Friday, July 29, 2005

The entire route that I usually take to office had been converted into a beeline of cops over the past two days. Gurgaon perhaps witnessed one of its bloodiest scenes of violence and that too in the full gaze of national television- which for want of better and more sensational news- was running a hysterical live commentary of the unfortunate incidents that had rocked this city-cum-town-cum-village.

In what seemed like a shocking take from the Ben Kingsley starrer- ‘Gandhi, policemen of independent, sovereign, socialist, secular republic of India resorted to a shameless act, which bore similarity to their colonial predecessors. I am no communist, in fact have been proud to be a communist baiter for long, as I find the geriatric bunch as one of hypocrites ridden with self contradictions that they try to fight off and justify with their high sounding ideologies. But then the shocking scenes on TV of a group of thousands of unarmed workers of a multinational company being beaten to pulp in the broad daylight by the very ‘custodians’ of the law, could rattle even a rightist like me!

The issue brings into sharp focus the age-old problem of labor reforms and also how little our political parties (especially the Left) and the trade unions have done for this segment of society whose cause they claim to espouse. Going without food and a salary was bad enough for these retrenched workers, but having the living daylights beaten out of them was medieval. Shouldn’t it run a chill down the spine of every concerned citizen that the very administration and the very government which was voted to power a few months ago, begging at the doorsteps of similar individuals, could get so high headed in such a short span? Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely!

It was similar scenes that I had witnessed many years back as a summer trainee for two months in one of India’s hitherto finest electrical companies. NGEF- New government electric factory- on the busy Old Madras Road of Bangalore was one of the pioneers of electrical machinery in the country…the motors and transformers from NGEF would make their way all over the country- both governmental clients as well as industrial and consumer. But with Liberalization and the entry of Japanese companies who could manufacture the same faster and at cheaper costs, NGEF was fighting a losing battle; it was dying part by part and there was absolutely no support that either the Central or Karnataka government gave to sustain its cash cow. All they could do was retrench a couple of workers, then cut down the scale of operations, then hold back the salaries of many workers, cost-cutting methods of scrapping the lunch that was served at a subsidized basis to the employees, a partial lock out, a declaration of BIFR status and finally! The flood gates opened…there was a massive protest by the workers who had kept quiet for long…it was mayhem on the sprawling NGEF campus on the day which was incidentally my last day there…amidst stone throwing and lathi charge and tear gas and a huge police security I somehow found myself out of the place. But then the issue I heard got from bad to worse…the government decided to sell NGEF off, but sadly there were no buyers…I really shudder to even think about what the current situation there is, except that there is a huge ‘CLOSED’ board that hangs outside the premises!

Faulty policies like these where we barter our own assets at the altar of liberalization, where we show more empathy to the white man who has set the shop than our own dark skinned fellow countrymen who are slogging there day in and out and then react in the way that the Haryana police did with the Honda workers is what keeps alive a defunct ideology like communism in India…the rabble rousers at least appear to sympathize with their cause which makes the workers rally around them…else, with the “god that failed” post Glasnost and Perestroika and one that has radically changed in China wouldn’t have the temerity to hold on to its 1920’s ideology in Bengal and Kerala. Its so easy for them to get away with speeches on Democracy and human rights despite their own precedents in Stalin’s USSR and their opposition to the freedom movement or Indian retaliation of the Chinese aggression in 1962. well, India is truly a tragic comedy of errors!

Just hours after our TV crews went beserk running behind every soul and mongrel that roamed around Gurgaon, Mumbai happened—the floods that torrential rains brought about and the fire at Bombay High and presto! They conveniently forgot good old Gurgaon and its sad workers! Political parties made the right noises for one day, stalled Parliament, screamed their lungs off till they were gasping for breath, called for a Gurgaon bandh, made life hell for commoners like me—but at the end of it no one really cares…neither the governments of the day, nor the opposition, nor the media and of course the ever passive Indian milieu. Nothing concerns us till it happens in our backyard and affects us directly. As a nation, we’ve simply lost the sense of nationalism and responsibility.

Unless a strong public opinion build up against such behavior by the administration that goes against the wishes and interests of our own countrymen (is there any country in the world where the rulers jeopardize the interests of their own people?), unless we ‘educated’ Indians give up our apathy and indifference and a fatalistic attitude of ‘nothing-can-change-this-wretched-country’ the pathetic condition of the workers would continue. many of them have had multiple injuries in sensitive parts of their bodies and with zero medical aid things would only get worse; probes and commissions would be ordered, more mud slinging, more media wars, more empowerment of the leftists and of course the ubiquitous short public memory that India can so proudly flaunt!

I am sure none of us have learnt anything from the Black Monday at Gurgaon!

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Its been a 40 day roller coaster ride to say the least...at the end of it I am supposed to have got ‘trained'...the formal training process ends today and we are left open to the wolves of the 'big bad world of business' from tomorrow! The comforts of passive participation; of being just able to sit back and attempt to absorb some of the information overflow ceases today and one is expected to apply all that we went through in the past few weeks to actual business!

But all said and done, with all my characteristic cynicism in place, I must say, its been a huge learning experience for me personally…these 6 odd weeks have made me a much more saner person…the different stints through the training saw us lugging through the rougher terrains of northern India and actually ‘feel the pulse’ of the customer…"Customer is king" and all the other clap trap that B-school grads like me are usually fed with evanesces! Its an all together different ball game to be there in the field either luring the customer to buy your product (tougher when its an intangible financial service!) or showing him the stick to repay when he goes delinquent!

Through these weeks I met scores of people from myriad walks of life; all diverse individuals all operating within their own domains and constraints…from the Global Risk Officer Ray Duggins to the CEO Vishal Pandit, the other members of the top management including the CFO’s, CIO’s, VP’s AVP’s and the rest to countless sales managers, DSA’s (Direct sales agents) who lug it in the field trying to sell products to people entering data in the Ops shop floor to the brash Collector who threatens the customer to pay back promptly…just went to show that the job of a matrc pass who fed data from teh application forms was as critical to the process flow as perhaps the CEO's!! images also flash of the numerous faces of the ‘Indian customer’ I encountered---there was a dream in each eye, an aspiration for a better existence and since money is one of the most important means to get you there, all of them invariably wanted loans (of course at low interest rates!)…it was equally fun going on bikes to places like Ghaziabad, Ballabhgarh, Faridabad etc which I hitherto wouldn’t have dreamt of making a trip to! All this in either the sweltering northern heat or the erratic monsoon showers drenched from head to toe! Its been equally interesting learning about the entire gamut of the Retail finance business in India- be it Credit cards or the loan spectrum covering home, personal, auto, two wheeler, consumer durable and a plethora of other loans; what competition does, the finance dynamics and the profit considerations that go behind the same---a huge disconnect from what I was fed at in B School!

So on the threshold of a new phase, its both apprehension and excitement that engulfs me now…the task seems as daunting and challenging but at the same time quite intellectually stimulating…all I can do is to keep fingers crossed and look at each passing day as a new challenge, a new opportunity for growth, for learning!

I seriously do have miles to go before I sleep!