Friday, 26 March 2010

Wassup China?

This post is a reaction to Dr.Manmohan Singh, the Indian PM's conversation with Michael Dell- about Dell's considering shifting their $25 B of business from China to India...

First Google, next Dell- another biggie which is considering getting out of China. Makes me wonder, if the China story is losing its sheen?

The China Story, has been the darling of the world's press for a while now, and for good reasons too- they have done more to get people out of poverty, keep the world economy propped up, perhaps more than any other country in the last 2 years.

But, people and the media do tend to slowly lose interest as time passes, however great the story is, and perhaps its time now for China to face more opprobium...

They need to be careful though, because even small stories can now be blown up, particularly in the aftermath of the negative tailwind coming out of bigger stories.

Consider- Rio Tinto's perceived one-sided court case in China, Google's high profile exit, Dell's considered exit, to add to the earlier stories, and the continued pain of the RMB being undervalued making Chinese goods artificially cheaper in the world market and changing budget deficits for the first world- as the rest of the first world struggles to come out of the recession...

Well, the Chinese have not historically shown themselves adept at the art of managing perceptions with the rest of the world- but perhaps this is a good time to get to do that.

Meanwhile, i don't think this is fabulous news for India too- even if we get to bask, as the alternative @ scale to China- I think a dream China would be better for India... because in Economics and Business, wealth generation is rarely a zero sum game, and win-win relationships are based on everyone prospering, and it works better for us if our Neighbours are prosperous.

in reference to:

"Is Dell next to exit China?"
- Is Dell next to exit China? | News | TechRadar UK (view on Google Sidewiki)

Friday, 19 March 2010

Davos and the Recession- What do these mean for India?

Sandeep Parekh, in an article in the ET, makes a passionate plea for improving competitiveness, reforming education and labour markets in India as the key messages coming out from Davos to India.

Whilst I do not dispute that the above are clearly big ticket agenda items India must act on, my question is- what part of Sandeep’s agenda for India is being inspired by Davos and events of the past two years? To me those are things we need to do, Davos or no Davos, recession or no recession...

When i look at Davos and the post Recession world- and broadly at the events of the past 2 years , i see the following three “tailwinds” that give us in India a cause to cheer:

1- Thanks to the past 2 years, for the first time, India truly cannot be ignored by ANY investor. Let me explain- yes, sure, india has been a hot destination for almost a decade now, but so have commodity markets, so has Emerging Europe, so have particular sectors in the first world, and indeed so has most of the first world economies, including the US. But for the first time, there are very, very few investment options that continue to yield returns, and india surely is near the top, if not on top of that list now. This is indeed different, and will translate to lots of good FDI flowing into India , which it already is. Good news, because, more than anything else, we need money- given that we have cheap talent, and a good agenda.

2- The First world economies continue to be anaemic, being propped up by government spending, which clearly is unsustainable, increases deficits massively, and borrows from their future incomes. All of which translates to less confidence and hence weakening currencies. Look at the $ or the £ vs the Rupee and you will see what i mean. The above, coupled with a massive Indian savings rate (~33%) translates to a big opportunity to acquire IP, Assets, Brands for India Inc. Stronger Indian corporates that have better ability to serve customers, because of better tech/ip etc, means a wealthier india. Good news.

3- Elections 2009 resulted in a strong, stable government that is capable of taking decisions and pushing policy and agenda. All indications are that this will be a government that will sty in power over the next term to- a 10 YEAR window of stability and policy driving. Which is already showing up in Educational reform (foreign universities bill) , in infrastructure etc. Stability is always good news for investment and growth, and we have that solid stable window now. Great news!

Alongside is the great China story. I refuse to believe that a strong China story is to the detriment of India- au contraire, a good China story clearly helps spotlight India’s story given the similarities-we are neighbours, highest growing economies, similar size and scale, in categorisation (emerging economies- though they i think have emerged alreadyJ) etc. And, occasionally, we benefit as well- for instance the Google and Rio Tinto’s experiences in China serve to highlight how different the Chinese system is from that of the rest of the world, and hence increases india’s attractiveness.

Finally, the words of cheer come from Martin Wolf, a long term Chino-phile, who in the recent article in the FT of the UK had wonderful words to say about how well India is coming out of the recession. Way to go, India.

in reference to: (view on Google Sidewiki)

Monday, 8 March 2010

VI-Rahul’s Transformation of the Indian Youth Congress : Implications for Politics and for India

This is the concluding post in my series of blogs on the transformation of the Indian Youth Congress. In this post, I speculate on the implications of this transformation on the Congress, on Other political parties, and on Politics in India. To go to the first post and follow this series in sequence, please click here.

Implications for the Congress: There is the addition of significant new blood to the ranks, and in a grass-root level cleansing of the process of politics, which historically has been given to too much of muck, grime and nepotism at this level. However, from an objective of winning mainstream elections, which is the dominant objective of any political party, this transformation may not, in the short run- 3 to 5 years -have too much of an impact.

But the long run outcomes change dramatically- clean systems will bubble up better talent, who are already proven to have contested and won elections, a fundamentally better route to get leadership. Also, since they are being “caught-young” (younger than 35), they are going to be around for a very long time.

This process also makes it clear who enjoys what support. As Rahul mentioned to me, one look at the id-card of any IYC member will tell him instantly how much support the member enjoys and how much of power he brings to bear on an election in that state. Unlike earlier, when a General Secretary of the IYC in a state only meant that you had a powerful patron, but not necessarily much support.

Most elections are won or lost on a 3-5 % swing in votes- having such an extensive party organisation and their extended families will mean that each member will translate to 3-4 votes at least- making this organisation the winning card in most elections- hence Congress will have an edge in every election.

Historically, Indian politics has been based on caste community and regional lines- the fact that no nationally significant party has come to power in the last 42 years in Tamil Nadu is a testimony to this fact. As winds of change blow, and as issues become increasingly national (jobs, security, corruption, governance, economic opportunities, infrastructure etc), a national party with presence at every level in the grassroots has a hugely significant advantage.

For the other parties: I am going to look at two types of parties- the regionally significant ones (eg the DMK/ AIADMK/ BSP /ShivSena etc) and at the nationally significant ones (BJP/ The Communists).

From Terrorism to Jobs, from Economics to Roads and other infrastructure, as issues become more and more national, i see a weakening role of the regional parties, whose agenda for just one region is just incapable of inspiring election wins, and a resurgent congress, based on the youth power ,will be a clear replacement alternative to existing Idealogy.

At a national level, the BJP already can depend on the RSS, which has a national level grass root program. But the RSS is not the BJP, and the RSS agenda is manifestly right-wing Hindu, and is not based on democratic principles of winning elections. Hence, there are likely to be a few issues in how the BJP counters this grass-root congress strategy, but i think they have it in them to make their changes and come upto scratch.

For India, this is a welcome fresh wind blowing – something which will bring more equity and participation, and make the process of governance much more transparent, and resulting in better and more thought through decisions for the society.

In particular, transparency and better politics in India minimises the one difference the world sees between India and China, to China’s benefit. Their “one party authoritianism” does deliver on what they have promised, even if there is a lot of corruption- whereas our opaque, slow, nepotistic and corruption ridden politics has not traditionally delivered. Good news!

Please feel free to comment and let me know what you think.

V-Rahul’s Transformation of the Indian Youth Congress : Keeping the Engagement going..

This is the fifth in the series of posts about the transformation in the Youth Congress in india. In this post, I blog about what Rahul and team intend to do with the members, once recruited and how they will keep the engagement going , and what actually happens on the ground. To go to the first post and follow this series in sequence, please click here.

Looking forward, once Rahul has approximately 20 Million youth enrolled across all the panchayats, what will he do with them? Currently, the IYC members are mobilised for Dharnas, protests, and an occasional blood-donation camp, but not much else. The key issue is the brand- if these folks start to do their own thing, and that may include unsavoury things like bullying etc, it sullies the brand and the reputation. Hence this is something that they have thought about.

The membership will play a strong mobilising role in the IYC election process, that is intended to be repeated every two years- and by the way, the IYC membership is an annual membership- if you are >35 next year, sorry mate, you are no longer eligible.

Finally, the IYC members will also be deployed on the ground in any mainstream elections/ bye-elections. Council, Panchayat, Assembly and LokSabha...

In addition to the above, they also have annual activity programs which have the following as a part of their key result areas ( KRAs) :

All members are put through a day’s training, which is intend to infuse leadership development, identify social capital development and focus on the brand and the rewards.

The elected leaders, 5 at each Panchayat and 10 in each ward will be responsible for Recruitment of more members, and specific leadership and brand building activities.

They also have a “menu” of 7 activities, including increasing RTI requests, aimed at curbing corruption, increasing enrolment in NREGA, increasing livelihoods of rural populace, blood donation etc- of which they choose their specific activity and ensure that they do a few activities on them, which is also in their KRAs.

Though thought has gone into this process, my sense is that this is still work in progress, in part because the entire organisation is focused on getting thro the transformation process in all the 35 states and union-territories. Watch this space...

The next post is about the implications of this transformation process.

IV-Rahul’s Transformation of the Indian Youth Congress : The Stories

This is the fourth in the series of posts about the transformation in the Youth Congress in india. In this post, I blog about the actual process of transformation, and what actually happens on the ground. To go to the first post and follow this series in sequence, please click here.

There are plenty of stories that are there as a part of this process- i will try to give a flavour of the kind of emotions that are going on...

· II met Rahul in August at his office at Tuglaq Road, Delhi. As he described this process of transformation, he came across as someone who was incredibly focused, who knew exactly what he wanted. As he articulated the vision behind this program, with the aura of the quiet success it was already accomplishing- he sounded very confident. He has also proven very adept at getting the right kind of advice and more important, listening to that advice and acting on it- very impressive.

In my October visit, i met “Sathya” in Krishnagiri, in Tamilnadu. Sathya is a chiropractor operating out of Bangalore. Sathya is a loyal congress activist who is given to wearing loud gold watches. When Rahul was on his krishagiri visit, he personally reached out to Sathya, and removed the watch, put it into Sathya’s pocket, and said- “please don’t wear this anymore”- the Gold watch is now amongst Sathya’s most cherished possessions, and is in his locker. I saw quite a few mobile phone screen savers that were the owner in conversation with, or shaking hands with Rahul- Rahul is clearly the hero here...

How do Assembly Returning Officers get allocated their Assemblies? Simple, there is a “lucky draw” of all the sim-cards that are allocated to each assembly- the mobile number is pre-published- and your Assembly constituency is the Sim-Card you pick.

In Gujarat state, where these elections were held second, after Punjab- the organisation had relegated the task of voter list printing for validation to the field, as a result of which most lists were not printed- and this caused massive pandemonium, including scuffles, and accusations. Based on this experience, all printing was centralised.

I am told that conversations are on with Nandan Nilekani , my ex-boss @ Infosys, about the 2 crore members of the IYC membership being a part of the Unique-IDs he is espousing- after all, this is a very good example of a validated, proof checked database that extends into every Panchayat in the country.

In Madurai, i met Suraj Hegde, the grandson of Devaraj Urs, the erstwhile chief minister of Karnataka, the one whose statue is first when you enter the Vidhana Soudha. Suraj is the PRO of Tamil-nadu, the CEO of the entire process, and was a part of the original project Vistaar and the 1 week workshop that started all of this. For the last 2 years, he has been completely immersed in this, and does 18 hour work days and has loads of fun in the process. Extremely capable and totally in charge, Suraj comes across as someone who can be completely trusted to deliver on the massive responsibility he has to discharge- in-fact i met a lot many very capable people through the process- a master stroke has been utilising the cadre from neighbouring states. Given the sometimes rough weather you tend to run into when it comes to politics and elections, these folks, particularly at the LRO and above are immensely capable, typically have 10 years in the field...

This process invariably is resulting in upsetting the existing hierarchy of Congress leadership in the state. In Tamil Nadu, there are 5 factions of congress leadership who are all up in arms against their personal fiefdoms being taken away. I know of atleast 3-4 “crisis” trips to delhi by the organisation to keep these factions at bay and ensure that the process is carried out. And make no mistake, this process is immensely threatening to the existing hierarchy, another proof that this is indeed game changing.

I Believe that When Rahul met Vijay, a superstar in Tamilnadu recently, they explored Vijay’s aspiration to get into politics- that being a standard route in Tamilnadu, where MGR, Karunanidhi, Jayalalitha have all had Tollywood backgrounds before their political careers. And Rahul is said to have told Vijay that he is welcome to join the IYC and, if he wins the elections, he is the chief of the iyc in Tamil Nadu. I don’t think Vijay has responded yet...

The above are intended to give a flavour of the people and the emotions that are driving and around this transformation. The next post is about what Rahul intends to do with the 20 Million youth that are enrolled into the IYC

III-Rahul’s Transformation of the Indian Youth Congress : The Process of Transformation

This is the third in the series of posts about the transformation in the Youth Congress in india. In this post, I blog about the actual process of transformation, and what actually happens on the ground. To go to the first post and follow this series in sequence, please click here.

The process is rolled out at the state level, and the key steps in this process are 1- Membership Drive 2- Member Validation and Consolidation and 3-Conduct Elections .

There is a comprehensive governance organisation that is put in place throughout this process- in Tamil Nadu, for instance, there is an army of 1,600 people working across the state. The people that conduct the process are members from neighbouring states, to remove the risk of the process being influenced by the local leaders- in Tamilnadu, where i saw this process at work, I identified folks from Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. It works- Language does not seem to be a barrier (English doesn’t work J)

The organisation is headed by the Pradesh Returning Officers (PRO) who are the CEOs of the process and take all operational on-the-ground decisions– in Tamil Nadu, the two “CEO’s” of this process were Suraj Hegde (from Karnataka) and Usharani (From Andhra Pradesh). Reporting into them are the LokSabha Returning Officers (LROs) who are reported into by the Assembly Returning Officers (AROs) ,supported by Polling Officers(POs).

The Executive Committee- Led by Rahul, there is an 8 member executive committee that heads project Vistaar which includes Rahul Gandhi, Jitendra Singh, Meenakshi Natarajan, Rajiv Sathe (IYC president), Hibi Eden, Sachin Rao, Kanishka Singh and Anand Adkoli (ex Oracle).

Technology changes the game...

There is a comprehensive technology piece that is wrapping the entire process up- from the moment the forms are taken, they are scanned, data entered, photographs scanned, the supporting documents scanned, before the all important barcode is allocated.

During verifications and nominations, all nomination data is verified against the internet available database before anything is approved. The actual election itself is a Paper ballot, but that’s only because the official Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) were not allowed to be rented to the IYC by the government of india. Election schedules are put up on the net, by the LROs and the AROs who have full flexibility to make these changes. However, the election results are determined thro a rules engine that determines the results. Finally, all declaration of results is done thro the internet- and it is a fully transparent process.

Contrast that to the relatively opaque and an immensely time intensive process that are the mainstream elections of today.

The entire process takes 3- 4 months from start to finish. The culminating part of the process are the elections which are held in a very tightly coordinated 2 week schedule- this is to ensure that the process cannot be gamed by the power elements.

How would you know whether the process is kicking off in your state? Simple, watch 3 things- see if you want to visit, or better still, if you find Rahul coming into the state and doing socially significant things, you know this process is starting in that state...

The next post is about the emotions and the stories behind the transformation.

II -Rahul’s Transformation of the Indian Youth Congress : Guiding Principles

This is the second in the series of posts about the transformation in the Youth Congress in india. In this post, I blog about the guiding principles that inspired the transformation. To go to the first post and follow this series in sequence, please click here

In 2007, a group of 30 senior congress leaders got together with Rahul in a week long workshop- the outcome of that workshop was project Vistaar. A comprehensive program, Vistaar, was envisioned to be rolled out in ALL states and Union-Territories to transform the basic structure of the Indian Youth Congress. The Key guiding-principles behind Vistaar were the following:

1. Open Doors: Question- How do you get into the Congress / Youth congress? The answer historically has been- if you want to get in, some “leader” needs to have blessed your entry- or no membership. Under Vistaar, this basic barrier was to be completely broken down- and the floodgates opened- anyone could get in subject to a few basic conditions- that you were between 18 and 35, a proven resident of that panchayat/nagar-panchayat (ward) that you wanted to get in as a part of, are not a member of another party, and do not have a criminal record. In Punjab, where this was implemented first (early 2009), the membership increased from 30,000 to 3.6 Lacs due to this- an impressive 12 fold increase. TamilNadu in the currently ongoing process has received 15.7 Lac applications, of which 14 Lakh were valid bonafide applications- members in EVERY panchayat and nagar-panchayat- all this in a state that has not seen the Congress party Win in the last 42 years. Impressive, right?

2. Elections in and elections out: What is the basic purpose of a political party? To win Elections! This simple fundamental premise was applied to the Youth Congress. Any person that wishes to be an office-bearer has to win an election. Period. No Exceptions. Posts at the panchayat/ ward level are filled thro direct elections, and the elected office bearers – 5 for each panchayat and 10 for each ward (given the higher population in urban) form the electoral college for the other levels of leadership election.

3. You Exist, and I Have Proof that You Do: Applying for membership is very easy, but fulfilling the conditions demands paperwork and the fulfilment of this process is in your being allocated a Barcode. The IYC will go to great lengths to ensure that they have tamper proof data before they will allocate the barcode. Apart from submitting the photo-id based form in person, you also need to submit the proof of your residence in the panchayat , the proof of your age, and if you belong to a reserved category (eg SC/ST), the proof of that. Once verified, a UNIQUE barcode will be assigned to you, and you cannot change the membership details after that-and all these documents are scanned for posterity and for easy access.

4. Its Tech Savvy, Baby: The IYC has committed to a foolproof process across the 35 states and UTs. This means conducting recruitment drives, putting up voter lists, conducting elections in lakhs of panchayats- just in Tamilnadu, where i observed this process , 20,005 elections are being held over a 2 week period. Manual systems cannot and will not be able to keep pace, or be error free- ergo, everything has a very strong technology base- membership databases, scanning of document, the barcode system, membership scheduling, election scheduling, nomination forms, election results etc etc- Tech is an integral part of this process. And you thought that the BJP, thro their Advani web campaign, were the more tech-savvy of the parties?

5. Keep it Fair and Clean: Given the need to keep this process as transparent as possible, Rahul has roped in Foundation for Advanced Management of Elections and ex Chief Election Commissioners such as Lyngdoh and Rao- to audit the elections and keep them fair and transparent. For instance, any recommendations from the FAME observers are immediately acted upon- an instance is that every person who wants to contest an election has to sign a voluntary declaration that they have never been criminally convicted.

6. Align to National Election Organisation: Earlier, the IYC was organised on its own internal structure- the rural organisation was Gram- Taluk- Zilla etc and the urban organisation was Ward-Town-District-etc- under Vistaar, the organisation structure was collapsed and aligned to the way mainstream India is organised- Ward/Panchayat level -> Assembly-> Loksabha-> State level- basically bringing the internal organisation into synch with the way the country is politically organised.

7. Direct Link to Rewards: The entire process of organisation has also been linked to success and outcomes for the individuals- given that “success” to a politician is to get the “ticket” to contest the mainstream elections, IYC office bearers will be given 33% of all tickets to contest official elections at the Assembly and the LokSabha level- this % will actually go upto 100% in the next few years... basically making this the only route to entry into the congress.

8. Expand base to capture the Swing: Fact- most elections are won on swing of 3-7 % of the votes: @ a Lok Sabha level, this translates to less than 100K votes. Just expanding the membership base (in TN they now have 1.4 Million bona-fide IYC members across every panchayat) will translate to this swing in votes- thereby making for a stronger election-winning machine.

Given the above guiding principles, Vistaar set out to create a comprehensive process of transformation and change. The next post talks about the actual process of transformation.

I-Political Game Change in India- Rahul Gandhi’s Transformation of the Indian Youth Congress

As someone who has returned back to India to participate in the transformation the nation is going through, I am very interested in following all aspects of transformation. As a direct participant in the economic transformation, I am seeing us slowly but surely emerging from below the poverty line, and we are in the process of building scale businesses, many of which are already multi-billion $. I am starting to see the benefits- increased prosperity, better towns and cities with quality infrastructure - the whole nine yards!

The other transformation that I would love to see, is the transformation in politics- an arena most of us folks watch from the sidelines without participating. I would want to see the end to corruption, an end to hooligan politicians, the end to the dominance of money and nepotism, basically a cleaner political ecosystem.

Well, as i write this, there is transformation underway in the Indian Youth Congress, inspired by Rahul Gandhi, and that change is likely to have big implications for Indian politics.
I first came to know of this transformation from Rahul in August- 2009 when I met him in his office in Delhi. I have been following this transformation ever since.

For the purposes of description of these blog posts, I have specifically focused on Tamil Nadu where i have seen the entire process from start to now, as the final stages are unfurling. I went to Salem and Dharmapuri districts in October-2009 during the membership-drive , and in Madurai last weekend, where i attended training and observed the nominations and elections. I have tried to follow this change as it is happening- it first started in Punjab, wended its way through in Gujarat, Pondicherry, Goa, Diu and Daman, in Tripura and is currently underway in 5 other states- Rajasthan, Haryana, UP, Chattisgarh, Jharkand, Kerala to name a few...

Why is this Gamechanging? Rahul has created one simple guiding principle- any holder of a post in the Youth Congress, HAS TO win an election to get there. And once you are a post holder, you are assured of the “official” ticket to contest Assembly or LokSabha elections from that region.

The game change is this- the key “prize” anyone in politics slogs his/her guts out for is to contest the Assembly/ LokSabha elections as the representative of the party- to get the party ticket- they go through years of literal slavery and serving their “mentor-leader” to get this seat. And even then, opacity and arbitrariness rule the way seats are allocated, resulting in years of toil coming to naught! With this system though, if you have proven yourself in the internal elections in the congress, hey presto, the seat is automatically yours. No nepotism, no kow-towing to senior leaders, no slaving for your leader for years in the desperate hope that you will get your ticket some day - basically a completely transparent process to success. The system is the essence of simplicity and clarity.

In the next few posts, i am going to take you through the different aspects of the story. Please feel free to comment and feedback on these:

  • Guiding Principles
  • The Process of Transformation
  • The Stories
  • Keeping the Engagement Going
  • The Implications

The next post is about the Guiding Principles that inspired this Transformation.