Thursday, March 31, 2011

Population growth slows. Economic grows. Awl is well India!

It’s come out on the 1st of April. But it doesn’t look like it’s a joke! I feel a sense of relief after reading the first cut figures of the Census of 2011. Overall population growth has been just 17.6% (“Just” is justified given the earlier decadal growth rates!). Even the worst 8 states (the likes of UP, Bihar, Jharkhand etc) have also slowed down significantly. Accompanying the drop in population growth is the increase in the literacy rate to 74%.....a significant jump over the 65% in 2001. Terrific news on this front too.... after all the good news that keeps coming on the economic and cricket fronts!

This is the first decade when India has added lesser number of people to its population that in the previous one.....both in % terms (17.6% this decade v/s 21.5% in the previous one) as well as in absolute terms (181 million added this decade v/s 182 million in the previous one). For the first time also, the population of the under-6 children has dropped by 5 million to 159 million. This indicates a slowing down of the birth rate. One has to also keep in mind that the IMR (Infant Mortality Rate) must have come down (no data yet) and hence the birth rate must have come down even more significantly.

What is significant about the population growth reduction this decade is that it has happened through a voluntary and willful practice of family planning. As far as I can think, there is no active family planning program the Government of India runs. There’s been almost nothing in the last 15-20 years that I can think of. None of the high voltage advertising campaigns that used to be so visible in the 1970s and 1980s. None of the drama of forceful sterilization programmes. This time, the drop in the growth rate has been done willfully by the people themselves. Looks like people have finally realized the value of having a smaller family.

The improvement in the literacy rate is another data point that is in congruence with the drop in the population rate. Higher literacy leads to lower population growth rate. Everyone knows that Kerala is the highest in literacy rates (94%) and the lowest in the population growth rate. On the other hand, Bihar is the lowest in literacy (64%) and the highest in population growth rate. The “East of Kanpur” line continues to exist.....with some of the poorest and most underperforming parts of the country situated in this geography. Now I know many of us Indians view the literacy rate with an unsatisfactory feel. But we mustn’t forget that even if the quality of the literacy remains unsatisfactory and only minimal, it is still a good trend. It shows that parents are putting more of their younger ones into schools. It shows that they realize (finally) that an literate person has a far better future than an illiterate one. Let’s not be cynical about this. I am sure the quality of education will also improve in the years to come.

These are very strong tail winds which will propel India ahead even faster. These stats are reflective of and a result of the strong growth of the Indian economy. It’s taken us 20 years since the reforms started to reach a point where every indicator is showing us the same picture. That we are soon to lift ourselves out of the vicious spiral of poverty and illiteracy. We can say with a fair degree of certainty that we will be a far stronger nation 10-20 years from now than we are today......till now, this wasn’t so clear. The fact that the poorest and lowest performing states are showing improved trends is extremely heartening. Again, we’ve noticed that in the last ten years or so.....better governance has come to these states. Just look at Bihar (Nitish), MP (Shivraj Singh Chauhan), Orissa (Navin Patnaik), Chhatisgarh (Raman Singh).....and hopefully soon WB (Mamta Banerjee) all are states that have seen better governance in the last decade. The CMs of these states have been given the thumbs up by their people.....and re-elected......and that’s why I am confident that the better stats will continue.....and only improve going forward.

There’s a significant and somewhat unbelievable number that I would like to draw attention to. The population of the “town” part of Bombay (the island city) has actually shrunk by 5%. That’s truly remarkable. I don’t think we are used to this kind of a trend. Our cities always bloat; they never come down in size. Also, the suburbs of Bombay have grown by just 7% in a decade. That’s unbelievable. Hopefully, in the next ten years or so, with new infrastructure being built, we’ll finally start to see a better quality of life in both the “town” and suburbs of Bombay. The parts outside the city (Thane, Bhiwandi, Vasai-Virar, etc) have seen explosive growth.....upwards of 35% in all cases and much higher in a few. This shows that the city of Bombay is now much more than just the “town” and the suburbs. Just like the city of Delhi is much more than just the MCD and NDMC areas......the NCR reflecting the real size of the city.

The real truth is that in spite of everything, India is moving ahead. Fast. All is well. Population growth is slowing down. Literacy is up. Sex ratio is improving. And the economy of course is booming. Let’s savor this for a while.....and then continue to plough ahead. Let’s please not get distracted by the naysayers and those (especially in media) who drown themselves and the nation in self criticism. Nothing can go wrong with India in its progress. Just like nothing can go wrong for India in its final with SL on Saturday!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Professionalism beats junoon!

What a match! Let me be honest. I like matches which India wins! This one would count as a comprehensive win even though it was not clear till the last 5 overs if we were going to win. And even in the last over, when it appeared nearly impossible for Pakistan to score 30 runs, one could never be totally sure.....the image of Miandad’s last-ball-six lingered in our minds. And in the end, when Misbah failed to do a Miandad, it proved that in the modern world of today’s, professionalism is what counts. Junoon is fine, but it’s difficult to beat a professional side.

The men in blue are a motivated lot. A strong economy at home makes them professionally and financially extremely successful. One can see the impact of the market forces on the performance of our team. It’s a highly competitive game.....with Yusuf Pathan learning the hard way that while he may have got away with Rs 9 crores for IPL-4, he has lost his place in the Indian squad at least for a while. Competition brings out the best in everything......including the cricket team. Contrast this with hockey.....where the country has been faring and where consequently, there is no financial incentives for the team.....and the best of a capitalistic model of economy emerges. It also shows that if the hockey team could lift just one international trophy, they could emerge as the new heroes of the country.

The match showed how the Pakistanis are just like us. They wilt under pressure. Especially when batting second. Just look at it. They started so well. They weren’t didn’t feel the need to play any risky shots and were managing just fine. They had reached 40 for no loss and India was feeling the pressure. And then suddenly, and totally unnecessarily, Mohd Hafeez attempted an ambitious reverse sweep a ball way outside the off stump....on a different day, this could well have been an Indian batsman! Pakistanis inherently get carried away just like we do. Hence the mantra: Bat first! We play well when we don’t have a specific target in front of us. We find it easier to set targets than to chase them.

Dhoni showed his smarts as a captain yet again. He was right in choosing Nehra. It was a bold decision.....almost no commentator backed him on this one. And yet, Dhoni would have known that Nehra, like Jesus, would resurrect from his ashes......his last encounter against SA had led to an almost certain exit from cricket itself. That’s what Nehra did. Even before the match started, I had a feeling that Nehra would succeed because he has the ability to make the ball rise. I remember Nehra from the IPL matches when as a Delhi bowler, he created problems for the Mumbai Indians team (my team!). He has the ability to reverse swing....if he could also put some pace behind his leg cutters, he would be a difficult bowler to play.

There were umpteen smses floating around suggesting that the Pakistanis had been bought off. One said that Sharad Pawar had made sure that Sachin lifted the World Cup in his last chance. That he had paid off all the Boards of cricket. Another sms detailed out the exact path the match would take.....India would make 260....Pakistan would cruise till 100, then lose wickets.....and that’s how the match played out. But the best sms of the day came when Misbah was in his mid-20s (and he was in his mid-20s for a very long time!).......Breaking news: Misbah playing for India! Misbah surely made that accusation look true!

India’s economic might was again there for everyone to see. 120 flights landed in the tiny Chandigarh airport.....and as is so true about infrastructure in any sector in India, even here, they could not find parking slot.....most were diverted to Delhi for parking! The biggest industrialists were there.....led by Mukesh Ambani. The biggest bollywood stars were there.....led by Aamir. The biggest politicians were there.....led by Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi. All powerful people. And the 30,000 fans in the stadium and 200 million outside gave the ultimate proof of India’s growing strength worldwide. Cheering the team in one voice. There is nothing stopping India from becoming #1 in ODI rankings.....and there will be no stopping India from becoming a global #1 in economic rankings.

You have to give the Pakistanis a lot of credit for the gracious way in which they conducted themselves. They played the game with spirit. They behaved in an exemplary manner.....a lesson the Aussies should learn. They were cheerful on the field....even joking with Indian players once in a while. After the match, Afridi was gracious in accepting that India deserved the win. The Pakistanis deserve a rich round of applause from us for their conduct.....and for the way they played the World Cup. No one can imagine that just a few months back, their team had been nearly decimated with serious charges of match fixing and all.

So now that brings us to the big match....the finals! I can only say this much. The Sri Lankans us Indians and the Pakistanis.....just another Asian team. They suffer from the same doubts as we do. It’s important that we play a professional game with them. Whatever happens, we mustn’t lose our nerves. Ideally, we must bat first if possible. I think that after beating the Aussies and the Pakistanis in the last two matches, beating Sri Lanka should not be difficult at all!

The only sad part of the match today is that the Pakistanis will not be playing in Bombay. And the Shiv Sena will remain unchallenged......maybe there will be another time when we invite them to India and stage a match in Bombay only for this purpose! That was one duel I was looking forward to!

The celebrations have started. It took a friend a long time just just to cross
Carter Road
in Bombay. A friend told me it took him 45 minutes just to cover 4 kms in Ahmedabad. Everyone was on the streets. It’s great to win. But I hope we remember that while we celebrate when we win, we should also be civil when we lose. It wasn’t tested today......let’s hope it isn’t tested on saturday now! But if it, let’s be well mannered and gracious.

The real truth is that the Pakistanis demonstrated their worst, typically South Asian, traits in y’day’s match. The real truth also is that we have a great captain; a great batting side. And now a great bowling side too! The team’s motivated. The intense competition in the team is what makes it so strong. The best part is that the finals are in Bombay and we just cannot lose in Bombay!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Whatever happens tonight.....even if we lose.....let’s behave sensibly after the match

As the frenzy over today’s India-Pak SF becomes unbearable and the newspapers devote entire front pages to the match, a really small 4-line piece on page 19 in today’s TOI caught my attention. It’s titled “Special Security for Dhoni’s house” and mentions that police in Ranchi are taking pro-active steps to avoid problems just in case India loses tonight. For me, this small piece of 25 words is worthy of being on page 1. If India loses today, we need to ask: how will we conduct ourselves?

The match provides a great occasion for us to show that along with growing economically, we have also grown culturally. That we have matured as a nation and have shed tribal behavior along the way. The PM showed his big heartedness (along with some political savvy) when he invited the Pakistani PM to watch the match. Many Indians have offered their almost-impossible-to-get tickets to Pakistani fans who have come over to watch the match. Dhoni and the Indian team have remained maturely silent and stayed away from any pre-match machoism. This shows maturity. But our media’s conduct has been along expected lines.....most TV channels have whipped up extreme the race for TRPs, there is no role for suaveness and polish! Most have not bothered to remind that it’s only a match after all.

It is indeed just a match after all. Winning and losing is part of the game. It’s going to be great fun alright. But if we lose.....and let’s be honest.....there’s at least a 50% chance of losing......we must make sure that we don’t shame the nation by behaving like animals. The entire world is watching our rapidly growing country. Let’s not do anything that shows us in a bad light.  I remember how in the past, miscreants have hurled stones (and abuses) at our player’s homes when we have lost a match. This kind of crude, immature behavior should be stopped with the full force of society.....and even the security set-up if required. Everyone shows graciousness when they win; can we show it when we lose?

But let me not talk too much about losing today! Our boys look confident. They surely have no shortage of advice! Winning today is really very easy. Win the toss (!). Bat first. Make sure to make 350 minimum (!). But while playing fast, don’t lose wickets (!). Yuvraj will play well (!) because it’s his home town; Raina because he’s got to keep Pathan out (!). Sachin is God incarnate (this I agree!). Sehwag will play well because he has not fired (!) in the last few encounters. Gauti will play well because he has fired (!). So awl is well on the batting side. Don’t include Sreesanth in the team and please keep the rusty Nehra out as well (after all, we haven’t forgotten his last over against South Africa have we?!). Play with Munaf and Zaheer. Continue with Ashwin. Bhajji had better perform(!).....

In the end, it’s going to be a clash of Pakistani junoon and our professionalism. This is one place where our famous patented concept called “jugaad” has no role to play.....unfortunately for us! If we could have, we would have asked the Pakistanis to adjust a bit today!

So how should we behave if we lose? Can we please stand up and applaud the Pakistani performance just like we would any winner’s performance? Can we show that we’ve outgrown our jingoism? That we have grown culturally? That we can handle a loss? That we can be generous in defeat?

The first real challenge will come when our media covers the loss. The second challenge will come when our players leave the grounds and go back home..... But the biggest challenge will come when the Pakistanis march towards Bombay. The authority of the Indian Government will be tested by the ultra-chauvinistic crassly-jingoistic Shiv Sena. If I was in charge of governance, I would use this opportunity to show the Shiv Sena its place. I would smother them like Sachin would Afridi’s spin so that they would never think of giving such threats again. But even if the government does not do so, let’s all of us....the people of Bombay and of the Shiv Sena that we hate their guts and will never vote for them. This is the only language they will understand. My fear is that something totally different will happen. The Maharashtra CM will likely make a friendly appeal to Bal Thackeray not to precipitate matters thus affording him an opportunity to grandstand before his small group of uneducated louts. If that happens, it will be the biggest tragedy for India. Much bigger than not reaching the finals. If India’s commercial capital behaves so wimpishly, it will be a matter of great shame for the entire country.

The real truth is that I think we will be grumpy losers. We will create hundreds of conspiracy theories. The BJP will say that the PM asked the Indian team to lose because he wanted to oblige his guests (and demand his resignation)! The media will say that the match was fixed. No one will say that maybe Pakistan was the better team of the day. It’s going to be up to people like us to defend our country’s name....let’s not fail in that duty.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Rehman Malik was right. The Pakis would have fixed the match!

There is no doubt in my mind about this. Pakistani cricketers routinely fix matches. It’s been proven in the past. Under normal circumstances, they would also be happy to fix the SF with India. It’s really not that difficult to understand why they do this. There is very strong economic rationale for this. National pride and all that is fine....but this SF offers a once in a lifetime opportunity to the Paki cricketers to rake in good money. Really good money. And if your own President is known as the 10% man, then why should the Paki cricketers even feel guilty about doing this?

The reasons for the Paki penchant for match fixing lie in the Pakistani economy! Unlike a buzzing economy that India has, the Pakistani economy is a failed one. Pakistan simply does not have the economic behemoths who could pay decent endorsement fees to their cricketers. I searched the net and could hardly find anything on the brands that even Shahid Afridi endorses. Afridi is apparently the most sellable of Paki cricketers, and yet there is hardly any brand that he endorses. In fact, the most recent stories are about his deal with an Indian brand.....Dabur Hajmola. Pepsi (Pakistan) also has him as a brand ambassador. But that’s about it. Here’s another interesting nugget I found! There was been a huge furore in Pakistan recently when Misbah-ul-haq decided to play for Bangalore Royal Challengers in IPL-4! Why? Because Islam does not support alcohol and the Royal Challengers is all about alcohol! It’s not like he agreed to endorse a UB brand. He just agreed to play in their team....Ridiculous!

Cricketers in Pakistan are as popular in their country as Indian cricketers are in India, but they simply don’t have a legal revenue model to monetize their fame. Plus.....they realize that they have a limited shelf life. This makes them really desperate. They are like a hungry pack of wolves who will devour anything that comes their way! Even if it is slush money. It’s the same as happens with many politicians and babus in India. Lots of fame and power, but no money. It’s obvious that corruption will thrive in an environment like this.

Don’t also forget that cricket in Pakistan has proven to be a big leveller when it comes to providing opportunities to play for the country. Many of the players in the Paki team are people who have come from humble backgrounds. Mired in poverty even. Frankly, cricket is their only hope of taking their families out of this muck. They don’t care much for values and ethics partly because of this compelling urge to rise; partly also because they see people all around them doing the same.

So I don’t blame Rehman Malik when he warned.....sloppily as usual of course!.....his team mates about match fixing. He knows that not only is his team capable of doing it; it would most likely already have done it! It was being reported last night on Indian TV that almost Rs 5000 crores worth of bets had been placed on the India-Pak match in the betting markets of Bombay, Dubai, London and Karachi. If even a small fraction of this sum was used to swing the results of the match, it would be a huge pile. And if one of the teams is willing to play along.....why would the bookies not take advantage of it?

Notice also.....the bookies are heavily favoring the Indians to win. The reason is obvious. It’s not to do with the stronger side that we probably are. It’s just the ease and comfort in asking the Pakis to lose a match rather than the Indians. If the bets were against India, then Indian cricketers would have to be bribed and that’s so much more difficult and expensive! Indian cricketers make a pile of money legally. Everyone knows of the Rs 300 crore 3-year minimum guarantee deal that Sachin signed a few years back. Before that, he had signed a similar sum for a 5-year term I think. Dhoni has reportedly raced ahead of Sachin in the endorsements game. It’s the same with Viru, Yuvi, Bhajji and Gauti. On an average, an ace Indian cricketer endorses more than 15 brands; and makes a pile of money in the process. All legally. No hanky panky. The fees that the BCCI pays doesn’t even matter! The strong economy of India makes sure that Indian cricketers are legally able to monetize their fame. To bribe them would need hundreds of crores.....why would you do that if you could get away with a small fraction of that with the Paki team?!

With so much pressure on them.....what would be going thru a Paki cricketer’s mind? He would be a terrified man. Paki bowlers would be petrified that if they didn’t take wickets for whatever reason, their people back home will accuse them of doing it intentionally. Their batsmen would also be under similar pressure. Under such circumstances two things can happen: either the team can wilt or it can rise very strongly. A team with character would rise strongly.....just to prove a point. But the Pakistani team is a team which does not have a strong character. Except for Afridi and maybe Misbah, most others are fragile and insecure. Look at how they handled Shoib Akhtar after just one drubbing he got from the New Zealanders. He’s now planning retirement! A team like this cannot handle the pressure and will most likely crumble tomorrow.

On the other hand, they do have the junoor factor. If their junoon gets provoked, they will declare a jihad over India! They will fight like never before. To survive. To live another day. They will bury their differences; forget their immediate financial compulsions. Such a Pakistani team would be difficult to handle. Let’s hope and pray that this does not happen!

The real truth is that the Pakistanis are most likely going to score a self goal. A lost match is soon forgotten......but money in the bank is permanent! If the match does get fixed, it will be a really sad day. The problem is that no one will ever know the truth. They may lose just like any team can lose on a bad day; or they may lose because of the money they took. No one will ever know......either way I am predicting that we will win tomorrow!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Proof that negativity has harmed news channels....

I was quite sure that continued negativity on news channels would only harm them. My logic was that we Indians were generally quite happy with the progress the country was making and while we did feel that some things were wrong, we did not think that things had gone so wrong that a daily dose of negativity was required. My gut told me that news channels had over-reached themselves and faced the prospectc of losing their audiences.

So I called for TRP data over the last 9 quarters and what I found was startling proof for my theories. The data backed my views. In fact the data vindicated my thinking (and my ability to observe consumer moods and trends) so strongly that I was taken aback.

The data I considered was for the last 9 quarters. Jan-Mar 2009 was the first quarter. Jan-Feb 2011 was the last quarter (though it was only for 2 mths, I am taking it as a quarter). I looked at data of the top 4 English channels (Times Now, CNN IBN, NDTV 24x7 and Headlines Today) and the entire Hindi bouquet of channels (some 15 of them). For the news channels, I took 25+ Males in C&S households as the TG cut since I am told that’s how news broadcasters look at their core TG. I also considered Hindi GECs so that I could see if there were larger trends (drops maybe) in TV viewership which were not limited to just the news channels. For GECs, I considered the regular 4+ All SEC, C&S data.

Before we look at the data, it’s important for me to make a couple of points. First, that English news channels became virulent in their attacks on the Government after the Kalmadi-CWG period.....sometime around July-Aug 2010. They started investigations which, to me, appeared shallow, but which they made a lot of noise about. They converted themselves into court rooms and tried government officials and politicians at will. They put together panel discussions which debated issues ad nauseum along expected party lines. They openly sensationalized; some would say that they adopted the style and format of Hindi news channels. Others would say that they became competitors of Hindi GECs! Either which way, they contributed to screwing up the mood in the country....... Things have got so bad recently that in a CNN IBN interview, Sushma Swaraj unashamedly said “I forgave the PM earlier. Now I would not forgive him again” or some such thing. So Sushma Swaraj had assumed the powers of “forgiving”. All this was happening on prime time on English news channels. They still haven’t stopped. Hindi news channels on the other hand have always been sensational. So really, there was no major change in their programming over the last two years (of course, they also covered the same scams that the English channels did).

Now the proof:

1)      Over the last 2 years, English news channels have suffered the most. Their viewership is down 29%. This is dramatic because Hindi news channels only fell 20% and Hindi GECs actually gained 10% in the same period of time. This shows that people deserted news channels in general and English channels in particular. And they flocked to the GECs.
2)      The overall growth of the GECs would indicate that overall TV viewership grew. It wasn’t as if overall TV viewership had fallen. The fall was only for news channels.
3)      The most virulent of all English channels have been Times Now and CNN IBN in that order. The data shows that they have fallen the most. Times Now fell by 31%, CNN IBN by 21% and NDTV fell only by 12%. This shows that the more virulent the channel, the more it has fallen.
4)      The leadership of Times Now has been severely dented over this period of time. It used to be the unequivocal leader in the Jan-Mar 2009 period. It had a lead of 24% over CNN IBN in that period of time. In Jan-Feb 2011, its lead had come down to just 9%. In fact, in the two main quarters when Times Now was unbearably virulent (July – Dec 2010), they lost their leadership position to CNN IBN.
5)      Someone mentioned to me that news channels would show a big hit over a 2-year period because 2 years back, they had a high base on account of the general elections of May 2009. I wanted to test this out. So I also looked at changes over the last 1-year. And the pattern is no different. English news channels are down 5%, while Hindi news channels are actually up 5% over the last one year.

Either way you cut the data, this is direct evidence that negativity is harming the interests of the English news channels. English news viewers don’t expect to be dished out the same style and content as Hindi news channels. That’s why they are just switching away.
This drop in viewership is having an impact on their financial results as well. In the July-Sept 2010 quarter, NDTV reported an 8% decline in revenues over the previous year (in spite of the fact that the previous year was a period of advertising slow-down). Likewise, I am told that Times Now and CNN IBN also suffered de-growths.

The real truth is that the negativity of news channels appears to be harming them big time. It appears to be driven by political agenda, not by business compulsions. Neither is it helping channels shore up their overall viewership; nor is it giving them competitive edge over each other. In fact, the leader’s leads are dipping. Further, share holders are suffering as a result of this strategy. Why they are continuing to allow their channels managements to continue in this manner is an issue that beats me....

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The World Cup format needs a change in design....

The country where it all began could well be forced to quit the game. The drubbing England got yesterday against Sri Lanka is likely to lead to a mass exodus of their cricket fans back home. In any case, football is a much bigger sport in England. With this loss, it’s entirely possible that the English may stop playing cricket totally. No one denies that the Sri Lankans were a better side than the English, but should England have been knocked out on the back of a single encounter in the QF stage? Couldn’t the same thing happen in the India-Pak SF clash when a winner will be chosen on the back of a single encounter? Isn’t there a problem with the WC format?

I have always had a problem with the WC format. I have always found the initial part of the tournament (the pre-quarter final stage) to be too labored and boring. Who’s really interested in watching the likes of Kenya, Canada, Zimbabwe, Netherlands and others like them play? The stadiums are empty and no one even watches these matches on TV The TRPs drop and the tournament loses steam. Too much time is wasted. As a result, very little time is left over for the real matches. The WC mixes up wants to develop cricket in these fringe countries and so it includes them so prominently in the main schedule.....and as a result, it compromises on the excitement levels in the tournament.

There are better designs available to achieve this objective of the ICC while still keeping the excitement in the tournament high. One possible design could be to have the six fringe teams play-off against each other in the week before the actual WC starts (thus saving time during the WC schedule). Maybe just 2 teams can be picked up from amongst them and added to the pool of the 8 main teams. We could then have 5 teams per Group and then use the IPL format of having each time play the others in the same Group twice before the list of quarter finalists is drawn up. The time saved by eliminating the fringe countries could be used to make the QF stage into a round-robin stage so that surprise losses don’t happen (like happened in the SA v/s NZ match QF match where SA got eliminated). In fact, every stage could become a round-robin one. The SF could also have each team play the others twice before the finalists are drawn up. And the finals could be a best of three. Every team has a bad day once in a while but for it to be eliminated on the basis of that one day is too harsh. Teams need to be tested more rigorously before the winners emerge.

The IPL format is another alternative. It sustains interest throughout its 45 day schedule. Again, each team plays the others in its own Group twice before the final standings are drawn up. The format ensures that any team can change its relative standing many times over during the tournament. But even the IPL suffers by making the SF and Finals knock-out stages. Sometimes, there are sudden losses which are unnecessary. In IPL-3, I thought the Bombay-Chennai final should have been a best of three. Chennai could not be called the clear winner on the basis of just one match.

The EPL (English Premier League) format is the best in my opinion. There are no knock-out stages at all. It’s a pure league format.....every team plays the other 19 teams twice (38 matches). There are a total of 380 league matches and then the winner automatically emerges without anything like a QF or SF or Finals.

This would be the right way to decide the best amongst the best. No one frankly agrees that Australia is such a bad team that they should have got knocked out at the QF stage. They certainly deserved another chance. Also, why should India’s progression to the SF lead to their exit? Why is it not possible that both India and Australia go ahead.....maybe they are the best two teams of the tournament?

The current format has another anomaly as a result of its faulty design. In a nearly 45 day long tournament, India has not played against South Africa even once. Isn’t this weird? Everyone would have loved to see an India-SA match. Likewise, there has been no Australia-England match and that would have been really interesting under sub-tropical conditions. A SA-Australia match would have been a top biller and another India-Pak match in the early stages would have provided another good chance for great thrills. The same thing happened in the 2007 WC.....India never got to play Australia in that a result the win against Australia in the present WC QF stage was called revenge against their loss in the 2003 WC. Now, isn’t it weird that we had to wait 8 years to avenge a defeat???

If the format were changed, even the revenues generated would be much higher. Cricket is funded largely by TV sponsors. If there were less of the drab matches early on and more of the juicy ones later, the TRPs generated on TV would be much higher and sponsorship monies proportionately so. As proof.....consider the fact that the EPL is the biggest club-level football tournament anywhere in the world raking in close to $3 billion a year in revenues! Some of this money could be given to the fringe nations to develop cricket there.....that being one of the reasons for giving them so much prominence in the tournament in the first place.

The real truth is that the WC format needs to change. Much of the WC schedule is plain boring.......mostly because of its format. Plus, there are many surprise results. Good teams often get knocked out early. The EPL or IPL formats are much better but I really prefer a modified IPL format (round robin in the SF and Final stages also). If Lalit Modi had continued, he would have seen the money making potential in the new format.....I doubt if the fogies in BCCI will!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Cricket and diplomacy with Pakistan.....Why I support Manmohan Singh on this

Let’s be clear. Nothing has ever been achieved in the past by cricketing diplomacy between the two countries. Nothing will be achieved this time as well. Don’t expect the terror attacks on India to stop. Don’t expect Pakistan to become less of an irritant. Don’t expect Pakistan not to align with China to create strategic advantage for itself against India. And yet, I agree with the PM’s strategy to use the cricket encounter at Mohali to do some good diplomacy. If nothing else, it will create good PR for India in the international community!

I guess most Indians would disapprove of this diplomacy and think of it as a sign of our softness. One can almost hear the war cries in the BJP and the Shiv Sena camps. But most people (and parties which haven’t ruled India long enough) do not adequately understand diplomacy. Just look at how people get upset at incidents that sometimes happen at international airports. For eg, the recent row about Jeev Milkha Singh’s coach’s being asked to remove his turban. In my view, it’s got nothing to do with racial discrimination. It’s just that the western world is paranoid about anyone who wears a head-gear. To them, a Sikh head-gear resembles a Talibani one. They are paranoid. Remember France has gone so far as to ban the burqa in their country. And yet, we take affront very personally. We feel we have been insulted. Diplomacy needs a certain maturity.....its best to keep people’s opinions out of it.

Before we go on to Pakistan’s cricket, let’s look at Pakistan’s economy. Pakistan is a failed economy. Its GDP grew at just 2.7% last year on a small base of $175 billion. India’s grew at nearly 9% on a base of $1.5 trillion. Further, the future of Pakistan continues to remain (the main driver of future growth) in Pakistan are just 15% of GDP v/s investments of 32% of GDP in India. Industry in Pakistan suffers because of very high interest rates.....central bank rates are 12.5% in Pakistan v/s 6% in India. The small size of their economy also shows up in the size of their main stock market (Karachi).....their total value of traded stocks is just $33 billion v/s ours of $1.2 trillion. Their exports are just $20 billion v/s ours of $225 billion. Their forex reserves are just $16 billion v/s ours of $300 billion. In short, Pakistan is much smaller economy than India (typically 10% of India) and its also growing very slowly compared to India.

But the Mohali encounter is not about relative sizes of our economies! It’s about cricket. When it comes to cricket, Pakistan is a damned good side. It has historically been a better side than India. Overall, in ODIs, Pakistan has won 69 against India....India only 46 against Pakistan. If you break this up by decades, Pakistan won 10 ODI tournaments against India in the 1990s; India only 4 against Pakistan. In the 2000s however, India has beaten Pakistan in 4 out of 5 tournaments. Pakistan has beaten India twice in the Champion’s Trophy; India hasn’t beaten Pakistan yet. However, in the World Cup, India has a 4-0 advantage over Pakistan. What really worries me about the Paki cricket team is its “junoon” which India lacks. India has got professionalism but professionalism is no match for junoon. India has a much better batting line-up; Pakistan a much better bowling attack. India can handle pressure better than Pakistan. India will have 200 million people rooting for it; Pakistan only a fraction of it. The two teams have been nearly equal in the recent past and this is what makes the Mohali encounter so exciting!

Now coming back to the PM’s diplomacy. What should we expect in diplomatic terms from the PM’s invitation to the Pakistani leadership? As I mentioned earlier: zilch. Pakistan is an enemy of India and has never forgotten India for the 1971 war in which India helped create Bangladesh. It is infested with radical Muslims of late (the moderates are in a minority now) and the Blasphemy Law discussions have only made Pakistan more radical. Pakistan gets billions of $s of aid from the US.....supposedly to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan, but everyone knows that it uses those funds to beef up their might against India. The US has pledged total economic and defense aid of nearly $15 billion in be deployed over the next 5 years or so. Much of the “economic” aid is actually military aid. Much of this military aid is deployed against India. Pakistan has a nuclear weapons program targeted solely at India. So let’s be clear: India and Pakistan are sworn enemies. There will be another war some day. The fact that Pakistan and China have a nexus only makes matters worse for India.

Many North Indians have this romantic notion about the Pakistani people being friendly towards them (even while their country is an enemy of India). They mistake a shared culture of music and food for love and affection for each other. I think this is simply not true. As a nation, Pakistan is a virulent enemy of India. If there is ever another war between India and Pakistan (and even if there isn’t), make no mistake: Pakistani people will be enemies of Indian people. The Aman ki Asha idea was fine.....but what really cut ice with the Indian audiences.....were the musical concerts of Pakistani and Indian artists, not the “we love each other” gyaan!

But here’s what we have to remember. We cannot disengage diplomatically from Pakistan. It’s like a batsman should never take his eyes off a short pitched delivery when he pulls it to the boundary; India cannot take its eyes off Pakistan even.....rather especially.....when our relations with them are so bad. Engaging with them is a “big brother” responsibility that India has to shoulder and demonstrate. Small brother Pakistan can sulk and act immaturely. India cannot. We should not expect peace from them; in fact we should expect hostility. Yet, it’s our responsibility to engage with them. That’s why the invitation of our PM to the Pakistani leadership should be seen as an act of statesmanship rather than softness.

The real truth is that Pakistan is a pain in the ass for India but India still has to engage with it. Small steps like the cricket diplomacy help keep the political pressures down. And if this can help delay or avoid a war between the two nations, it’s good for both. By focusing on their economies, both nations will do their people a lot of good. That’s why I support the PM’s invitation.....

Thursday, March 24, 2011

200 million batted for Team India y’day. Imagine if a billion batted for Nation India

This was the one bet I was so so happy to lose! My post of a few days back (“I wish India had lost y’day to WI” – March 20th) mentioned my deep fear of playing the Aussies. I bet heavily (Rs 200 is heavy for me!) on Team Australia yesterday because I was aware that I NEVER EVER win bets! That was the least I could do for Team India. While the playing 11 get the full credit for the match y’day, it’s the 200 million or so expected viewers who cheered Team India along who deserve the real credit for the victory.

There were many moments in the match when it looked like we had lost all. The entire nation went into prayers. Then there were moments when we crossed one milestone after another. The entire nation cheered. India made 150....then 200 and then 250. After Dhoni was out, it was up to Yuvi and Raina and we cheered every boundary they hit; every appeal against them that was turned down. We played y’day’s match as one nation. Victory was but obvious.

I had first mentioned the power of cheering when I wrote my piece on the Bombay marathon in the middle of Jan (“So much in common between the marathon and the Indian economy” – Jan 16th). That’s when I first stated that it’s the lacs of cheering Bombay-ites who make the marathon happen. When a runner is running a grinding 21 or 42 kms, he/she needs every single person on the street to cheer him or her. Imagine now if there were actually thousands on the street who booed him; called him a fatso; joked about his girth and mocked him for his occasional stumble. Imagine if a few people cheated and tried to take short cuts, and the crowds booed them.....but continued to cheer the ones who didn’t break the rules. That’s the kind of environment we need for Nation India also all the time.

The parallels between Team India and Nation India are too many to be mere coincidence. Nation India is rated the #2 fastest growing economy. So is Team India in ODIs (ranked #2 worldwide). Nation India is #1 in the BPO business. Team India is #1 in 5-day matches. There are a few black sheep in Nation India. Ditto with Team India. The entire world looks up to Nation India (and China) to lift the global economy. The entire world looks at Team India to lift the WC. Nation India (forex reserves $300 billion; 6th largest) and China ($2.6 trillion; largest) fund the world’s deficit; Team India funds cricket’s deficit (India is the biggest funder of cricket worldwide. A majority of the money in cricket comes because of Nation India funding Team India). There is no difference really between Team India and Nation India.

In reality though, there is one difference between Team India and Nation India. A big difference. The difference is in the kind of support we give to the two. When it comes to cricket, we never crib and complain about our cricketers. We treat them like gods. We don’t allow cricket anchors Ravi Shastri or Sunil Gavaskar or Harsha Bhogle to run down our cricketers. Yet we allow news anchors Arnab and Rajdeep to derail our nation. We burst crackers when we cross a milestone in a crucial match. We never do that when the nation does the same (we became a trillion $ economy in 2008.....did we burst crackers then?). This is the difference that we as citizens of India need to remove. And if we did that, there would be no stopping Nation India......just as there is no stopping Team India!

There is a reason why the anchors on cricket channels provide the right environment while those on our news channels don’t. Cricket channels anchors are mostly past cricketers. They’ve played the game and they know what effort goes into winning a game. They know that there are moments when all looks lost. They know that it’s only our love and affection and belief in our team that can get it back into shape. Arnab and Rajdeep have never ever run a nation. They have no idea how much sweat and grind goes into running a nation. They have never made policies that affect a billion people; so they don’t realize that there will always be shortcomings. They have never gone into rural India; so they don’t even know what rural India really exit from financial penury.

Rajdeep and Arnab tend to paint all our politicians with one brush. They make us think that all of them are corrupt. They don’t realize that till the time we don’t allow (rather, enforce) legal funding of elections, we will never be able to stop corruption. Even if you or I were to fight elections, we would need to become “corrupt” in this limited sense. We fail to differentiate between institutional corruption (stealing money to fund elections) and individual corruption (stealing money for personal gain and greed). Yet, they (Arnab and Rajdeep) never work at removing the need for stealing money; they complain instead about the theft itself. We pay our babus a pittance; and yet they (Arnab and Rajdeep) complain when they get a raise. We get paid lacs in salary; yet the seniormost babu gets paid less than even a trainee in the corporate world. Yet they (Arnab and Rajdeep) never try to build public opinion to correct this. We have to introspect. Are we providing Nation India the kind of support we are providing Team India?

I know a lot of you will say “But the cricketers have shown us success....what about our politicians?”. Actually, even the politicians have shown success. Do you know that an estimated 200 million people of India have been taken out of poverty in the last 20 years? Just look around you; so many people live a decent respectful life today.....chauffeurs, car mechanics, phone repairers, DTH and broadband technicians, McDonald’s delivery boys.....their families lived a life of penury just 2 decades back.  Today, they may not be rich, but they don’t need to worry about the basic necessities. Yes, there are many more still waiting to be lifted out. But the way to lift them out is by believing in ourselves. Not by tarnishing the reputation of our politicians and babus. I am told more than 80% of our MPs actually live very modest lives.....most of them work really hard.....but we tend to think that all of them are corrupt. Let’s not do that.

The World Champion in the world of business is the US (the Australia of business as it were). They’re being challenged strongly by an emerging challenger (Pakistan in cricket; China in business). Now’s the time for us to challenge the challenger. Now’s the time to grow at 10%+ even as China slows down to below 10. Now’s the time to get into a huddle as one nation; just as the cricketers get into a huddle before the start of a crucial match. This is the time which will shape our future; take us out of the muck that has surrounded us for several hundred years. These are the slog overs. Let’s not waste them. Very soon, we’ll have the batting power play to help us too! Victory is not very far.....let’s stay focused and united.

The real truth is that if we could back Nation India the same way as we back Team India, there would be nothing that could stop us. Nothing can stop us from becoming the world’s foremost country. The world believes in us. Do we????  

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Just apologize Rajdeep. You have misled your viewers

Exactly what I have been saying for so long happened yesterday. It appears now (and I would trust Tehelka more than I would Wikileaks) that there is a possibility (its not proven yet) that the CNN IBN “expose” last year was hardly what it was claimed to be. It was a good example of dangerous politics mixing with unscrupulous media to cheat unsuspecting TV viewers. It was the getting together of desperate people....a TV channel that wanted to grab eyeballs and inch ahead of its competitors at whatever cost and a political party that wanted to ensure at whatever cost that it came to power in the elections that were around the corner at that time.

Let me first dwell on the politics of the matter. It all started with some arbit Wikileaks (I call it Wikilies) story about cash being shown to some American officials before the voting for the Indo-US nuclear deal. The first point I made was that I wouldn’t trust Wikileaks because I wouldn’t trust self-obsessed American officials (and all of them are) with what they write to their bosses. The second point was that I found the entire premise to be flawed. I couldn’t understand the motive behind a Congress worker showing an American official two suitcases full of money. The third point was that the amounts were too small. Rs 50 crores was small change for our MPs.....they are usually sold for far higher sums! If the Congress did indeed pay just Rs 50 crores to secure the deal, I think they were really smart! The country owed them its gratitude!

It appears now that the entire “sting” could possibly (again its not proven yet) have been stage-managed. Some BJP MPs got around and plotted the entire thing with active involvement of their bosses (including Jaitley). They invited CNN IBN to be the media “partner”. Together they hatched an “entrapment” of some Congress MPs. But they failed.....they only managed to get Amar Singh. CNN IBN must have thought that the content was not good enough.....and didn’t air the footage at that time. Honestly, who really cared for Amar Singh even then? Later, the BJP MPs took the money to Parliament and did a fair bit of drama in the house and shamed the country. CNN IBN carried the story 15 days later (part of the “deal”  I guess) but the story had no weight behind it.

This is qualitatively a very different kind of depth that our politics has plunged to. In the past, the uncouth, rustic and media-un-savvy politicians of UP and Bihar have shamed the nation by their violent behavior (in the assembly) and MCP attitude (women’s reservation bill etc). But the BJP......given the fact that its members are largely the better educated urban “intelligent” Brahmins.....has added “cunning” and “media savvy” to its armory of weapons. They have made it a different ball game now. I don’t think anyone of us has understood the dangerous portents of this. I have been writing about this since the beginning. If the opposition gets together with unscrupulous media.....then who knows what they will start to cook.

Let me demonstrate to you the powers that media exerts over us. Just do this little test on yourself: Check out how much of your awareness of the 2G matter or the CWG mess or whatever else is based on information that you got from media. In the case of most people, it’s 100%. No one has read the CAG report, no one has read the SC observations, and no one has read the CBI interrogation transcripts. All that we have read and watched are newspaper and TV reports. We are slaves of media’s machiavellian maneuvering. We are totally dependent on media for any info we have. Imagine now if this media cheats us and doles out selective and motivated bits of information.

I was very curious to know whether the people of India were happily lapping up all that the English TV news channels were coughing up. Whether they were cheering the work done by these guys. Here’s a revealing truth. Over the last two years (Jan 2011 data v/s Jan 2009), the viewership of English news channels has fallen by 43%! The GRPs (Gross Rating Points) for all 4+ audiences......the Hindi channels have fared only slightly better. Their viewership is down 16% or so. I don’t have the data yet.....but I believe that GECs and Sports channels must have gained. This proves that people have actually deserted the news channels. If they want drama, they prefer to go to the GECs! Now the question is: has the drop happened because of negative journalism? Or has the drop prompted English channels to adopt a strategy of negativis? Either way, it tells you that the negativity is not working. In fact, the two most virulent TV channels have fallen the most and NDTV which still maintains certain decency in reporting has emerged as #1 now. Doesn’t this conclusively prove that viewers of English channels are shunning the negativity? Likewise newspaper readership continues to plummet. Who want to read negativity in the mornings?

Let’s look at the views of the larger masses of people across the country. If the people had cared so much for the cash-for-votes scam, then I think they should have given a huge thumbs-up to the expose. But what really happened? The Congress increased its tally by some 60 seats.....the BJP lost quite a lot. I am not saying that an electoral victory proves one party to be innocent.....but what I am saying is that the people don’t care for such histrionics. They voted the Congress back to power because they thought that Manmohan Singh did the right thing by signing the Inod-US nuclear deal (amongst other factors). They did not appreciate the BJP for unnecessarily blocking the deal in Parliament. They did not like the cheating the BJP orchestrated in Parliament (now exposed by another set of Wikilies docs.......again I wouldn’t care for them). And they totally did not appreciate the negative role the Left parties played as coalition partners in the UPA. They got reduced to a useless minority. I think the people of India were smart.....they voted for progress, they voted for a better person and a better party.

There are two real truths that emerge. The first real truth is that the media in India hardly has any accountability. At least the politicians have to seek votes from their people every 5 years. The media doesn’t even have to do that. I don’t think Rajdeep and CNN IBN apologized to their viewers that they may have made a mistake. They pounded on. Surely they will get their loyal viewers to believe their side of the story.....but the number of viewers they lose will far exceed the number of viewers who will stay behind. Rajdeep should just apologize and move on. Or maybe he shouldn’t move on.....maybe he should quit like he keeps demanding that the PM should quit.

The second real truth is that we Indians are used to living in muck. We’ve seen poverty and crime and corruption for many centuries. We have become oblivious to this muck. From our point of view, anyone who shows us a path out of the muck gets our vote. People who keep drawing our attention to this muck don’t get our support. The “unearthing” of the 2G, CWG, Adarsh and so many more “scams” is the muck that people already know of. They discount it out. Earlier they had discounted out the muck of “religious bigotry”. They are giving clear hints.....they will vote for anyone who can take them out of the muck.....not remind them that it is there all around. That’s why the Congress is gaining. They believe Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi can take them out of the muck. And that’s what the BJP keeps missing all the time.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Buffett, Gates, Dell in magnetic India. What’s going on???! Also my version of philanthropy

First it was the Heads of States of the 5 most powerful nations (US, UK, Russia, France, China) who came visiting India. Now it’s the turn of the big daddies of the corporate world! Rather than asking “What’s going on?” as one news anchor often does in a shrill voice on arbitrary and meaningless political issues, it would serve him better if he asked the same question in an economic context!

So what’s going on? Clearly Michael Dell’s company is on a roll in India. Revenues grew by some 60% last year. And since the PC penetration in India is still way too low (30-40 per 1000 people; China 150; developed world 500-600), he expects to see sustained growth over many many years. Buffett self-deprecatingly (though jokingly) called himself a retard not to have come to India earlier. He plans some big ticket investments in India and clubs India with the UK, Germany, and China for his future investment plans. Interestingly, he prefers to call India a developed country rather than a developing one. And why not? From an investment opportunity (and size) perspective, our GDP is already in the top 10 (in absolute $ terms). In PPP terms, it’s already in the top 5. Easier for a big daddy to invest in a large opportunity than a small one!

While Buffett and Dell demonstrate the successful side of the economic story of India, Saint Gates draws attention to issues that we need to urgently address. Gates has been here many times. His focus has never been on investments.....but on making sure that the poverty that exists is dealt with. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested more than 1 billion $ in improving public health standards in India.

It’s a good time to take a stock review of where we are as a country today. Clearly, we have become very big in size. We are in the top 10 in the world in almost all economic activities at a gross level. Be it steel or cement production, car sales or electricity generation, road length or IT exports, mobile penetration or internet connections, India is in the top bracket everywhere. There is no doubt that we are among the buzziest of all global economies today. If we do grow at 9% this year and accelerate to 10% in the years to come, we will become the buzziest economy. China is planning to slow down and the top honor is waiting for India to come and grab.

However, there is the other side of India that needs our attention. When we look at our economy from a Per Capita Income (PCI) perspective, we start faltering. PCI reflects what could broadly be called distribution of wealth amongst the people. When we go to a developed country, we see almost all people to be reasonably well off. That’s because their PCI is high. However in India, there is concentration of wealth in the hands of a few well-offs and the poor are really poor. We often blame the government for this, but often all of us are responsible in one way or the other for this fact. At a very personal level, just consider the way most people refuse to give higher salaries to domestic maids, drivers and security men. They would rather donate money in a temple than give it to living people. At the corporate level also, there is too much reliance on jobless growth in India. India’s largest company by market capitalization – Reliance Industries – enjoys a turnover of nearly Rs 2.5 lac crores by employing just 27,000 people. If all private industries were to adopt jobless growth strategies, we would never be able to have better distribution of wealth.

Buffett is talking of philanthropy in addition to his investments. His version of philanthropy is to donate more to charities. I have a slightly different take on this subject. Rather than big Indian industrialists giving away money to charity.....I think its better they invest that money in sectors that may be financially less attractive but which can create more employment. Set up companies in the social sector which they run themselves. So that the results are better. Rather than depend on some NGOs to do the work. It would be great if Sunil Mittal or Mukesh Ambani could invest in agriculture or rural industries or some such thing even if the returns were the process improving agricultural or rural productivity and raising the incomes of a whole village or two. Or invest heavily in education so that a whole new generation of people can benefit from the future opportunity. If all our top industrial houses did this, we would be able to see a better and faster distribution of wealth. What our industrialists need to devote to charity is their time. Not their money alone. Like Nandan Nilekani is doing. What he is doing can help India far more than someone giving away a few crores to charity.

What NGOs miss the most is skilled managerial talent; not money. Frankly there is ample money available. NGOs need to attract the best available talent. For this, they need to provide a professional environment and reasonable salaries; not just tug at your conscience like they do today. Most young professionals in India are still experiencing their first flush of economic can they take their eyes off that? They want to work even harder so that they can earn even more. They have no time to devote to charity. This is where corporates come in. If corporates could invest in the social sector and provide the right environment, they would be doing the right kind of philanthropy. Merely giving away money is fine in the West; it’s not in India.

The real truth is that we don’t need advice from Buffett on philanthropy. We need his money! We want to learn his investment skills! We want to make money using his skills......philanthropy can follow later! And we certainly don’t need news anchors who keep asking “What’s going on?” in the wrong context!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Did you notice: India is the 6th biggest car maker this year?!

These days, such news stories are hidden in the inside pages of newspapers. But in spite of a keen attempt to bury them, they tend to pop out! Yes, in the year about to end this 31st March, India will have become the 6th largest car manufacturer in the world. With a total production of 3 million (30 lac) automobiles (not including 2 wheelers obviously), we would be behind only China (13.8 million), Japan (8.8), US (7.7), Germany (5.8) and South Korea (3.8). We were #7 last year.....we’ve just overtaken Brazil. At the present rate of growth, we could be overtaking South Korea in the next few years.

One must differentiate between car production and car sales though. 3 million cars are produced in India, but not all of them are sold in India. Many are exported around the world as well. Of the 3 million cars, around 2.5 million are sold in India and about 500K are exported. This indicates two things. One, that the domestic market has now become really large. At this number, the Indian car market would rank somewhere in the top 10 car consuming markets after the usual suspects (US, China, Japan, Germany, UK, France, Italy, Russia and maybe even Brazil and Spain). Estimates made by industry bodies suggest that the Indian domestic car market may go ahead of even Japan by 2014 or so. By 2020, it will become the world’s 3rd largest car market with sales of about 9 million cars a year. This is terrific since most cars sold in India will also be made in India and you can imagine the employment opportunities that this can create for our people!

The other component of car production is exports. And this is a particularly bright sector for India. In 2009, India exported around 500K cars. Exports are largely led by Hyundai (about 250-300K) and Maruti (most of the balance). Projections for Indian exports are very rosy with some reports indicating that India should be exporting more than a million cars soon (maybe in 2011 itself). Here’s the huge point to be made with respect to exports. India exports more cars than even China! One of the reasons for this stunning feat is that Indian car manufacturing is considered to be extremely high quality. Precision engineering is India’s forte and that’s what is helping Indian exports. As proof of this, check out the list of Deming Award winners and you will find Indians and Indian companies right at the top of the awards list (after Japan).

With rising incomes, the middle class is out there in the market buying cars like never before. Aiding the process is the easy availability of finance. Even though finance costs are increasing, the latent demand for cars is so high that people don’t mind paying that extra bit. Much of the growth of the Indian car market is coming (expectedly) from the lower priced models. However, the lowest priced of them all – the Tata Nano – is still to fire. It is believed that if it succeeds, the Tata Nano alone could sell a few million pieces. Should that happen, the milestones mentioned above may tumble much earlier! As a reference point, India is also the 2nd largest motorcycle market with sales of nearly 9 million units last year!

The main roadblock to further car sales growth is the availability of roads! Or good roads to be precise. We have a lot of fact, the road network of India is the 3rd largest in the world at 3.3 million kms. However, only about half of these are paved. Rural roads form a bulk of this network and we all know the quality of those roads. Just look at the length of expressways in India. China has close to 25,000 kms of expressways.....we have some 200. If we could have better roads all over the country, travel by roads would increase dramatically thus increasing the consumption of cars as well. Let’s hope the government plan of investing some $100 billion into roads in the next few years goes as per plan!

However, road’s is not all that we need to worry about. While it’s important to be the 5th largest production market, it is even more important to be the owner of the brands. We still have a lot of work to do here. Most of the car brands produced in India belong to foreign companies. Maruti is really a Japanese company and Hyundai, Korean. The only warriors from India are the Tatas (especially with the acquisition of Daewoo of Korea and Jaguar and Land Rover of the UK some time back) and the Mahindras (their SUVs are doing rather well worldwide!). But the Tatas were only ranked 19th worldwide and the Mahindras 32nd in terms of sales. The brand owners are the ones who really rake in the moolah. If India does not have enough brand owners, then it will only remain a marketplace for others to exploit. It won’t be able to tap the opportunity that exists worldwide. That’s what we need to focus on. More emphasis on research and development is required. More global acquisitions are required. More brand building exercises are required. This is the only way we are going to be recognized as a major auto power. It’s interesting that this post is being written on a day when the Mahindra group appears to have broken a massive brand campaign in the papers!

The real truth is that India is now in the top 5-10 countries on almost any list that you make. Whether it is power production (5th largest), car (5th) and bike (2nd largest) sales, steel production (5th....soon to be 3rd largest), cement (2nd) or even internet users (4th soon to become 3rd largest). At the same time, we also have the highest number of poor in the world :-( We must stay focused on removing this stigma. We can do it....provided we stay focused on our economic goals and not get distracted by inane and senseless politics that the newspapers and TV channels appear to be focusing on!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

I wish India had lost yesterday to WI....

I know it sounds preposterous to even think in this manner. I know many people would think that our pride as a nation would be hurt by such thinking! But I really think that India facing Australia is a terrible terrible prospect. In fact, I am confident that we will lose that match. I am saying that based both on our current form and the general psychological inferiority we have against the Australians. In general, Australia has beaten India 3/4ths of the time we have played together. Even though our record has been a bit better of late, I feel it’s never about past is a game of psychological pressure and Australia always beats us in this department.

Now let me admit, I don’t know how we could have chosen to lose yesterday. I’m only saying it would have been better if we had lost. I also know that most commentators were saying that Sri Lanka is in better form and hence playing SL would have been worse for India. That match would have taken place in SL and that would have been a further disadvantage. The India-Aus match is in Abad and that should be a big advantage to India. But my own view is that an off-form Australia is worse than an in-form SL. Don’t ask me why; I just feel it in my bones!

Let me try this reasoning this out. To explain why I feel that India had a better chance against SL. We see them as being “fellow Asians”.....meaning genetically they are like us and are prone to pressure and other such pathetic weaknesses that all Asians suffer from! One can possibly imagine a scenario when they lose their last 7 wickets for 30 runs.....The Aussies on the other hand are the goras and are genetically stronger. They rarely succumb to pressure. In spite of their bad form, they would never crumble like we did against SA! Remember that match? It was the gora nature of the South Africans that did us in.....not the form that SA is in!

Look at the bowling line up of Australia. It’s really difficult to play Brett Lee even after we have had so much practice against him recently. Add to that, the likes of Mitchell Johnson, Shane Watson and what have you! And here’s the point I am trying to make....when a Brett Lee comes in to bowl, our batsmen are facing the combined strength of all past Australian pace maniacs.....Dennis Lilee, appears that all of them are coming in to bowl along with Lee! It’s a psychological thing. In contrast, Malinga is a far easier bowler to play, in spite of his weird action. And better form!

Now I know many people will think that my fears are unfounded. That under Indian conditions, the Aussies are not that strong. In fact, India did win the Border-Gavaskar trophy 2-0 just a few months back. But that was 5-day cricket. And if nothing else, the Aussies tend to simply “burn up” in the Indian heat. In a one-day match however, they can hold out against the weather much better. One of the innings is anyways played under flood lights. They remain ferocious throughout! It’s just their superior genes you see!

I guess somewhere the economic might of India over SL also must be a factor that helps us psychologically. Now I may sound facetious here.....but what I am saying is that when we play SL or Pakistan, we have the superiority of our stronger economy providing us the tail winds. When we play the Aussies, it’s the opposite. Those guys are genetically stronger and also economically. They are part of those who “ruled” us for 200 years (now I know this is not logically true.....but I’m just talking very practically here!). Even the way the Aussies exult; the way they make faces on field makes us nervous! I don’t know if Dhoni would ever break a TV set.....especially in Australia.....but that’s what Ponting just did. They terrorize us! Their people beat up our poor rich Indian students; but we can’t even think of doing that to them. Their Olympics team won most of the medals and then they threw a refrigerator down from the top floor of the building......who does that? Imagine the pressure of all that on our poor Indian team!

The real truth is that the ODI matches are never about form. They are always about relative psychological strength. The Aussies are much stronger than us. We’ll soon find out if my fears are right or wrong. But I am willing to wager on this one!