Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Can rhetoric change reality?

ND Batra
From The Statesman

At the time of mid-term congressional elections, President George W Bush has been trying to answer the question that most Americans have been asking: How are you going to get us out of the bloody mess in Iraq?
The deadly statistics are staggering but they don’t appeal to people’s imagination ~ unlike the daily images of Iraqis being blown up in the marketplace, mosques, roadsides and their neighbourhoods. In the pre-24/7 live newscast era, no one would have seen the horror on the faces of Iraqis.
Republicans have been saying during the election campaign that all politics is local and voters are likely to be more interested in property taxes, school problems, health issues and jobs rather than what is happening in Iraq. Democrats are trying to turn the daily carnage in Iraq as a referendum on Mr Bush and Republicans who control both the House and the Senate. But Democrats, too, don’t have any new ideas about what do in Iraq.
If staying the course in Iraq is meaningless, so is cut and loose ~ setting the date of withdrawal and getting out. There is a broad national consensus, however, that the USA cannot just pack and run away from Iraq.
Not only Iraq would continue to be a bloody hellhole for decades but also the USA would never recover from its humiliating shame and failure, if US troops were withdrawn hastily. That would be the end of the USA, as we know it: the sole global power that matters the most in the world. Americans are not ready for it. So for the time being, forget freedom and democracy.
Now the goal is to control Sunni-Shia sectarian killings and bring about a reasonable level of law and order and political stability so that President Bush could tell Americans that most of the objectives of invading Iraq have been achieved, which would justify gradual withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.
It is unimaginable that the USA would totally withdraw from West Asia and Central Asia. Strategically, there’s too much at stake in the region. During last week’s Press conference, after a subdued recounting of the achievements in Iraq, for example, capturing Saddam Hussein, free elections in which 12 million Iraqis participated and the death of terrorist Zarqawi, President Bush frankly acknowledged for the first time the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad and loss of “some of America’s finest sons and daughters”.
As of today, 2,791 US troops have been killed, but the loss of Iraqi lives, 600,000 deaths since the invasion in March, 2003 through July, 2006 (and counting) according to a recent study by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is shocking.
After the deaths of so many innocent people, Iraq is nowhere closer to freedom and democracy than it was during the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein; and now that he is gone, the country has descended into a most heinous sectarian barbarism in spite of US military presence, pouring of billions of dollars, and initial good intentions of transplanting freedom and democracy.
While Kurds in the north who have enjoyed autonomy since the first Gulf War due to the no-fly zone restrictions imposed on Saddam Hussein’s regime by the USA are not ready to give up their gains, including the region’s oil wealth, Sunnis aided by some neighbouring Arab countries and Shias with the full backing of Iran are locked in a deadly struggle for supremacy, not freedom and democracy.
Division of the country into three separate independent states would leave the oil wealth with Shias who dominate the south and with Kurd control the north, leaving Sunnis high and dry and full of bitterness and vengeance, which would not bring sectarian violence and terrorism to an end. The most important step in ending sectarian violence in Iraq must begin with Baghdad, which should be brought under some form of a draconian martial rule imposing day and night curfew, and shoot-at-sight orders.
Every neighbourhood in Baghdad should have a strong and palpable presence of American-Iraqi troops until the last goon is flushed out and killed.
Once Baghdad is brought under control, peace and order would emerge and faith and trust would spread in the al-Maliki’s government’s ability to do the job of providing security, disarming the militias and bringing about reconciliation.
Negotiations based on equitable distribution of oil resources and a federated political structure that keeps balance between the three regions, Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the West and Shia’s in the south as well as the central government should be the beginning of reconciliation for unity and national reconstruction.
Iraq’s neighbours, especially Turkey, Syria and Iran have their own national interests and since it may not be possible to have their active participation in the peace process, they must be neutralised. Iran with its nuclear ambitions and international sanctions hanging on its head would be the biggest spoiler.
It was so easy for the USA to topple Saddam Hussein but rebuilding of the peace in Iraq might need the commitment and sustained efforts of a new administration, may be a new generation of Americans. Fortunately, a regime change in the USA does not need an invasion by an outside power. In a democracy, regime change is periodic. That is the beauty of democracy and it must be spread everywhere.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Corporations seeking synergy

Growth through synergy

by ND Batra
From The Statesman

Recently when a friend in Mexico e-mailed to me: “I would Skype you at 10 a.m.,” I was not sure whether like “google” a new verb was quietly slipping into the American tongue, but I surely felt synergy rising due to the convergence of television, computer and telephone. Synergy characterises the ethos of the age of the Internet. It is also a most important buzzword today.

Corporations seek synergy and self-renewal through mergers, acquisitions and technological convergence, as the Tata Group is trying to do with the Anglo-Dutch steelmaker, Corus PLC. Synergy occurs when discrete businesses cooperate and combine creatively so that “the total effect,” according to Webster’s, “is greater than the sum of the effects taken independently.” Corporations would pay anything to have a business model for creating synergy, but business schools do not teach their students how to develop synergy. Necessity is the mother of synergy. Synergy is not limited to the business world. It is equally important in nature.

Ants, for example, build an unenviable synergetic environment for survival. They transcend their smallness through synergy. Can a small country like Bangladesh transcend its poverty by building synergetic environment with its neighbours? South Korea and Taiwan are examples of countries that have achieved prosperity through synergetic relationship with the USA and Japan. History of technology bears ample evidence that major leaps in technology occur only through synergy. Samuel Morse’s telegraph, for example, combined with Hertz’ electromagnetic spectrum theory to give birth to Marconi’s wireless telegraphy ~ radio; and subsequently to radio with pictures ~ television.

At every step of technological evolution, there was synergism created by combining two or more discrete concepts or technologies. Now you see the same thing happening to traditional television, as the TV set converges with computer. The remote obeys your commands, more like a magic wand, while you lounge on your sofa with a bottle of beer, munching peanuts, watching soccer on television or video clips on YouTube (recently acquired by Google for another upsurge of business synergy). A passive instrument of entertainment is suddenly turning into an interactive tool, making you put aside your beer so that you can seek and search whatever you want. Instead of a couch potato consumer, you become an active seeker. It is a market-driven synergy created by the coupling of computer technology with television.

The hype of webbed-television is that it allows you several features simultaneously, so you could watch television and surf the Web at the same time. Watch “ Jeopardy” and participate in the game show as well. Watch cricket, chat with a friend, send e-mail, and read the latest news about sports drug scandals on the same screen. Most of the newspapers in the USA, as it is happening in India too, seek synergy with competitive media. The BBC, for example, is a marvelous example of synergy being created when broadcasting weds the Internet. The BBC had no other choice for survival in the global market except through convergence with the Internet. The NBC and Microsoft combined to create MSNBC.Com, which created an information-rich multimedia environment. Every major television network anchorperson urges the viewers during the evening broadcasts to go to its website for in-depth reports and live chats with correspondents. So do The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, which are being transformed into multimedia delivery systems. Content remains the king, but the king needs a multi-media kingdom.

Not long ago in the global race for synergy, Rupert Murdoch, whose satellite television reaches more than 100 million homes in 60 countries, realised that there’s no future without the Internet. He has been linking his satellite empire with the Internet to create an alternative delivery as well as a two-way interactive communication system. Acquisition of MySpace by Murdoch’s controlled News Corporation was a wise step in adding to its multimedia platform. It is important to understand that mere clubbing of businesses to create an overwhelming market power does not necessarily mean synergy, as the failure of America Online-Time Warner shows. Sometimes those who seek synergy need a vision. Sometimes synergy just happens. Synergy is not formulaic. It involves risk. What does this mean for a vast nation like India? Think of India as a nation of 200 million families, with an average family of five members.

As incomes rise, the first luxury item a family desires to buy is a high definition digital television set in order to enjoy their favourite pastime, sports and Bollywood. But as television households steadily increase in India, television would create the same problems as in the USA: commercial-driven programmes full of violence and sex, saturating the airwaves and cables, resulting in the coarsening of Indian culture. India could do better. If the national leadership decides that all television sets manufactured or imported must be Web-enabled, you have an Indian television household owning a computer as well, probably the only computer the family would have for sometime to come. If you add to the Web-TV Indians’ growing hunger for cell phones, you have the beginning of a great technological revolution in India.

The marketplace and the ingenuity of India’s world famous programmers have begun to create software in most Indian languages. This is the kind of information revolution the rural India has been waiting for, which can be further quickened if people become aware of the possibility of free telephone service provided by web-calling companies like Skype. Yes, you can Skype as long as you want and it is free, as my friend said.

Monday, October 23, 2006


A Tale of Two Anthems


In early 2003 "Vande Matram" was declared as the second popular most national anthem, the topmost being the Irish one. The news was first broadcast by BBC- World Service Radio, which really bewildered those who are habituated to listening it in the morning. While "Vande Matram" slogan used to pass a shiver down the spine of the British in the Raj days, are they themselves broadcasting this news! Were they really tuned to BBC? Yes, they had to rub their ears to ensure that.
To look back, the song was composed around 1875 by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, the pioneer of modern Bengali literature. It was later inserted in his novel ‘Anandamath’ in 1882 where it became a war cry for the crusading Vaishnavite monks in the famine afflicted land Bengal in the backdrop of the demising Nawab dynasty and the rising British power there in the 18th century. Later it became the war cry of the revolutionaries, both violent and non-violent, rising against the British Raj for independence of India. Thousands went to the gallows voicing this slogan/song which was a major motivating force at that time for the freedom struggle of India. It goes with the compliment – “The greatest and most enduring gift of the Swadeshi movement was Vande Matram, the uncrowned national anthem*.” (The Cambridge History of India, Vol. IV P. 608 – courtesy, website TUHL Indian/Hinduism Home Page. *The status eventually given to it is ‘national song’ as has been elaborated below.). However, nothing can depict the spirit of ‘Vande Matram’ better than the following song of Tagore in as few words, which, in my inept translation also possibly does not lose all its inspiration:

1) “ Ek sutre bandhiachi sahasrati monEk karye sampiachchi sahasra jiban…..
Vande Matram…..”
In one string we stitchMany a thousand mind to pitch;In one mission we devoteOn the divine hymn to float -"Vande Matram"- (=Hail Mother/Motherland)Amidst disastrous storm, Facing many a hurdleOur daring heart will not fail;"Vande Matram" -Undaunted by fright's myriad formHurricane violent, sea in billowWill not put us low,Many a million waveWe'll brave;This life ephemeralWe'll not care to bail;Yet will remain unsnapped The solemnity that us trapped -"Vande Matram" To dispel our hibernation.***************************8 ‘Vande Matram’ drew attention of the Indian National Congress since the beginning. In its annual conference held in Calcutta in 1896, this song was sung and was tuned by Tagore and later on by several others. In its annual conference again in1905 it was accepted as our national anthem which was attended by Sister Nivedita, the Irish lady who had turned Vivekananda’s disciple about a decade back.
As it should be obvious from the reference in the song itself to a population of 7 Crore (as determined by the census of 1881 to be the strength of the Bengalis, including the Muslims, in the Eastern part of the country), ‘Vande Matram’ speaks more of ‘Mother Bengal’ rather than the whole of India. Yet, its appeal transcended this narrow geographical concept surfacing in its original wordings obviously because ‘Mother Bengal’ has been identified here with the Goddess Durga who is an inspiration to all Hindus where no regionalism stands. Besides, the 7 Crore was edited to 30 Crore around 1905 (the then Indian population) by those concerned with the song to extrapolate it in the new national scenario. Now, as the original 7 Crore included the Muslims (so does the 30 Crore) also in the then Bengal, the song itself may be absolved of the charge of communal bias, particularly when it peaked our nationalistic spirit sweeping away all our narrowness. It is a different matter that the song was voiced by the said crusading monks whose uprising happened to be against the misrule of the then Muslim Nawabs of Bengal. Eventually, they also had preferred British rule to the Nawabs’, not to swap Islam for Christianity, but to hail good governance to replace the dilapidated one. Again, the narrow geographical concept of Bengal, as found in Annandamath, should not disqualify the song as a national anthem of India. It may be appreciated, it would be ridiculous if this song sung by Bhabananda, the monk character in the novel during the Nawab dynasty, would have indulged in nationalistic megalomania, by inflating 7 Crore to 30 Crore or so. It appears, Bankim figured his song quite discreetly to fit it well in the plot of his novel. This aside, the fact is, India was never a ‘nation’ in the Western sense before the advent of the British rule which, along with its gradual expansion to the rest of India, starting from Bengal, with atrocity and Western enlightenment also as its integral part, solidified our nationalistic concept/sentiment. To criticize the original format of ‘Vande Matram’ for regionalism is to miss this historical relevance in which context, its said extrapolation to our modern national psyche has been only judicious, without diluting its original core inspiration in the enlarged horizon.
Nevertheless, religious fundamentalism raised its head instead, and some Muslim clerics and politicians (irrespective of religion) argued that this anthem indulges in deity worship against the spirit of Islam and was so unacceptable to its followers. A compromise was arrived at by accepting only the first two stanzas (vide website of TUHL Indian/Hinduism Home page) of the song as our national anthem editing therein the said 7 Crore to 30 Crore, as aforesaid, where Goddess Durga also does not occur. Notwithstanding this, the ghost of ‘deity worship’, if not regionalism also, ambushes even to-day to mar the true spirit of the song, to the extent it has been accepted as our anthem. While I fail to be overwhelmed by the wisdom of such zealots, I also fail to appreciate the highhandedness of the Govt. trying to impose this song in our various institutions in 2006, on the occasion of it being the centenary year for its acceptance as our national anthem. After all, a song is an aesthetic creation and should be left to one’s finer faculties.
Later, Tagore composed ‘Jana Gana Mano…’ sometime in 1911 which was officially accepted as the national anthem of independent India. Since then, in an attempt to distinguish it from ‘Vande Matram..’, the latter is often referred as ‘national song’ while the former as ‘national anthem’. However, this hardly affected the appeal and inspiration of any of these songs. It may be noted, in case of ‘Jana Gano Mano..’ also only the first two stanzas have been accepted as our national anthem (vide the said website), while it comprises three more.
Now, while ‘religion’ was the bone of contention in the anti-‘Vande Matram..’ tirade, the aim of invectives against ‘Jano Gano Mono…’ was Tagore’s assumed sycophancy for King George V who had visited India in 1911, which happens to be the year of composition of the song too that gave scope for such scandal. However, Tagore himself denied such allegation and I never could find any details as to who felicitated George V with this song, if at all he was, and who were the organizers and if at all Tagore himself was involved in it. Yet, it may be speculated if Tagore tried to entice the King to draw his support for some international accolade for him, say, the Nobel. There also, facts no way involve the King which were, Rothenstein, a British scholar, was a great admirer of Tagore’s nephew Abanindranath Tagore, a renowned artist and came to visit him at the ‘Thakurbari’, the ancestral house of the Thakur (Tagore) family. In the gathering Rabindranath was present whose beaming personality attracted Rothenstein who gathered from Abanindranath that Rabindranath was a poet. This was around 1911. However, Rothenstein was gradually attracted to Rabindranath and talked highly about him to other British poets/scholars of that time. Now, in Tagore’s own words, to quote from Maitrayee Devi’s ‘Mangpute Rabindranath’, (=‘Rabindranath at Mangpu’ -near Darjeeling- where Tagore had been intermittently Maitrayee Devi’s guest during the last 3 years of his life) the poet’s dialogue with her was as follows-
“When I first started translating them (poems of Gitanjali, on which basis he was awarded the Nobel) into English, I never thought they would be readable. Many have insinuated that Andrews was doing it for me. Poor Andrews felt sorry and ashamed. When Yeats arranged a meeting of distinguished people at Rothenstein’s house, I cannot tell you how embarrassed I felt. Yeats would not listen to me. He was undaunted. A galaxy of big people came. Gitanjali was read. They never said a word. They listened in silence and in silence they left – no criticism, no approbation, no favourable remark, no encouraging comment. Blushing in shame and disgrace, I wished the Earth would have opened and swallowed me. Why did I ever listen to Yeats? How could I write English, had I ever learnt it? I was filled with remorse, I could not raise my head. Next day letters started coming, they flooded in, overflowing with enthusiasm. Everyone wrote. Then I realized they were so moved that evening that they dared not talk. English people are reserved, it is their nature. It was not possible for them to express their feelings at once. What a surprise it was, unexpected and unimaginable. Friend Yeats was pleased.”
The event was in 1912 on 30 June or early July. It is this group of scholars/poets who had recommended Tagore’s name to the Nobel Committee in Sweden to culminate into the poet as a Nobel Laureate. However, I badly miss King George V in the entire episode!
Other relevant facts are, Tagore gave underhand support to the then ‘terrorists’ who had fought for India’s freedom and was a suspect of the British Govt. His novel ‘Char Adhaay’ (Four Chapters) on this theme of terrorism vouches this.
Secondly, Tagore’s dialogue with Maitrayee Devi may again be quoted in respect of his renouncing his Knighthood in protest against the Jalianwallabag (Punjab) carnage by the British police in 1919, as follows –
“They (British people) took it as a great insult. In England people are very loyal. So, this disavowal of the King did hurt them very much…”
Again, on partition of Bengal by Lord Curzon in 1905, Tagore himself led some of the processions on the Calcutta roads in protest against this partition voicing in chorus with thousands of his followers –

“Amar Sonar Bangla, Ami Tomay Bhalobasi
Chirokal Tomar Akash, Tomar Batash Amar Prane Bajay Bansi”

(Oh my golden Bengal, I love Thee
Thy azure, Thy breeze play flute forever in me…”

The song he had composed on this occasion became a national anthem of Bengal at least. Eventually, the British Govt. was forced to redress the partition on that occasion.
Now, how are these compatible with the story of Tagore’s sycophancy of George V as had been spun?
However, all these razzmatazz had indulgence due to our fiddling with the truncated first two stanzas of the song adopted as our national anthem, as aforesaid, overlooking the rest of it as if that did not matter in determining the real intent of the poet latent in the song. But, some people are not cursory like learned Mr. B. Bhattacharya, who highlighted the penultimate stanza of the song in his letter to the Editor (The Statesman) published on 15 September 2006 which may be quoted as follows-

“Dushapane atanke raksha korile anke snehamoyee tumi Mata….”
which, according to the faithful translation of the correspondent, comes to–
“O affectionate Mother! You have protected me so long in your lap from all nightmarish terror”.
Now, the correspondent leaves the question to us if George V would like to be addressed as an “affectionate Mother”! My conviction is, such effeminacy would be a contempt of the top royal personality (a male at that time!) and Tagore would instantly find himself behind the bar for this offence, which he never did! Hopefully, this hits the last nail in the coffin of the ‘sycophancy thesis’. However, it may be wiser not to escalate this point further as nothing stops one to argue that the ‘Mata’ in this song smacks of ‘deity worship’ for which its forerunner ‘Vande Matram..’ was put on the dock.
Yet, some highly relevant points need stress. Even a dunce with a bit of sincere probing of the song cannot miss that the “Eternal Charioteer” in the 3rd stanza of the song leading “the travellers through ages along the ups and downs of the rugged path resonant with His chariot wheels” could not be a flesh and blood entity, but a spiritual one illuminating India’s people over millenniums aiming proliferation of peace, benignity, welfare and harmony among humanity at large, across the world not fragmented by ‘parochial walls’. This internationalism from humanist angle that Tagore displayed since late 19th Century, as opposed to the politico-commercial noises we hear now-a-days in the name of ‘globalization’, manifests again in the second stanza of the song – “East and West come / By the side of Thy throne..”. Of course, “throne” smacks of a ‘King’ and the sleuths in their relentless effort to detect George V here may jump up to ‘Eureka!’. We should be content only with our envy for them for the extra grey matter they are endowed with. Now, leaving the sleuths aside, we may further observe that no other national anthem thus looks beyond its concerned national boundary and ego, not even our ‘Vande Matram’ and ‘Sare jahanse Acchha’ (by Iqbal), all of which are myopic in their eulogy for a certain population within a geographical confinement. Such international overtone flashes in a large number of poems/songs of Tagore, including patriotic ones, a widely quoted one being- “Where mind is without fear…..”.
All these by no means acquit ‘Jana Gana Mano…’. In early 21st century a legal petition was moved to drop the word ‘Sindhu’ from the text of the song as Sind is no more a part of India after its partition. At length, Mr. Ram Jethmalani fought the issue successfully in the Supreme Court which gave its verdict against the petition for deletion of ‘Sind’.
These two anthems, much pilloried for decades, however eruditely, have still retained their dignity due to their great intrinsic values. All invectives against these have undergone thorough scrutiny of highly eminent and knowledgeable persons many times and nullified also, after which these should have morphed to non-issues long before.
One may ponder, quite distressingly, why they have not! We have observed above that it is the British who had forged ‘nationalism’ in India, not as unmixed blessing though, but it heightened our best human qualities like patriotism, courage, determination, self-sacrifice, foresight etc., whereas, after Independence, with the earlier trials and tribulations gone, our worst qualities are surfacing with the wane of the said best ones. Our long persisting tangle on this non-issue is only a symptom of the forces fast disintegrating our nation, if not pushing us to the pre-British days. In fact, history never records an anthem which had united as well as divided a nation at different points of time more than this duo.


** The author, professionally a Chartered Accountant, also authored a few books including ‘The Eclipsed Sun’, a translation of Tagore’s poems & songs. He lives in Calcutta.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Toward a New Bangladesh

A gentler kinder face of Islam

News from Bangladesh

ND Batra

Given a chance everyone could get out of poverty. Human beings are essentially entrepreneurial in spirit. Entrepreneurship, which means innovating and building new tools for opening new frontiers—not merely a struggle for survival—has been the ultimate fount of human evolution and growth. Charity is the antithesis of entrepreneurship, though it makes the charitable feel good. Charity does have a place in society, as Islam rightfully insists, and as all great religions of the world have been preaching for millennia. But Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Laureate of Bangladesh who trained as an economist at Vanderbilt University, says that it is “not an answer to poverty. It only helps poverty to continue. It creates dependency and takes away individual’s initiative to break through the wall of poverty.” Social tyranny whether of petty money lenders, religious fanatics, or a well-organized poltical party such as the communist party perpetuates poverty. In 1983 with only a few hundred takas ($27) in hand, as the legend says, Dr. Yunsus told a handful of rapacious moneylenders, one might say in the spirit of Moses, “Let my people go.” Chains of slavery were broken but freedom comes from ability to work. Work means dignity. Nothing comes closer to the American yes-I-can-do spirit than Dr. Yunus’ secular faith that “Unleashing of energy and creativity in each human being is the answer to poverty.” Fighting poverty should be the primary fucntion of the government. When the government gets out of the way of the people, as it has been happening in China and India, entrepreneurs rise and create wealth. It is that simple. Awarding the Peace Prize to someone from a country that most regard not only as an international basket case but also a breeding ground for Islamic jihadism, the Nobel Committee rightfully admonished that "lasting peace cannot be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty… Development from below also serves to advance democracy and human rights.” The most unique aspect of micro-credit financing in Bangladesh is that it has been empowering women. A liberated woman can be a powerful regenerative force in a society, especially an overwhelmingly Muslim society mined with petrodollar financed madrassas. Whether Muslim clerics would accept liberated and empowered women is another momentous challenge. In a manner of speaking, the secular liberation theology—liberating the bottom people from poverty— Dr. Yunus may be the answer to Al Qaeda and religious extremism. But micro-credit cannot lift all boats. Bangladesh needs to think big in order to compete internationally in trade and commerce and for which it needs some friendly help from countries like the United States whose markets, homes and hearths, have become a captive of China. Wal-Mart, JC Penny, Target and other global buyers should be encouraged to play the role of corporate diplomats and be urged to import on a priority basis from countries like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the quality of whose garments is as good as that from China. That is my personal experience when I shop around for my personal clothing needs.Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, said about Bangladesh in his book, The End of Poverty: "Not only is the garment sector fueling Bangladesh economic growth of more than 5 percent per year in recent years, but it is also raising consciousness and power of women in a society that was long brazenly biased against women's chances of life." The international consequences of a dollar flowing to Bangladesh are far more important in terms of fighting poverty and terrorism, human rights and democracy, than willy-nilly letting China add to its trillion-dollar reserve. Dr. Sachs wrote, "The job for women in the cities and rural off-farm microenterprises; a new spirit of women's rights and independence and empowerment; dramatically reduced rates of child mortality; rising literacy of girls and young women; and, crucially, the availability of family planning and contraception have made all the difference for these women." If there is hope for womankind, you see its bright face emerging in Bangladesh—a crucible for struggle between the old and the new face of Islam. Bangladesh is an open society and a democracy, however, imperfect and fragile, and given a chance it could lift itself out of poverty and become an exemplar for other countries especially in Africa. As Dr. Yunus told a newspaper that some day our grandchildren might to go to a museum and wonder what it was like to be poor, for which of course rural micro-credit schemes would not be enough.Bangladesh must get out of its small-minded siege mentality and irrational fear of its neighbors, emulate countries like South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Malaysia, think and plan big, and compete internationally in trade and commerce for which it needs an expanding base of information technology, manufacturing and services, and massive investment to build infrastructure. Its youth is hungry for challenges, for constructive work, or else… Bangladesh must re-imagine itself. One Dr. Yunus is not enough for Bangladesh. ****************************************************************************************(ND Batra, Professor of Communications and Diplomacy at Norwich University, Vermont, USA, has completed a new book, “Digital Civilization: How Much Freedom Does a Man Need?” due for publication in 2007. *****************************************************************************************

Friday, October 13, 2006

Give Bangladesh a Chance

Muhammad Yunus of Bangaldesh
A gentler and kinder face of Islam

“Grameen believes that charity is not an answer to poverty.It only helps poverty to continue. It creates dependency and takes away individual’s initiative to break through the wall of poverty. Unleashing of energy and creativity in each human being is the answer to poverty…. One day our grandchildren will go to museums to see what poverty was like.”

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

This is the American Report

A sex scandal dogs

From The Statesman
By ND Batra

A Congressman’s sex scandal is dogging the November mid-term elections in the USA. The smooth talking and affable Mark Foley (Republican from Florida) resigned from his House seat after being confronted by ABC News and his admission that he had been sending lusty messages to teenage congressional pageboys. Here’s an instant messenger (IM) exchange with a minor:

MaF54: What are ya wearing?
Teen: T-shirt and shorts
MaF54: Love to slip them off ya.

Congressional pages and interns run errands for lawmakers and get exposure to the political processes and sometime become victims of their venality (Remember Monica Lewinsky, the gal who sizzled a President, made him cry in anguish, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” and almost got him impeached?).

After he was unmasked, Mr Foley readily outed himself and admitted that he is gay and accepted full responsibility for his sexually explicit Internet behaviour, though his attorney tried to put a spin and said that the ex-Congressman was an alcoholic and was sexually molested as a child by a clergyman.

There is a psychological folklore in the USA that those who have been sexually abused as children might themselves grow up as child abusers and molesters; therefore, they need understanding and sympathy and treatment rather than jail time.

If Mr Foley were sexually molested as a child, why did he not come forward and name names as hundreds of others have done, causing the Catholic Church shame, embarrassment and millions of dollars in settlements? Mr Foley had a flourishing political career and had become a darling of the media as well as Hollywood. Before the public exposure, there was a discreet scent of the exotic about him that added to his irresistible charm as a Congressman.

What is the best time to disclose childhood abuse? David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, was quoted in The New York Times, saying, “Most survivors disclose it after their eighth drunk driving arrest or their wife saying she wants a divorce, or their fifth bar fight.”

When someone is put under a gun and there seems to be no exit, the person might say anything to escape for life.

“Childhood trauma doesn’t excuse criminal behaviour. I hope he will find the strength to do what thousands of other victims have done, which is publicly expose the predator ~ whether he’s alive or dead,” Mr Clohessy admonished. Had Mr Foley’s predilection for teenage boys been not publicly exposed, he would have continued his extraordinarily charming life as a supporter of gay rights and protector of children’s rights.

Simulation and dissimulation come naturally to politicians.

As the House’s co-chairman of the Missing and Exploited Children’s Caucus, Mr Foley had sponsored legislation in July to protect children from cyber-exploitation by adults. As a loyal Republican Congressman, Mr Foley’s private life could not have been totally unknown to the party bosses, including the House Speaker, Mr Dennis Hastert (Republican from Illinois), who acknowledged his responsibility for failing to keep a watch in the matter but refused to accept any accountability. He wouldn’t resign.

Not only is Speaker Hastert’s reputation at stake but also the future of the Republicans in the November elections.The Republican Party has always touted itself as a party of American family values, but kept quiet when it knew that one of its own was IM-ing sexual fantasies with schoolboy pagers as young as 16, who were on a learning curve at the Capitol Hill.

As revelations keep unfolding daily as to who knew what and when, it is becoming clear that at least since 2004, several powerful people in the Beltway political hierarchy were aware of Mr Foley’s “inappropriate behaviour,” about which some congressional pages had lodged formal complaints. Speaker Hastert has been asserting that he did not know about Mr Foley’s e-mail sexual shenanigans with teenage pages, but whether such an appalling pretence of ignorance would be enough to let him maintain his credibility as the House leader beyond the November elections, if at all the party maintains its majority, is doubtful.

The question is about the Speaker’s competence and moral courage to confront one of his colleagues whose conduct he should have known. Ignorance in politics is no excuse. President George W Bush dutifully supported the beleaguered Speaker: “I know Denny Hastert... He is a father, teacher, coach who cares about the children of this country. I know that he wants all the facts to come out.”

But the Iraq war and the latest revelations by a journalistic gadfly Bob Woodward of The Washington Post in his book The State of Denial that President Bush has not been telling the truth to the American people about what is actually going on in Iraq, has not added to the President’s declining political capital.Republicans seeking to keep their seats in the Senate and the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections, a few weeks away, would rather not be seen with the President.

Mr Bush’s endorsement of the Speaker has little meaning at this crucial political juncture. The bi-partisan House ethics committee has enthusiastically swung into action and issued dozens of subpoenas to investigate the matter as to whether there was a cover-up, though it is doubtful whether any clear-cut, finger-pointing findings would emerge.After the elections, Mr Foley’s follies would be forgotten. The American people would keep wondering what to do about Iraq, which is worming deeply into the nation’s psyche.

(Dr Batra has completed a new book, Digital Civilization: How Much Freedom Does a Man Need? He teaches communications and corporate diplomacy at Norwich University, Vermont, USA)

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

This is the American Report

Honest brands create good fortune

From The Statesman

Last month, the world’s biggest retailer Wal-Mart sent a wave of joy by announcing that it would sell about 300 generic prescription drugs ranging from allergy medication to antibiotics at $4 for a month’s supply.
Not to fall behind its rival, another major retailer, Target, announced that it, too, would match Wal-Mart’s prices.
In a culture of open marketplace capitalism, a company has to come up with innovative solutions to stay competitive. A company is nothing but its reputation and maintaining it is a big challenge.
Coca Cola and Pepsi have not come up with a creative solution to stay alive in India. Desperate calls from Washington to New Delhi won’t help the cola companies. Nor would the court battles. Reputation is the foundation of trust and loyalty, which gives stakeholders confidence in dealing with the company.
A company’s identity and image (along with its philanthropy) are the building blocks of its reputation. Wal-Mart like Bangalore has a distinct identity, a character. Identity is a company’s assertion of its individuality and embodies the company’s vision, its reason for being there. It sums up its business case.
The image of a company is the distinct memorable impression in the minds of the people as they interact with the company.Together, identity and image raise the profile of a company, its reputation, its significance beyond commercialism and profit making. Americans know what Bangalore is, but not Kolkata, not as yet.
“A company’s identity”, says Paul Argenti of Dartmouth’s Tuck School in one of his books, “is the visual manifestation of the company’s reality as conveyed through the organization’s name, logo, motto, products, services, buildings, stationery, uniform, and all other tangible pieces of evidence created by the organization and communicated to a variety of constituencies”.
A company’s name, symbols, products, services, employees, buildings, its tangibles and intangibles, are not a cluster of facts but a dynamic system that creates specific value and meaning for the stakeholders.
Stakeholders’ perception of the company, however, emerges from the totality of the impression. While a company might do its utmost to build and control its identity, it cannot totally control the image, the impression, the perception, the public has about it. A company’s identity and the image are never the same, but the closer they are, the better is the reality, which is the basis of the company’s reputation. While it is desirable to achieve consistency in identity, McDonald’s golden arches, for example, the perception of the company should no be expected to be the same in every country.
McDonald’s is one of the fast food chains in the USA but in China it has the image of a desirable American food, desired by the young and the old, in spite of the fact that the identity of the company, its sounds and images, are globally quite consistent.
In France, the company has a low public image, in spite of the fact that one of its popular products is called French Fries. Of course, there’s nothing French about them. A corporate identity must embody the company’s core values, the sum and substance of what is called its business case.
Identity is the visualisation of its mission, and answers the unasked question: Who are we? What are we doing here? These are the questions Coke and Pepsi should be asking in India.
Last week, writing in The Wall Street Journal, Infosys Technologies’ visionary corporate statesman NR Narayana Murthy said, “Clear conscience ~ clear profit…. When in doubt, disclose.” Coke and Pepsi should listen to him.
While a consistent and well-defined identity a company projects before the public helps it to build a perception of the company about what it stands for, the reputation is built over time and depends upon how the company conducts itself.
A strong reputation matters because it enhances a company’s attractiveness, softens criticism, and creates public support for a company’s activities. Customers don’t mind paying a little extra for a product when it comes from a company with a strong reputation for quality and fairness. A company with a strong reputation attracts talented employees, who like to stay with the company for personal and professional growth.
The likeability of the company by the employees and their day-to-day interaction with the various stakeholders adds to the reputation of the company.Employees become the corporeal identity of the company embodying its values and mission. But when a CEO is found with his pants down or his hand in the cookie jar, as it has happened with the global accounting firm Arthur Andersen, for example, the reputation comes crashing down.
No amount of identity metamorphosis could bring the reputation back. Arthur Anderson self-destructed, as did Enron, the infamous energy giant.
Apart from the integrity of corporate leadership that inspires respect and loyalty from employees and the general public, companies like Microsoft have enhanced their reputation by carrying out global philanthropic activities.Corporate philanthropic giving at local, national and global levels should become part of a company’s business case.
Philanthropic activities of a company must be thoughtfully and tastefully publicised through corporate advertising to project the humane side of the company as Microsoft is doing through its global foundation to fight AIDS and tuberculosis. Some companies make use of institutional advertising to let the public know how involved they are in adding to the public good, just as Beyond Petroleum (BP), formerly British Petroleum, has been doing with its corporate ads, informing the public about its commitment to the development of alternative sources of energy.BP looked green until its recent pipeline troubles in Alaska.
No company can ever rest in peace, thinking that its reputation is secure. Reputation is not a constant but a corporate variable.
(Dr Batra teaches communications and corporate diplomacy at Norwich University, Vermont, USA)