Ego cogito, ergo sum

A compodium of my published aritcles, features, etc. on technology, IT and everything else; sourced from CyberMedia publications, Financial Express, Free Press Journal, Nazara.com, etc……

Archive for March 2009

Who is communal?

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Elections ’09 are heating up in India. A shrill noise is reverberating across everywhere, as leaders and politicans adopt every single trick in the crook-book to get elected. And sadly instead of issues of development or growth the parties across the lines are just debating and discussing inane issues like ‘secularism’ or ‘communalism’.

Every single party belonging to the UPA (or rather former UPA) or the newly formed opportunist 3rd Front, swears by the word secularism and takes a solemn oath to do every thing to keep them out of power. Dubbing the right wing saffron party as a communal one, portrayed as danger to the very existence of this nation.

To be fair, BJP party has not helped its case either, by not coming out strongly on a lot of issues, like the latest controversy on Varun Gandhi. It has at times shown a rather lackadiscal approach when it comes to reacting to issues. For instance, when the Mangalore Pub attacks happen, the central leadership of the party took their own sweet time to condemn such violence in an outright manner. The result, the party is seen to be abettting such issues. Now, whether that is true or not, I know not but that is what a perception that is formed about the party.

Now, BJP or rather NDA’s 5 year term was not all that bad when you compare it with the current government’s, there were scores of infrastructure projects that were undertaken like the Golden Quadilateral one, etc.  Thus, when the party is simply dubbed as ‘Communal’ by the rest, it seems a bit odd.

Gujarat is the one whip that BJP is constantly flogged with by all, and I just wonder one thing, that the electorate that has given such a mandate to rule to the BJP, is it communal as well. Then by the same definition, so many states in India become communal ones. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Shashwat D.C.

March 29, 2009 at 2:07 am

Posted in Feature: General

The 22 'More Equal' Ones

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“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others,” was one of the commandment as spelt out by Squealer in the Animal Farm. Through this Dystopian novel, George Orwell, succintly highlighted the unequal world that we exist in.

Every Indian is subjected to the ‘more equal’ maxim numerous times in the day, from the place that he/she has to live in, to how commuting is done, to what amenities are available. There are basically three classes of people in India, the Upper Class, the Power Class and finally the Other Class. It is only the first two classes that have rights, the Others are burdened with duties. In every action, at every sphere, this class difference is discernible; at times it might be overt and at time, covert.

During one of my travels, I came across one instance of such inequality. At the Kolkata Airport, the CISF had put up a board before the security check, listing out the names of dignitaries that were exempted from frisking and could directly board an aircraft, not needing any security check.

Post 9/11, air travel have become quite pain for commoners like me, have to reach the airport at least an hour early, carry no liquids, no cans, nothing, remove laptops and place them on the tray, etc.  But these 22 people or rather 22 class of people need not submit to such incongruities, they are the creme-de-la-creme of India.

On seeing the list, I had jotted down the names and am listing them out here. Find out for yourself, who the 22 ‘more equal’ Indians are.

P.S. Number 22 was quite an interesting addition.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Shashwat D.C.

March 27, 2009 at 8:25 pm

Marie's cake?

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Meanwhile, while I am still on the Nano issue, let me raise the points put up by environmentalist opposing the small car. While the likes of Dr. RK Pachauri have argued that a petrol low-cost car will add to the carbon emmissions of India by the burning of fossil fuel. Many else have taken a holistic perspective of the issue so as to say; arguing that the urban infrastucture could crumble under the weight of Nano.

CSE, not surprisingly, has chosen to oppose the Nano. And thus in the past quite a few months, there newsletter have become pamphlets against the small car, highlighting how and why the car is not meant for us or rather should not be meant for us.

The last piece that I received from CSE (http://www.cseindia.org/AboutUs/press_releases/press-20090313.htm) spoke about how individual cars are bad for the environment and why all Indians must chose public transport over private one. The argument to be fair is a very valid one and I for one completely agree with it.

But then, the devil as they say are in the details. Is there really a public infrastructure in India? Even in the metros of India, the public transport, is still shady, tacky and unreliable. Honestly, the only reason that I travel hanging out in an over-crowded Mumbai local is because I don’t have my own vehicle.

In light of this the appeal made by CSE, and more precisely by Sunita Narain (she heads the organization), I am very curious to know how many of these experts and environmentalist really practice what they preach? For instance, of all the people that have been opposing the car as a fossil fuel guzzler, how many of them have actually given up their own and started traveling on public transport. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Shashwat D.C.

March 26, 2009 at 1:59 am

Posted in Feature: General

Tagged with , ,

The Nanolution

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So, a promise has been fulfilled by good ol’ Ratan Tata. The one that he had made totata_nano_14 the world and more importantly to the Indians some 6 years back, of a car that will cost some $2000. Nano is now ready to ferry 5 Indians safely 23.6 kms for every litre of petrol and will apparently hit the roads by June/July 2009, initially in limited numbers. Subsequently, the price might also be revised later (though, there is little scope for it after all the USP of the vehicle is its price).

There are a  lot of hopes pinned on Nano, not only from the automotive sector but from the economy from a whole. Many analysts are hoping and at times proclaiming that Nano could provide the kick-start the economy so badly needs. While on the other hand there are scores and scores of environmentalists, who are bemoaning the launch of Nano, terming it to be an eco-disaster for India in terms of emissions and infrastructure.

I for one am reminded of the mobile revolution that took shape in India over the past decade. Let me share with you a personal anecdote. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Shashwat D.C.

March 25, 2009 at 11:58 pm

To (H-1)B or not to be?

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Criticism against the H-1B visa program is mounting with easy passing day with increasing job losses in the US. Will Indian companies, IT sector particularly, be able to whether the storm as they were the chief beneficiary of the program?

November 4th, 2008, will forever be remembered as a historic date, as it was the day a black man (Barrack Obama) was elected as the 44th President of the United States. His victory against all odds was wildly celebrated not only across towns and cities in the US but also across the globe. Thousands of people across different continents were seen cheering and celebrating Obama’s election to lead US for the next 4 years. But back here in India, there was muted scepticism for the new president. Though overtly, there were congratulatory messages being exchanged and right noises being made, deep down inside there was a niggling fear of Obama as a policy maker and Democrats in large.

The trepidation was not without reason, the world at large and the US specifically is facing one of the biggest economic challenges in the past few decades. Prompted by the Sub-prime crisis, the US economy has been going down, and going down fast. With factories shutting down and jobs being retrenched, Obama promised a policy that was a complete anti-thesis of the Republican pro-toh102_31march2k9business line. He talked about pumping money in the economy and more importantly ensuring that Americans did not lose their jobs to migrant workers (read Indians). In fact, he had even spoken against the H-1B Visa program, wherein companies were allowed to bring in specialist workers for some 6 odd years in the US.

The main beneficiary of the H-1B Visa program were Indian tech companies, namely, TCS, Wipro, Infosys, likes that sent their workers in the US on deputation. Using H-1B Indian IT companies could offer a range of outsourcing services to corporations across the US. But as the job losses seem to be at historic high in the US, the shrill against the H-1B program is growing stronger by the day. In fact, the latest data released by the US immigration authorities, shows that Indian IT majors received the maximum number of H-1B work permits in 2008 (see table). It is certainly not a new trend as Indian IT majors had dominated the list of H-1B recipient list last year as well. Last year 163,000 immigrant workers applied for 65,000 slots. These figures are being used by the critics of H-1B program, ranting against the dominance of Indian IT firms.toh103_31march2k9

The Noose tigthens

Protectionism is indeed on the rise in the US. There are numerous senators who are lobbying hard to have the H-1B program be scrapped or have severe restrictions imposed. Not surprisingly, last month, when President Obama presented the $787 billion federal stimulus bill to the US Congress, he spoke about how restrictions would be imposed on H-1B use by financial-services firms that receive bailout funds. On the other hand pressure is also rising on the US MNCs asking them not to employ H-1B workers, for instance, Senator Chuck Grassley sent letters to Microsoft mentioning that the company had “a moral obligation” to put the jobs of US citizens ahead of H-1B immigrant workers amidst layoffs.

There was also much hue and cry among the Indian community in the US over the three-month deadline to leave the US for H-1B visa holders who have lost their jobs. U.S.-based organisations of Indians have asked for an extension of the deadline as a falling market it is difficult for returnees to sell their assets and settle their affairs.

Back in India, the response has been much refrained. While quite a few politicians have decried against any sort of protectionism, not much has been forthcoming from the IT sector. Nasscom for its part expressed ‘serious concern’ at the turn of things. Government officials in India are lobbying with the US government to work out an amicable solution to the issue.

Likely Impact?

So, how bad is the news for India and Indian companies in particular; is the big question that is on everybody’s mind right now. There is a body of thought, that in order to stay competitive companies in the US will have to looks at ways and means of increasing productivity while at the same time cut costs and hence they cannot do away with outsourcing all together. It is simple economics and no amount of politics can really score over it. Also, the fact remains that in spite of his Democratic antecedents, the Clintons (former president Bill Clinton and current secretary of state Hillary Clinton) have been supporters of the H-1B program. In fact, the wind seems to be still blowing in favour of the H-1B program, as Obama chose Senator Judd Gregg as the Secretary of Commerce. Gregg had in the past stood out in the Senate in strong favour for expanding the cap on H-1B visas from the current 65,000 per year.

In the meantime, companies and job seekers are again gearing up for applying for the H-1B visas that will become available in financial year 2010, which begins in October. The USCIS will receive application for the 65,000 visas on April 1. Business icons like Eric Shmidt (Google) and Bill Gates (Microsoft) are known proponents of the H-1B program. Thus, there is the likelihood that all the words might not really translate into action, and Indian companies might continue to benefit like they have done in the past.

In the end, it all boil down to the economics, if the crisis worsens and there are more job cuts and losses in the US, the opposition against outsourcing in general and H-1B in particular will increase by manifold. Banks and financial institutions that have been bailed out by the US treasury will be under enormous pressure to hire American citizens over immigrants. With a bevy of banks being funded by the US government, this is certainly not a great scenario. Also, if perchance the massive bailout fails to enthuse the economy President Obama will be coerced into adopting more radical means of kick-starting the US economy.

On the other hand, if in the next few quarters the pall of gloom lifts and there is an improvement on the ground in terms of the US economy, the tirade against the outsourcing will lessen. Indian companies are desperately hoping and praying for the same as their own health is intricately linked with this scenario. The big question is will it happen that way? And what if, it doesn’t?

(This article of mine had been recently published in Dataquest)

Written by Shashwat D.C.

March 22, 2009 at 12:22 am

Bad Times cometh!

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Recently, India’s largest media house Bennett & Coleman (the Times of India, for the uninitiated) sent across a mail to all the employees, detailing austerity plans: freeze on salary hikes, cutbacks on past increases, etc.

In the rather detailed and inspiring mail, Ravi Dhariwal, CEO, called upon the employees to “make personal adjustments and sacrifices  for a  greater cause”.  And for the sake of oneness, there are salary cuts across the board.

What I am really curious about is that, when the times were good, and the business was booming, where was this spirit of oneness then? Why were not there salary increments across the board? Or is it that, when things go good it is because of a few bright souls (of course the top brass, who needs to be patted and rewarded accordingly) and when it is a downturn, it is everybody’s problem and the spirit of ‘oneness’ comes to fore. Well, such is life.

Nonetheless, the salary cuts at Times will have a domino effect on the rest of the industry, am sure a lot more media company CEOs will be emboldened by this step and must be drafting a visionary piece of letter, that makes it sound almost like a necessary sacrifice. For all of them, I am pasting Mr. Dhariwal’s inspiring piece.

Just one request to all the CEOs. whenever you send out the mail, let the daggers be out. Please don’t sugarcoat it with moral platitudes of oneness and togetherness. In these trying times, the last thing one needs is platitudes.

The original (and inspiring) piece:

Confidential: Times Pay Revision Cut

Dear Colleagues,

Over the last five years we have had a dream run  as a company. In July 2008,  we grew to be a billion dollar company, growing at 20% per annum, nicely profitable, growing shares in almost all geographies, expanding our editions into newer territories and winning important competitive battles. Why do I  call it a dream run? Because we met success everywhere, including  against competitive attacks in large markets. This encouraged us to think of expanding even more rapidly. We made plans to double our capacity, launch many more new editions, take Mirror to other cities and continue to grow our business at the same pace.  Not only our business, we all grew both professionally and personally in the last 5 years.
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Written by Shashwat D.C.

March 18, 2009 at 9:12 pm

Go ahead Otis, sell Gandhi

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Over the past few days there has been a big hullabaloo raised over the sales of some of the items belonging to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, more popularly known as Mahatma Gandhi or just Bapu. It so happens that an ingenious American (the Americans are very ingenious in things like this) named James Otis over the years put together a rather impressive collection of Gandhian memorabilia that has things like Bapu’s specs, sandals, bowl and plate, watches, blood report and other such mundane stuff.

No one knows for sure as to how Mr. Otis got hold of such stuff and how much did he spend. Considering the way, we Indians treat our heritage, it should not have been difficult or costly either. Check any Christie or Sotheby catalog and you are sure to spot hundred of temple idols and paintings that have been sourced from some obscure part of India for some few USD and sold for millions abroad. Mr. Otis, simply put, has done the same with Bapu. And though, he might paint his motive with a shade of nobility, the fact is that he intends to make a few easy millions through the sale. Simple business, what Americans are best at.

But, here in India, everyone is going berserk on the sale. All hell is being raised at such a blatant sale of our nation’s heritage, news channels are running scores of programs with all these experts and high-profile people talking about what Indian government needs to do. There are these grand daughters and the great grandsons of Gandhi coming on TV making an emotional plea for the items to be brought back. Then, newspapers are full of stories on how Bapu saw a vision of modern India through those specs.

In between officials from the ministry of culture, MEA, PMO, all are running helter-skelter to either stop the auction or negotiate with Mr. Otis. I am sure, at this very moment, there must be a team of high profile Babus out there in the US, trying to work out an amenable solution. Even stinking rich NRIs are being courted and asked to buy the items and gift them to India. And finally, no less the PM of India has raised the bar by sending out a poignant plea ‘do everything to get hold of Bapu’s stuff’. Unnecessary emotions, what Indians are best at.

In all this theatrics of the absurd, one small point is being missed, by all this dramatics and stuff, we are really walking into Mr. Otis’s trap. He must be so much gleefully rubbing his hands at the moment. Over the past few days, the reserve price for the stuff has gone up by a few hundred thousand Dolllars, and it all goes into his account. So why the hell are we going crazy over it?

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Written by Shashwat D.C.

March 5, 2009 at 7:26 pm

Posted in Feature: General