4 trains; How many died - 191.
Year - 2005; Place - London; Who carried out - British citizens, with links to Pak-based terror groups though group identity not established; What happened - 4 serial blasts on buses; How many died - 52.
Year - 2007; Place - Algiers; Who carried out - Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb; What happened - suicide bombers run into UN building; How many died - 34.
Year - 2008; Place - Mumbai; Who carried out - 10 Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorists, with links to Pakistan's ISI; What happened - Multiple attacks on high-value targets, like the Taj Mahal hotel and Trident hotel; How many died - 166. 
Year - 2010; Place - Kampala (Uganda); Who carried out - Al-Shabab, Somalia-based terror group, with links to Al-Qaeda; What happened - 2 blasts at one hotel and a club; How many died - 74. 
Repeated terror attacks have a numbing feeling; unfortunately they numb our mind and hence whenever any terror attack happens, all we do is to 'click our tongue - tch tch' and move on to an entertainment channel on the Idiot Box. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

It's all Maya!

There are few organisations that have been as sensational and havoc-wreaking as WikiLeaks. I strongly believe in freedom of speech and transparency in matters of public policy and governance. However, it is also true that in matters of national security and public order, secrecy and discretion are paramount.
Somewhere these two important cornerstones seem to have become casualty of the WikiLeaks saga. We can look at this entire issue through the idea of the right to access information. But I think there is a more pertinent question that we should raise: at what and whose cost is this information flowing into the public domain?
For example, what about those hundreds of informers (and their families) that supplied crucial information to the international forces in Afghanistan (and elsewhere) whose lives are on the block now, after the Wikileaks revelations of their names?
On the other side, without WikiLeaks and other whistleblower organisations, we would never have come to know the shenanigans of some of our leaders. The latest disclosures about Mayawati, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, should come as an eye-opener. It is an open secret that she is corrupt; however, what is disconcerting is the sheer scale of the abuse of official machinery for personal gain.
I waded through the U.S. Embassy cables on Mayawati and for your information, I am reproducing one particular cable in full, while the rest are excerpts from other cables. I have also added the links to each cable.
One particular cable that created massive media sensation is titled Mayawati: Portrait of a Lady (for link to this cable click here.) I have reproduced the entire cable, because various media outlets have carried only excerpts and you would know the reasons for this when you read the media-business-politicians nexus in this cable. Please that the emphasis in bold is mine.
A wide range of business, political, academic and media contacts generally agreed that Chief Minister Mayawati and her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have done little to promote development since her May 2007 election.  According to several journalists, the law and order situation in UP has improved only in that Mayawati has centralized corruption in her own hands.  She has become a virtual paranoid dictator replete with food tasters and a security entourage to rival a head of state.  Civil servants will not speak to the press for fear of losing their positions.  Journalists admitted they feared retribution should they print anything negative about Mayawati.  One journalist claimed that all civil servants' and most journalists' phones are tapped. 
Politically, contacts noted that while Mayawati's support from Brahmins and Muslims may be waning, she remains extremely popular with her Dalit vote base.  Mayawati is obsessed with becoming Prime Minister and the BSP will spend huge sums in next year's national polls.
With all signs pointing to another coalition government in Delhi, Mayawati could be a powerbroker and perhaps even a king (or queen) maker.
All decisions must run through Mayawati or her very small coterie of advisors.  One Lucknow journalist related a story in which a State Minister was forced to do sit-ups in front of her as penance for not first asking permission to call on UP's governor.
Mayawati has institutionalized corruption with competitive fealty payments to her replacing shootouts.  Just to run as a BSP parliamentary candidate costs roughly 250,000 dollars.  This does not ensure victory of course, but with the BSP likely to field candidates in over 300 constituencies nationally, it does ensure Mayawati's campaign coffers will be full, in addition to all her other revenue sources including payoffs and kickbacks from almost every interaction that large businesses have with the state government, standard practices in UP.  In comparison, several commercial contacts in Lucknow and Kanpur spoke glowingly of the business climate in Gujarat and its Chief Minister, Narendra Modi.
Mayawati's full majority victory in May 2007 UP State Assembly elections left her beholden to no one and has allowed her to act on her eccentricities, whims and insecurities.  When she needed new sandals, her private jet flew empty to Mumbai to retrieve her preferred brand. According to Lucknow journalists, she employs nine cooks (two to cook, the others to watch over them) and two food tasters.  She fears assassination and demanded from the central government the highest level of protection available.  In addition to this outsized security apparatus, she constructed a private road from her residence to her office, which is cleaned immediately after her multiple vehicle convoy reaches its destination.  India has seen such political personalities before, and never failed to deal with them eventually at the ballot box.
Mayawati rarely speaks with the media and when she does hold a press conference, questions are not allowed. More worrying, Lucknow journalists claimed the government has tapped their phones as well as those of civil servants.  Most civil servants now refuse to talk to the press.  Reporters fear losing their jobs should they print anything negative about Mayawati.  Caving to political pressure, the Hindustan Times removed its Lucknow correspondent after she published a satirical piece about the Chief Minister. The newspaper's owners also operate sugar mills and chemical factories in UP.
Dalits will remain with Mayawati regardless of poor governance, simply because the fact that one of their own is Chief Minister provides them heretofore unimaginable pride.
As for Mayawati's dream of becoming Prime Minister, the most plausible scenario would entail weak performances nationwide by both the Congress Party and the BJP and a strong showing by Mayawati and other regional parties.  This would allow the BSP to dictate terms of a third front (non-Congress, non-BJP) coalition in Delhi.
While inflation, development and terrorism will be the "issues" in the coming national polls, caste remains the DNA of UP politics, and no one has demonstrated more ability at playing caste politics than Mayawati. 


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Terror & Humour

Violence does not lend itself easily to humour; rather it has the opposite effect. However, the two cartoons below relate the morbid subject of terrorism in a humorous way, which I could barely resist sharing with you. I found these two cartoons at the Dry Bones blog. All copyrights belong to the creators. 



Sunday, September 4, 2011

My Blogroll - First Installment


T
he response to BJ's 15-Minute Learning Rule has been phenomenal, something I did not expect. Thank you!


Some readers suggested that I share the names of Web sites / blogs, which I access to learn. If there is something that I like as much as learning, then it is sharing that learning! 


In the first installment of a multi-post series, I bring you five of my favourite Web sites / blogs:


www.vijaygovindarajan.com 

Prof Vijay Govindarajan is a world renowned authority on strategy and innovation. His articles are full of insight and nuggets of uncommon wisdom.
http://chellaney.net/
Brahma Chellaney is a professor at the New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi and author of Water: Asia’s New Battleground. One of India's best defence and military strategy experts, you will particularly like his analyses of Indian strategic and foreign policy issues.
www.freakonomicsblog.com
I have read both the works of Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner - the immensely interesting Freakonomics and its poor (at least in IMHO) sequel, Superfreakonomics. Being unconventional in most things I do, I like their unconventional takes on matters conventional.  
www.ritholtz.com/blog
I like economics, particularly global economics. For all matters pertaining to the U.S. economy, there is no portal better than this; trust me, Barry Ritholtz's take on all matters American economy is perspicacious. 
www.bbcnews.com 
Though I do not believe that the BBC is impartial and objective, it still is a very good source on most global current issues, including on technology issues. I suggest that you check out its Special Reports section, which is a treasure trove of backgrounders on crucial global issues.
I hope this first installment helps; there are a large number of sites I follow. But as I said they all will come in an installment series.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

BJ's '15-Minute Learning Rule'

In the last few days, I have been asked about my 15-minute learning rule. Before I share this simple but highly effective self-devised learning tool, let me share, with you, my experiences within the classroom and without.

I am a teacher, as most readers of this blog already know. I work for a leading entrance exam training company; I teach for the CAT and other MBA entrance tests. In the past, I have taught for the GRE too. As such, this story will focus on my limited experiences with students, training for these tests. 

In the classroom, I meet a diversity of students: ambitious, eager-to-learn, hardworking-but-lost-because-of-lack-of-direction, and a few who are either arrogant or indifferent or both. 

In over-a-decade long stint, I have, unfortunately, come across more students of one particular type: those who are ambitious but do not want to work hard. It is not that these students lack the capacity to work hard; it is just that they do not want to. 

I have often discussed this issue with some of my brilliant colleagues and have found, to my dismay, that their classroom experiences have not been any different from mine. It is disheartening for a teacher to see a student with latent talent to waste it away. 

Now you may ask me, 'Isn't it the teacher's job to guide a student?'. I can hardly disagree with that. Yes, we try hard: we talk about the benefits of reading (newspapers, magazines), constant practice (problem-solving exercises), mock test-testing (online sectional tests and mock tests), building effective communicative ability (vocabulary, conversational language ability), and above all, learning from failure. 

Now we all know how many students would be willing to do all this and more, is perhaps a moot question. As a teacher I can only show the path; walking the path or not is a consequence of the personal choice made by the student. In other words, you can take a horse to the pond but you can not make it drink.

Or put it in a more cinematic way, there is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path, as Morpheus says in The Matrix.

I would like to believe that most students are eager to learn but do not know where to start. For them, I can only say: start anywhere, with anything. Learn about anything. You own / see a world-class brand (like Nike) but do not much know about it? Then spend 15 minutes on learning about it. Here is how you can do it.

The 15-Minute Learning Rule
At the outset, let me tell you that the 15-Minute Learning Tool is a self-devised one. It is a simple yet highly effective way of spending time to learn. I have often shared this with my audiences in classrooms, GDPI workshops, GK and economics seminars, and quizzes across cities. 

Here is the step-by-step approach to the 15-Minute Learning Tool.

(a) Pick an idea: it could be anything - a brand (like adidas), technology (like 3G), country    (like Nigeria), or if you like, a celebrity (like Kate Perry).

(b) If you wish to learn about it on the Internet, then google the word or go to the Web site which you know would provide you with such information.

(c) Once ready with the Web page on 'what-you-want-to-learn-about', tell yourself that you will spend 15 minutes in learning about it.

(d) However, before you start the 15-minute learning stint, also tell yourself that in those 15-minutes two things may happen:
(1) that I may not understand everything that I read, and
(2) that I may not remember everything that I read.
(e) Start the 15-minute learning module!

(f) If you read a sentence you do not understand then move to the next one; if you do not understand the next one too, then go to the third one! Do not be discouraged by what you  do not understand; it is alright not to understand everything you read, after all you are not an expert but just a lay reader trying to get a hang of an idea.


(g) At the end of the 15-minutes, you would know that 

  • you might not have understood everything;
  • you might not be able to recall everything, but
  • you still would have got some basic idea of the issue.
If you do not have access to the Web, you can employ this learning tool with a book - any reference book, like Manorama year book or some kind of encyclopedia or even an academic textbook.

This, friends, is my 15-minute learning tool. I strongly believe in its efficacy; I believe 15 minutes is short enough to help most people retain concentration; yet it can also help you learn in a most basic way.


However, let me warn you that learning is not about passing an exam or getting a job; rather it should be 
a constant process. I strongly believe that learning is a life skill. This is my fundamental approach to learning and I hope it becomes yours too.