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More than a few Rupees less

Presently in India, the buzz is about e-retailers such as Flipkart, Amazon.in, Snapdeal, Jabong, Infibeam and many more backed by funders who believe the sure shot route to making more money in the future is by making more losses right now. A few years back there was a similar buzz about airlines in the country. A ticket to Goa was cheaper than taxi fare to the airport.

Most airlines, except Indigo that sells sandwiches at 500% profit mid air, continue to make massive losses. Kingfisher has gone bust. The e-retail mantra is simple, followed by a host of others who have not survived in business — sell cheap, whatever may be the cost, even if the seller goes bust and sinks in a heap of too many goods sold at a discount.

Ultimately, profits will be made as others hopefully will sink earlier. Try to peddle the concept to an Indian housewife, for centuries the most efficient and thrifty global money managers, without splurging on a MBA degree. She will tell you to take an early morning walk in the park to clear your head.

Or assume you have watched Hrithik Roshan’s Bang Bang to momentarily lose your mental bearings after watching such gibberish. The Indian housewife deserves respect — remember she has never gone bust like Lehman Brothers or Vijay Mallya. Until most e-retailers collapse, merge, are acquired or in the very unlikely event of the Indian housewife model of money management being proved wrong, the consumers are having a ball.

Acche Din has already arrived for online buyers, without being promised by the Modi government that is trying hard to deliver similar utopia for the rest of India by creating smart cities with the help of people such as Mark Zukerberg. I Like that.

The list of essentials I buy online has grown manifold over time – from clothes, CD’s, books, shoes to TV, printer, computer, furniture, mobile phone and more. Apart from the money saved, several hassles of usual urban Indian living are conveniently avoided – pollution, road rage, potholed roads, no parking space, traffic jams, fuel costs, among other encumbrances.

I have to drop my kids to school though. No way to e-scape that process. Given the current e-brouhaha, including the Flipkart Big Billon Day sale that crashed before it could be launched resulting in an apology from the bright promoters that sounded like another marketing gimmick, my current state can be described as couch potato cum online purchaser. I watch TV as I e-shop, just as I watch NDTV news on the tread mill, Whatsapp while I work and SMS as I drive.

The future generation is doing better or worse, depending on the way you look at it. My elder daughter, chats, Whatsapps, FB’s, SMS’s and watches Youtube videos while doing her Math homework. Her mom is obviously hysterically paranoid by the developments. No doubt, e-retail is spreading and percolating. The other day our maid told me to order a new cell phone online for her, selling a thousand bucks cheaper than the local market rate.

Adept at using her mobile phone, she is saving up to buy a computer so she can shop on her own, plus listen to music and watch movies. TV serials are passé. Everybody wants to join the e-party except offline retailers, a very powerful and influential group, who are predictably very upset due to loss of business. They have earned their unhappiness the hard way.

After winning a long and bitter battle to prevent international multi-brand majors such as Walmart and Tesco setting up shop in India, the e-retail Tsunami threatens to sweep them away. I believe some of them have complained to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that his “Swachh Bharat” campaign will quickly turn murky if they are not saved from the e-carnage.

“What is the use of cleaning our shops when nobody is going to be visiting us,” some have Tweeted and e-mailed to the PM. Modi, as the country knows by now, reads mails and Tweets in the morning, unlike earlier PM’s like Nehru who read newspapers. I have heard that Manmohan Singh read the papers till late afternoon as there was nothing else to do.

The Indian Kirana store owners are smart though, which is expected. There is no bigger MBA lesson than negotiating with hard-bargaining to the last lemon or onion housewife. The mom & pop store keepers have been quick to sense the price arbitrage opportunity.

Many, I believe are ordering online to stock up their stores. Nobody doubts that the e-commerce boom is here to stay. Competition will weed the right business model I am sure. In the meantime, while shopping and watching TV I have been contemplating an e-start up. First up, I need to find a garage, preferably online. Then, I will hire a housewife. That way, I will never go bust.

(Check out my novel An Offbeat Story)

Modi Scores in America

Over-the-top Overseas Indians, an Orgasmic Indian media that swarmed New York and Washington, a slightly jaded Obama does not sum up the whole of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s official visit cum victory rally to America. They played their part even as a fasting but furiously paced Modi delivered his demand, demographic dividend, democracy message to his delirious, diehard Non-Resident Indian (NRI), Indian American, Person of Indian Origin (PIO), Overseas Indian fans and followers that like to keep their India connection alive by watching Karan Johar movies, Zee TV serials, consuming Kadi or Rajma Chawal and lately watching Modi on Times Square.

Post-listening to so many Modi speeches do pardon my use of alliterations. It is becoming a hopeful habit. There must be a well paid Modi speech writer tasked with the job, somewhere, someplace. Maybe, I am heard and hired. The NRI’s lustily cheered Modi at Madison Square Garden or MSG that my computer automatically reads as MSD when I begin to key in MS. For ladies who do not follow cricket but have been watching Imran Khan’s sit in against Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan, MSD stands for MS Dhoni, India’s cricket captain. At MSG, the audience clapped when Modi walked in, spoke and paused. It did not matter what he said, whether it was Mohanlal or Mohandas or took a water break between other strict only water breaks due to a nine day Navratra fast, which is a considerable achievement, given the abundance of gourmet cuisine all around.

Modi attended banquets in his honor. Anybody could have cheated big time whether the Gods above cursed or not. Try skipping one meal. My voice begins to echo inside my head. Witnessing Modi’s endless energy without food, I believe even President Obama is convinced it maybe be a better idea to do Yoga than play basketball, exercise with dumbbells or brisk walk to a Starbucks close to White House to keep fit. Hugh Jackman was there at MSG. For what, I don’t know.

Even Modi or his speech writers thought he was a Star Wars hero – May the Force be with you is what Modi said with Jackman by his side and the crowd clapped even more. Maybe Hugh has an Indian connection that I do not know about or maybe he had not heard of Modi till a day before, just like Maria Sharapova still does not know who Sachin Tendukar is, even though the great cricketer has probably broken another world record of continuing to endorse the highest number of brands as a retired sportsman. The other day I bought Luminous Inverter batteries.

They have Sachin’s pictures on the sides. Modi was treated like a Rock Star wherever he went. Over the recent past I have witnessed such extreme adulation only from an audience watching a script less Salman Khan film. The viewers laugh at a non-funny joke as Salman has cracked it. The heroine is already in love with Salman before she falls in love with him. The villain dies happily as he is in the same frame as Salman. Modi may not have ushered in a new era in Indo-US relations, which is an ongoing process of collaboration, conflict and consensus — in defense, renewable energy, shale gas or conversely sparring at the WTO or on intellectual property rights.

The visit certainly is a benchmark on how future visits of an Indian PM to America will need to be handled. The new PM has to make sure the economically and patriotically significant Indians abroad are energized, entertained and evoked. Small changes such as the easing of visa norms for PIO’s can make a big difference. The official trip needs to happen within a few months of the new PM coming to power so that the MSG address is an extension of a victory rally in Benaras or any other location in India within the state of Uttar Pradesh. UP is important.

The new PM needs to command a majority in Parliament which cannot be achieved without winning UP with 80 seats in Parliament and beating Mayawati. Anybody who can whip any one of the three grand ladies of Indian politics – Mamata, Mayawati and the jailed, yet still powerful, Jayalalithaa deserves to be PM of India. The new PM cannot be a compromise coalition head like IK Gujral, Deve Gowda or a proxy candidate of the Gandhi family such as Manmohan Singh.

It is unlikely that a feverish India flag waving audience would turn up to listen to an Indian PM who is not an outright winner, barring few officials from both counties and beat correspondents, as part of their daily duty. I do hope the media is treated better though. It was heart rending to witness the strong Indian media contingent struggle for some form of official recognition. They operated from hotel balconies, pizza corners, Indian eateries, Central Park, entrances, exits and footpaths.

Rajdeep Sardesai got roughed up. Right wing fringe Indians believe in violence, rich or poor, whether in India or USA. With Modi’s final victory lap over in USA, hopefully his government will settle down to the tough task of re-building India, heralding acche din for one and all.

Check out my novel An Offbeat Story

Not too much cleavage

Yes, I am a man. I like to look at breasts and cleavage! You got a problem!!?? I am also a gentleman. I do not stare at women in real life, though I do appreciate beauty when she passes by. I do not pass lewd comments. I do not misbehave. I am not rude, but do not mind a conversation should there be such an occasion – anywhere, coffee shop, beach, airport.

I do try and open the door for a lady, though I often forget, that annoys my wife the most. However, in the privacy of my computer at home I do like to look at women, the way any man sometimes likes to gaze at a woman, Deepika Padukone included.

I like to glare at others too. High on my current hot list are Sunny Leone. “Baby Doll” continues to top the charts of my most played videos. I like Shraddha Kapoor and Anushka Sharma. I have liked Kareena Kapoor and Aishwarya Rai in the past; Pamela Anderson and Cameron Diaz.

I believe this is normal as any number of scientific studies and research has proven, just as it is routine to watch cricket clips involving cricketers such as Sachin Tendulkar taking on top bowlers around the world. Both are pleasurable experiences, appealing to different sensory parts of the body and mind.

When I was a lot younger, my mother used to worry that I had too many friends who were guys. I think she was relieved when she discovered some smutty magazines in my room though she did pretend to be angry when she found them.

Later on in life, my father worried that I had too many friends who were girls. Currently, my wife believes I love gadgets and TV news more than her. That’s the cycle of life.

I do sympathize with Padukone. The last time I felt sorry for her was when she chose Siddharth Mallya as her boyfriend after she broke up with Ranbir Kapoor. Relationships on the rebound are always tricky. Thankfully, Mallya is history though I wish Kingfisher Airlines was not. Their service on the domestic circuit, including the air hostesses, was unmatched.

Playing up DP’s breasts and cleavage by a leading media house was in bad taste, a violation, like a lewd comment. It is always the prerogative of the woman to say that she feels violated and for others to have the sense to back off. For most of us so inclined, there is plenty of DP on display in Finding Fanny that she has been promoting and prompted the latest unwanted attention on her.

She looks simple and ethereal. Goa’s lush landscape and her low cut short dress form part of the natural setting. As a matter of fact, the cat that dies and her cleavage are the two constants in the movie, from beginning to end. The film is average and has been highly overrated.

It is not in the league of Queen or Lunch Box, despite the best efforts of the strong cast, the two C’s and a kiss. Following the latest controversy, should we expect that the cameras and larger media, including mainstream publications with powerful online presence, focusing on the contours of Padukone’s body and other gorgeous actresses like her, are going to step back? It is unlikely.

The paparazzi in India and other parts of the world know too well privacy laws and how to circumvent it. Capturing DP’s cleavage or Kate Middleton’s bums or underwear, are always going fetch a premium price. There is a real market out there, not overhyped valuations like that of e-commerce companies, of perfectly normal men and unfortunately some abnormal men too, who like to observe women closely from their private confines.

There is no problem with this. However, it is important for any society to ruthlessly act against perpetrators of crime such as acid attacks, rape or domestic violence, against women.

It is also important for enabled women such as Padukone to remind us about boundaries and dividing lines, not strictly defined in the legal sense that should not be crossed. The show, however, must go on. It will be a bigger catastrophe if it does not.

This can only happen when women are forced to cover up. This happens tragically in many countries and often in India also due to threats and abuse by right wing fringe elements and some politicians espousing distorted views about the way women should behave, dress, talk and work. That is none of their business.

(Check out my novel An Offbeat Story)

100 days of Modi sarkar

There have generally been two views about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 100 days in office. There is a third category that weighs any government’s performance only by the way the stock market is headed. Helped by encouraging GDP figures, they are obviously very happy due to the massive capital gains since Modi took over. Going by their assessment Modi is the biggest bull since Harshad Mehta caused the sensex to sky rocket albeit by subterfuge.

The Mod-baiters see undeniable evidence their forebodings and fears are turning out to be true – that he is a despot, a majoritarian, worse a fascist who will destroy institutions and usurp all power to himself and his band of loyal followers. For them “burre din” under Modi is imminent.

Like suspicious lovers, they see signals of Modi government’s deceit and divisive politics everywhere – tinkering with independence of judiciary, isolating media, disbanding Planning Commission, dubious role of BJP in reviving communal tensions in Uttar Pradesh, playing up Love Jihad to malign Muslims, replacing governors, among other moves.

The Modi-doubters say the truly evil and communally polarized politics of Modi will be starkly visible when (not if) his government fails to deliver on the twin empty promises that secured him the massive electoral mandate this summer — governance and economic growth.

And, the latest move that cements distrust is the diktat to schools that made it mandatory for students to listen to “Masterji Modi’s” address on Teacher’s Day, though most agree it was an apolitical and healthy interaction. The skeptics, however, see gloom – possibility of military conscription, disbanding of English medium schools and sprouting of more RSS shakhas to misguide the youth. To be honest, why Modi chose to address children on Teacher’s Day, especially after the riveting Independence Day speech, still remains a mystery to me? What’s going to happen on Children’s Day in November, I don’t know? Will he address the teachers?

Moving on from the doubters, are those that believe the Modi government is laying a stable foundation for the good days or “acche din,” as promised. The Prime Minister himself leads by example as the hardest working member in the establishment, unlike part time politician Rahul Gandhi and not permitted to work previous incumbent Manmohan Singh.

Most agree election campaigns, including Modi’s, like Bollywood movies, did sell a dream, that is impossible to achieve overnight. Only Salman Khan in the North and Rajnikant in the South can be super heroes both in real and reel life. Only Hrithik Roshan can make men stare at his body instead of Katrina Kaif’s, in their latest movie together.

Change in a diverse and huge country such as India cannot happen overnight and 100-days are too short for an overhaul, unless we incorporate the Chinese growth model of acquire, uproot and build. This is not possible in a democracy such as India where no government can afford to ignore social and financial inclusion efforts such as the Jan Dhan Yojna.

In cricket parlance, Modi’s first hundred days as PM has been compared to sedate, yet solid start to a Test innings fabricated ball by ball which would ultimately lead to a climax more exciting than any T-20 game. Modi and India will ultimately emerge victorious, despite Virat Kohli walking back to the pavilion before reaching the pitch.

There have been firm attempts to put the economy back on track. Rather than big ticket policy changes, the focus is on implementing and clearing projects valued billions of dollars that have been on hold due to lack of government clearances. Foreign policy has been a big plus.

It was correct decision to cancel the foreign secretary level talks with Pakistan. Islamabad has no business talking to Kashmiri separatist leaders who are not part of the political mainstream in the state and stoke up anti-India passions. There have been efforts to streamline official processes. For a change the unwieldy and unyielding bureaucracy is under pressure to deliver.

Officials are expected to be on time for work and keep their office clean. This is an achievement, which also underscores the rot that the Modi government needs to set right. No wonder, the “acche din” is going to take some time coming, but it will. In balance, I would say that the country has been well served by Modi so far.

For a change, the government does give the impression of working hard for the betterment of the people cutting across the social and economic spectrums. For the country overall, Modi has been a risk worth taking, given the incompetence, corruption, crony capitalism, indecision, listlessness of the previous Manmohan government.

There are going to be right, wrong, debatable decisions. But, at least well intentioned decisions are being taken, for a change. Perhaps, India does need a dose of an efficient autocrat, a no nonsense CEO working within a democratic framework to get things moving. Modi has played the role well so far.

(Check out my novel An Offbeat Story)

Siding with Sachin Tendulkar

There has been some talk about Sachin Tendulkar not attending Parliament as nominated member of the Rajya Sabha. In my view, the right place for Sachin is back in the India T20 side masquerading as a Test team in the recently concluded series in England. Despite his age Sachin would have scored more than Kohli, Pujara, Gambhir, Vijay, Rahane, Dhawan put together.

Just as Rahul Dravid would have played more deliveries in one innings than the entire team minus MS Dhoni and Bhuvneshwar Kumar for the full five match series.

Tendulkar has been pulled up by MPs and the media like a school kid is reprimanded for bunking classes or a coach pulls up his wards for slackening during training. And, we all know that a lot of our media and MP’s are not exactly paragons of virtue or exemplary behavior in their personal or professional lives.

Indian media is robust and aggressive and integral to defining us as a democracy, albeit a shrieking one, but has its limitations, corporate and political biases that need not be spelled out here.

Our MP’s are not very inspiring either. Parliament has been hardly allowed to function for months, years, while our exalted representatives enjoy perks and privileges that are billed to the tax payer who now hope that Modi will deliver on his “Acche Din” promise soon – Roti, Kapda, Makaan and Toilets. No doubt, our basic basket of necessities has evolved, courtesy Modi.

The MPs, meanwhile are asking for another round of salary hikes. Is there any organization anywhere in the world that would pay employees salaries for not attending office? Rather, the employees do manage to reach office, scream at the top of their voices, go home and relax. And, get paid handsomely for the efforts. I am a big fan of Sachin, like millions others.

I do not have a problem if he is awarded the Bharat Ratna as he deserves it. Others, long dead or still alive, Lord Ram and Jesus Christ may merit it as well, but that does not in any way make Sachin ineligible for the award. I do not have a problem if Maria Sharapova has not heard of Sachin as I am very interested in watching the astonishingly pretty tennis player, not her views.

I do not have a problem if our cricketers travel with their wives or girlfriend even if she happens to be the very pretty Anushka Sharma. Given their massive celebrity status, Indian cricketers can be enticed by a million other distractions. Blame lack of technique on seaming English conditions and James Anderson for Kohli’s lack of runs. Girlfriends do not win matches or lose them.

Did anybody blame Irina Shayk when Portugal was knocked out of the soccer World Cup? Portugal was just a bad team and there is only so much that Ronaldo could do. I do have a problem with the kind of money our cricketers make especially after they are thrashed the way they were in England.

I do not have a problem if Sachin does not attend Parliament, despite being a MP. I believe India’s biggest cricketing icon is above reproach and cannot be measured by yardsticks reserved for lesser mortals like us. I believe Sachin has earned the stature over the years as an unmatched world record breaking gentleman cricketer without a whiff of scandal.

It is true that democracy entitles us to freedom of expression. But, it also bestows upon us to act as responsible citizens, except on Facebook. Yet, I want to re-iterate — please do not send me any more Candy Crush requests or Tag me in a photo in which I am not there.

For those who have followed Sachin’s personal and career graph over decades, it can be safely presumed the Master Blaster is not one to allow even a hint of dissonance and criticism to rest for too long. Sachin makes mistakes, even God’s do.

Most of India expected him never to get out when he batted. But, he did. However, his genius was unquestioned. I think he was castled first ball by a rampaging Shoaib Akhtar once. Everybody knew he would go back to the dressing room, mull over a dismissal and come back stronger, like he did in the World Cup in South Africa when he blasted Akhtar out of the attack.

Maybe, taking up the offer to become MP was not the right decision, given Sachin’s other commitments. Becoming a MP is not an adornment, it is a responsibility.

Yet, I believe we Indians need to introspect whether we point fingers too often and too soon. It is best to leave it to Sachin to sort out his role or lack of it in Parliament. He does not deserve to be pilloried by individuals who are not a patch on the man’s greatness.

That would be the dignified thing to do.

(Check out my novel An Offbeat Story)

Narendra Modi looks to deliver, quietly

There has been some buzz about Prime Minister Narendra Modi keeping the media at a distance. Modi, TV channels main pre-election TRP-busting protagonist has gone missing save formal speeches and tweets that do not say much. The new PM has opted not to travel abroad with the usual large press entourage, used to being wined, dined and handed scoops in the form of well-drafted briefs by officials in the loop of the higher ups.

There has been no mandatory on-the-way back interaction with the press inside Air India One. As a matter of fact, there is no appointed media hand in the PMO to deal with journalists. Surely any future insider tome about the workings of the Prime Minister’s Office under Modi is not going to be penned by a journalist, unlike Sanjaya Baru’s ringside account about how the Manmohan government functioned or rather did not function. Meanwhile, an angry Arnab Goswami continues to rave, rant, scold and quarrel on TV on issues considered very important for the nation to survive, in his assessment.

This obviously does not translate into the grand TRP ratings clocked when the TV cameras followed Modi on his high voltage acerbic election campaign trail this summer ruffling the feathers of the likes of Mamata Banerjee and Jayalithaa. The nation cannot be blamed for expecting even more of Modi post the grand victory march in Varanasi just as one assumes more of Salman Khan in the second half of a Salman Khan movie.

Otherwise, the audience would demand a refund from theatre owners due to the missing “Kick.” The latest Salman movie is about action, drama, melodrama, comedy, item numbers, technology and holograms mixed with deft Being Human marketing touches. It’s confusing, just like Modi’s disappearance from media space over the last two month following his shift from Gandhinagar to New Delhi. Is Modi treating The Fourth Estate right?

It is too early to make a definitive judgment. It is not as if the government has not been communicating. The suave Arun Jaitley, god-gifted with the amazing ability to speak many words and ideas at the same time, is often on TV. There have been detailed statements by finance, power or foreign ministers in Parliament that seems to be functioning for a change.

Of course, a couple of comical asides have been Rahul Gandhi caught napping in the Lok Sabha or storming the well of the House. Gandhi needs some serious guidance beyond handholding by his sister and mother, his regular advisors. Either he scores no runs or wants to hit a political six. He needs to appoint somebody like Rahul Dravid to teach him the art of building an innings. No doubt, there is some amount of hearsay about Modi’s style of working.

But, I do believe there has to be some method in the silence. This much is known that Modi plans and plots his moves in advance with clinical precision. Remember Modi is no IITian expected to make it to the top, like the young promoters of Flipkart. He started off as a mere Chaiwala whom Advani backed. The rest, as they say is history, which Advani would like to re-write if he could. No doubt, there is a game plan at play, a deliberate strategy that shields Modi away from the line of direct media fire and the obstreperous Goswami setting the PMO’s agenda for the day, responding to barbs and accusations.

In my opinion, Modi’s loud silence should not be misread as inaction or confusion, as under Manmohan. There are enough indications to show the government is at work adopting a gradualist rather than frenetic approach to change. This is any day better than the guerilla like hit-and-run governance tactics of Arvind Kejriwal. In case readers might have forgotten Kejriwal happens to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader who wanted to become PM of India.

Important decisions, though not game changers, are being taken by the Modi government — movements on labor reforms, changes in attestation norm which is enormous relief to the common man, FDI in insurance, defense production and Railways, amendments to the Juvenile Justice Act. There is continuity in foreign policy, social welfare schemes, while a sensible decision has been taken to persist with Aadhar. Ultimately, what will matter is making a real difference to the lives of people cutting across social and economic strata.

Perhaps the media too needs to evolve and move beyond news sourced from a few high-powered networks in Lutyen’s Delhi, especially North and South Block. While the scoops, scams, snoops, secret dealings and innuendos have their place in a thriving and thrashing democracy such as India, it is equally important to highlight success and failures at grass root levels where delivery really matters. And, often fails. I, however, do think that Modi should reach out to The Fourth Estate. Not too often, but often enough. It is important.

(Check out my novel An Offbeat Story)

Indian Railways back on track, on paper

Will the Modi government be able to turn around India’s ramshackle, crash prone, loss making Railways? It is a tough ask. There are too many matters to sort out, not least dysfunctional toilets inside trains.

Major rail stations in the country look, smell and are maintained like unkempt urinals. Buying a ticket online is as difficult as admissions in Delhi University. There is 100% chance of failure.

Frequent rail crashes are caused due to basic negligence, lack of track maintenance, unmanned crossings and reliance on outdated manual signaling systems. If a train driver happens to catnap, like Rahul Gandhi the other day in Parliament probably due to watching soccer world cup at night, and misses a red light, it could jeopardize the lives of hundreds. Gandhi woke up, walked away and trended on Twitter. Many in the train could die.

This happens often. Indeed, the dirty toilets in Indian trains are symptomatic of the overall decay of the transport system patronized by millions every day. I remember visiting my village in the 70s. There was no method of flushing or sewage disposal.

A pit was cleaned manually every day by the zamadarni or sweeper. If one happened to be using the loo while it was being emptied, she screamed at you to stop. The process was degrading both for the zamadarni and the user of the toilet. My village has moved on, but Indian trains continue to use out dated squat pots. The cleansing process is worse. The excreta are ejected onto the tracks, even at the stations. Unlike my village in the 70s, there is nobody to clean the human waste on rail tracks except armies of flies.

India’s rail system is a glaring example of the destructive power of narrow and populist politics made worse by rampant corruption. Passengers are treated no less than the rats and cockroaches that infest the stations and trains. The last well meaning Railway Minister was perhaps Madhav Rao Scindia in the 80s when Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister of India.

Modi’s maiden Rail budget sets out the agenda for change — Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects, focus on safety, latest track and signaling systems, cleanliness and sanitation, passenger comfort, revamped stations, bullet trains and tickets that can be booked online rather than bought from touts who game the system.

The challenge is to transform India’s heavily loss making and unsafe rail network into a financially sustainable system equally accessible by the poor, middle classes, elderly and rich. It is possible.

The Delhi metro, run by the state government, is an example, wherein a high earning executive, a peripatetic software engineer and a daily wager can rub shoulders while headed to their respective destinations, immersed in their cell phones, in air conditioned comfort. Commuters do not read nowadays, not even newspapers. FM radio headlines suffice.

Many of our airports have been revamped to international levels. Indian kids no longer squeal in delight on seeing walk-alators for the first time in their life at airports in Singapore or Hong Kong. One can enjoy a cup of coffee, quietly read a book or surf the Internet at an airport.

This needs to be mentioned. Try these simple acts at the Rail station. Forget about the cacophony, just the stink and lack of hygiene will kill you, if you can manage get yourself a cup of coffee, that is.

Modi’s Rail budget has taken the smart route of private and overseas capital playing a big role in the proposed revamp.

This is important due to political limitation of raising passenger fares and freight rates already quoting very high to subsidize loss making passenger trains.
Criticisms about bullet trains are misplaced. The argument that only the affluent are going to patronize these due to high ticket prices is fallacious. Extending such logic one should ban planes and airports in the country that cannot be afforded by the poor.

Connectivity spreads growth that benefits everybody, including local businesses such as transport, eateries, artisans, hotels, kirana stores and more. Importantly, the bullet trains are not going to be financed via tax payer’s money. Capital will be deployed from China, Japan and other regions.

PPP and FDI models have been talked about in the past. But, there is a difference this time. Unlike the ideological muddle of the previous government and Rail ministers who played to regional galleries, Modi is clear about the private source of funding to re-build Indian Railways.

Political will is the key to push large projects to fruition. It adds star value, like Salman Khan or Shahrukh Khan to the commercial success of a Bollywood film.
No doubt those who rule the country can make a difference. Even Manmohan Singh ended India’s global atomic isolation once he set his mind to it.

Unfortunately, he could do no more. Modi’s rail budget has tried to set Indian Railways back on track on paper. It is a good start. The real challenge lies ahead.

(Check out my novel An Offbeat Story)

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