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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Diwali 2008 @ VT - Archana's dance

Part of the Diwali function at Virginia Tech during November 2008. My daughter Archana was the Cultural secretary of the Indian Association and was the key figure in conduting the Diwali celebrations.
This dance is a typical Kerala dance normally performed during the "Onam" celebrations. Archana choreographed the dance.
Very difficult to spot persons by dress as all have similar sarees. However, you can see Archana( with the red blouse) occupying the front row and in the centre most of the time( near the girl with the blue blouse in the initial part of the dance)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"Mumbai terror" aftermath- What do we do next

The dust is settling down. But the heart still bleeds. There is a mixed feeling of anger, frustration, helplessness, and insecurity. There is a direct hate towards politicians for their ineptitude, insensitiveness and their “promise now- forget later” attitude. But these feelings, however natural they may be, will not prevent recurrence of such attacks. Whoever forms the Government, these things will not change. We have to demand change and change our attitude and outlook as well.

We need a paradigm shift in the way we as citizens think and act. For far too long India and her people has been very tolerant. We are a nation who always reflect and take pride in our culture, tradition, our soft attitude. We accept corrupt people and we offer bribes, we tolerate court cases which go on for years, we accept people breaking queues. These are what I believe is internal terrorism which erodes our value systems. We have always believed these as part of our normal daily process. Well, they are not. We have allowed them to be and we are responsible for it. Let’s own it up. Let us show our collective anger against these also so that corruption, indiscipline, laxity in judicial process etc. are rooted out of our country. Ironically, this grave tragedy has provided us with a window of an opportunity to unite and eradicate all the above social maladies. Let us also correct ourselves when we point fingers at politicians.

Let us all take a common resolution and oath that 1) we will not bribe and we shall not tolerate corruption at any level. 2) We shall respect rules and not break lines. 3) We shall demand fair judgment to be delivered in reasonable time.

This is the time when we should move and make these changes happen. Else, we will again get into the usual rut and allow things to drift. This alone can change the fabric of our society. Only then can we become a strong and a united nation which can face both internal and external challenges.

The anger in the aftermath of the “Mumbai terror” has had an unprecedented effect on our politicians. The collective energy created by this anger has for once made our politicians scared of our citizens. They are now aware that nothing short of action is going to satisfy the people. However, knee-jerk reactions are not the answer to the problem we face.

What we need is a clear and concrete action plan from the Government with timelines and milestones. These action plans should be categorized as a) immediate, b) short-term, and c) long-term.

Action Plans:

a) immediate(0 to 30 days):

1) Remove people from posts who are directly accountable and those who made insensitive statements. (This is partly done as I write but more will have to follow. This action is symbolic and essential but not enough by itself).

2) Collect info and evidence on perpetrators. (As per the Government and the media reports, the detailed evidence collected points to elements in Pakistan).

3) Provide the evidence to the concerned country asking them to take action in closing down terror training camps and handover listed persons who are fugitives from Indian justice.

4) Simultaneously, get global support by providing evidence. Global support should also include targeting terror camps incase the concerned country doesn’t cooperate. There is precedence here as U.S.A has already targeted terror camps. However, a lot of tact, diplomacy and applying global pressure are important as the neighbouring country is a nuclear weapon country and the worst situation would be when the terrorists get hold of the nuclear arsenal.

5) Make a clear statement of intent (details will form as part of “short-term” plans) to improve equipment and facilities to coast guard, National Security Guard (NSG) and other relevant departments.

b) Short-term (0 to one year):

1) Follow up on the "immediate" plans.

2) Depoliticize departments like police and intelligence wings like Research and analysis wing (RAW). Make this a purely professional outfit.

3) Create a structure where different departments don’t act as “silos” (e.g.: Navy and coast guard). Information flow should be smooth and clearly define responsibilities, accountabilities and chain of command.

4) Study the requirements of up gradation in equipment, infrastructure, technology and facilities for coast guard, NSG and other relevant departments and provide resources at once.

5) Create a Federal intelligence agency for acting against terror. Simultaneously, train and improve skills in police force to handle terror. A group of the trained people at some stage can be brought under the Federal agency.

c) Long term (one to two years):

1) Should move into a presidential form of government (in the lines of U.S.A).

2) Cabinet and Ministers need not be politicians and preferably should be experts in the respective fields.

These are my suggestions for my countrymen and for the government. It is my strong belief that if we do this we could move forward with our head held high.

These suggested plans are by no means exhaustive but are the salient points. I am open for suggestions from anyone who would like to take India forward. People who think there is substance in this blog, I would request you to share this link with all your friends so that we can formulate some meaningful action plans.

Remember, let’s not lose time. Let’s move and make a paradigm change to propel our country where the citizens are secure, “ actually free “ and where others will look up to us.

Jai Hind

Sunday, November 30, 2008

War against terror in Mumbai

Terror struck Mumbai again on the night of 26th November 2008 and lasted for 60 hours before the last of the terrorists were killed in fierce gun battle. 200 people killed and more than 300 injured. These counts are certainly bound to go up once the places are sanitised and the final figure comes out.

It is not as if Mumbai has not witnessed terrorist attacks before. The 1993 attack and the serial blasts in trains in 2006 are still fresh in the minds of people. The earlier attacks were all blasts set of by remote control. However, this time the terrorists had come by sea in boats and then spreading to different places like the Taj Hotel, Hotel Oberoi and Nariman House in the thickly populated Colaba area. Mumbai was in siege and was a battle ground.

The Taj is 105 years old and is a heritage hotel. Those who have been to Mumbai would know the majestic presence of the Taj Hotel alongside the Arabian sea and right in front of the “Gateway of India” arch. On the 26th November 2008, this symbolic arch became the “Gateway of terror”.

The terrorists had opened fire indiscriminately inside the hotel killing innumerable guests and also had taken people as hostages. The collateral damage that could be caused to the hostages was the main reason why the operation took so long. The Army, National security guards, police and firemen had done a superlative job and in some cases sacrificing their lives in the process to save others. The Nation salutes them and their heroics. The heart bleeds for all the families who have lost their near and dear ones..

India has faced the brunt of so many terrorist attacks. After every attack, the politicians talk big using rhetoric and clich├ęs saying that they will crush terrorism and punish the guilty and then it’s all forgotten. “Enough is enough”. Stop talking and start acting. It is high time the Government and politicians become accountable and answer the citizens. Providing security to the people is the paramount responsibility of the Government. Let’s act and evolve concrete steps to put an end to this terror.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

There goes "free market trade"

The last blog I wrote was on the last day of 2007.So many things and events have happened since then that has turned the world on its head. The most noticeable is the Global financial crisis and for the first time the election of an African- American to the White House.

The financial crisis seen now has never been felt before in this enormity the world over. The great Depression of the 1930’s was severe only in America. The world was not that integrated then nor was it seamless and hence the storm was net felt throughout the world. Now with no trade barriers, the shock wave spread right through the world. Like the Iraqi war fiasco, the credit for this global turmoil should be taken by the U.S.A.

The last eight years has seen such a shoddy administration in Washington that a lot of people would be happy to see the back of Bush. Greed coupled with no financial regulation is a sure recipe for doom. This is exactly what happened when the interest rates were brought down and held to such a low level by Greenspan and property prices shot up.

The so called whiz kids in financial management assumed that individual’s income would keep going up and hence repayment of loans would become easier, the Real estate bubble will never burst and the economy will never collapse. Fancy financial instruments like collateralized debt obligation (CDO) were evolved and traded putting more pressure on banks and Mortgage houses to extend loans without verifying the financial standing of the borrower. The so called Ninja loans (no income-no job and asset) became a routine thing. When the borrowers failed to repay the loans, the chain snapped and the bubble burst turning all the CDO’s to worthless papers. From a state of “irrational exuberance” in October 2007, the world has now come to a state of “chaotic pessimism”.

U.S.A, the great free market champion, was in panic mode. A $700 billion bailout plan which included buying Bank’s equity was put in place. This virtually amounts to part Nationalization of Banks and insurance companies like A.I.G. When South east Asia went through a financial crisis in 1997, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which is the financial mouthpiece of U.S.A, laid conditions to South Korea and Indonesia that loans would be given only if the Government doesn’t bail out banks which are inefficient and should allow them to die. When it happens to the “so called free market country”, the rules are different.

Free market trade or free market capitalism is good provided it is done with proper regulation and supervision.It is high time countries understand that a “watch dog” regulator is essential. Financial checks and balances should be put in place so that speculation of this magnitude doesn’t recur. Judicious regulation in place is a must for trouble-free financial transactions.

Let this be an eye opener to all and especially to the powers that be in the Washington corridor

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Wither 2007, Welcome 2008

April 2007 saw the massacre in Virginia tech campus by a gunman on the rampage killing 32 people before shooting himself to death. The year ended with the assassination of former Prime minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto. However, in between these two tragic events, the world saw China continuing to grow at 11% with India following with 9% GDP. Most world index ended in a positive note except Japan's Nikkei. Apple brought out its IPhone amidst much fanfare & Nintendo launching its virtual reality game of Wii which was a run-away success.The year also saw a global credit squeeze triggered by the U.S sub prime lending problem. Most Financial institutions in the western world were seriously hit as their mortgage securities became worthless papers triggering billions of dollars in write downs. The panic caused the dollar to plummet & lost its bearings against most world currencies. Crude oil jumped 58% during the year from $61 to $96. It's effect on world inflation would be felt in 2008.

In a nutshell, 2007 has been just another year for the developed countries but a strong performance by the emerging economies.

What do i see of 2008? U.S will be struggling most of the year to keep it's head above water.The Fed will be busy tinkering with the interest rates to stave off a recession. But the dollar would start strengthening from the second half when the economy slowly starts to unfold.My bet would be to buy the Financial stocks in Feb/March when they are likely to be at their lowest . Given a 2 year span, these should give good returns. On the political front, Democrats would win the Presidential race & one might well see a woman president for the first time.

China would showcase its economic power during the Beijing Olympics but may see a slowdown in the second half after the event. India would continue its upward march & sectors like, Power, Metals, Infrastructure,Banks & Capital goods would be the stocks to watch for.

Happy New year to all.