Fact is stranger than fiction

I discovered a new word: Mitron. It means, ‘A large group of unsuspecting people about to be hit by something they will take a long time to recover from.’ Ironically it comes from the Hindi word – Mitron (Mitr = friend. Mitron = of friends). I believe we are in a Mitron moment; the discovery of a word and an experiential understanding of its true meaning.
Demonetization has hit us all but it hit the poor the most. People who live on the knife edge of society which can change overnight from a life of dignity to a life as a beggar on the street. People who have no ‘nest egg’, no safety net, no backup. I recall two things as I write this article. One is an article by my good friend, Prof. Madhukar Shukla of XLRI who wrote about these people on the knife edge; the other is one of my own very early consulting assignments. Let me tell you about that.

In the late 80’s I was hired by The Commonwealth Trust to assess a very interesting economic development program that they had initiated in East Delhi (how many Delhiites even know that East Delhi exists?).  The program was well-intentioned in that it offered interest-free loans to ‘small entrepreneurs’ but with the condition (supposed to be a benefit) that they pair up with corporate executives so that they could teach them a thing or two about business. My first thought, as an IIMA grad was, ‘I can smell an MBA behind this from a mile away’. I say that because it was a typical theoretical approach without a clue about the reality on the ground. Let me explain.

The loans given were to ‘small entrepreneurs’. I keep using apostrophes for this term to underline what ‘small’ meant. Rs. 3000 (which wasn’t all that much even in the 80’s) was the average loan amount. It was given to the Istri-wala (mobile clothes iron man).
This wonderful picture will bring to mind the man (most cases it is his wife who works on this cart) whose services every one of us urban Indians have benefited from. We send down from our fancy apartments, our clothes to him who parks his push-cart in the street outside our compound wall. He irons our shirts and trousers, sarees and skirts; charges a few rupees which we pay in cash and he moves on to the next building or villa. What he earns that day pays for the rent of his ‘house’ (this article is getting too full of apostrophes), school fee for his children (you can’t keep people from aspiring), and food for his family. That money is what keeps him on the knife edge and saves him from falling off and coming to your house with begging bowl in hand. The Commonwealth Trust offered small loans to people like him, the vegetable vendor, the cobbler, the shoeshine guy, the bicycle repairer, the truck tire puncture repairman and similar ‘small entrepreneurs’. The biggest loan had been given to a man who had a printing press with a single machine in a small shop where you had to turn sideways to get past the machine.
As I mentioned the ‘fringe benefit’ according to the initiator of the scheme and The Commonwealth Trust was the partnership between this small entrepreneur and a corporate executive. The corporate executive with his education and presumably greater understanding was supposed to help the small entrepreneur to keep good accounts, pay tax, use technology, build a customer base, survey his market and make growth plans. The formal introductory meeting was arranged in a five star hotel with tea and samosa in an atmosphere of pretended equality between partners and the pairs were made. Three years later, the project came up for evaluation and that is where I came in.
That is also when I discovered East Delhi and that too in July. Those who have lived in Delhi in summer without air conditioning may understand what I went through. The lanes of the area of East Delhi are so narrow that even a Maruti 800 can’t drive through them. I would leave my hired car on the main road and either walk or take a local auto rickshaw. I preferred the latter because the driver knew the people who I wanted to meet and usually told me stories about them later after being a silent listener to the conversation that I had with them. I spent two weeks on this assignment and learned what every Tandoori Chicken knows; what the inside of a tandoor feels like. East Delhi was also one of the places most affected by the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984, the perpetrators of which still walk free and victims suffer in silence. But then in a country where to break the law with impunity is a status symbol, that’s understandable and expected.
To return to my story, I met these small entrepreneurs, every single one of them. I sat with them in (or near) their businesses. Drank tea with them (which bless our culture, our poor are those who uphold it) which they insisted on paying for and asked them how their business was going and how their partnership was doing. All conversations were in Hindi but I am translating here for your benefit.
Me: Namashkar Jee, how are you. I am Yawar Baig and have come from The Commonwealth Trust you ask you a few questions about your business.
He: Namashkar Sahib. I am repaying my loan on time. I have not defaulted.
Me: (as red in the face as someone with my complexion can get): No, no, no! I didn’t come to ask about repayment. Of course, you are repaying on time. You have a great record. The Commonwealth Trust is very pleased about this. I have only come to ask how things are going with you and with the partnership that was made with Mr. S0-and-so.
He: (relieved smile followed by eyes shifting): All is well Sahib.
Me: Please don’t call me Sahib. My name is Yawar.
He: Jee Achcha Yawar Sahib. (I gave up after trying for some time).
Me: So how is it going? Do you meet each other? How often do you meet?
He: (eyes shifting again): All is well Yawar Sahib.
Me: (persevering): Do you meet each other? How often do you meet?
He: (realizing that I won’t go away): Sahib, we have not met after that first meeting.
Me: (genuinely shocked): Why? Why didn’t you meet? What happened?
He: (hurriedly): Sahib, it is not his fault. You see I tried to meet him several times. But Sahib, I am a small man (hum chotay aadmi hain. Wo baday aadmi hai). He is a big man. I went to his Kothi (mansion – Hindi for big house – not necessarily a mansion but he calls it Kothi to honor its owner). But his Chowkidaar (security guard) turned me away. He refused to believe me that Sahib had asked me to come. Yawar Sahib, I am a small man but I have izzat (honor, dignity). I didn’t go there to ask for charity. I went there because they said that we were partners and I could talk to him any time. But if the Chowkidaar turns me away, I won’t go again and again.
Me: (at a loss for words): But didn’t he give you his phone number? Couldn’t you call him and tell him to speak to his Chowkidaar?
He: I did Yawar Sahib. He told me to meet him in his office. But there it was worse. So, I gave up.
Me: But this partnership was supposed to help you.  What did you do when you couldn’t even meet your partner?
He: Yawar Sahib, the truth is, how can he help me when he knows nothing of my reality. He lives in a different world from mine. So, different that he can’t even imagine what my world is like. I agreed to the partnership because that was a condition of getting the loan. I never expected that it would work. And it didn’t. I am most grateful to The Commonwealth Trust for the loan. I needed that. The partnership I didn’t need, so it doesn’t matter.
Me: (wondering what I am going to write in my report): What did you do when you needed any advice?
He: I went to my Mamaji (uncle or father in law) and sometimes to my neighbor (essentially his competitor) and asked them. They advised me and I followed their advice.
Me: Your competitor gave you advice about your business which was good for you? Isn’t he your competitor?
He: (shocked at my ignorance): Of course, he gave me good advice. He is my competitor but first he is my brother (from my community, extended family etc). Of course, he gave me good advice. He is easy to reach. We have a relationship, a real relationship, not only business and above all, he understands my reality because he is a part of it.
This conversation was more or less what I had with every one of those in that survey. One common factor with all of them; that their entire business was in cash. After all, when was the last time you paid the Istri-wala or the Sabji-wala or the Bai who comes to clean your home and cook your meal and the many walas our life quality depends on, by cheque? When was the last time he asked you for your credit card to swipe? All their business is in cash and so is the business of all those in the value chain they deal in; those they buy the necessities of their lives from. All cash. Out of their meagre and harsh existence it is the genius Indian woman that they save some money – again cash. They don’t bank it. They buy gold if they can or just keep the cash. It is their saving for an emergency and since the biggest requirement of emergencies is liquidity, they like cash. Sometimes this saving is done over such a long period that it amounts to a good bit; maybe three to five lakhs (3-500, 000). But that is what they slogged and sweated for over decades. Should that be taxed? Especially in a country that has no social security, no emergency services to speak of and no support for such people except what they can get from their savings and families.
Indeed, they don’t declare this income to the Government. They don’t bank it because every trip to the bank means a loss of business. They need cash and in cash they trust. It is not for nothing that even in bigger establishments you may have seen the sign, ‘IN GOD WE TRUST. REST STRICTLY CASH.’ That is not a statement of religiosity but of hard reality. Does that make them ‘black marketeers’ and thieves? Indeed, these small businessmen and women don’t pay tax but they contribute to the economy both directly by buying and indirectly by providing services. As I mentioned earlier, they add value and quality to our lives and take away the drudgery of daily chores. It is all these people who are the true backbone of the economy. It is they who spread goodness all around them because of the food chain that they are part of and support. It is they who create neighborhoods which are dynamic and alive though overall poor. Unlike dead American inner cities which are home to the poor in Western societies. And these, our poor, our small entrepreneurs, our salt of the earth man and woman who are the hardest hit in this Mitron moment of demonetization.
I was reminded of all this when I read this interview:
I was reminded about this because the demonetization move has once again underlined the fact about our society that decisions that affect millions are taken by those who are as foreign to them as Martians would be to us Earthlings. People who either don’t understand their reality or couldn’t care less. People who don’t even think of them as a ‘vote bank’, because momentarily, votes can be bought or swayed by tearful oratory. And that is enough to get elected and then it doesn’t matter what those who voted think or feel; survive or perish. People, who even if they knew that reality once upon a time, have chosen to forget it and take pride in associating with the high and mighty rather than with those who they were born among and grew up with. But then you can’t fault a person for his aspirations, can you? As long as rhetotrick (my coinage – tricky rhetoric) is in plentiful supply, facts don’t matter. What happened doesn’t matter as long as its creators can give it a positive spin. Human life is not cheap. It is priceless. Has no price. Is free. (not the usual inference of the word, ‘priceless’, I realise).
One economist friend said to me, “The economy will take a decade to recover from this move.” I said to him, ‘Economies don’t ‘recover’ in a decade. They are replaced because all those who participated in the old economy have perished.’ ‘Recover’ is a term that economists use on their neat charts. The reality is neither neat nor painless. India’s economy ‘recovered’ after the Bengal Famine. But 2 million people perished. Economists don’t care about that. Not that they are heartless. It is just that they don’t have the language to express the monetary value of sweat and tears; of life and death. Numbers are used so much because they are neat and help us to remain out of touch with reality. When our reality, that which we have jointly created, is so painful, nasty and brutal, we need tools to keep it at bay. Numbers are one. Entertainment is another. We need to forget reality. The alternative is to change reality so that we don’t need to forget it, can enjoy it and benefit from it. But that takes too much trouble. It is easier to forget.

I mention this here because in this race to garner all resources for oneself without a thought about others, we have created a society that is crying out in pain and grief. It is inconceivable to imagine that the resources of the world can possibly be concentrated in the hands of so few, but as they say, ‘fact is stranger than fiction’. I can imagine the derision or at best amused smiles if any author dared to suggest that 62 people would own 50% of global assets and the rest of the world would watch silently. But that is not fiction. That is fact.

For perspective, let me state that a bus has 65 seats excluding the driver’s seat.

Anesthetized anarchy

We, in India, are living in a state of anesthetized anarchy.
We seem to have lost it in more ways than one. In the days of the sabretooth tiger mankind needed to be totally in touch with reality if it wished to avoid being the tiger’s next meal. Since we made the STT extinct we seem to believe that being in touch with reality is not required or at least, is optional. The fact is, that it is neither optional nor unnecessary. It is as critical as it was then, with the only difference that the one who eats you now has changed; not that you will not be on the menu.
As I read what members of the present Bhakti movement are writing with respect to present conditions in India and what the wise gurus of corporate fame speak from their elevated platforms, I pinch myself to remember that the laws that run the world are not made by them and that the One who made those laws hasn’t changed them yet.
Nandan Nilekanni at the TiE Convention for example, takes his constitutional on stage and while he exercises walking back and forth forcing you to do some neck yoga, he tells you how the volume of electronic monetary transactions has gone up from the time people used to send money orders and how in the last three years more people transferred money electronically than they did via money orders for the past one hundred years. That, he declares to a rapt TiE audience, is a sign of development. Audience claps. Behold, anesthetized anarchy in action.

What he forgets to say and those feverishly forwarding the video of this wonderful speech forget to ask, is what percentage of population that volume of monetary transaction represents. What is the reality? The reality is that the total percentage that does electronic banking is 2% of the population of India.  So, whatever you want to say about how monetary volumes have increased, they are still all within that 2%. What therefore, is the real meaning of the numbers?
The problem of geeky thinking is nicely mentioned in this article as the ’empathy vacuum’; the bane of life of those who are used to binary thinking and playing with imaginary numbers until they begin to believe in their own creations. What is starkly visible in our country today is a total absence of empathy for those whose lives have been wrecked by the demonetization drive.
Secondly, comparing historical data about the health of an economy using monetary transactional volume alone doesn’t take into account the value of money itself. A person in 1900 sent Rs. 10 by money order. The same person, if he lived that long, in 2000 would have to send Rs. 100,000 by electronic transfer to cover the same expense. So, how does the higher number indicate greater prosperity? But it seems that we have pickled our brains. Statistics can be made to say whatever you want them to say. And that is the game being played. The reason that game succeeds is because we don’t think and don’t ask questions.
Behold, anesthetized anarchy in action.
I call it anesthetized because we are the only country in the world where dozens of people can simply die standing in a line to withdraw money from the bank because of the liquidity crunch that the government imposed but nothing happens.
We’re the only country perhaps in the history of the world where money is demonetized in a thriving economy. As someone said, ‘That is like shooting the tires of a racing car in a race’, but nothing happens. We’re the only country in the world which pays no attention to the opinions of Nobel Prize winning scholars, financial experts and bankers and instead applauds politicians whose understanding of economics is exemplified in the measures that have led to the rest of us suddenly being forced to take an interest in economics. Instead of protests people say that this is the price we (not them, mind you) must pay for ‘cleaning’ the economy.
So, what is our reality?

1. We are World No. 1 in absolute poverty far ahead of sub-Saharan Africa.


2. We are World No. 1 in farmer suicides. (is there a global standard for this?)

3. We are World No. 1 in human trafficking. Add bonded labor and we will be World No. 1 in slavery.

4. We are close to the top in illiteracy.

5. Our unemployment figures are mind boggling and just went up thanks to this new initiative to make India cashless. Amazing how quickly that target was achieved.

6. 80% of our graduates are unemployable which tells you something about the quality of our education.

7. Corruption is not only acceptable at all levels of society but it is aspirational.

8. Our politicians and executive (civil service) is mostly corrupt and judiciary is trying to catch up.

9. We have zero tolerance, not for corruption and lies, but for those who dare to speak out against it.

10. Our view of religion is not something that binds people and joins hearts together but something that divides and must be brutally enforced.

11. We have confused loyalty to a political party for loyalty to the country and have branded all dissent, anti-national and unpatriotic.

12. We elect politicians to office only if they belong to our caste, irrespective of everything else.

13. That our politicians are corrupt, mostly uneducated and many have criminal records (including murder), matters not at all in our reckoning. We still elect them.

14. Human life doesn’t have low value in our country, it has no value at all. From 2005 to 2015 over 300,000 farmers committed suicide in India. Result? http://bit.ly/1Lisiy3
15. To break the law with impunity is a measure of social status and an accepted status symbol and is treated as a matter of right by the high and mighty. All of them invariably get away with this, thus reinforcing the principle that some people are more equal than others.

16. Undertrial prisoners are routinely killed by police and the killers are applauded by the media and titled, ‘Encounter Specialist’.

17. Our rape, murder and plunder statistics would do credit to a war zone.

18. In terms of productivity, quality and industry we can’t even compare ourselves to Bangladesh but we feel free to compare ourselves to China. http://bit.ly/2gjOHTa  

That is why I call it anesthetized because despite all this, our Bhakti Movement is going strong. Thank god for our blind supporters. People are telling tales to one another voluntarily blind-folded to the reality imagining that if they tell the tale long enough and shout down any dissent, their tale will come true. This is because, those of us who live in cities and are in the so-called upper middle class and grace the stage of entertainment shows like Times Now and others, live in echo chambers. We shout out our opinions and then count the echoes as agreement. All our projections are based on the number of times we heard our own voice echo back to us bouncing off the walls of our echo chambers. We make the most noise. We are the most visible and others like us assess the state of India based on this.
But anyone who has travelled in rural India, where the vast majority of our people live, will tell you a very different tale. A tale of deprivation, crops left to rot in the field or fed to goats because there is no cash to harvest them. The woman who has one buffalo whose milk she sells to her neighbors will tell you that neighbors won’t pay for that milk by credit card. Buffaloes with credit card slots have yet to be born. That woman needs the money in cash that very day to buy food to eat and feed her family. If the money is paid to her bank account on the basis of monthly credit (this is the solution that our accountant friends will instantly give you because they don’t know one end of a buffalo from the other) she won’t have money to eat today and tomorrow. And long before the first month’s amount comes in, she and her buffalo will both have become history.

The Indian farmer, the man who sells bananas on a push cart, the fish seller who buys fish from the fisherman and sells it in the market, the daily wage earner on a construction site who works through a searing summer for ten hours to earn Rs. 200 with which to feed his family will all tell you similar stories. For them ‘cashless’ means only one thing – that which they are suffering today. The demonetization initiative, no matter how noble its intentions, has converted these poor people into ‘criminals’ because they don’t have bank accounts and don’t pay tax so their earning is labelled ‘black money’. Demonetization has become demonization and has converted them and us into beggars, unable to withdraw our own hard earned savings on which we paid tax, from our own bank accounts. That this violates our Constitutional Right to property is one of those things that we dare not speak of for fear of being branded anti-national, seditious and god-knows what else. So, we don’t protest. We applaud the noble initiative and thank god that the dead farmer, fisherman, milk seller, buffalo or random individual who dropped dead in a bank queue was not our mother, sister, brother, son, father, spouse or ourself. One must always be grateful.
Economies are not electric lights to be switched on and off at will. Especially not an economy as fragile and complex as the Indian economy. The effect of lost crops will not reverse until the next season. People’s lost faith in the currency and in the entire banking system will not change to trust overnight. What this will do to liquidity needs no imagination to visualize. People’s sudden fear of being literally cashless that has led to postponing purchasing decisions will not increase money supply.  Nor will that fear suddenly be replaced by confidence. Our spending has slowed or stopped, our charity has slowed or stopped, our entertaining, holidays, all discretionary spending has slowed or stopped. All these things are the lifeblood of the nation. Where will the transfusion that we need come from?

Firmans are easy to issue but their effects are not in the control of the one issuing the Firman. Neither can those effects be stopped or reversed by a counter Firman. Just as you can’t order clouds to rain, you can’t order crops to grow or the dead to come back to life. The laws of the world don’t change. The one who chooses to shut his eyes to the signs of the sabretooth tiger will surely be his next meal. So, dream on.

Money, money, money

Money problems are not money problems, even when they are money problems.
 
Dire Straits’ famous song has some very politically incorrect lyrics but the refrain, ‘Money for nothing and the chicks for free’ sums up the situation of black marketeers and owners before the demonetization and the name of the songsters – Dire Straits – sums up their situation in India today. 
 
But what are the implications of demonetization? We have seen many theories; conspiracy and otherwise. One of the best articles that I have read is by former Finance and Economic Affairs Secretary, Arvind Mayaram, which is here:
 
 
Let’s see what the real, on-the-street effects of demonetization are and what their implications can be.
 
We are a cash economy and that is not because we have a huge number of people with black money but because we have a huge number of poor people who don’t have bank accounts and don’t deal with anything other than cash. For anyone who has lived or travelled in rural India this needs no explaining. So, I will not waste your time trying to describe what we have seen and experienced all our lives in our country without any problem or complaint. Those who need convincing can try to buy vegetables, fish, eggs, meat or chicken and pay for them with a credit card or cheque. Both buyers and sellers are not evil hoarders and black marketeers but ordinary, garden variety men and women trying to live their lives. This money that is earned by the sellers in never enough to be deposited in a bank. It is used to buy food and necessities for their families, goods to sell the next day and a little bit to set aside for a rainy day. This may accumulate over the years to some thousands. Do these people have documentary evidence about where they got this money from? Can they show that they paid tax on it? Can they show accounts of what they earn daily? Does the vegetable seller, the meat, fish or egg seller have a P&L account and a Balance Sheet? Does she have a PAN card? Does that therefore make them criminals? 

Another situation is that of the middle-class housewife. Her husband gives her money to run the home, every month. She may only have completed primary school (in many cases she may not even be literate) but is a master economist. She manages to run a very good home, cook great meals, ensure that everyone has what they need and still she is able to save some money which she keeps hidden in the house. She doesn’t have a bank account. She doesn’t even want a bank account because it involves documentation that she can’t manage on her own and if she asks anyone in the family to help, her secret will be revealed. She doesn’t tell her husband or anyone about this but some day when one of her family needs something urgently she digs into her stock and surprises everyone by saving their skins. Is she a criminal because she does all this secretly? She is not an evil schemer. She is my and your mother.
 
I can give you many more examples but will let this suffice for the present.
 
Now comes demonetization and whatever it did to the illegal funds of political parties and black-market wizards, it also wiped out the savings of these people. That is what I am trying to interpret and find the bright side of.
 
The demonetization did wipe out the value of cash sitting in warehouses and suitcases of political parties and businessmen. And it did and will bring in cash into the vaults of banks who seem to have emptied those vaults lending to the same (or similar) businessmen who reneged on those loans. Those loans are still outstanding, post demonetization. The one who didn’t repay the loan continues to enjoy his ill-gotten gains. But the middle class and poor of the country paid the bank on his behalf. That is a very neat arrangement, if you ask me.  
 
How and why does black money get generated? The main driver is the fact that political parties are not compelled to show their sources of funds. This is the strangest of phenomena where every individual is compelled to show where he earned his money from and must pay tax on it. Even charities in this country must apply for and get tax exemption failing which they have to pay tax on donations which they collect and disburse in charity. But a political party which gets a million times more, need not show how it got that money or from whom. I am sure I don’t need to explain the implications of that on the black-market economy, corruption and hoarding. That situation remains as it is. So though the funds of those political parties and politicians who were not in the know reverted to their original value or less (Rs. 1000 = Rs. 5; in this case Rs. 0) the doors to accumulate such funds once again, no questions asked, remain open. As for those in the know; the originators of this idea, their associates, families and friends, mint employees and managers, drivers, secretaries, servants and others of power brokers and of course the usual suspects (friends in need); all had ample time to save their hoards.
 
As for all the talk about reducing fiscal expense and so on, Arvind Mayaram has spoken about that in the article above, so I won’t repeat it. It must be obvious to anyone who knows what the word ‘fiscal’ means. What I want to repeat however is what Arvind Mayaram said which goes to the core of the issue in terms of the future and that is the issue of faith. Not faith in god but faith in paper.
 
People save money and keep those savings in paper currency because they believe that the value of their savings will not be nullified. They have faith in the currency though they know that the actual paper has no intrinsic value. Even though inflation erodes the value of their savings people don’t convert their savings to gold or immovable property because liquidity is more important for them than whatever loss of value that may take place over time. This is what ensures that money remains in circulation and is not taken out of the market and parked in gold. Paper money exists because people have faith.
 
That is the reason also why in Islam, Zakat (@2.5%) is liable every year on gold and silver even if you have to sell some of the gold and silver to pay what you are liable to pay in that year. Obviously, this reduces your stock of gold and hypothetically speaking it can reduce over time to a level where you are no longer liable to pay Zakat. Despite that Islam decreed that you must sell a part of the gold and give that money in charity because Islam recognized the importance of keeping money in circulation.
 
It doesn’t take great imagination to see what will happen if people lose faith in the currency. That is the reason, as Mayaram says and we all know, the US dollar has never been demonetized though it is the most counterfeited currency and the most trusted currency in all black-market deals. Faith in the currency must be balanced against whatever negative effects that may happen because of unaccounted currency. Those negative effects must be neutralized in other ways; for example by making political parties account for their cash inflows, state funding for elections and eliminating Income Tax.
 
Demonetizing currency destroys faith in the currency, discourages people from keeping their savings in paper money, encourages them to take their savings out of circulation because it pits importance of liquidity against saving the capital amount. It places huge hardship on the weakest and least influential people in society. It further disempowers those who are already the weakest; women (housewives, mothers), illiterate daily wage earners (headload workers, porters, construction workers, beggars), small business owners (you must understand this in the Indian context to know what I mean by ‘small’), small service providers (rickshaw pullers, thela walas etc.).
 
It is easy for the powers that be to talk about accepting the inconvenience because they don’t have to face it themselves and can easily turn a blind eye to the fact that a daily wage earner standing in a queue at a bank to exchange his life savings for the snazzy new currency is also losing his wage for that day. For many that is a very significant loss. For some it may mean that when they return the next day to their job, they find that the job has gone because someone else has been employed in their place. I won’t list the kinds of suffering that housewives, the old and sick and so on are undergoing standing for hours in serpentine queues. Those who are interested can go and talk to people standing in those queues. Or even better, go and stand in such a queue yourself to see how it feels to stand for six hours without food or water or shade or anywhere to rest your tired legs. People are doing more than that.
 
It is clear that the move to demonetize currency was taken without sufficient thought about all its intended and unintended consequences and without adequate preparation for its seamless and painless implementation. If that had been done, there would have been no reason for the tearful histrionics and theatrics that we are witnessing which are probably good for TRP ratings but not for anything else.
 
Whatever the effects of demonetization may prove to be on black money, what is clear is that faith in paper currency has taken a very big hit. I am not sure if this loss of faith can ever be restored. The thought that is uppermost in the minds of people is that if the government can do this once, it can do it again. And if one government can do it, then so can another government. Try to think of what conclusion the average man and woman standing in long queues to exchange old notes for new; who may even lose a part of his savings in this process, will come to.
 
Sadly, our media won’t show us the truth as it is not viable for them. But ignoring the truth won’t change it. Reality, unrecognized has a nasty way of biting very hard when you are not looking. That is perhaps something that those who demonetized currency didn’t think of. That is also something that may show its effect in the elections; the only place where politicians and political parties are held to account. Jai Hind.

Building a Winning Team

Extract from ‘An Entrepreneur’s Diary’
Finally a word about people skills; the ability to build and run high performance teams. This is what spells the difference between commercial success and failure. No matter how skilled and talented an entrepreneur may be, no matter whether he has the funding or not, in the end what decides his fate and that of his organization is his ability to take people along with him. Who is inspired by you? Who wants to work for you? Who is ready to take a bullet for you? The members of the US Secret Service, the elite force that guards the President of the United States are trained to put themselves in the line of fire to save the life of the President, if need be.
In 1993 a movie called ‘Dave’ starring Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver was released. The storyline of the movie was about the affable owner of an employment agency who had an uncanny resemblance to the U.S. President. He found himself forced to replace the real President in an attempt by the White House staff to avoid a potentially explosive scandal. In the movie there was one scene where Dave, the President’s ‘double’ has the following conversation with Duane the secret service agent.
Dave: You know, I’ve always wondered about you guys. You know, about how you’re trained to take a bullet for the president?
Duane: What about it?
Dave: Is that really true? I mean, would you really let yourself get killed to save his life?
Duane: Certainly.
Dave: So now that means you’d get killed for me too?
Duane did not answer this question immediately, but it was so obvious that he felt its heaviness. Later on towards the end of the movie when Duane discovers the real character of Dave he finally answers the question: “I would have taken a bullet for you.”
It is this ability to inspire followership that is critical.
I am very fortunate that there have been people in my life for whom I would have taken the bullet and those who I know would have done the same for me. That to me is the essence of leadership that an entrepreneur must be able to provide. Ask yourself, ‘Who will take a bullet for me?
One of the finest teams I ever built was the one I had when I was the Manager of New Ambadi Estates in Kanyakumari, the southern tip of India. I have written in detail about that in my book, ‘Hills of the Elephants’, but would like to share an extract here about that team.
Reflecting on what went into building that team I can identify 6 factors:
1.     Mutual Respect               

We treated each other with respect. That may sound like a small or an obvious thing, but respect is not merely seen in how you address each other, but in whether you trust one another to do what is promised and if you deliver on that promise when it is your turn. We never laughed at one another, we did not talk behind each other’s backs and we delivered on promises. A respectful atmosphere makes for comfort and people like to work together with those who respect them. This does not mean we did not have fun. We did. Lots of it. It just means that we took our work seriously. It means that we did not need to watch our backs because we knew that one of the others was doing that for us. So we were free to concentrate on our own task.

2.    Build a common history     
I love trekking and so did my assistants in Ambadi. So we used to go on treks together. On two occasions we did the big one; Arun, Roshan and I, climbed up from the plains of Kanyakumari to the top of the ridge of the Western Ghats to Manjolai Estate (4000 feet), much to the surprise of our friends who lived there. One day we walked into the Club and discovered that (Ricky) M. C. Muthanna who was the General Manager and a personal friend was visiting. They were all at a lunch party in their club and were amazed when we walked in. When Ricky heard that we had climbed the Ghat all the way from the plains he was very impressed and happy, as he was a very outdoors person himself and everyone there got a lecture on the importance of doing such things.  We got a lovely lunch in the bargain.
There are many benefits of these shared experiences which are different from merely having a party. On a trek, you get to see the behavior of each other; who leads, how they lead, do they help, do they simply forge ahead and leave the others behind in order to show their own fitness or strength, do they show concern for others, do they volunteer for responsibility or try to dodge it, do they build and live up to trust, how it feels to be cared for by others and how it feels to take care of others and so on. There is nothing like travel together to test the mettle of a companion and to build bonds. Climbing also underlines the whole message of great effort and the resultant gains, better than anything else that I know. This climb in particular did that with great power.
Kanyakumari is a hot place. So even if you start out very early, which we did, it soon gets very hot and sultry. During the initial stages you are in some shade as you climb through the forested foothills, but very soon you come out onto the mountainside and then it is bare all the way to the top. As you walk there are nettles and grass with sharp leaf edges and thorny bushes that you have to cut through or find a way around. The going is slow and it is up at a sharp angle all the way.
So you are constantly climbing and the sun is looking down on your insane activity with great glee. The result is that very soon you are bathed in sweat and your leg muscles start to ache. But you keep climbing as you have a deadline to meet. You don’t take breaks because the more breaks you take, the tougher it becomes. You don’t drink water because it gives you a stomach ache. You keep climbing. All talk stops after a while. It just takes too much energy and nothing is that important or urgent that it must be said. You keep climbing.
Then a small breeze blows. The sweat becomes a blessing as it cools you down. The feel of the breeze on your face and the back of your neck is heavenly. As you continue to climb, your arms and legs are scratched (like all good planters we wore shorts) and the sweat dripping in the small cuts and abrasions, stings. Your legs ache. Your back more than your legs. You are seriously questioning your sanity in undertaking the task and then you reach the halfway point. There you stop for a breather, drink some water and look back at the climb that you have done – and what do you see?
The mountain rising out of the forest, far below you with the green blanket of vegetation around its shoulders. The patchwork quilt of rice paddies in multiple shades of green spread at the feet of the mountain like a carpet that it’s standing on. Patches of blue water; tanks and lakes that dot the landscape of Kanyakumari. And in the distance, the Indian Ocean. You look up and the mountain still towers over you but it no longer looks so intimidating. You breathe in the cool breeze. The sun is much kinder at this elevation and so it is much cooler than it was when you began. You take a deep breath and start climbing once again with new energy.
3.    Celebrate Success          
Very often it is the failures which get the most attention. Nothing wrong with that. One needs to learn from failure. But one needs to and can learn from success as well. We celebrated successes not simply by partying but by also asking some clear questions: What did we do right? How did we take those decisions; were they active choices or lucky accidents? What could we have done differently? What is the best thing about this win? How can we leverage that? We gathered data and insisted that all our conclusions must be backed by clear data. We ensured that we were not simply telling stories to please ourselves and that what we thought of as the reasons we succeeded were actually measurable facts. While we partied we also talked about these things. One part of celebration was also that I ensured that whoever on my team had done something critical to success got the limelight. This built credibility and inspired further effort.
4.    Be completely candid                 
This is a very critical principle of team building; as much openness, transparency and candid communication as possible. Say it like it is. No beating about the bush. No mincing words. No false pretences at politeness. If something is great, say it. If someone is fooling around, say it equally frankly and clearly, not behind his back but to his face.
I used the same policy of candid communication with the unions in Ambadi, which initially they found disconcerting but later accepted and appreciated. One of them said to me, “We don’t always agree with you but we always know where we stand.” I have had many people say this to me in different situations and I feel good about that. Teams also like leaders who they don’t have to second guess. So tell it like it is. The key thing of course is to be willing to listen to others telling it like it is to you. Now that is more easily said than done, but if you don’t shut up and listen and instead start justifying your stance or actions and becoming defensive then you will destroy your own credibility and damage all the good work you did building transparency.
5.    Allow, even encourage genuine mistakes
I managed to convince my team of the ‘importance of making mistakes’. I remember the looks of puzzled surprise at this term when I first mentioned it. Their experience until then was that mistakes were things you tried to avoid. If ever you did make one you tried to hide it or to blame it on someone else. And eventually if all else failed you resigned yourself to bearing whatever punishment that mistake attracted. But here was Mr. Baig, saying that it was actually important to make mistakes. Obviously this was a trap. So do what all sensible people do: silently wait and watch. For my part, once I had announced the importance of making mistakes I watched for the first person who made a mistake. Naturally everyone being human, it happened sooner or later.
Then I called the person and told him to give me a written statement of what happened, why he believed it happened and what must be done to prevent that particular thing from ever happening again. This statement was then discussed in the next weekly staff meeting and others added their ideas to it. It was treated as a regular case study. Not as something bad that one of them had done. Then once the lessons were clear to all, the matter was closed. Nothing more to be done on the issue, except that I would silently monitor it and the individual for a while to ensure compliance with whatever had been agreed.
No punishment. Not even a verbal reprimand. Actually if the analysis was particularly well done and the solution was a good one, the maker of the mistake would be applauded. Sometimes I would pull his leg and ask him what he had done with all this intelligence at the time of making the mistake. Or I would say something like, “Thanks very much for teaching us this lesson.” The person would look a little sheepish but that was all. The lesson would have been learnt and not only by the one who did the action but by everyone. So the learning was actually very cheap as the same mistake need not be done multiple times for others to learn. The only caveat was that you could not repeat a mistake. If that happened then there would be a reprimand, because it meant that you had not learnt from the previous mistake. And that was not acceptable.
As time passed people started seeing for themselves that making a mistake was not necessarily bad, as long as it was a genuine mistake and not a deliberate misdemeanor, and as long as you could demonstrate your learning and create a system where it would not be repeated, there was no pain associated with the learning. People then rapidly became risk takers. I encouraged other good practices like writing down a plan of action before you actually take action so that if something goes wrong you know exactly what happened and are not trying to recall what you had done or intended to do. Prior planning as well as documentation encourages deeper thought and reflection which can only be beneficial. To ensure that we did not get bogged down by too many planners, I made a rule that you had to put a deadline to everything.
So any time anyone submitted a plan we asked for a deadline. We also made the weekly meeting, the place to initiate all these actions. The idea being that before you went and launched off something you brought it before an assembly of peers who helped you to evaluate your plan. This also ensured more rigor in the whole exercise because people knew that if they submitted something that was half-baked it would be pulled apart in the meeting.
My role in all these meetings was mostly to listen and watch and sometimes to ask questions. Once people grew comfortable with speaking before others and asking and answering questions there was no holding them back. Sometimes I had difficulty getting my own point across; there would be so much participation. I was very happy to see all this enthusiasm. When your subordinates start to override your ideas and challenge your conclusions and give you measured responses, you can be sure that leadership is developing.
It is when you get too much agreement that you need to worry. Too much agreement and too little conflict are often signs that people are coasting along and there is a shortfall of commitment. One of the most reliable signs of commitment is conflict. Unfortunately many leaders fear conflict and go to great lengths to suppress it instead of encouraging it and channeling it so that really positive results can ensue. That is why it is important to understand that conflict resolution and conflict management are not the same thing. Conflicts, if managed properly resolve themselves and in the process yield very valuable learnings.
Another process that started happening was that individuals who intended to present something at the staff meeting would do a little pre-show to some of their colleagues who had some specialized knowledge. For example they would run some of the numbers by the accountant to make sure they had done their sums right. I encouraged all this informal communication and collaboration because it is a wonderful team building process. The whole essence of team building is to help people see how they need one another in order to succeed. And so when this started happening I knew we were on the right track.
Having said all of the above let me also say that the most difficult part for a high energy, action oriented person like me, was to sit in silence and see a mistake happen. All because you want to turn it into a learning situation. But there is no alternative to this patience. Naturally one does not need to self-destruct in the process and it is possible to contain the magnitude of the mistakes so that the learning takes place but not at a huge cost. However the crux of the matter is that you need to allow the subordinate to make the mistake and then guide the learning. This anxiety is compensated by the pleasure of seeing fewer and fewer mistakes happen over time as people get more and more proficient in their roles.
The practice of sharing learnings and Best Practices ensures that the learning gets maximum leverage. Also people are not ashamed or afraid of making mistakes as they know that there is no punishment provided they use their heads and can share their learning. Further because of this people generally exercise more care and the number of mistakes decreases.
The biggest benefit is the exposure and appreciation that people get when they share their learnings and best practices and have a platform to talk about their gains. They also get some ribbing and leg pulling which serves to make the point about being more careful in the future and the humor in it softens the pain of learning and builds relationships among team members. Finally this encourages them to share information and creates organizational learning as distinct from individual learning. In my view this one benefit, is worth more than anything else.
6.    Continuously develop people
As mentioned earlier entrepreneurs are usually so engrossed in the here & now that they ignore the future until it is either too late or until it becomes a problem. For most, succession is a mystery which is ‘solved’ by doing nothing and letting biology take its course. Their children enter the business at the level of Directors without having had the benefit of learning the business from the ground up with predictable results. Many treat the business like a candy store whose responsibility is to keep them supplied with candy; their focus on consumption instead of contribution.
They look only at what they can get out of the business instead of what they need to do to grow the business. Predictably this results in the business being broken up to everyone’s detriment. All because the founder did nothing to develop his successors. What amazes me is how many times this story is repeated all over the world. We don’t seem to learn from experience at all, neither our own nor anyone else’s.
Today (2008/9) we are in a situation where it is entrepreneurship especially the establishment and flourishing of small and medium businesses which will signal our recovery from global financial collapse. It is all the more reason to think seriously about these matters.

 

On being ‘Trumped’

Whew! Finally, the charade is over. Donald Trump is now the President of the United States of America. What does that mean? It means that Simpsons prediction came true: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/2146815/the-simpsons-correctly-predicted-a-donald-trump-presidency-16-years-ago-in-episode-set-in-the-near-future/
So now you know who to refer to for accurate predictions about the future. Goodbye Tarot cards, et al. In 1995 I recall reading a survey which concluded that America was not likely to be ready for a woman president for the next twenty years. Twenty-one years later, it looks like that prediction was true. Given that women in America to this day are paid 80% of what men are paid, it is not surprising that Americans find it tough to visualize a woman in the White House in any place other than the President’s bed.

So, what does Trump mean for America, for American Muslims, for Muslims worldwide, for non-whites in America and globally? I am asking this rhetorical question as I see all kinds of doomsday predictions flying around. I apologize for taking a different view. I see the Trump presidency as an opportunity for those who believe in the opposite of  everything that Donald Trump promoted in his campaign to put their actions where their mouths are and show that they are as willing to stand up for what they believe in as he was.

What does Trump mean for America? I hope he will be the best thing that happened to America ever. I hope that he can truly make ‘America Great Again’. I say that because though I am not American (should I say, ‘Thank God?’), I am one who believes that a truly ‘Great America’, can make this world great. The world truly needs to change. We need someone to lead the way to make the world compassionate, caring, fighting against injustice, corruption and poverty; disease and ignorance. Which nation is better suited to lead that fight? America has the resources, the intelligence, the education and the leadership ability which I hope it chooses to exercise. Trump won on the anti-establishment platform. I support that fully. The establishment has shown that what it can do is to fail spectacularly. The economy crashed and Obama rewarded those who crashed it. People were and are homeless when there are empty homes on foreclosed loans enough for every American to have two homes, not only one. Yet they are on the streets. I hope Trump can put Americans back in their own homes.

Bush father and son, started never ending wars. Obama continued them adding his own flavor to it of drone strikes – using technology to create bug splats (the arrogance is incredible) – thereby escalating the global threat level that comes from driving people to desperation. Obama’s dabbling (what else to call it?) in Middle Eastern politics resulted in continuing the misery for people of Afghanistan and Iraq and new misery for people of Syria and by inference for the rest of the world. And to top it all ISIS came into being because of all of the above. The credit can be shared by all of them. So, Trump standing against the establishment means that he is against all of this. I sincerely hope so.  

All the jingoism that he rode on will get tempered when it comes to facing reality. It is easy to talk about kicking out the Mexicans and so on. But they day he does that, reality will dawn on him and his cohorts like it did on those who voted Pro-Brexit; that the rich need the poor to survive while the poor don’t need the rich. When nice white Americans get to pay $3 per potato, they will realize the value of cheap labor. Meanwhile some contractor will get the contract to build the Wall, which he will do from the Mexican side, no doubt as otherwise his margin will not make it worthwhile. So also, the wonderful idea to outlaw the H-1 visa. I don’t think it will take very long for Trump and his gang to realize that there is a reason there are blond jokes. And that Indians are not blond. Go figure that.

The good news is that Trump made public what was private – racism, misogyny in a country that never stops ‘trumpeting’ about women’s equality, support for genocide, wars and weapons sales, the evils of unbridled capitalism, locker-room conversations which indicate attitudes – have all come out of the closet and locker-room. Now it is up to those who like to say that they believe in the opposite of all these things, to get off their backsides and bring about change. They can no longer live the lives of pretense and lies that they had become used to, saying, ‘It is not happening here.’ Trump proved that it is happening and trumpeted it from the top of Trump tower. Sorry for so much bad punning in one breath. But there you go.  

As for Muslims and Trump, believe me Trump is far better than what Muslims have seen in the past. He is far better than what we have today. Take Sisi, the Oily royals who are personal friends of every weapons dealer, the Paki leadership and I can think of several more and Trump begins to look like a choir boy. What will he do that is not already happening? Frankly I don’t know and don’t care to speculate because the prime movers behind Muslim affairs and how they are, are Muslims themselves. Our leadership or more correctly its spectacular failure. Ordinary citizens pay the price, but what’s new about that? The fact remains that until we sort that out and do something about taking charge of our destiny, we must remain satisfied with others writing the script we are compelled to live by. Play endings depend on the script, not on the players.

India is a classic example where a so-called minority of 200 million is kicked around like a football and used at will by every mercenary politician for his own ends. But Indian Muslims seem to be satisfied with that, so who is anyone else to complain. If you disagree and tell me that they are not satisfied, then I must ask you what it is that prevents them from doing what is glaringly obvious; get their act together, change their leaders and write their own script. 200 million is not a minority. It is a nation. But only if it chooses to be. Same story for Muslims globally. No point in blaming Trump or looking up to him to find solutions. It is our problem and we must solve it, so let us start doing that.

Two other points: what about wars, global warming and such issues? Well, when you have a nation that lives on perpetual warfare and is supported in that by all the other major industrial nations who either manufacture and sell weapons or buy them, how can you pin it all on Trump? If weapons are made and sold, there will be wars. Wars will happen if they continue to make profits for those who run them. That people die is incidental. Those at the top who laugh all the way to the bank, don’t. Those that do, don’t count. They are ‘collateral’, who are necessary to prove the efficacy of the weapons that were used to vaporize them. If it wasn’t for the bugs who splatted, how would you assess the drones or their operators? The fact that the bugs were innocent or that they had families and so on; well, bugs are bugs. And that’s all that there is to it.

Global warming? America decided on that when it chose Bush instead of Al Gore. For a minute I thought that was because they got confused because his name is Al Gore like Al Ghurair. But then I realized that it was because he had a terminal problem; he had a brain. See his famous movie, An Inconvenient Truth, and you will see what I mean. https://www.algore.com/library/an-inconvenient-truth-dvdIf you do nothing else, buy this and see it. At least you will know why you died. Since you chose that, especially Americans, I believe it is only fair that you understand what you did. With Trump, that came out in the open, so get used to summer all year long. You won’t need to go to the French Riviera for a tan. You can get it at home. That is not inconvenient.

Add to this the effect of unending wars, refugee movement, changing cultures, security nightmares coming true, widening gap between the rich and the poor, global poverty and hunger, preventable disease which is not prevented because there’s no profit in it – when I think about all this and Trump’s election, Nero comes to mind. Renewing our link with tradition. Let us dance to the tune. What’s the use of fiddling otherwise?

Final question that everyone is asking, ‘How safe is it to have someone like Trump with his finger on the nuclear button?’

My answer is, ‘The one who actually pressed that button was as different from Trump as could be. Yet he did it.’ Let me leave you to figure out the rest.

Meanwhile it is midnight where I live, far away from Trump and America and time to go to bed. Truly it is said that there is solace in sleep. So, good night, world. Sleep well. As long as you stay asleep you can escape responsibility. 

Close Encounters of the Terminal Kind

Ralph Chaplin said: “Mourn not the dead that in the cool earth lie, but rather mourn the apathetic throng, the coward and the meek who see the world’s great anguish and its wrong but dare not speak.”
A friend asked me for my opinion about the Bhopal ‘encounter’ which is in the news at present where eight young men, allegedly ‘dreaded terrorists’, were ‘encountered’. This is a cute term invented by the Indian media to describe what should correctly be called ‘extra-judicial killings’. And if you are among those who like to reduce everything to a single word, then you may like to experiment with the word, ‘Murder’. Truth and facts are boring and don’t sell papers or generate TRP ratings for so-called News Channels (which should be called by their real name – Propaganda Machine) but lace the truth with a dash (if required completely drench it) of fantasy, drama, excitement and fear and you can make a jaw-dropping, BP-raising, edge-of-the-seat, breathtaking clip of a cat catching a mouse. That is where the word ‘encounter’ came into being – murder being rather boring. And those who indulge in it on a regular basis were given the media medal of ‘Encounter Specialist’. I will leave you to arrive at what the logical, factual, straight and truthful word is, that should be used. No point in belaboring the point.
To give you an example of the monsters our media creates see this headline: http://bit.ly/1eBKIgu  Why would anyone fear someone whose specialty is killing innocent, unarmed people? If that is a definition they feel proud of and their law-abiding brethren are not ashamed of, then pray what is the difference between this and the way you would define every daku (dacoit) of Chambal or every supari hitman gangster of the underworld? If honest police officers find such media descriptions insulting, then why do they remain silent? Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about ‘encounter’ killings: http://bit.ly/2eERe9jLet me leave such thoughts to those who should really reflect on them.
I decided to begin at the beginning and googled the term Encounter. Google, like Jeeves, gives satisfaction and so here is what came up.


I am not sure if those who had the encounter (or were ‘encountered’; such a useful language, English) would describe what they faced as, ‘we encountered a slight problem’, but fortunately they are not in a position to disagree with this definition, so we can ignore what they may have wanted to say.

So, what really happened in Bhopal?

God, of course, always knows. In this case those it happened to and those who facilitated that happening also know. But one lot is now speechless and the other lot are not speaking. Therefore, I am exactly where all of you are; with an enigmatic mystery to solve. Those addicted to mystery novels (I am, if Jeffery Arthur is the author) will be thrilled that one is unfolding before their eyes. I mentioned JA not by accident but by design. Because one of the most enjoyably infuriating thing about his writing is that the mystery is never completely solved. So, you gnash your teeth in frustration, curse him for being the cussed, devious man he is and wait with baited breath for his next novel, knowing full well that it is going to leave you in the exactly same state. We are all suckers for punishment. That is why I have read all his novels and pray for his long and productive life.

The Bhopal Encounter (it deserves upper case) is a mystery which will never be solved (at least for garden variety lizards like me) and will be followed by another and another as it was preceded by one and more.

Then why write anything at all about it?

I believe the Bhopal Encounter is a snapshot of what happens to democracies and what has been happening to our Indian democracy when those who make up the democracy decide to copout of the process. What defines and differentiates a democracy (India?) from a monarchy (Britain), a dictatorship (Egypt), an oligarchy (USA) or an anarchy (??) is the actions of its people. Democracy is not the name of a system of government. It is the name of a state of being that a nation of people choose for themselves. It is the name of a belief about yourself. It is the name of dignity of the individual. It is the name of justice where the law supersedes the individual (the opposite is the definition of feudalism). It is the name of self-determination, individual liberty, mutual compassion and concern. The system of government called ‘Democracy’, ensures all this. When its nature changes and it is no longer able to fulfill what the term ‘Democracy’ defines, it ceases to be a democracy and becomes whatever its actions display, no matter what its PR machine wants to portray to the world. People always see through the covers and know the truth because people listen with their eyes. They don’t care what you say, until they see what you do.

Democracy is defined by its three constituent institutions and by their separation; of the law makers, implementers and interpreters. Separation of the Institutions of the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary. “I am the law” or “I am above the law” are both feudalistic statements.  The separation is a safety measure to ensure that the democracy always remains a democracy and can’t be hijacked to become a dictatorship as we have seen happening all over the world, even though those regimes still call themselves ‘democratic’, because that is the buzzword to use. After all, how would, ‘The Undemocratic, Dictatorial, Fascistic, Murderous, Oppressive, Apartheid Republic of So-and-so’ sound? Not nice at all. So, they call themselves ‘Democratic’, while all the rest are fringe benefits that their citizens enjoy.

The ‘Encounter Specialist’, by his action (and all those who support that action directly or by remaining silent) collapses the three Institutions of Democracy, where he becomes the lawmaker, the law interpreter and the law enforcer. He decides who is guilty and what should be done to him. By his action, he declares that mere incidentals like evidence, establishment of guilt, judicial process, criminal code, sentencing and the legal procedure to ensure justice, are all immaterial.  He is the judge, jury and executioner rolled into one and by his action, hammers another nail into the coffin of democracy.
The question is not whether the one killed in an ‘encounter’ was guilty or not. The question is whether justice was done and seen to be done. If we declare that the killing of one by another who considers him guilty is justice, then we have legitimized every terror killing in the world. The man who drove the truck through the crowd in France thought he was doing justice. The person who killed the three Muslim medical students in North Carolina thought he was doing justice. ISIS thinks it is doing justice. Every Israeli soldier shooting Palestinian children thinks he is doing justice. Where do we draw the line, if we choose to obliterate it in one instance?


We either draw the line and say, ‘Let the courts decide who is guilty and who is not, based on evidence.’ Or we open the doors to anarchy and civil war. It is our call. It’s the choice of civil society, to raise our voice and say what we want; what we demand from our government; justice or anarchy? The ‘Encounter Specialist’ represents anarchy. The policeman/woman who investigates a crime and brings the murderer to the gallows, represents justice. Whose side are we on? Whose side are you on? I know whose side I am on. So do you.

So, who is guilty? Those who commit murder and call it ‘encounter’, those who order it and all those who sit silently and watch it happen. All of them are equally guilty of destroying the law, destroying the nation and destroying themselves.  Especially tragic is when those sworn to uphold the law and protect the innocent are guilty of violating that trust. There’s nothing more pathetic than a policeman committing murder at the behest of others. It violates and insults the uniform, the oath of office and the Constitution of India. It is the action of such of them that give a bad name to the entire force, where the term, ‘Police Martyrs’ sounds like an oxymoron. Those who really lost their lives honorably lose the honor they deserve. I remind myself that there are others who I know, who in this morass of shameless pursuit of personal wealth and pleasing political bosses, don’t even dream of sacrificing their integrity and stand, often alone, as shining lights proclaiming that honesty and truth are personal values which define us. And so, they are never to be compromised.

In the words of the song:

मझधार में नैया डोले तो मांझी पार लगाए,
मांझी जो नाव डुबोये, उसे कौन बचाए

What is the solution?

In my view the solution is very simple. Justice. Let justice be done. Murder is a crime. It is fashionable today to call for tougher laws. The fact of the matter is that our existing law is more than good enough. Murder is a crime and its punishment is death. What more can anyone do? The issue is not with the law but with the implementation of the law. When murder done by someone special is not punished, changing the law and making it tougher is not the solution. The solution is to bring the criminal to justice, by proper investigation of the crime and collection of evidence. It is not possible for any police force to anticipate a crime of random violence. Neither is it possible for the police to prevent such crimes from happening because we have no knowledge of hidden things. The only way to be forewarned about the possibility of such crimes is through Community Policing by building trust in civil society such that the Police Force is seen as their compatriot and friend. I know that there are a few officers who are working to this end. But one incident of extra-judicial killing destroys years of trust building.

It may not be possible to prevent every crime of politically motivated random violence but it is eminently possible to investigate a crime once it happens and catch the criminals. When there is a price that the criminal is convinced he will have to pay, then he will think many times before committing the crime. Instead of that, when innocent people are killed because the police is too lazy to investigate or is subservient to others and has accepted the role of hitman, then instead of fighting terrorism, you end up creating more terrorists. An extra-judicial killing is a dream come true for the terror group recruiter. Every real terrorist killed in a staged encounter gives birth to ten more recruits. Every innocent killed in a staged encounter gives birth to a hundred. The nightmare of the genuine law enforcer is the false encounter because it closes doors of cooperation which could have prevented future crimes.

My suggestion is that given the dismal record of police investigations, it is time for civil society to launch an independent investigation into these terror crimes and encounters. We need to set up a fund to pay for a top-class investigation agency to independently investigate the crime and collect evidence. This can then be given publicly to the police to take to a conclusion. I say publicly because if the police know that there is real evidence then trying to cover up is not so easy. Criminals must be punished and not rewarded, if we are serious about fighting crime. If crime pays, criminals will flourish. If criminals start paying, crime will end. The law must be respected and applied, no matter who tries to break it.

If we do that, then we would have taken the right steps to change the script. Once the script is changed, the results will be different. It is time for us to wake up and realize that polluting the water in the lake affects all those who live in the lake. Those who sit quietly will not escape the effects of pollution.

The time has come to speak and to act if we want to bequeath a world to our children that they will not curse us for. Stand for justice. Speak for justice. Or sit silently and support the terrorist, the murderer and the oppressor.

The choice is yours. I made mine a long time ago.