Monday, January 23, 2012

What took Mamata so long...

Communists in West Bengal have now been replaced by socialists who pretend otherwise. Which is probably why West Bengal never saw the point of voting out the Left in favour of Mamata in the last 13 years. Many argue that the reason for the demise of the communists in WB is Nandigram which resulted from the hubris, that was the CPI(M) led by CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharya.
It is true that in its last avatar, the CPI(M) under Buddhadeb Bhattacharya made a sincere effort to invite liberal capitalism to the state. He met industrialists, beseeched business leaders, organized industrial gatherings, and got a few crumbs for all his efforts especially within the IT sector. His efforts ironically were largely thwarted by (i) the various trade/labour unions that communism had helped shape over the past 50 years and (ii) the Trinamool, which is an ally of the Congress, which is a party credited with opening the flood gates of global capitalism into India.

What then should we make of Mamata’s latest overtures to invite capital into West Bengal? Well, industrialists are not fooled. They know as well as we do, that actions speak louder than words and Mamata’s actions as Union Minister of Railways serves well to hint at her ideologies. Mamata’s ideology, if it can be called that, is this; to provide to the public of West Bengal, subsidized food, subsidized fuel, subsidized power, subsidized public transportation, subsidized education and whatever else it is possible to subsidize. For this, she will not hesitate to flog PSU’s, squeeze private sector businesses and brow beat the Govt at the centre for funds, which is heavily reliant of her support to keep the Govt running.

In 2007 the container rail freight industry was privatized under Lalu in the hope that it will support the over stretched Indian Railways (IR) and CONCOR, and increase rail traffic by weaning away cargo that would otherwise move by road. The business model was this: private players (CTO’s) would invest in rakes (trains) and containers to carry the goods for industries and shipping lines. The rakes carrying the containers would be hauled by IR on the IR rail network for which they would charge the CTO haulage. The CTO was free to charge a competitive and market determined tariff to its customers for carrying their cargo in its containers. The idea was indeed laudable, for it would benefit everyone, the end consumer would benefit from increased competition, supply chain lines would becomes faster, cheaper and more efficient than the roads, and the pressure on the roads would be eased.The Railways sold licenses to CTO’s to start their businesses for as much as Rs.50 crore per license. Another 500 crores or more were invested by private players in buying rakes and containers and the venture thus began.

Under Mamata however, the haulage charged to CTO’s was revised upwards by almost 100% over a period of 3 years. In addition to this, CTO’s are barred from operating at all of IR’s rail terminals, with their businesses restricted to only those terminals where the IR has the least amount of rail traffic. CTO’s are also restricted from carrying a large number of commodities such as coal and other minerals, despite the fact that IR cannot provide enough number of rakes to lift daily output of Coal India due to shortage of rakes.

Things came to such a pass that eventually some of these CTO’s were compelled to bring this matter to the notice of the competition commission for unfair practices on the part of IR. Litigation for the same is currently in progress.

What started out as a good initiative has now been turned into a loss making unsustainable enterprise. Those who invested in the venture lost money. The ever increasing logistics costs helps to drive up prices of commodities, at a time when we are besieged by burning inflation. All this was supposedly done to protect the lower and middle classes from higher rail passenger fares, by cross subsidizing it even below cost, by increased revenues from rail freight.
This serves as a lesson for those who preach cross subsidy. Mamata wants petrol and LPG subsidized, so the centre has to bail out PSU’s with oil bonds backed by taxpayer’s money. Mamata refuses to allow the state run power utility to increase tariff which would enable them to save Rs.250 crore monthly loss in revenue, consequently west bengal is faced with power shortage.

In view of such anti business actions, it is doubtful if business leaders will buy into Mamata’s business friendly rhetoric.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Poor and the Furious

Poor people are an abundant commodity in India. Having travelled to all metropolitan cities in India, and having stayed at each place for a prolonged period of time, I have seen them fairly closely.....and I refer not just to the BPL category but also the lower middle class, the ones who do not have an AC at home, those who avoid MacD and KFC, not coz its unhealthy but coz its expensive, those that travel in a public bus to a party they have been invited to, and forgo a few luxuries that month to be able to afford a gift to buy for the person who had invited him to that party.

One of the things that struck me were the differences amongst this section of people...for those who lived in Kolkata and those who lived anywhere else. For this section of people if he belongs to Kolkata, especially if he is Bengali, is a very proud race amongst his own kin...but sadly enough, finds it very difficult to get along with his kith n kin. I think what I mean to say is that the bengali poor, is not a very tolerant race.

The reason I say this is because whenever I am in Kolkata, I see only flayed tempers around me. Its either an obstinate and 'abhodro/ashobbho' passenger on the bus who would not turn to the side to accomodate our protagonist, or some mero/bihari guy in a car who wouldn't stop to let him cross the road when the signal was green, or the shop vendor who is out to fleece him or even the Kolkata summer, my 'hero' is always very very pissed. And more often than not, you'd find him getting together every evening with his friends for 'adda' where all that they do is rant !!

My analysis.....the reason why my bengali brother is so furious with everyone is because of absolute and abject hopelessness, the knowledge that things are not going to get any better. He is educated, knowledgable, and yet makes far less than his 'medo' neighbour who has a shop in burabazar. He cant get a decent job, and even if his job is decent, the pay is not as decent. He is angry because a bengali in bengal has to live like him whereas his friend who left for Mumbai has just brought a new car.

There are so few opportunities in Kolkata, people cant help but feel cheated. Cheated by the Govt which has had 30 years to prove themselves but has let him down, by the non-bengali community who has fared much better than he has, by the rich who has robbed him of his wealth through some slight of hand and tries to keep him poor, by the ladies, who prefer to marry someone from DEL/MUM these days, and indeed by God himself. I havn't ever seen a bus or car being burnt and its owner/driver being beaten up, sometimes even fatally so, for knocking down a pedestrian, never mind whose fault it is. He resents the guy who can afford a car when he cannot. I drive around in a car(my dad's) in Kolkata, and feel guilty about doing so...thats a feeling thats only possible in Kolkata.

The reason for this resentment is well known to all...No industry, no enterprise, no opportunity...that is the bottomline !!! The topline is the bottomline.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Literary plagiarism embraces cinematic content

I hereby present you with an excerpt from Chetan Bhagat's 'one night@call centre' which I only just read:

'Vroom continued, this time in a firmer voice.

"Thank you. My friends, I am angry. Because every day, I see some of the world’s strongest and smartest people in my country. I see all this potential, yet it is all getting wasted. An entire generation up all night, providing crutches for the white morons to run their lives. And then big companies come and convince us with their advertising to value crap we don’t need, do jobs we hate, so we can buy stuff -- junk food, coloured fizzy water, dumbass credit cards and overpriced shoes. They call it youth culture. Is that what they think youth is about? …." '

And here's a dialouge of Tyler Durden, the character played by Brad Pitt in the movie 'Fight Club' lecturing his fight club buddies:

"I see all this potential -- damn it, an entire generation pumping gas and waiting tables; they're slaves with white collars. Advertisements have them chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We are the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War, or great depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives. We've all been raised by television to believe that one day we'll all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars -- but we won't. And we're learning slowly that fact. And we're very, very pissed off."

I wouldn't go so far as to label any of this plagiarism despite the misleading 'Title' of this blog...but then, who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Bharat Bandh

Only in West Bengal...

How ironic. As if the state wants to cling onto its reputation as the last bastion of organized industrial/social unrest. Dividends ? Not worth the effort....decades of practice bears testimony of that !!!

Why then would you ask, is the 'bandh' such a popular tool ?? Political leverage? Is that a reasonable assumtion? Its not a question an educated urbane professional working in private sector in the national capital can answer has to be part of the grassroot BPL population to be able to answer that question. Its how their lives are affected, that decide the outcome of bharat bandh. Its how they benefit, that determines its success.

Never believe people like me who tell you that bandhs are bloody useless !!!!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Where is indian journalism headed...

Apparently downhill....

Today I read an article whose headline screamed 'Praful Patel's daughter pulled out AI flight for IPL'. Really? Is that even possible?

In effect the National daily for the sake of sensationalism, have accused Mr.Patel's daughter of misuse of power?? Power that she doesn't have in the first place...Complete loss of objectivity bordering on assenine reporting.

I am surprised their lawyers didn't advise them that they would open up themselves to defamation suit.