Posted on 28-11-2010
Filed Under (POLITICS) by Shombit

The Indian EXPRESS/ The Financial EXPRESS article

Inverted comma dialogue: The people of Marseilles in the south of France are famous for melodramatic conversations: “Today a big sardine blocked the entry of the harbour, that’s why the yachts could not go out to sea.” Everybody knows that a sardine is at best 6 inches long. Has all Bengali political dialogue adopted the exaggeration of the Marseilles sardine?

In front of TV journalists, politicians fabricate a situation that they are being compelled to reveal skeletons in the opponent’s cupboard, “I didn’t want to disclose it, but as you are asking it in public interest, I have no choice but to say…” With the sole intent of badmouthing opponents, the politician starts a role-play rewinding inverted comma dialogue to establish a story, “I told Binoy, Binoy it was totally wrong the way you took away all that donation money, and just look at his shocking denial, Abhijit I didn’t even go there! But I insisted, Bijoy everybody saw you take it, and he said, Abhijit I hate those stupid liars in that area, blah blah….”

Politicians may use modern technology, but have they learnt how to talk with decorum in public? Theirs is like a Mediterranean Marseilles kitchen discussion, where reality or make believe is blown up to unbelievable proportions to suit their power hungry purpose. When TV became a medium for political usage in the West, strict norms were put in place. Hardcore theatre-type training was given to all party officials on the etiquette of talking to the public when appearing in front of TV cameras.

The opposition as enemy: In the 4-5th century BC, the Greeks combined “Demos” meaning people and “Kratos” meaning power, to convey democracy, which means rule of the people. In total fascination of the word, Bengali politicians use “democracy” like salt and sugar, peppering every savoury or sweet speech with the slogan of democracy. The difference in such usage is to get people’s vote by hook or crook, win the election and then drive the immense power that accompanies that win, but not for the illiterate and underprivileged that elected them.

When the ruling party talks of the opposition as “Birodhi dol,” their tone and manner of expression translates it as “enemy party.” Democratic decorum dictates that whether they won with 51% or 70% votes, they have to rule 100% of the people, so calling citizens “birodhi dol” is disrespect. To be powerful and effective, a democracy needs a strong opposition without which the people’s rights are not protected. In developed countries it is a wide-awake opposition that ensures the country’s peace, sustainability and eco-system. Several citizens’ rights such as social security, health, education, jobs, consumer protection, working hours, paid holidays, all came from the opposing benches being sharp-eyed to extract benefits for people.

The way both sides use “Birodhi dol” in Bengal, it incites skirmishes among the common party workers. The repercussion is the unending tears of so many mothers who, day after day, are losing their children in political squabbles in Bengal. Hearing fiery speeches or enjoying uncontrolled caricature on TV may be a pastime, but when it’s increasingly a matter of young people losing lives over so-called politics for the next Assembly elections, politicians need to pull up their responsibility socks.

The lack of serious development situations for driving “demos” and “kratos” may well be happening in other states, but as I understand Bengal very well, even though I left my refugee colony home when I was 19, I can observe these devastating consequences there. I still go to different villages and small towns in Bengal to interact with consumers for my work. From here I can gauge people’s feelings, how in their deprivation of so many of life’s essentials, such politics appear hollow to them. I often hear that nobody can predict the next 10 years and that, “This is shameful, there’s no future for the young generation of Bengal.”

A stark comparative example is Bangalore, which was a city for retired people before the 1991 economic reforms. Today, several global companies have based their R&D centres here. The software exports figures in 2008-9: Karnataka earned Rs 74,929 crores while West Bengal earned Rs 5,129 crores only.

Politics cannot solve livelihood issues: Irrespective of the party that comes to power, unemployment and uncertainly of ever getting a job cannot be substituted by political Torja, the popular entertaining rebuttal tradition in Bengal. In modern democracy, if individuals have to forcibly align themselves as visible supporters of a certain party to generate a livelihood, it’s a break down of democracy. Is politicizing a state in a pseudo capitalistic country the right direction? If the masses are busy with activities like jhanda, procession, bandh, vandalism through political banners, where is the time left for them to work? Because politics is becoming central for the livelihood of the masses in West Bengal, crime and death have increased substantially, beyond limits.

The two contending parties for Bengal’s Assembly elections continuously berate and attack each other, as though the country has only two abscesses, the Railways and 30-years-of-deficient-governance. They boast of their ability to unexpectedly draw huge crowds to political rallies, as though they were counting heads of a performing artist’s fans. The mass populace that is their victims already knows the dubious tactics used to collect crowds from villages. Wouldn’t political parties do well to concentrate on keeping their election promises to the masses? With industrial development, employment can increase to change the country’s economic situation. The masses and industries need not then depend on any political party.

Business, science, art and philosophy cannot become by-products of politics. “Politics” comes from the Greek word “Politika.” In 3rd century BC, Aristotle wrote a book called "Affairs of the city" on governing and governments. Instead of treading on everybody’s toes by misinterpreting the original meaning of words like politics and democracy, our politicians would be better appreciated if they stuck to the politics of governance.

To get a job, an individual should not have to knock the door of a political party. Politics in a democracy should uplift a state’s socio-economic situation. If industry is not given freedom to expand and make profits, will global companies ever consider investing in Bengal to make it an industrial and service hub for economic development?


To download above article in PDF Please “Democracy” as an election weapon in Bengal

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Posted on 21-11-2010
Filed Under (POLITICS) by Shombit

The Indian EXPRESS/ The Financial EXPRESS article

About Torja song: Bengali politicians are highly coherent with Bengali culture. They’re re-enacting the Torja tradition sans Torja decorum in contemporary times. Torja theatre is a centuries old Bengali entertainment program of refutation. Two performing artists in eye-to-eye contact, with participating disciples behind them, affront each other in song. They use social innuendoes and receive apt, scathing replies. When a fitting point is made, an appreciative audience throws money at, or garlands the Torja singer. This continues nonstop until one fails to reply and the other crowned Torja champion.

Bhola Moira (moira is a Bengali sweet maker) had become a highly reputed Torja singer when the East India Company set up operations in Calcutta. He’d travel throughout Bengal, performing before patron kings, noblemen and zamindars. A fan of his, Anthony “Firingi” of Portugese and Indian descent, was in love with Bengali culture, especially Torja songs. He requested Bhola for Torja training, but Bhola dismissed him saying a foreigner couldn’t master this traditional Bengali art. Anthony was determined. Diving into Indian religious practice and music training, he started participating in the performance circuit. In time he became so good he defeated all opponents. When the day arrived to challenge Bhola Moira, the audience was full of anticipation: how can an outsider dare to confront irrefutable Bhola?

Bhola Moira began by chastising his opponent. He declared in song that the outsider came to perform only to eat the sumptuous food at this auspicious occasion. Anthony’s reply brought stunned silence: “May you live long Bhola! Who can have talent as great as yours to challenge you in Torja song?” Singing with complete adulation, Anthony took the winner’s garland and put it over Bhola’s head. Bhola Moira melted, totally. He declared that Anthony was no longer his Firingi rival, that he should henceforth be known as Anthony Kobial, the poet who mastered Torja songs. Among current politicians in Bengal irrespective of gender, it’s up to you to imagine who could be an appropriate Bhola Moira and who an Anthony Kobial.

Disfiguring the electronic media code: Its news when some chaos happening in the city is shown, but chaos inside the studio defies electronic media etiquette. As a viewer of Bengali channel political debates on the forthcoming Assembly elections, you don’t understand anything, you just hear the cacophony of 2, 3 or 4 people talking simultaneously. The anchor’s capacity of control appears minimal. Television is a Western invention with its code of conduct centered on soft skills. Culturally every country can be different in the way they conduct public discussions, but when adopting the technicalities of a Western mass communication medium, you have to respect its viewer code process to be effective. Even in Torja where the game is criticism, the opponent has to listen. Liberalization of the electronic media does not mean liberty to adopt Bengali fish market behaviour in public audio-visual channels. In fact, viewers feel so ashamed of such fighting, they heave a sigh of relief when the advertising pause happens. Is such bedlam intentionally created to get higher TV rating points (TRP)?

In Torja, winners were garlanded, in today’s tele-Torja, does the TV channel purposely encourage heated political high jinks so that the TRP Lakshmi Bhandar can rake in the cash? When anchors sometimes invite the audience to phone in with questions, if the tenor of the question does not toe a particular political line the TV channel is obliquely leaning towards, the question will get mired into oblivion. If you view any Bengali news channel, within 5 minutes of watching you’ll understand its political inclination. Are these channels undecided of their agenda being party propaganda or mass communication? Mocking disregard for editorial balance is quite unfair to the public.

The national media refer to Bengali politicians as “Bhadralok,” it would be interesting to observe when “Bhadramahila” will come into usage. Certain insolent, gender-related comments Bengali male politicians make on TV are in poor taste. Even in verandah discussions in our unemployed, young life in the seventies, we never were so impolite. Today’s politicians always talk in loud and angry tones in public meetings and TV. What could their purpose be? People do not register a message when anger is its baseboard, the purpose not visible. Only dictators like Hitler or Mussolini got away with anger expressions. Their fiery speeches made citizens into aggressive Dobermans who can be commanded to kill dissenters without questioning, purportedly to build the country’s power base.

Intellectual disorder: Normally a writer, singer, poet, performing artist, scientist or philosopher should leave it open for the public to admire and recognize his/her domain excellence and intellectual substance. But in Bengal certain people declare themselves to be Buddhijibi, literally meaning those who earn by selling intelligence, as though it’s a new profession. Does any work exist where money is earned without using intelligence? Perhaps they try to distinguish themselves as intellectuals, a class higher than the poor masses? Buddhijibis are often seen on television. Here they create their brand value. Basic consumers in villages always say that when they see a brand advertised on TV, they think its credibility is very high because it was seen on TV. So the route for Buddhijibis is to get branded with trustworthiness by appearing on TV.

Today’s Bengali Buddhijibis seem unabashed in their pursuit of political patronage. A painter, for example, may have certain political leanings, but his/her viewers can harbour any opposing ideology. They need not see the paintings from a political angle. Picasso was a known Communist, but everyone, irrespective of their political affiliations, loved his paintings. Capitalists in particular raised the value of Picasso’s paintings and made him world famous.

When Buddhijibis directly manifest affiliation to a political party in a public debate, they immediately abuse their intellectual stature to become party spokespersons indulging in Torja theatrics.

Another big gap in Bengal is absence of a politologue, an independent political scientist who analyzes without bias towards any party. Deficiency of an independent political judge who brings maturity into politics is perhaps not a dilemma in Bengal alone, but throughout the country.

Bengal’s young generation find their future totally smoky and uncertain. How long they will be victims of Bengali Torja politics that’s polarizing the State’s growth and future?

To download above article in PDF Please Politicians in Torja theatrics for West Bengal Assembly

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Posted on 14-11-2010
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

He swaggered in on Air Force One, keeping a watchful eye on the herds in the wide open ranges. From taxpayers back home looking askance at his millions-of-dollars trip, to expectations from his Indian hosts, and neighbouring Pakistan and China flinching over his terse references to them, the cowboy was riding centrestage. Skillfully swinging his lasso over Indian businessmen, he reined in $10-15 billion worth of contracts for American firms. President Barack Obama proved that, like the modern-day cowboy in a rodeo, he could still sit atop his bucking bull electorate where his party just lost mid-term elections, to emerge victorious. His lasso boasted a kill of 54,000 jobs for his countrymen, from India. All this, without repeating his election words of preferring Buffalo to Bangalore for outsourcing, or exposing a possible future trend that Ohio Governor Ted Strickland started when he passed an executive order in September 2010 to ban outsourcing.

Deal making is part-and-parcel of American capitalist society. They can grab an opportunity and align it to a national level strategic decision. In Michigan six months ago, I heard their Governor say the US should export, not import. GE’s super-boss recently announced GE’s five-year ambition to sell American products of $10 billion in India. And President Obama demonstrated how to execute this strategy. This coherent drive of a nation stems from a powerful political opposition that compels even the President of the world’s superpower to travel to different countries with a business collection box.

What are India’s learnings on how to drive opportunity and strengthen future directions from this cultural discipline?

1. Without a strong political opposition that reflects mass sentiments, our democratic government gets no back-pressure to drive for people’s benefit. Coffee-house, table-talk protest of Leftist parties is not challenge enough. Having run the liberalised economy for two decades, it’s time India became shrewd and intelligent to extract the best for the common man. Does a Left protest against the US President’s visit have any meaning when everyone knows India exports $40 billion IT services to the US every year? Only a vigilant opposition bench can be a threat to the ruling party to defend the country’s economy and people.

2. The US is beginning to understand that vacating the manufacturing space was another cause of their downturn. In trying to repair this mistake, they are peddling products now. India tom-toms its $60 billion IT exports, but that comprises basic, non-innovative work. Of course two million IT-related jobs were created, but what about engineering talent drained for mere coding? India’s manufacturing quality and high skill precision are far behind those of China, Korea and Japan, but without manufacturing, our economy cannot be robust in future.

3. India’s cost-advantage IT service with people exports to Western societies is a fragile business. Can the jobless in economic drought tolerate what they perceive as jobs escaping to foreigners? IT professionals claim American corporations cannot run without outsourcing to India. That may be true, but the requirements of American companies and American society are not the same. If India was the inventor of products like SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, then adding services behind them could have been interesting. Unfortunately, Indian IT service does not reflect any innovative streak. We need to add value beyond meeting physical numbers to avoid the “been Bangalored” slogan which in the US means “jobs gone to India.” What’s already happening is Western IT service companies are employing Indian engineers en masse in India. To stop being badgered as job snatchers, Indian companies can take the bold step of localisation. Companies like Accenture and IBM employ more Indian engineers in India than most Indian IT companies do. They serve Western clients but are they facing this political bogeyman that other Indian companies are? Perhaps not, because their local interface and value addition to their customers’ business are so high that they can easily hide everything else. Opening local companies may not solve the negativity towards outsourcing, but at least it can temper the conflict situation.

4. Even as the US President is marketing India, Indian companies should not expect that American technology know-how will easily transfer to India even if we are paying for it. Don’t mix India up with Israel. Americans are ready to fork out largesse to Israel because of their strategic interest in controlling Middle East Arab states that are floating in petroleum reserves. This kind of open-pocket support can never come India’s way.

Traditionally India’s been a trading society, so breakthrough invention has not happened here as in US garages. Our societal gene for invention is not developed, nor is there any precedent of a new departure from Indian invention.

Industries in India follow the American capital market system of quarter-to-quarter results to satisfy shareholders. Where’s the inclination for investment in invention? Without getting into hardcore manufacturing, export of manufactured products with high quality image, the Indian economy will not be robust tomorrow.

Developed countries are targeting India’s huge consumer base that manages a good lifestyle with proportionately lower income than Western counterparts. That’s enough for Presidents and CEOs to come for encashing business here to raise their country’s economy. What about our ministers and CEOs? Shouldn’t they become business cowboys for India too?

To download above article in PDF A cowboy triggers big bus

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Posted on 07-11-2010
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit


Driving $60 billion of the arguable $800+ billion global IT business, India with 2 million IT professionals has certainly flourished in the demand-led market with good management offering low cost as prime benefit, and the ability to handle large-scale operations. High technical skill-set is the frame that carries the business, but without soft skills the delivery remains a skeleton with no flesh. Tomorrow’s route to acquire better brand value and retrieve better bottomline is anchoring soft skills at the core.

Tech-savvy engineers travel the world delivering IT services, but far too often they are oblivious of how to behave in different cultures. This lack of understanding can mar many a business transction. In a neck-to-neck competition, if the Indian manager shakes a woman client’s hand with his gloves on, the discordant feeling can be a major reason to lose the contract. The apprehension could be, “How will we handle cultural differences in future?”

It’s certainly not fair for organisations to leave employees to pick up, interpret and perform in culturally divergent environments. Just as technical training is not negotiable, so must an engineer be made culturally fit with relevant soft skills; mere learning how to correctly hold a fork and knife at the dining table is a hygiene factor. Gender equality is a big topic in the West, yet it is culturally right to hold a door open for a woman to pass through. Undoubtedly Indians are very polite, but soft skills and politeness are totally different subjects. Our tendency to push through in India does not even allow people to properly exit a public toilet, train or bus, we rush in before others can vacate that space.

In the service industry, soft skills and subtlety create 60% selling value, the balance 40% is technicality used to deliver the service. In a country where service doesn’t have high admiration culturally, soft skills can be picked up only by hardcore training. To buy an on-the-spot ticket in most airports, you have to stand outside. When counter attendants dillydally, I’ve sometimes asked them what they think of how their slow service is affecting customers sweating outside when they are in air-conditioned comfort. Of course they haven’t designed the counters, but are they sensitive to customer service? Unfortunately, their nonplussed expression conveys that such a thought has never crossed their minds.

India’s IT industry can get a tremendous bottomline and image boost if highly processed soft skills coaching becomes corporate priority. Wearing a monkey cap over a formal suit in winter in a Western developed country is not a representation of soft skills; nor is having some religious sign on the forehead at the workplace. The client may wear casual clothing as per his country’s culture, but the servicing partner should not follow suit. A corporate dress code will better define the onsite engineer and his company’s seriousness. It’s not good manners to bring traditional smelling food to eat at the worktable. That can disturb your client’s corporate and social culture although they may not express it upfront.

When located onsite at the client’s premises, you become the face and brand of your company. Don’t become a temporary immigrant who huddles in his own community, but mix freely in their cultural and business environment. Americans nowadays talk of the US becoming an export rather than an importing country, and unemployment is rife in Europe. So people should not perceive your being there as depriving local people of jobs. Display your individual identity here, your value differentiation at work, that you’re not a number the client has contracted for from a foreign IT services provider.

Your onsite posting is a huge opportunity to enjoy a foreign country stay with a strong mentality of integration. This learning will add more value to your CV than your work experience. Here are 20 soft skills areas to process and productize in the IT industry.

You have to be adept at (1) integrating with foreign colleagues onsite and (2) confident in spoken language. Have (3) congenial attitude and behavior, (4) manners that address the clients in their societal context, and (5) the right workplace attire to always appear elegant. In terms of work execution you have to learn how to (6) understand a client’s deeper business activities to avoid jarring him with lack of knowledge, (7) make a client speak elaborately to encash valuable insights, (8) gauge a senior client’s personal sensitivities to better bond with him, (9) address clients in their own business language, and (10) thereby achieve deal making. You need soft skills to deliver the nitty gritty of daily work such as (11) the client’s team facilitating action adherence to get your work done smoothly, (12) interacting with multiple nationalities, (13) understanding and interpreting technicalities with a palatable story, (14) getting a business delivery package empowered to become higher than its basic substance, and (15) for crisis management. Soft skills pop up in gender matters, (16) how to interact with women colleagues, and (17) if you are a woman, how to handle men in the world of business. For your own pleasure, comfort and recognition, soft skills are important in how to (18) be integrated, not have an immigrant’s feeling of being an outsider, (19) be perceived as a leader in your profession, and (20) acquire admiration for diverse activities.

You can always invite your host country clients and friends to celebrate India’s festivals, dress traditionally and use your religious rituals. Your guests will be thrilled to learn of your culture. But the workplace cannot accept this. In India’s high economic disparity, and diversity in culture, religion, language and geography, soft skills grooming is not part of our social fiber. Not many people would thank an auto-rickshaw driver, nor would they expect him to say thanks. The West is so exuberant about soft skills because they have consciously abolished slavery and respect the service sector. When you are working for them, you have no choice but to follow their decorum.

Indian IT companies have some soft skills training, but does that make you persuasive enough to convert business during a high value business pitch? Relevant soft skills coaching will improve marketing and sales relationships and reverse Indian companies being perceived as basic “order takers” to becoming proactive strategic partners to global clients.

To download above article in PDF Please Soft skills, IT’s bottomline booster

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