Thursday, August 30, 2012

Open Letter to the Prime Minister of India: Dr. Manmohan Singh


“Yes, ’n’ how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn’t see?”
Bob Dylan

Dear Dr. Singh,

You recently stood outside parliament and invoked an Urdu couplet saying that your “silence is better than a thousand answers; it keeps intact the honour of innumerable questions.” Perhaps, there is some honour in not responding to each and every personal accusation made against you. We understand that many of these are politically motivated and designed by the opposition to disrupt parliamentary proceedings, or to distract the public from far more important matters facing the country. However, there is a much larger issue we are dealing with today, one that goes beyond your personal integrity, and one that affects the lives of each and every one of your countrymen and the future of our children.

The fact is that this is just the latest scam in a seemingly never-ending series of scams that plagued your coalition’s tenure – under your leadership. Perhaps you should also stay silent about the Black Money scandal where an Indian businessman was caught stashing Rs.39,120 crores ($8 billion), and the Supreme Court reprimanded your government “for failing to interrogate Khan and other alleged offenders despite having sufficient material in the possession of investigators.” (source: NDTV). Stay silent about the Commonwealth Games scam where your own party man and Chairman of the Organising Committee was charged by the CBI as “the "mastermind" in fixing and inflating costs of a timing, scoring and result” (source: Times of India). Ignore the 2G spectrum scam which not only involved dirty politicians from your coalition but also bureaucrats, corporate personalities, media personalities and lobbyists. We should also forget the Telgi stamp paper scam which lasted ten years, had tentacles across 12 states, and involved police officers and other government employees. Including one police officer who is said famously to have acquired “assets worth Rs.100 crores despite earning only Rs. 9,000 a month.” (source: Mens XP). Or look the other way about the growing number of defence scams, starting with Scorpene, where it was alleged that the “Congress leadership awarded the contract to French manufacture, Thales in exchange of 4% commission.” (source: Times of India). God forbid you dignify the outgoing Army Chief’s letter about our defence procurement procedures being mired in bureaucracy and corruption with a response. Even if our forces are woefully short of ammunition, poorly equipped and we face “97 per cent obsolescence in air defence preparedness.” (source: Times of India). Facts, it seems, that had previously been submitted by the comptroller and auditor general (CAG) in an earlier report highlighting “the same critical gaps in India's defence, only much more starkly.” (source: Times of India).

I suppose you want all of us to close our eyes when the International media does cover stories with the opening line; “It is sometimes said that corruption is the purpose of Indian politics.” (source: The Economist). Cover our ears and ignore companies like Dell whose senior executives are giving interviews stating that it is becoming impossible to do business in India because of power blackouts, uncertain tax rules and lack of honour among decision-makers.” New decision makers come and they don't honour the contract previously signed." We should say good riddance to companies like Germany's Fraport, the world's second-biggest airport operator, “who recently decided to shut its development office in India, becoming the latest in a growing list of companies exiting Asia's third-largest economy.” (source: Reuters). All while the rupee continues its free fall, to new and even greater lows; causing imports to skyrocket and making it harder for the average Indian to travel or study abroad. India’s last quarter economic growth rate was the slowest pace in the last three years. The agriculture sector posted modest growth of 1.7 percent and the industrial sector grew a meagre 1.9 percent. “The fall in gross fixed capital formation (GFCF), popularly known as the investment rate, to below 30 per cent of the GDP for the first time since 2004-05 does not augur well for the future.” A few weeks prior to this report being released Goldman Sachs and Bank of America Merrill Lynch had both downgraded India’s economic outlook for 2012-13 (source: The Hindu). I could go on but perhaps my silence, even as inflation continues to rise, will speak louder for you.

It no longer matters if you dipped your hand in the cookie jar or not. I think I speak for all my countrymen when I say we still believe that you are not corrupt. However, it is not integrity that we seek from you; it is leadership, tenacity and the courage to fulfill the duties of your office. Nobody expects you to wipe out corruption, but at least let justice be delivered when corruption is exposed. Stop protecting those who have abused their office and been caught red-handed. Open your eyes and look around at the devastation your party and coalition members have caused under your nose and leadership. Turn your head in the direction of the havoc they are wreaking through unchecked corruption and unending greed. You will not have to look far to see how they continue to rape and pillage your country, our country, my country only to fill their Swiss coffers. They are selling our souls to the highest bidder, every day. Uphold the oath of your office and serve the people who put you there.

Mother India weeps and lies bleeding at your doorstep. This will be your legacy, Dr. Singh, if you continue to do nothing.

The time for silence is over. The time for words is also over. It is time for action. Save India. Lead us, or get out of the way.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Barack H. Obama: The “Non Partisan” Report Card


“Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.”
Peter Drucker

When Obama became President in January, 2009 he and his party had a mandate from the country to lead them to greater unity, fewer unnecessary wars of choice and greater economic prosperity for all, not just a few. That meant lowering the debt, less wasted expenditure and most of all, a more efficient Federal government that once again was working for the people. His was a mandate to mend a dysfunctional political process and a broken country. What a grand mandate for any man wanting to become a great leader. Obama’s message of HOPE had not only resonated with a hungry electorate, but also energised and rallied a new generation that had never come out to vote before. Amazingly, Obama had managed to appeal to a broad swath of Americans in the middle, and reached across the political divide at a time when the country was more divided than ever before in its history. Even perhaps daring a few sworn enemies to believe that maybe this was the change the country had been thirsting for after sixteen years of unzipped pants and unwarranted swagger.

When Obama won the election in 2008, I wrote off his first few years in office based on his lack of experience, naivety and because he was not a career politician (albeit this was also, in large part the reason I liked the man - and felt he had a chance to succeed and help America – the fact that he was not a jaded career politician). However, he has failed to turn his charisma and words into real leadership and there has also been an odd dichotomy in his approach to the foreign and domestic fronts. In foreign affairs, his judgement, decisiveness and handling have paid great dividends for America, and will reap even greater one's in the long run based on his policy choices. He stood his ground on Egypt, under tremendous pressure from Israel, Republicans and members of his own party, and came out on the right side for both America and democracy. No doubt it will be a long, blood-filled and arduous road for Egypt but that is the only way democracy can be forged. Most importantly it is the path chosen by the people of Egypt and not one dictated by America or Israel’s interests in the region. On Libya he forced Europe to take the lead in military intervention, and again it proved to be the smarter and better move for America. But it is with his handling of US-Pakistan relations that I have been most impressed. He is the first American President to take off the kid gloves and give them less room to continue their double game, while receiving US aid. The man also ordered a US military raid on their soil without so much as asking permission - that took courage to do against a “key ally”. The result of Obama refusing to cower, mollycoddle and constantly apologise, like all his predecessors, has led to a more obedient and co-operative ally that now thinks twice before calling America’s bluff because there are real consequences each time they do.

However, at home he has been an often absent and detached leader, on all major domestic issues he has shown little desire to take charge or lead the way. It almost feels like he is perfectly content letting “his people” run the show and lead him. People like Larry Summers on economic policy, and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid on his signature legislation's. This at a time when the country needed a real leader, who would step up to the plate, outline a vision and then roll up his sleeves and work to bridge the divide on the Hill, reduce the vitriol and enact real solutions to grave issues facing this country. Nobody was expecting Obama to solve ALL the problems, or perform miracles and have Republicans and Democrats hugging and singing Kumbaya, but I was expecting him to at least take one or two big issues and make meaningful progress. One of Obama’s signature pieces of legislation, the healthcare bill, is 1,990 pages long (not unusual for spending bills which routinely run into 1,000’s of pages). It should be a major embarrassment for a President who swore to introduce transparency, clarity and simplicity into the process of legislation. While there is no doubt that there are some wonderful and much needed things in this bill, many parts of it are equally opaque, poorly conceived, written by lobbyists and filled with needless pork. And not one Republican voted for it. What’s more I cannot find anywhere who actually authored this bill. Then you have his other major legislation; the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform and Regulatory bill where Obama promised when signing "The American people will never again be asked to foot the bill for Wall Street's mistakes. There will be no more tax-funded bailouts — period." (Source: NPR News). However, the landscape of the financial sector has changed dramatically since this law was passed, not to mention the fact that the law itself was obviously hastily written and poorly conceived. They took scant time to write and pass it even though they were dealing with matters that were arguably larger than America itself. Besides, would it not have been prudent to first fully understand the causes and consequences of this complex, multi-layered and global crisis before penning a law to fix it? Here is one example of this haste: “SECTIONS 404 and 406 of the Dodd-Frank law of July 2010 add up to just a couple of pages. On October 31st last year two of the agencies overseeing America's financial system turned those few pages into a form to be filled out by hedge funds and some other firms; that form ran to 192 pages. The cost of filling it out, according to an informal survey of hedge-fund managers, will be $100,000-150,000 for each firm the first time it does it.”  (The Economist, February 2012). Also absent from the proceedings was any leadership from Obama; I expected him to lead from the front on both these colossal issues, bring the various stakeholders, across the political divide, to the table and forge solid, sensible, hard-fought solutions that put the country’s future ahead of any party or political brownie points.

The first red flag, for me, came right after the inauguration when Obama announced his core leadership team. The people he chose were mostly washed out Clinton-era advisers and Bush one and two era bureaucrats and policy wags, who brought with them the baggage of the past and more worryingly the same partisan ways of thinking and functioning that had become so cemented in the later Bush years. The next thing that shook my confidence in Obama was his acceptance of The Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples". Obama had given a few glorious speeches at this stage and perhaps even been a great community organizer. Sure he had become President of the United States of America (only the 44th man in history), but that alone does not qualify one for the Nobel Prize. Call me old fashioned but I believe that one has to actually achieve something before accepting an honour for the achievement. An honourable man would have declined it based on the simple fact that they had not yet earned it. I suspect this was in large part of the beginning of the unraveling of Obama; the point at which he began to drink his own Kool-Aid and start to believe the hype and hysteria about him. Obama put himself on the same pedestal (that much of the world had) based on his words. He had not yet proven that he belonged on it, through his actions. Sadly, no matter how you cut it, the bottom line is that he has failed to become a leader or demonstrate the type of leadership the country needed after eight years of disastrous shoot-from-the-hip politics and cowboy-style management. People can make all the excuses they want about the mess Obama inherited (and there is no question that he did inherit one), but leadership is about taking on great adversity. About locking horns with it and staring it down until you have found a path to overcome it. Great leaders relish taking on the greatest challenges. They lay out a vision, then work to forge alliances, even bringing east and west together on issues, and they find real solutions to problems; lesser men and politicians make excuses and speeches.