Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Jaguar at Wal-Mart price?

Will you buy Jaguar at Wal-Mart?

From The Statesman
26 December 2007

ND Batra

What will happen to the Jaguar brand image if it is acquired by Tata Motors, a company that is associated with tractor-trailers, full-size SUVs, and now getting ready to manufacture the world’s cheapest automobile?

India may tolerate contradictions, slums and high towers in the same neighbourhood, but the global marketplace does not.

Writing in The New York Times, Heather Timmons commented: “Jaguar dealers in the United States have expressed concern about an Indian buyer, which they believe would devalue the luxury brand name.” But the Tata business empire also includes Tata Consultancy Services, one of the world’s largest providers of information technology, consulting services and business-process outsourcing with presence in 47 countries.

Last year, the Tata Group bought the Anglo-Dutch company Corus, making it the world’s sixth largest steelmaker. The Time magazine called it one of the top ten business deals of 2007.

Protecting brands is important, especially when the global market is becoming crowded with cheaper goods and it is difficult to distinguish between one product and another, though of course, you won’t confuse a Land Rover with a “One-Lakh Car”.

In the struggle for shelf space in the buyer’s imagination, branding has become indispensable. Brands create loyalty by offering identity, prestige and security, though the quality of a brand name product may not be much higher than its non-brand twin. And as non-brands and copycats themselves become recognizable names, the need to strengthen brand loyalty through its intensification becomes imperative.

Ulrich Steger says in his book Corporate Diplomacy: “Today brands indicate a life style, aspirations, a set of ideas or a social cachet.” Most people feel satisfied with pizza but some do want to have caviar. But will they go to Pizza Hut for caviar if it were available there? Some of the attributes of a good brand include originality, quality, reliability and personality. Quoting Naomi Klein, Steger says: “As companies become weightless, focusing on marketing and design only (but reaping with this bulk of the profit), they are shifting production into sweat shops elsewhere.”

So even if Jaguar and Land Rover will continue to be manufactured in Britain, thanks to the vote of confidence by its powerful union, Tata Motors cannot ignore the problem of image management and product reputation by association. India may not be a “land of tigers, jungles and cobras,” but you cannot hide the slums.

The survival of a strong brand in a competitive environment of meaning and identity creation is a serious question. A scandal could raise social protests and destroy a brand, unless brand values are deeply shared and lived by the whole company. “Always Low, Always” Wal-Mart’s slogan, for example, was being interpreted as putting the employees low.

The gap between promises and reality of a company’s behaviour gives critics opportunities to strike at the company.

Reputation of a company is as important as its other assets, including the country in which it is embedded.

The question is: Will European and American buyers continue buying the luxury brands Rover and Jaguar if they were sold, in a manner of speaking, through K-Mart or Wal-Mart?

Will the cool soon become a passing fad as it changes hands? Marguerite Rigoglioso, reporting the research done by Stanford business professor Chip Heath and Jona Berger of Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote in Stanford GSB online that “as soon as chic goes mainstream, or geeks start sporting the clothes of jocks, items are dropped like passé hot potatoes by the kings and queens of cool.”

Rupert Murdoch, the Australian global media tycoon, faced a serious problem when he tried to buy the Wall Street Journal, whose brand value exceeds its intellectual value. Murdoch had to bend his knees and promise not to mess up with the editorial independence and integrity of the Journal. He had to accept a most humiliating condition: the establishment of a self-perpetuating independent editorial board to oversee the integrity of the newspaper.

Of course Jaguar will not be sold at bargain basement prices, and the Tata Group has a better reputation than Murdoch; nonetheless, the company has to understand that selling a Corus steel structure is not the same thing as selling a Jaguar convertible, which sits on your driveway. The Jaguar brand has a social meaning beyond its value.

As Wharton’s Professor Berger says: “Companies need to manage meaning. Brands need to attend to who is adopting their products, because these adopters can change what purchasing or using the product signals, and can lead other consumers to abandon it. If you want your brand to retain caché, you might want to think about protecting or segmenting meaning. Brands can constrain the type of consumers who can easily find it, or can use sub-brands or limited edition options that allow the company to sell to the mainstream while also maintaining the desired signal for the taste leaders.”

Let me rephrase the question: Will Europeans and Americans buy Champagne from the slums of Mumbai? The Tatas, the Mittals, the Ambanis and their billionaire kinds, as they go on mergers and acquisitions (M&A) sprees abroad, should also help clean up the slums of India.

Unlike Indians, Europeans and Americans have little tolerance for cognitive dissonance.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Living Virtually

Emerging virtual landscape

From The Statesman
ND Batra
Japanese prefer to use their cells for text messaging probably because it is considered rude to talk in public places, buses and train. According to a Reuter report, the Chinese sent 429 billion text messages last year, a country where there is limited freedom of the Press.

If researchers could do content analysis of the totality of the messages, they might discover the emerging mindset of the Chinese people. Different cultures use the same technology differently.

Americans love to talk and they do it everywhere regardless of how others feel. Music mobility is big in the United States and cell phones and mobile music devices have begun to converge. Similarly, Indian culture in its own way is affecting life and work now that mobile technology is rapidly penetrating even rural areas connecting millions of isolated people. But as villagers increasingly become wirelessly mobile, they would use it primarily to improve their human condition, including access to the market for their products and services as well as healthcare.

The consequences of the chirping revolution are unfathomable as wireless computer chips get embedded into everyday technologies. Wireless networks are abridging space and time, turning geographic space into cyberspace, and are bringing people together for collaboration in workplaces and cultural spaces. The experience of the presence of others in a virtual environment created by networked communication is a new social experience for many; those who use MySpace, Facebook and Second Life know the feeling.

Virtual presence could become active political presence. Isolated activists could organise virtually and become smart mobs and strike anywhere. Every human activity from porn to the most complex mathematical calculations is potentially nothing but information in the digital format.

So whatever activity that takes place in the analogue world can be turned into digital data, and can instantly be distributed globally through computer networks, thus extending the reach of human communication. That’s how we came to know the simmering rage of the Myanmarese Buddhist monks.

Imagine if millions of Tibetans get access to cell phones! Digital data cannot only be stored and retrieved instantly anywhere, but they can also be transformed into predictive intelligence about human behaviour regarding commerce, national security or any other social or political activity. Books, music files, or terrorist messages become indistinguishable as they converge in a digital stream and surge through cyberspace; but they can be mined and analysed.

US Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Programs, about which Congress has expressed concerns, are already doing it. Convergence, instantaneity and feedback interactivity make the Internet the most powerful medium of communication ever developed. Since the traditional media, including books, television, newspapers, magazines, radio, music and interpersonal communication are converging on the Internet as multimedia streams into which anyone can plug in, their power increases manifold and in ways whose implications we still don’t understand.

Outsourcing, for example, has given India a constant state of virtual presence in the global political and corporate discourse. Unlike the offshoring of manufacturing, outsourcing of research and development and other forms of intellectual and professional work is bringing India, Europe and the United States into a virtual world of global supply chain where brainpower and creativity are shared and enhanced, for example, as in Hollywood-Bollywood animation venture Shrek2 and Madagascar.

The Internet thus is transformative in the sense that it is lowering barriers for cooperative coexistence of cultures. It is a stuff of the legend how GE contributed to the seeding of the digital revolution in India and how India is saving billions of dollars for corporate America and in the process enriching itself. Cultures prosper when they cooperate as well as compete. Historically speaking, a new medium of communication creates a cultural shift and changes our concept of space and time with far-reaching consequences, wrote the Canadian scholar Herald Innis in The Bias of Communication.

Although ancients tried to abridge space and time by sending messages through drums and smoke signals, not until the invention of telegraph was it possible to think about communication in terms other than transportation. Like goods, messages were communicated from place to place at a speed that the best transportation system of the time, for example, the pony express or the railroad made it possible. Telegraph altered the geography-based metaphor of communication, which ceased to be synonymous with transportation.

As telegraph triggered the development of new technologies in the early part of the 20th century and telephone, radio, and television became universal, communication became increasingly liberated from the constraints of space and time. Computer networks and the Internet have further altered our view of how we look at ourselves. A networked organisation or an individual with instant messaging and e-mail has a different feel of space and time than the people of the pre-digital era. Mouse is the door to cyberspace and once you are there, you are in a world that is simultaneously synchronous and asynchronous, a world that gives a greater sense of freedom and control than the real world.

For the digital generation, activities in a virtual universe are as real as they are in physical space. With mobile digital energy we could see the emergence of collective brainpower to solve complex problems. As more and more people experience activities in cyberspace through virtual presence, they would see that what is local is becoming global; what is Bollywood is becoming Hollywood; and vice a versa.

(ND Batra is Professor of Communications, Norwich University, Vermont USA)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Too Much Popularity Can Make Items Uncool: Research: News: Stanford GSB

"In a recent paper, Stanford researchers found that consumers may abandon products if they start being favored by the masses, or by members of certain social groups. In other words, as soon as chic goes mainstream, or geeks start sporting the clothes of jocks, items are dropped like passé hot potatoes by the kings and queens of cool." Read more... Too Much Popularity Can Make Items Uncool

Tagore on History


Thou Hast Made Me Endless Part IX



Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941 AD) the Nobel Laureate of 1913 was introduced to the West primarily through the collection of English translation of some of his poems/songs captioned as ‘Gitanjali’ (=Offering of Songs). More translations of his works followed by the poet himself and others after he had won the Nobel, including poems/songs, dramas, short stories etc. However, such efforts were sporadic and sluggish, mostly on individual initiative, which still remain so.As a result, a vast volume of the poet’s works remains un-translated while, it appears, it is an impossible proposition to translate even a substantial part of the poet’s total works to permit those, not privileged by the knowledge of Bengali language, a reasonably broad view of his myriad creations where unfathomable perceptional depth of top grade aesthetics runs through, literally true to his song “Thou hast made me endless / Such is Thy pleasure”.Notwithstanding this, an upsurge of Tagore translation took place in the last decade of the twentieth century by virtue of a good number of eminent poets/translators e.g.William Radice, Joe Winter, Ketaki Kushari Dyson, to name a few, all of whom left their valuable contribution to this oeuvre and my book THE ECLIPSED SUN is a modest addition to this. I have put stress on a few aspects of the poet’s works, particularly those in his twilight years, which seemed to me quite inadequately covered so far. The followings are presented mostly based on this book. RAJAT DAS GUPTA: Calcutta: e-mail:
Tagore the Historian (Contd..2)

In my introductory note in the first part published in the first week of Nov. ’07 to illustrate Tagore as a historian, it was stated that through a number of his inspiring poems Tagore had extracted and presented us hot the human emotions, ego, uprightness, virtuosity, malice, evil etc. which had propelled our history. But Tagore was no less competent than any other historian as a dispassionate historical analyst which the following essay illustrates.

Essay: SHIVAJI AND GURU GOVIND SINGH (Courtesy: P. R. COMMUMICATION AGE, Calcutta, December 1999 issue.)

[Translator’s note: This write up is a translation of an essay in Bengali by Rabindranath Tagore which he had written in mid-twenties. I read it decades back which was long lost in oblivion. Yet, this essay rang me a bell while I recently attended a function of the Sikhs at Delhi in celebration of the Tercentenary of Khalsa and also read a few publications there on this occasion where I noted the unqualified esteem of the Sikh community for Guru Govind Singh which is shared equally by the non-Sikhs as well, at least those who read about re-vitalization of the Sikh spirit under his leadership through a number of inspiring poems/essays of Tagore on the Sikhs and/or from other sources. Yet, in this essay Tagore has dispassionately compared Guru Govind Singh and Shivaji, particularly with Guru Nanak to highlight their slips from the broader humanism with which Nanak set his ball of Sikhism rolling. I am very much hopeful, my Sikh friends will take the critique of the Poet of their highly esteemed Guru Govind in its true spirit for an objective analysis of the Sikh history. It is notable that the Poet himself realizes that Guru Govind’s tailoring of Nanak’s liberalism was out of historical and social compulsions of that time. Yet, the Poet cannot help his disappointment with Sikhism having to discount the eternal human values propounded by Nanak where martial values had elbowed in, that also failing to assume an all India dimension in the Shivaji line while that too flopped for want of a strong national base. However, the remnants of Sikhism is still precious to us and had the Poet been among us, he would certainly be happy to note to-day’s endeavor for its preservation, as is being particularly notable in North India in 1999, the year of the said Trecentenary.]

The main difference of the Sikh history with the Marathas’ is that Shivaji, the leader of the latter launched his movement with the clear objective of establishing a Hindu sovereignty. His conquests, expansion of empire and elimination of enemies were all part of this all India master plan

On the other hand, the Sikh history started as one of spirituality. The liberty which Baba Nanak perceived was not of a statehood. The iconic religion confined with geographical limits, racial concepts and rituals to which the entire mankind does not have a right, was not Nanak’s. His heart was liberated of all such fetters and he dedicated his life preaching this spirit. Those who fell for it and accepted his baptism, were known as Sikh (a disciple). Irrespective of caste or creed everybody had a right to it. That a racial history would emerge out of Nanak’s followers, was not evident at the beginning.

But the brutal tortures of the Mughols congregated those disciples into an identifiable community. Putting a halt to their religious mission amidst the mass at large, they concentrated on self defence. The said external pressures resulted in their emergence as a cohered race.

The last Guru of the Sikhs dedicated himself particularly to this task. He felt the need of building up the Sikhs as a powerful race at the cost of Nanak’s concept of religious mission for humanity at large. Indeed this is not the task of a prophet but an army general’s, and/or politician’s. Guru Govind had these virtues. With his outstanding perseverance he converted his religious community into a martial one and vacated the seat of Guru. He upstaged Nanak’s perception of human liberty and stamped deep in the minds of his followers the urge for being relieved of all animosity around. No doubt this sparked up the Sikh might for a few moments in our history and that did generate high martial skill. But a lot of the capital with which Baba Nanak set them on their pilgrimage was spent up on this diversion with their objective lost/

The subsequent history is only of battles and territorial expansion. More the Mughol power was on the decline, more successful the Sikhs were, followed by increasing temptation for sovereign expansion.

So long the opponents are stronger, the motive for defence remains supreme which acts as the uniting force. As the external pressure eases out what can hold the arrogance of triumph? The martial power that builds up in the process of self defence, who can rein it then for self development instead of hurting others? For sake of short term need, Guru Govind put down that faculty which might have. Instead of Guru, he gifted the Sikhs sword. When he passed away, the supreme truth that Nanak preached got captive in Granth Sahib. No more it flowed through Guru legacy into the life stream for fruition among human society at large. It stagnated at a point.

Their power in this situation turned out to be a genie out of the bottle. Rampant became scramble and faction amidst which up rose Ranjit Singh. He held the Sikhs together for sometime but that was with muscle power alone. As he was the strongest, he could quell the rest.

He who unites by might, does it by mayhem. Besides, he accomplishes his task by crippling love which alone is the eternal foundation of unity. Ranjit Singh held firm all the Sikhs together by all trickery for his self interest. He did not inspire the Sikhs with any noble idea that might bind them even after he would pass away. He was an example of self dedication even based on rampant deceit. His greed was unbounded. His only credit was, he achieved whatever he had wanted. He controlled himself only where the British had dictated so. However, on the whole, he was successful. But nothing imperils one more than one’s success, while it obscures wisdom and boosts greed. It is then as good as suicidal. Nanak, the pioneer of Sikhism, is a bright example of failure. For that he had had enough reprimand from his merchant father. The setback in his salt trade at Nanak’s hand is well known. He was poor. But the inspiration which enabled the Jat peasants to slight all sufferings including death, and to grow into a mighty institution, was nourished by this poor hermit/

On the other hand, the Maharaja, who is an example of success, who suppressed all the enemies of the Sikhs undaunted by all adversities, eruption of whose fire set afire the evening sky of the setting sun of the Mughol empire at the advent of the rise of the British, what did he leave behind for the Sikhs? It was disunity, mistrust and lack of discipline.

Those in the forefront among the Sikhs, learnt from their ‘successful’ king that ‘might is right’. They did not learn sacrifice and modesty, they forgot the maxim – victory lies where holy principles do; that is- the spiritual power with which modest Nanak held them, the almighty king gutted it out resulting in extinction of the ‘Sikh’ star in the sky of human history after its brief glitter. To-day, the Sikhs have stagnated, reduced to a small community. No more they are growing; over a few centuries they did not gift mankind with a human Guru any more; they did not add any more to the man’s treasure of wisdom and spiritual dedications.

No doubt, Nanak’s disciples are competent warriors to-day. But I don’t think that sole glory of Nanak’s posterity was destined to be in their martial engagements in various parts of the globe as we find to-day (the Poet obviously refers to the periods of the world wars – Translator). Nanak’s dedication was not for their parades in the army barracks alone in the wide arena of humanism. (I am sure, the Poet would have been very happy to see how the Sikhs to-day are dominating the mainstream of our national life also, besides the army barracks, if he were among us. – Translator)

Nanak’s call to his disciples was to be free from self-centeredness, sectarian religion and spiritual numbness – to give the widest accomplishment to their humanism. Guru Govind moulded the Sikhs for a specific need and so that it does not slip into oblivion, he firmly stamped this need in their nomenclature and attire. Thus, he harnessed the Sikh’s strong current of humanism from diverse courses to a particular one. Thus, the Sikhs were caught in the mould of that specific need and of course attained solidarity.

When the Sikhs thus became ‘useful’ instead of being liberal humans, the powerful rulers utilized their skill toward their own end and till now such exploitation is going on. At Sparta, when Greece shrank its humanism for a particular purpose, it was indeed able to fight, but only upon pruning itself – as competence for battle is not man’s ultimate goal. There are a lot of such examples of man dwarfing his nobility for the immediate need and sacrifice of humans at the altar of the urge for shortsighted gain is going on. The icon thirsty of human blood may happen to be the society, state, religion or any other so called ‘cause’ that spoils human virtues with its mass hypnotism.

To me, the end of Sikh history seems sad. When the river with destination sea emerges from the snow white peak of lofty mountain only to be lost into a midway desert and loses its momentum forgetting its own music, that futility is tragic. Similarly, when the holy impulse founts from the devotees’ heart to fertile the earth with spirituality, it is sad it perverts into the mud crimson red with the soldiers’ blood, with its early glory no more left. The Sikh history had its slips, due to temptation of revenge or other narrow objectives, from a wider fulfillment in the field of humanism, neither had lesser success within national limits. The empire of Ranjit Singh was his exclusive. Govind Singh’s struggle with the Mughols was only of Sikh community. He could not transmit their resolution further beyond.

The difference of the Sikh history with the Marathas’ is notable here. Shivaji’s endeavour was not confined to a small community. His objective to liberate the Hindus and their religion from the Muslim tyranny was far flung unlike Guru Govind’s which remained confined among his disciples. No doubt, Shivaji’s goal was to rebuild the history of the entire Indian sub-continent. Guru Govind and Shivaji were more or less contemporaries while the liberalism of Akbar declined resulting in provocation by the Mughols of all non-Muslim religions and communities for a defensive stand.

All the internal and external shocks at that time sponsored a religious enterprise at various places in India. The turmoil in the Hindu religious life then crystallized around various saints, particularly in the Deccan, and had manifestation in various missions. Amidst this consciousness, stoked up by the torturous Aurengzeb, emergence of a hero like Shivaji to earn victory for India’s primeval religion was natural.

Again, in the west, the new inspiration of Sikhism overflowed the hearts of the Sikhs. That is why, the Mughol atrocities could not stifle it. On the contrary, it fanned up like a fire. Notwithstanding the identical external blows and the internal inspirations, their manifestations through Guru Govind and Shivaji were different in nature.

Guru Govind had many battles with the Mughols, but in a haphazard manner. Revenge and self-defence were their main objectives. [History records that Guru Govnd’s father iTeg Bahadur was put to death by Aurengzeb for his refusal to embrace Islam in 1675 A.D. His two sons were slain before his eyes in a battle. Govind’s determination to avenge these deaths was largely behind his relentless fight against the Mughols, as some historians observed which obviously misled Tagore. A quote from Dr. Trilochan Singh’s book ‘Hymns of Guru Teg Bahadur’ may take us nearer to truth –
“These historians fail to study Guru’s concept of martyrdom and of Saviour with the sword who is convinced that he is commissioned by God to establish righteousness, punish the wicked, chastise the tyrants, which also means that the Guru was determined never to use sword for revenge or aggression” – Translator]
But those of Shivaji were in logical steps, not for preposterous avenge, but far sighted for a colossal organization in right sequence. It was not manifestation of a communal emotion, but an enterprise for a great objective. [It is difficult to accept the Poet’s view that the Sikh;s worked for communal interest alone while their history is replete with examples coming as saviours of the Hindus also from Muslim atrocities – Translator].

Yet, both Sikh and Maratha history ended in similar futility. The reason for this is, an objective cannot be pervasive countrywide based on the dreams of a few. Shivaji could not link his heart with his countrymen’s. So, despite all his move, his intent could not come up as the entire country’s.

If the welfare meant for all cannot be established in their heart, but remains confined among few, it loses its character and turns into a menace for all. What was pure in Shivaji’s mind, became polluted by selfishness of the Peshwas. It could not be so had the communication channels of this ideal among the masses remained open. In that case the great inspiration would get its nourishment in its great receptacle, as the fire of a near extinguishing piece of wood may catch another for its flare up if placed in a stack.

Repeatedly we have noted in our country uprising of vitality only to lose its continuity. Great men come and pass away as the natural advantages to hold and nourish their inspirations are missing here. The reason for this is disunity. Wind borne seeds may drop on loose soil unable to hold manure and, thus, do not sprout there effectively. Our land has endless diversities, be it in our religion, deed, food, language or anywhere for that matter. That is why, floods of emotion pour down, but dry up in dreary sand; energy sparks up only to extinguish with a bit of smoke; notable endeavours do not become great ones; the great men pass away only glaring the incompetence of the mass.

As we compare the rise and fall of the Marathas and the Sikhs, it may be seen that the Sikhs once united on inspiration from a highly noble intent which brought a message of truth without any geographical or ritual confinement neither generated out of a momentary impulse, but is an eternal belonging to mankind at large, to broaden human rights, to liberate their soul, and to reckon where lies man’s fullest glory. At the magnanimous call of this liberal religion of Nanak, for several centuries the Sikh ideal expanded amidst various sufferings. Perception of such a religion amidst all their glorious ordeals, the Sikhs unwittingly laid down the foundation of a unity on a wide scale.

Guru Govind harnessed this spiritual unity of the Sikhs for the purpose of their task at hand. For their ephemeral need, he pruned down this spiritual unity with the goal of a statehood. He uprooted the caste system which stood on his way. Of course, he could do it as Nanak’s liberalism already eroded parochialism from the base which fell into pieces at the very first stroke of Guru Govind. Without this prior preparedness he would not be able to achieve it, however essential, neither this intent to dissolve this all futile divisiveness would shape up in his mind.

But Guru Govind, while strengthening unity, dethroned the very power (i.e. religiosity/ spirituality) which made it feasible, or at least, did coronate its rival partner (i.e. martial values), to corner the former. As a result, some immediate purposes were achieved, but what was advancing toward an absolute liberation, was stranded midway. The Sikhs were thick among themselves, but lost the momentum for the said advance. Their march for man’s ultimate glory halted at soldiery. There the Sikh history terminated.

The objective to which Shivaji dedicated himself was not ephemeral, for which the influence of religious Gurus at Deccan already prepared a ground. So, his inspiration could percolate down the entire Maratha race.

A pot with holes cannot hold water though for a while it may be overflowing. Our society is full of holes, incapable of holding great ideals, resulting in abundance of lifeless parched rituals. In his contemporary Maratha/ Hindu populace Shivaji introduced an inspiration powerful enough to keep its momentum for sometime. But he failed to solidify its receptacle, rather did not even attempt it. He set sail in the stormy sea with his leaky vessel, as its need was imminent. In fact, he wanted these very leaks across. The Hindu society which he aimed to win over the Mughol invasion, ritualistic cracks were at the base of it, which he aimed to turn triumphant in India. Shivaji never stood on any ideal which might heal up all these basic disintegration. His grievance that his own religion was being raped by external forces was natural, but to capitalize that alone to turn his religion as the victor all over India was bound to be futile, as it was being ruptured from within, continuously splitting and insulating man. He never looked inward to realize this menace but took itself as our holy religion. It is beyond man to establish sovereignty of such a fragmented monastic order in such a vast country like India as it cannot be any divine design. A nation merely infuriated by external blows cannot be great or victorious so long it is not conscious of the prudence of unity and its power will not motivate it, at heart and externally also, for an integration on a great ideal. Until then, no external blow, neither the personality or valor of any talent can make it compact or vivacious.

[Publication of this essay of Tagore at this time will be quite relevant to the Tercentenary of Khalsa movement this year – Editor, P. R. COMMUNICATION AGE]

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Indian story


"Rather, it is corrosive, debilitating corruption, which runs through all levels of society from the lowest to the highest, and creates a massive barrier to the deployment of foreign capital and the development of efficient markets. Yet it is an issue few Indian business and political leaders are prepared to even talk about let alone confront."
Read The Indepenednt
India: where the credit crisis is but distant thunder - Independent Online Edition > Business Analysis & Features

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Peaceful Iran?

Iran War a non-starter?

ND Batra

The rhetoric of war against Iran has become muted. The hawks are in disarray. US Vice-President Mr Dick Cheney has been boxed and shoved into a corner for now.

Democrat and Republican presidential candidates are scrambling to come up with new policy postures toward Iran, whom they continue to regard as an unfriendly country, albeit not an evil one, that could provoke World War III, as President George W Bush warned in October.Europeans who have been reluctantly cooperating with the USA are baffled by the revelations. Russia and China are hastening to go back to their cozy commercial relations with Iran. India says its stand that the Iran nuclear issue should be handled by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and not by the UN Security Council has been vindicated.

This is a rare example of how information put together as a well-constructed report free from political bias can change overnight the mindset of almost an entire nation. What happened to the Intelligence community’s earlier conclusions that Iran was in the advanced stages of highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons? Perhaps, Intelligence became smarter and developed new insights.

The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), a report based on the findings of the 16 agencies of the US Intelligence community, has concluded “with a high level of confidence” in its report released last week that Iran is not engaged in the development of nuclear weapons today. Teheran halted its nuclear weapons programme in 2003, though it continues pursuing nuclear energy development for civilian energy purposes. What a relief! But what happened? Several factors such as the US invasion of Iraq and the subsequent chaos and destruction of the country, Libya’s giving up of its nuclear weapons development programme under US and UK pressures, the dismantling of Pakistan’s clandestine nuclear bazaar operated by AQ Khan from which Iran had benefited, and the rising drumbeat of the Axis of Evil might have persuaded Iran to reconsider its options and so it decided to freeze its programme.

There is no doubt that Iran has the necessary scientific, technological and industrial base and knowledge to make nuclear bombs. Suspending the programme does not mean, however, that Iran has altogether given up its intention to build a nuclear arsenal in the pursuit of its strategic interests in the region. At least for the time being, it is not doing it.

The report says, “Our assessment that Iran halted the programme in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure indicates Teheran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach, rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs.” Of course, the national interest calculus includes both short and long term cost-benefit analyses. And Iran taking into account the ruthless determination of the Bush administration that it displayed in the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq might have thought it to be unwise to continue with its nuclear weapons programme.

But the US Intelligence community did not know about Iran’s suspension of its nuclear programme; nor was it convinced about the regime’s protestations that it is pursuing nuclear development only for civilian uses.

That explains perhaps why the 2005 Intelligence estimate said: “Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons despite its international obligations and international pressure.” The 2005 report gave the Bush administration the rationale for persuading its European allies as well as Russia and China to impose effective sanctions on Iran. The latest Intelligence report, which was commissioned by the Democrat-controlled Congress, is said to have used more rigorous methods of Intelligence gathering and analysis so that the previous Intelligence fiasco regarding Iraq’s development of weapons of mass destruction should not be repeated. Faulty Intelligence in the hands of a frightened nation, as the USA had become after 9/11, can have terrible global consequences.

In 2002, accurate and reliable Intelligence about Iraq might have persuaded the USA to adopt some other method of dealing with Saddam Hussein. The new Intelligence report, which contradicts the previous alarming findings about Iran’s intentions, buttresses the arguments of non-hawkish Americans, Republicans and Democrats, who believe that concerted international diplomacy would work.The report recommends that “some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressure, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways, might ~ if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible ~ prompt Teheran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons programme”.

According to the IAEA, Iran continues to operate 3,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium for civilian nuclear energy purposes, which could give it enough fissile material to produce nuclear weapons in less than a decade if its intentions change and it can get away with international scrutiny and pressure. With the long-range Ashoura and Shahab series, Iran has a well developed ballistic missile development programme.With its immense oil and natural gas resources and nuclear capabilities, Iran is a significant power in the region. But no single power should be allowed to dominate the Gulf region through which millions of barrels of oil flow every day.

Now that war is off the table, dealing with Iran’s geopolitical ambitions becomes a great diplomatic challenge not only for the next US administration but also for the international community. As French President Mr Nicolas Sarkozy said after the NIE report was released, “The threat exists”.

Engaging Iran at multiple levels will open up this ancient civilisation. The next US President should take the first step in this direction.

(ND Batra teaches communications and diplomacy at Norwich University, USA)

Monday, December 10, 2007

China censorship

Kathrin Hille of Financial Times says:

"Ang Lee has acknowledged that he edited his latest film for political reasons to allow it to be shown in China. The award-winning Taiwanese director said he changed the dialogue at the climax of Lust, Caution, which won the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival this year, to accommodate Chinese censors’ requests that the female lead’s patriotic character should not be compromised."
Read more: / Asia-Pacific / China - Taiwan director bowed to China censors

Muslim Women in India Seek Secular Justice

Muslim Women in India Seek Secular Justice

Aditi Bhaduri says:
"After years of silence, Muslim women in India are loudly battling repressive religious laws. The case of one semi-literate woman, a survivor of rape, ignited their cause. Second in a series on the changing role of women in India."

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Merchant of Arabia

Uncle Sam and the merchant of Arabia

From The Statesman
ND Batra

With the rise of crude oil to $90-100 a barrel, the camel is overloaded with the greenback. And there is no better place for the Arab merchant to unload his petrodollars than to lend it Americans who juggle their daily lives between credit cards and debit cards, home equity loans and foreclosures. But it is not only the Joe Six-pack who is in trouble. His lenders too are sleepless.

Like other American financial institutions, Citigroup, the global financial giant, has been reeling under billions of dollars mortgage-and-subprime related losses. The Citigroup board, instead of responding to merger overtures from other financial institutions, went in search of Arab petrodollars and obtained $7.5 billion cash flow from the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, the government’s sovereign wealth fund, for a 4.9 per cent equity stake plus 11 per cent annual interest rate, making it one of the biggest investors in the bank.In this age of globalisation, you might say, so what?

Not everyone seems to be happy about the Citigroup deal with the Arab merchant. In an editorial titled “Citi of Arabia”, The Wall Street Journal wrote: “We hate to spoil the party, but it strikes us as unfortunate, if not a tragedy, that America’s largest bank had to go hat in hand to the Arab sheikhs because of bad management and blundering US monetary policy.” Many transnational corporations and international businesses try to develop an early awareness system, which picks up weak signals that might become a raging storm later. An early awareness system helps prepare a company to nip the evil in the bud. But American financial institutions did not foresee any sign of trouble.

Nobody understood what havoc subprime lending might create.Nor does anybody fully understand how the global wealth is shifting to other regions. Irwin Stelzer, director of economic policy studies at the Hudson Institute wrote in Times Online: “The world has changed. Wealth has moved into new hands. Morgan Stanley estimates that the world’s sovereign wealth funds hold some $2.5 trillion in assets, more than the global hedge-fund industry.And they are adding about $500 billion to their assets every year. One Goldman Sachs banker told me that until recently he had never been to West Asia; now he makes several trips each month.”

The widespread hostility against globalisation is unfortunately prevalent in the USA. In the Internet age, there is a tremendous mobility of factors from foreign direct investment to job outsourcing to state-controlled sovereign wealth funds equity investment. In this sense the world, instead of becoming flat as The New York Times columnist Tom Friedman believes, is rather developing peaks and valleys, dungeons and dragons. The fear of “MacDonaldisation” is being replaced by the fear of secretive Arab and Chinese sovereign wealth funds and state-controlled companies nibbling at American assets, which are becoming cheaper to acquire, thanks to the fall of the dollar.

The Arabs own 10 per cent of Citigroup and their voice will eventually be heard in the boardroom. Recently, Dubai and Abu Dhabi made significant investments in Advanced Micro Devices, a leading semiconductor company that handles many defence contracts. Globalisation is a dynamic process of creating interdependencies in economics, international trade and culture, and is likely to create instabilities. It is much more than bilateralism because a country has to be opened to the flow of influences from all around.Transnational corporations stride the world like a colossus. Their business depends upon their reputation, which makes them extremely vulnerable not only to the government of the host country but also to the news over which the government has no control, especially in a democratic society.

In authoritarian countries, where the news media is controlled by the government, transnational corporations have a much easier time doing business. That is one of the most important reasons transnational corporations find it easy to do business in China.They have to deal with one authority, that of the central government. They don’t have to deal with environmental degradation, oil spills and uprooting of people without compensation to build new buildings. The news media plays no part and international NGOs have no say. And for the same reason, when a state-controlled Chinese company or an Arab sovereign wealth fund buys American assets, Americans become paranoid because of the lack of transparency.

The government’s impact upon economic activities is limited because in the global village there are so many actors, and the government cannot control all of them. Government has limited control over the mobility of capital. Key instruments of monetary and fiscal policy, exchange rates and import barriers are not totally under government control. Globalisation creates comparative choices and highlights inefficiencies both in the government and corporations. But just as governments are constrained by forces beyond their control, so are transnational corporations.

Microsoft had to face anti-trust regulations both in the USA and the European Union. Similar controls might have to be applied to secretive sovereign wealth funds if they seek to buy assets in the USA and other open societies. A case in point is the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), which explains why Americans are worried about the merchant of Arabia. In 1991, BCCI was found by regulators in the USA and the UK to have been involved in arms dealing, money laundering, bribery, support of terrorism, tax evasion, smuggling, illegal immigration and the sale of nuclear technologies. The Emir of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the father of the present ruler, controlled the bank, which was closed after the investigation.

In this environment, corporate diplomacy is imperative. International corporations and sovereign wealth funds must become culturally attractive to host country publics. Unless sovereign wealth funds from West Asia and state-controlled global companies from the Middle Kingdom become transparent and publicly accountable, they must be watched and scrutinised.

(ND Batra is professor of communications and diplomacy at Norwich University, Vermont.)