Times of India

Secularism Gone AWRY

Two weeks ago I met an old friend after a longish gap and he asked me what I had been up to. I admitted somewhat reluctantly that I had been wrestling with our ancient Sanskrit texts, but mostly in translation.

Make Money from Trash

Kevin lives in America but he is no different from most Indian nine-year-olds who do their arithmetic homework before dinner. One evening in February he worked diligently on the ratio of birds to worms and gave it the next day to his teacher, who was pleased that he had begun to grasp fractions. That evening Kevin showed his homework to his parents, who taped it on the fridge. On Saturday Kevin's mother casually threw the homework into the paper section of the family garbage, from where it was picked up and taken to Clifton, New Jersey's recycling centre.

Limits of Nationalism

I wrote in my last column about how arbitrary and tenuous are our borders and how we should treat them with a bit of healthy contempt. The right attitude is to think of 'South Asia without Borders', which is the title of a seminar at Harvard, and which is consistent with the cosmopolitan Indian way of the first millennium AD, when Sanskrit was the subcontinent's common language of culture before the vernaculars rose.

Imperial Fault Lines

Whether it is the continuing ugly massacres in Kashmir or this dreadful war in Iraq, the truth is that far too many of the trouble spots in the world are the consequence of the frontiers created ad hoc by Britain's wicked old imperialism and the legacy of its divide and quit policy.

Nasty Capitalist Myths

For more than a decade now we in India have been moving in the direction of some form of capitalism. It is a much misunderstood and much reviled system, which seems to put everyone on the defensive, and one of our defence mechanisms is to use euphemisms like "the market" to describe it. The governance scandals involving Enron, WorldCom, Arthur Anderson and others have confirmed to its detractors its evil nature. Although I am an apologist of this system, I too have been deeply concerned about some nasty myths that have taken hold inside the corporation in the past 15 years, which Henry Mintzberg and others have recently written about, and which might explain its recent failings.

Cosmopolitan & Vernacular

I sometimes wonder what language we Indians will be speaking fifty years from now. One possibility is that the status quo will continuea small elite will be comfortable in English while the masses converse in the vernaculars. A second prospect is that almost half the population might speak English to varying degrees of comfort. A third option is that there will be a linguistic renaissance of the vernaculars and we might have a bilingual middle class. A fourth possibility is the sangh parivar's dream of a Hindi rashtra.

Saving Capitalism

The Sunday before last I wrote about my failings as a board member and I concluded that an independent director had an impossible job. It is not easy to penetrate a company, and one way to do it is to become an insider, as I did when I became a consultant, but that, of course, means that one ceases to be 'independent'. Hence, I ended on a pessimistic note about the prospects for corporate governance within the present structure of capitalism.

Losing Our Best

Our government's recent decision on dual nationality did not assuage my feelings of unease, and I continue to agonize over the loss of our best and brightest to the West. I ask myself, does it matter if highly skilled Indians leave? Certainly, I celebrate the success of the Hyderabadi software engineer who makes good in Silicon Valley--she has enhanced the respect for Indians everywhere, and there is no loss in that. But my experience in running a business is that skilled talent is the scarcest commodity in the world and everyone is in a hunt for it. Ask any CEO of a reasonable sized company and he will tell you about the long evenings he has spent trying to persuade a good candidate to join his company. The same goes for nations. America's success is measured not only by its economic or military might but because it is able to attract the best talent from the world.

Performance vs. Ideology

Two Sundays ago, reluctantly, I concluded that after the Gujarat elections we have no alternative but to start a political movement to focus single-mindedly on governance, reforms and performance. Reluctantly, I say, because the last thing we need in India is a new political party. The psephologist, Dorab Sopariwala, tells us that 177 parties contested the last parliamentary election and 94 parties got a combined vote of less than 0.005 per cent; 139 parties did not win a single seat, and 12 parties got one seat. Hence, I was careful in saying that we should start a movement and when it acquired sufficient mass it could become a political party.

The Only Alternative

Once again the BJP seems to be learning the wrong lessons from history. It thinks that Gujarat is India in miniature, and it is getting ready to unroll the Hindutva wave in the next assembly elections at great peril to the nation. It doesn't realize that the ordinary citizen in the rest of the country cares far more about day-to-day governance and not nationalism or even terrorism. The election results in Gujarat highlight my dilemma and that of the average Indian voter: we can no longer vote for the BJP because the politics of Hindutva and hate do not appeal to us; nor do we trust the Congress to give us the clean governance that we so desperately seek. So, whom do we vote for?