Ode to the Nice Guys

on Tuesday, January 27, 2009

This rant was written for the Wharton Undergraduate Journal

This is a tribute to the nice guys. The nice guys that finish last, that never become more than friends, that endure hours of whining and bitching about what assholes guys are, while disproving the very point. This is dedicated to those guys who always provide a shoulder to lean on but restrain themselves to tentative hugs, those guys who hold open doors and give reassuring pats on the back and sit patiently outside the changing room at department stores. This is in honor of the guys that obligingly reiterate how cute/beautiful/smart/funny/sexy their female friends are at the appropriate moment, because they know most girls need that litany of support. This is in honor of the guys with open minds, with laid-back attitudes, with honest concern. This is in honor of the guys who respect a girl’s every facet, from her privacy to her theology to her clothing style.

This is for the guys who escort their drunk, bewildered female friends back from parties and never take advantage once they’re at her door, for the guys who accompany girls to bars as buffers against the rest of the creepy male population, for the guys who know a girl is fishing for compliments but give them out anyway, for the guys who always play by the rules in a game where the rules favor cheaters, for the guys who are accredited as boyfriend material but somehow don’t end up being boyfriends, for all the nice guys who are overlooked, underestimated, and unappreciated, for all the nice guys who are manipulated, misled, and unjustly abandoned, this is for you.

This is for that time she left 40 urgent messages on your cell phone, and when you called her back, she spent three hours painstakingly dissecting two sentences her boyfriend said to her over dinner. And even though you thought her boyfriend was a chump and a jerk, you assured her that it was all ok and she shouldn’t worry about it. This is for that time she interrupted the best killing spree you’d ever orchestrated in GTA3 to rant about a rumor that romantically linked her and the guy she thinks is the most repulsive person in the world. And even though you thought it was immature and you had nothing against the guy, you paused the game for two hours and helped her concoct a counter-rumor to spread around the floor. This is also for that time she didn’t have a date, so after numerous vows that there was nothing “serious” between the two of you, she dragged you to a party where you knew nobody, the beer was awful, and she flirted shamelessly with you, justifying each fit of reckless teasing by announcing to everyone: “oh, but we’re just friends!” And even though you were invited purely as a symbolic warm body for her ego, you went anyways. Because you’re nice like that.

The nice guys don’t often get credit where credit is due. And perhaps more disturbing, the nice guys don’t seem to get laid as often as they should. And I wish I could logically explain this trend, but I can’t. From what I have observed on campus and what I have learned from talking to friends at other schools and in the workplace, the only conclusion I can form is that many girls are just illogical, manipulative bitches. Many of them claim they just want to date a nice guy, but when presented with such a specimen, they say irrational, confusing things such as “oh, he’s too nice to date” or “he would be a good boyfriend but he’s not for me” or “he already puts up with so much from me, I couldn’t possibly ask him out!” or the most frustrating of all: “no, it would ruin our friendship.” Yet, they continue to lament the lack of datable men in the world, and they expect their too-nice-to-date male friends to sympathize and apologize for the men that are jerks. Sorry, guys, girls like that are beyond my ability to fathom. I can’t figure out why the connection breaks down between what they say (I want a nice guy!) and what they do (I’m going to sleep with this complete ass now!). But one thing I can do, is say that the nice-guy-finishes-last phenomenon doesn’t last forever. There are definitely many girls who grow out of that train of thought and realize they should be dating the nice guys, not taking them for granted. The tricky part is finding those girls, and even trickier, finding the ones that are single.

So, until those girls are found, I propose a toast to all the nice guys. You know who you are, and I know you’re sick of hearing yourself described as ubiquitously nice. But the truth of the matter is, the world needs your patience in the department store, your holding open of doors, your party escorting services, your propensity to be a sucker for a pretty smile. For all the crazy, inane, absurd things you tolerate, for all the situations where you are the faceless, nameless hero, my accolades, my acknowledgement, and my gratitude go out to you. You do have credibility in this society, and your well deserved vindication is coming.

Fu-zu Jen, SEAS/WH, 2003

Of thank you and sorry

on Monday, January 26, 2009

Gratitude and apology are emotional yardsticks of human character. We must not strip them of sincerity, says Harsh Kabra

Thank you and sorry are perhaps the first words we learn. And they stay with us right through our lives as yardsticks of our civility. But when was the last time we said “thank you” or “sorry” without meaning to simply offload our burden of obligation or guilt? Indeed, these words no longer express what they are supposed to. Instead, they are used flippantly, thrown around without care, often reduced to an easy way of getting off the hook and evading meaningful action. They may well be the most used words in times of political correctness. But they are clearly the most abused as well. The emotions of gratitude and apology are vital to the chain of human reciprocity. But in stripping them of sincerity, we also seem to be closing the doors on their benefits for us.
In almost all religious traditions, gratitude is a manifestation of virtuous character. “Gratitude, as it were, is the moral memory of mankind,” wrote sociologist Georg Simmel. Scottish philosopher Thomas Brown defined gratitude as “that delightful emotion of love to him who has conferred kindness on us, the very feeling of which is itself no small part of the benefit conferred”. German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “In ordinary life, we hardly realise that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.”
The quality of being thankful implies the disposition to turn goodwill into action and the inclination to return kindness. A “thank you” denotes the attitude of positive acceptance, a determination to employ the kindness or blessing imaginatively and inventively. It connotes the humility of considering oneself the recipient of undeserved merit. “He who receives a benefit with gratitude repays the first instalment on his debt,” observed Roman statesman Lucius Annaeus Seneca.
Gratitude comes endowed with the power to help us create the life we want and can be therapeutic. Gratefulness emanates from looking at what someone or something has done for us. It is, therefore, about positivity of outlook, which, in turn, generates optimism and energy. Conversely, the lack of gratefulness breeds negativity and despair. In fact, proponents of positive psychology, a recent branch of psychology that studies the strengths and virtues enabling individuals and communities to thrive, consider gratitude to be a pleasant emotional state like happiness, joy, love, curiosity and hope.
The lack of gratefulness is largely because we take things for granted, brashly presuming that they are either our rightful due or are far less than what we deserve. What holds us back from being grateful is such lack of contentment and an endless craving for more. Often, we insist on waiting for the results of an action or a blessing to show up before expressing gratitude. This indicates a dearth of trust and faith, which pays us back in our own coin.
In a way, gratitude helps us realise the benefits of mindful meditation, which is all about acknowledging and feeling connected with every breath and blessing of life. Invariably, a life with gratefulness as its pivot is also a solution to the ills spawned by insatiable human yearnings.
We might wonder where the need for gratitude is if we pay for goods and services in money. Gratitude doesn’t even fetch us discounts. In fact, there is a subtle line of distinction between gratitude and ingratiation. So much so that when someone thanks us too many times, we start doubting his intention. However, as philosopher Adam Smith averred, gratitude is a vital civic virtue, essential for the healthy functioning of societies. He called gratitude a part of the moral capital required for human societies to flourish.
The act of offering and accepting an apology is as profound and healing a human interaction as that of expressing gratitude. But while the offhand “sorry about that” keeps flying around, our ego prevents us from realising its full potential. The word loses its impact when we refrain from acknowledging our offence (“Sorry for whatever I may have done”) or throw in a self-serving conditionality (“I am sorry if you were hurt”). If the purpose of an apology is only to say, “While I don’t think I was wrong, I will apologise because you say so”, it is best not to offer one, for, the worst we can do is to insult someone’s sensitivity or intelligence by such treatment.
Bestowed with the power to effect reconciliation and mend strained relationships, an apology must involve acknowledging the offense adequately, expressing genuine remorse and offering appropriate reparations, including a commitment to make changes. “A stiff apology is a second insult,” said novelist and poet G K Chesterton. “The injured party does not want to be compensated because he has been wronged; he wants to be healed because he has been hurt.”
The rewards of an apology can only be earned, not embezzled. With everybody from convicts to public figures seeking its refuge, “sorry” is not a quickfix for things gone awry, but the starting point of restoring order. The use of this word must be backed by sincerity of intention. “Never ruin an apology with an excuse,” advises American poet Kimberly Johnson. Seldom does an apology sensitise us to the responsibility of not repeating the same mistake.
A sincere apology helps both parties achieve greater harmony: While the individual making an apology is disencumbered of guilt, shame and fear of retaliation, the one who accepts an apology heals his own humiliations and grudges, rids his mind of the painful preoccupations of revenge and generates forgiveness to bring about greater peace in his own life and in the lives of others around him.
Expressing gratitude and apology without necessarily being grateful or remorseful people is an exercise in futility. Shallow expressions of gratitude and apology are not emotionally evocative and end up producing the contrary result. Often, they are so disengaged and superficial that they fail to motivate altruistic action and positivity. What matter most here is honesty, generosity, humility, commitment, courage and sacrifice, for these qualities define our true dignity.
(Harsh Kabra is an alternative therapist and a writer based in Pune)

Done In By Hype

on Thursday, January 22, 2009

Unqualified adulation of corporate leaders is dangerous
Vikram Singh Mehta

Flashback to the early 1980s and some people may recollect the name Agha Hassan Abedi. He was the founder of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) which in those days was the fastest growing financial institution in the world. It later emerged that BCCI’s success was built around a web of deceit and fraud. Abedi’s collapse into ignominy was as rapid as his rise to fortune. Fast forward to the 1990s and there is Ken Lay. He took Enron from revenues to the tune of $4.6 billion in 1990 to $101 billion in 2000, and then to bankruptcy by 2001.
While the company’s fortunes were on the rise Lay was the darling of the corporate community. He was showered with awards and those who asked troublesome questions about the company’s performance were dismissed as awkward Cassandras. And now there is Ramalinga Raju, the man who built Satyam into India’s fourth largest IT company, and who only last year was conferred the Golden Peacock Award for corporate governance. These are just three names out of the many that at one stage bestrode their professional domains like a colossus but then collapsed into a heap of public opprobrium, legal suits and personal shame.
Why did such people who had been hailed as iconic trailblazers and whose entrepreneurial and innovative initiatives were held up as models of inspired leadership for a competitive and connected world feel compelled to wilfully defraud?
There is no simple answer but of all the possible explanations there is one that calls for a psychologist’s comment — the subtly corrosive impact of public accolades and media hype. Abedi, Lay, Raju and their like were once the cynosure of shareholders, peers, financial journalists and industry federations. Their every initiative was given broad coverage. Their companies were the envy of the corporate community. But then hubris and overconfidence stepped in. They began to believe the hype. They began to behave as if they did have the Midas touch — that they could indeed convert dross into gold.
They got so taken in by the spin and hyperbole of third-party analysts and a superficially knowledgeable media that instead of focusing on business fundamentals like managing cash flows, they expended disproportionate effort on sustaining the stories of their success. Matters had to eventually come to a head. Whether it was because of a mistimed bet or a shift in market conditions their companies started to falter. The rot set in when against this backdrop of deluded grandeur and
fear of failure they crossed the line that divides the bending of rules from the breaking of them.
How did the board of directors — in particular the independent directors — allow such a situation to come to pass? What were the external auditors doing? The answer to the latter is clear. The auditors were asleep at the wheel. They were negligent and in breach of their responsibilities. The answer to the former is, however, more complex. The independent directors must of course share the blame. But to what extent? Are there extenuating circumstances?
Independent directors are expected to have the knowledge to help the company meet its corporate objectives of profitability, growth and social responsibility and also to ensure adherence to legal and financial propriety. They are better able to do the latter than the former. This is because most directors do not have the time to get a grip of the details of a company’s operations, its business strategy, its people and its organisational complexities. They are either preoccupied with a full-time responsibility elsewhere or, if retired, with multiple boards and consultancies. Management is also all too often economical with information. The board’s papers contain no more than the bare bones of important proposals and they arrive but a few days before the meeting. This may be a prudent precaution against leaks but it does not facilitate a meaningful dialogue.
The Satyam board, for instance, could not have had a more distinguished pedigree and yet it approved a proposal that was clearly in transgression of the spirit, if not the letter, of corporate governance norms related to conflict of interest. Why did the board approve the proposal? The charitable explanation would be that the information presented was sparse and possibly misleading, and that the board’s agenda did not allow for a rigorous and structured discussion. But the more likely explanation would be that the directors did not have the detailed knowledge needed to penetrate the veil that covers operational and financial numbers. The fact is that a management bent on fraud would under such circumstances have little difficulty in pulling wool over the eyes of its directors.
The Satyam saga must not lead to the assumption that every CEO is a potential Lay or Raju, or that in the absence of a further tightening of rules there will be a run of corporate scandals. But it does offer a useful lesson. Independent directors should have a more formal involvement in the setting of corporate strategy. The creation of a subcommittee on strategy would not only play better to the strength of the directors but it would also help check the ‘strategic’ forays of ambitious, and possibly greedy, owner-managers.
The writer is chairman of a multinational corporation in India.

Acclaimed, Afflicted

on Thursday, January 15, 2009

The life and times of former Patna DM Gautam Goswami, who passed away recently


When Gulabi Ghat, the popular cremation ground on the banks of the Ganga in the Bihar capital, received a distinguished guest on a frugal bier on his final journey on Tuesday, January 6, the ambience betrayed a tragic irony. The cremation of Dr Gautam Goswami, the bureaucrat who was at once hailed for his many acts of exemplary uprightness and assailed for one alleged involvement in corruption, was marked by the sheer absence of any of the usual signs of public emotion befitting his rare status as the recipient of Time magazine's Asian Hero award just four years back.

Goswami, known as much for the international award as his alleged involvement in the multi-crore Bihar Flood Relief Scam of 2004, died of aggravated pancreatic cancer following a cardiac arrest at a Patna private nursing home at age 41. Widely respected by his colleagues in the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) as a bureaucrat with proven courage and creativity, he had been facing charges of embezzling Rs 17.8 crore meant for flood relief when he was the district magistrate (DM) of Patna for the second time. In a vigilance probe ordered in April 2005, he was charged with deliberately diverting this amount to a fictitious organisation run by a contractor close to a top RJD leader and was rigorously hounded by the police till his surrender in July that year.

After his release from jail and the subsequent revocation of his suspension order by the Nitish Kumar government in December last year, an ailing Goswami was very hopeful of proving his innocence in the trial of the case that had just begun. But he lost the battle against cancer and died at his prime with the unbearable, unproven taint of a scamster. Only a handful of people, mostly his colleagues in the IAS and IPS, accompanied his body along with his family members and the air along the Ganga was heavy with an unusual stillness.

The taint had left Goswami almost untouchable for most politicians, members of his bureaucratic fraternity and the public. The people of Patna, where he displayed his excellence in duty during his two stints as DM, in 1999 and 2003, were once highly respectful of him, but now they were apparently too opinionated and hesitant to escort the fallen hero's funeral procession to the Ganga's banks.

The untimely, almost lonely death of this bureaucrat with so much proven excellence in public service has now thrown open the difficult question whether Goswami had sinned more than he was sinned against. Many of his colleagues in the IAS believe the man, with his unflinching zeal for service and habit of securing a solution to every problem regardless of the red tapes, was very unlikely to have succumbed to the lure of money.

"It was his growing popularity among the people and the media that made an influential section of Bihar's IAS officials too jealous of

The jinx with Goswami's 1991 batch of IAS

Gautam Goswami's death now makes many in the IAS wonder if the 1991 batch of the service was indeed jinxed. In the past only 17 years, Goswami is the fifth officer of the batch to have died. All these deaths of the young administrative officers have the uncanny similarity of having been rather freak incidents.

While Bala Vikram, a Punjab-cadre IAS officer of the 1991 batch, died all of a sudden minutes after he had gaily joined his wife after a tennis match, his batch-mate Veer Abhimanyu Raghav of the Sikkim cadre, who had secured the 18th all-India rank in the UPSC examination, died during a train accident by falling from his upper berth. He was the only passenger in his coach to die. A road accident claimed the life of Manipur-cadre IAS officer of the same batch, Viraj Verma, who hailed from Bihar. But it all started with the bizarre death of a young Rajasthani man who had secured the fourth rank in the UPSC examinations of 1991. He was murdered a day after the examination's results were announced.

"It now certainly looks like my 1991 batch of IAS is jinxed. Gautam's sudden demise at just 41 years of age now makes me believe even more so," said a visibly depressed Pratyay Amrit, chairman of the Bihar State Bridge Construction Corporation, who is also of the 1991 batch of the IAS.

him and angered quite a few politicians. He was clearly framed in the scam as a consequence," said a close relative of Goswami's to TEHELKA shortly before the fallen bureaucrat's cremation. A senior IAS colleague of Goswami's said with request for anonymity: "When, in the desperate, anxiety-ridden times of managing a huge relief operation in 2004, he was misled by his subordinates to divert a part of the relief money to a fake firm, he was merely made to conform to Bihar's pervasive culture of corruption at that time. But what he did for saving the flood-affected people's lives would remain a milestone in public service".

Goswami, a medical doctor by training before joining the IAS – he acquired his MD degree after receiving a gold medal for topping the MBBS exam from Benaras Hindu University (BHU) – had displayed his undiminished zeal for public service when he was released on bail in November 2006 after spending 18 months in jail. He had declared his wish to devote himself fulltime in the absolutely free treatment of AIDS patients. "His illness deteriorated mostly due to his feeling of demoralisation. The Nitish government revoked his suspension on December 2008. He could have lived longer if the government had done it earlier," said his lawyer Tuhin Shankar.

His widow, Dr Anuradha Goswami, was too inconsolable to speak, but his grieving father, Dr Utpalendu Goswami, suggested that his son was put on a political and social trial long before the real trial in a court could begin. A sobbing Utpalendu Goswami told TEHELKA: "He himself knew, and all of us in the family and his close friends in the bureaucracy knew, that he was innocent. He was waiting for the time to prove it. But the entire atmosphere of stigma and animosity created around him caused him constant mental torture all these years and this worsened his sickness. The hero of Time died before his time".

Goswami's continuous rise in fame and his steep moral and physical fall bear ironies and drama quite befitting the life of a Shakespearean tragic hero. It was the management of flood relief operations in 2004, where his earnestness and skills earned him the Time magazine award. Yet it was the allegations of financial fraudulence in the same flood relief operations the same year that led to Goswami's arrest and his imprisonment for 17 months before he was granted get bail. It was Aravind Adiga, the then India correspondent of Time magazine, who had written a glowing piece extolling Goswami's work. Goswami, who received the honour in Seoul, soon got embroiled in allegations of corruption and got sick rapidly while Adiga rose to turn a novelist and win the Booker Prize for his first novel, The White Tiger, based on a poor man from Bihar.

Goswami's 17 years in the IAS – he was an all-India rank-holder in the civil services main examinations of 1991 – were marked by his nearly meteoric rise in popularity. According to people who knew him from close quarters, it was this childlike sensitivity, creativity and sincerity about his duties as an officer that set him apart from most others in the civil services in Bihar. The Time magazine honour in 2004, where he shared space with such icons as Bollywood heartthrob Shahrukh Khan and musician Anouska Shankar, was the icing on the cake of recognition Goswami had attracted for his achievements as a bureaucrat.

He had a persistent proclivity for treating the sick even when he was posted in administrative jobs. In Rosera, in Bihar's Samastipur district, where he got his first posting as the SDO after joining the IAS, he would devote a day every week treating patients free. "That was something amazing to come from an IAS officer and very fortunate for the poor. Goswami had that tenderness of heart, which he retained throughout," said Subhomoorthy, a Rosera-based social activist and associate of Jaiprakash Narayan, to TEHELKA.

The bureaucrat, born in Bihar's Rohtas district and educated in Ranchi and Benaras, shot to limelight and became a darling of the media first in 1999, when the general elections were conducted peacefully in trouble-prone Patna district under his close observation as the DM. Then, during the campaigning in April 2004 for the general elections, he became the darling of the masses and the idol for many aspirants of the IAS for his courage to physically stop the then Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani from continuing with his campaign speech to a rally at Gandhi Maidan in Patna beyond the stipulated time limit of 10 pm. "Mr Advani, your time is up," is what Goswami reportedly told Advani after climbing onto the podium and putting his hand on the microphone.

But, according to Goswami's family sources, he was too frustrated with the political interferences in a bureaucrat's work in Bihar and therefore decided to quit the IAS to join the Sahara India Pariwar as a vice president. He joined the company while his resignation was yet to be accepted by the state government, but soon his name cropped up in the relief scam along with RJD MP and Railway Minister Lalu Prasad's brother-in-law Sadhu Yadav and Santosh Jha, a contractor close to Sadhu. With a non-bailable warrant and a cash award of Rs 1lakh for his arrest chasing him and his new employer sacking him, he spent over a month on the run. When an anticipatory bail proved elusive, he surrendered in the vigilance court in July 2005 in his usual dramatic style, putting on a turban and sporting a lavish moustache to hide his identity and reaching the court in a Hero Honda motorcycle.

Goswami's doctor wife would now rear her two children – son Vishal, 11, and daughter Bipasha, 8 – without the love of a father but, more importantly, with the ever palpable air of the kids having had a father who became spectacularly famous but died incredibly infamous. Maybe the trial in the flood relief scam would one day exonerate him of the charges. But that day Goswami would not be there to say what he was saying was right.

Gaza:Worse than a crime

on Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"Israel is not going to show restraint," Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told the Washington Post on Jan. 10, after the United States abstained on Friday's U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. All last week the speculation grew that Washington was going to defy its Israeli ally for once and vote for the resolution, but literally as the delegates sat down in the Council chamber the phone call came from U.S. President George W. Bush ordering Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to abstain.

So nothing will stop Israel from hammering the Gaza Strip as hard as it likes — and the situation is unlikely to change with the inauguration of Barack Obama later this month, because he has no intention of squandering his abundant but finite political capital on a quixotic attempt to bring peace to the Middle East. He will spend it instead on goals that have some chance of being achieved, and he will be right to do so.

Yet the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip will almost certainly end within the next two weeks. International revulsion at the carnage among Palestinian civilians will play a certain role. Any big loss of life among Israeli soldiers, or the capture of even one or two soldiers, would turn Israeli public opinion against the war overnight. And the clincher is that the Israeli election is on Feb. 10.

The war is being fought now largely to shift the opinion polls in favor of the ruling parties before the election. However, it must be over, and somehow look like a success, before Israelis actually vote. Good luck.

The war against Hamas in Gaza looks more and more like the three-week Israeli war against Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006, which could hardly be called a success. It will last about as long. It will kill about as many Arabs, probably a thousand or so. And it will end with Hamas, like Hezbollah, still able to fire rockets at Israel.

This means that Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud Party leader who was already leading in the opinion polls, is almost certain to form the next Israeli government. He is the ultimate rejectionist, the man who successfully sabotaged the Oslo Accords and effectively killed the "peace process" during his last term as prime minister in 1996-99. He rejects the very idea of a "two-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Netanyahu is a glib ideologue who does not understand strategy and sees no reason for Israel to seek peace with its neighbors if the price is giving the Palestinians back their pre-1967 borders. In the long run, therefore, the war is more of a disaster for the Israelis than it is for the Palestinians.

Israel currently enjoys three huge strategic advantages. It has the strongest army in the region by far, backed by the only modern economy and the only technologically competent population. It has an absolute monopoly on nuclear weapons within the region. And it has the unstinting, unquestioning support of the world's only superpower. But none of these advantages is forever, and Israel needs to make peace with its neighbors while it still possesses them.

The existing Arab regimes are willing to make peace with Israel on the basis of the 1967 borders, mainly because they fear the further radicalization of their own populations, and perhaps even violent revolution, if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to fester.

But the Arabs as a whole have all the time in the world: Sooner or later the wheel will turn and Israel will become vulnerable. If it has not integrated into the region by then, it will be in mortal peril.

It is pointless to make moral judgments about this war, and foolish to use the body count as an indicator of virtue or blame. About 70 Palestinians have been killed for every Israeli who has died during the current Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip, but that does not mean that Israelis are in the wrong.

"The only reason there are more victims in Gaza than in Sderot is because Hamas is not good at shooting rockets," Zalli Jaffe, an Israeli civilian living in Jerusalem, told a BBC reporter last week. "To conclude that Israel is at fault would be like saying the U.S. was wrong in World War II because many more Germans died than did Americans."

That is quite true: Hamas would do exactly the same to Israelis if it could. The prospect of a 70-to-one kill ratio makes Israel much readier to use military force than if it had to sacrifice one Israeli life for every Palestinian it killed, but the kill ratio tells us nothing about either the morality or the utility of the war.

It is the usefulness of this war, not its morality, that Israel should be questioning. Unless Israel reoccupies the Gaza Strip permanently — which nobody wants to do, because it would mean a constant stream of Israeli military casualties — then once the army pulls back Hamas will re-emerge, stronger than ever. The Arab regimes that might make peace with Israel will be further undermined, and Israel gets Netanyahu as prime minister.

As was said after the execution of the Duc d'Enghien on Napoleon's orders, the Gaza operation "is worse than a crime. It is a mistake."

Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist.

Will national anti-terror outfit be just another agency?

on Monday, January 12, 2009

What India Needs Is A Unit That Converges All-Source Intel Collection & Its Dissemination

Establishing a national counter terrorism agency is a positive idea whose time had come quite some time back but got registered only when it came riding on the tragedy of Mumbai. It was heartening that the lawmakers seized the opportunity to constitute a national agency to counter terrorism. However, the way in which it is being conceived and designed, it may belie the high expectations.
Demand for an effective National Counter Terrorism Agency emanated from national dismay that when reasonably good intelligence was available, when the country had instrumentalities to counter terrorists, when there was a coordination mechanism in place, why did 26/11 happen? When it did, why was the response so flat-footed?
It required no genius to discover that the fault lay in the system itself where multiplicity of agencies prevented any one agency to have the total picture; disabling any single agency or individual to be in total command to act decisively and leaving coordination to degenerate into a bureaucratic ritual. It was a case where every agency or individual had all the material to defend itself, but collectively little to defend the nation. The system was designed to fail as those with knowledge had no legal empowerment or fire power, while those with fire power were not in the knowledge loop and those with legal empowerment were resource constrained. On top of this, there was multiplicity of agencies even in each category without standardized operating procedures, governing rules and doctrines, training and equipment, and commonly shared objectives and priorities. This had to be corrected divergence substituted by convergence, turf wars replaced by synergy and concerted action taking over confusion. For this, they thought a unified national agency was the answer.
However, the envisaged NIA does not bring us anywhere closer to this objective. On the contrary, it adds one more platform with no structural integration or operational unification. As a post-event investigation agency, it might marginally increase conviction rates or get enhanced punishment to a few jihadis who, working at suicidal level of motivation, may only find it amusing.
Had this agency existed before the Mumbai carnage, none of the shortcomings that came to light would have been minimized. It would not have ensured improved intelligence integration or action-oriented dissemination, better preventive response. There would have been one more player playing it. They might be interrogating Ajmal Kasab little better but the real brains would have still remained beyond their reach. Legal actions are important but, at the end of the day, war against terror would neither be won nor lost in the court of law.
What India needed was a counter-terrorism outfit that converges all-source intelligence collection and its dissemination, real time and decisive physical response to meet the threat both in defensive and offensive-defense modes and efficient investigations to punish the wrong doers. And, all this under a common umbrella with unambiguous responsibility, authority and accountability.
While the intelligence function should have aimed at collection, integration of inputs and their refinement to operational grade intelligence, the action component should have focused on terrorist specific tactics, field craft, equipment and skills for speed, surprise and dominance. Investigators as part of the composite team should have been selected for their special skills and attitude, including knowledge of terrorist groups, modus operandi, collaborative linkages, channels of procuring funds and weapons.
To be effective, the new outfit should develop a secure Enetwork connecting the apex agency to all district headquarters and police stations. It should be linked to the agency’s data mining centre where terrorist information from police station to the highest in the agency is inputed according to availability and retrieved according to needs; with adequate safety features like firewalls. The agency should have stateof-the-art infrastructure to collect technical and cyber intelligence, break codes, analyze terror documents, carry out surveillance and jam terrorist communications. Specialized counter-terrorist force, like the NSG, should be brought under the control of the agency for undertaking intelligence-driven operations. Commandos should be constantly updated on emerging trends, techniques, weapons and modus operandi of terrorists. They are not robots and their mental tuning is a must for optimal results.
The ideal arrangement would be to have a director general, counter terrorism, who is ex-officio special director of the Intelligence Bureau with all counter-terrorist work, multi agency centre and joint task force on intelligence centralized under his control. Being part of the IB, the outfit will overnight acquire communication linkage, intelligence reach, logistic and technical support, connectivity with local police and administration not only in every district but remotest border areas. This will bring the whole country under a unified counter terrorist grid with no extra cost or time involved.Due to various sensitivities involved, no intelligence agency can transfer its entire data to a non-intelligence agency. If the director general of counter terrorism is made part of the IB, he can have total access to the intelligence data, will also be able to leverage vast technical capabilities of national intelligence agencies both for intelligence and to keep the counter-terrorist force at its technical best.
The director general should enjoy total autonomy and should be the only person empowered to undertake counter terrorist actions. To enable him to control, train, equip and motivate men for special counterterrorist actions, the NSG should be brought under his command. The DG should also be empowered to maintain liaison with friendly security and counter-terrorist agencies, as when handled by those who know little about terrorism, the loss in content and time is unaffordable. This will also help the DG to keep abreast of latest techniques, technologies, equipment and weapons that have proved effective against terrorists, and take initiatives to keep his armed wing best trained and equipped. Fourth generation warfare needs people who can change fast, think fast and act fast in this battle. It’s not the bravest but the smartest that takes the trophy.
None of the steps suggested encroaches on the power of states. It also does not require any amendments to laws and can be achieved within executive powers of the government.
With what is happening in Pakistan, Afghanistan and within our country, we may be in for much greater shocks than the Mumbai strike and we are not prepared for it. We think the latest was the last but the worst is probably yet to come. Today, there is mood for change in the nation but it may have a short shelf life. The consensus on response to terrorism is an opportunity to be seized.

Satyam's lie

on Thursday, January 8, 2009

Companies ride on market perception and cooking the books can burnish that perception to breathtaking highs. Until someone cries foul. Enron was once billed America’s most innovative company. Then a massive accounting fraud, exposed in 2001, blew up on the US energy giant. In 2009, the script has been revisited in India. Boasting Fortune 500 firms among its clients, Satyam Computers won a top award for corporate governance in 2002 and 2008. Its fall began with chairman B Ramalinga Raju’s aborted buyout of two Maytas firms founded by his sons. Angry shareholders swiftly punished this brazen display of nepotism in India’s fourth largest IT firm. The sequel to Maytas is more sordid. Confessing to a Rs 7,136 crore fraud, Raju said Satyam’s books had been cooked for years to inflate profit and revenue figures. In September 2008, they showed a non-existent cash and bank balance of Rs 5,040 crore and hundreds of crores of fictitious accrued interest and debtors’ position. Liabilities worth Rs 1,230 crore were kept hidden.
These disclosures had a punishing aftermath. The software giant’s stocks crashed 91 per cent, the Sensex tumbled and the rupee fell. The New York Stock Exchange put a trading bar on the firm. Satyam’s clients are exiting, shareholder wealth has been wiped out and 53,000 employees are staring down the precipice. Two class action suits have been filed in the US against the company. All of this couldn’t have come at a worse time. India has been hit by global economic turmoil. The Mumbai terror strike has raised its risk profile for tourists and business. And now there’s the clear and present danger of domestic and overseas investors seeing India as a place where corporate governance is suspect. The resignation of Satyam’s self-confessed figure-fudger is, therefore, small consolation. The credibility of the entire Indian market is at stake. Going by global reactions, mud sticking on Satyam has tainted the corporate big league by association, at least for now. The IT-BPO sector, in particular, is under a cloud.
Admittedly, the world has had its share of corporate con-jobs. Enron apart, WorldCom, Xerox and Tyco were only some headline-grabbers. A 2007 study on fraud’s impact on international business by Kroll, the world’s leading risk consulting company, found that four of five global firms faced in-house malpractice and increased misuse of the very instruments deployed for overseas expansion. Kroll Global Fraud Report 2008 warned of “supply chain” shenanigans as companies globalised, outsourced and reworked business processes. But we can’t relativise Satyam’s criminal breach of trust by placing it in a global context. Corporate credibility is a foundational must for any emerging market economy pursuing high growth.
When fictitious cash balances get certified, it shows the need for investigators to go beyond the letter of the corporate conduct rule book. The Satyam scam isn’t about one individual’s machinations, though Raju deserves exemplary punishment. A fraud of this scale mandates collective responsibility. It is unlikely Satyam can redeem itself under the current management. Any probe must scan the role of the board of directors and of the Pricewaterhouse auditors who gave Satyam clean bills of financial and moral health whether through negligence or connivance. Recall that the A-grade accounting firm Arthur Andersen shared Enron’s disgrace. In Satyam’s case too, institutional checks and balances failed. To restore investor confidence, damage control must involve rapid-fire action against all involved.
A supporting cast enabled Raju’s rise to prominence. His closeness to powerful Andhra Pradesh politicians helped him gain legitimacy in business circles and even among policymakers. Former chief minister Chandrababu Naidu paraded Raju as the poster boy of Hyderabad’s IT business before visiting state heads including Bill Clinton. Naidu’s successor, Y Rajasekhara Reddy, backed Raju even after Satyam’s Maytas foray generated controversy. Did these leaders support Satyam for parochial reasons or is there more to it? They owe an explanation to citizens.
Financial mismanagement at Satyam reportedly began after its promoters began diverting funds from IT to real estate in Hyderabad. In July 2008, Maytas won the bid to construct the Hyderabad metro rail. The AP government backed it even after E Sreedharan of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), consultant to the Hyderabad metro, described the project as a real estate deal. It threatened to sue DMRC, which then walked out of the consultancy. In light of Raju’s confession, the project needs revisiting. The Satyam scam suggests a possible nexus between the political class and business groups, especially in land-related matters. Promise of high returns may have lured Satyam to shift from its core competence in IT to land deals. But it is unlikely Raju was the sole beneficiary. A detailed investigation into Maytas’s activities is necessary to expose the web of deceit that Satyam promoters and their political patrons spun around unsuspecting shareholders and clients.
When the full story comes to light, the lessons drawn must be learnt by corporate India. There is a general perception that government and the public sector have a structural tendency towards rent-seeking and venality. After Satyam, it appears the private sector may be tarred with the same brush. That can have a devastating impact on India’s future. India Inc needs to search its soul.

Satyam fiasco has tarnished the image of corporate India

Omkar Goswami

For the last 48 hours, everything about an inappropriately named company called Satyam involves incredulity, indignation and schadenfreude. Incredulity by all: How could the promoter B Ramalinga Raju cook the books by a staggering Rs 7,000 crore without the management and the statutory auditors being in the know? Indignation by corporate India and the press: the former for Satyam having tarnished its name, and the latter against those who were sleeping on the bridge. And schadenfreude (malicious enjoyment of another’s misfortune) is from the press: glee at a fat cat drowning, a big-four accounting firm running for cover, and exalted independent directors caught en flagrante.
I empathise with all three emotions, though the schadenfreude is a bit over the top. Satyam’s fudging of accounts is not something to be gleeful about. It has tarnished the image of corporate India at an especially difficult time. Also, none can claim, “I told you so”. Until Satyam tried to purchase Maytas, nobody criticised the performance and corporate governance of the company. Raju was a voice of the new India. Let’s humbly admit that we were all duped by the man — hugely and comprehensively so.
The size of Raju’s scam is humongous. Focusing on the major swindle is enough to understand what he was trying to do. That has to do with Satyam’s cash and bank balance which was inflated by Rs 5,040 crore as on September 30, 2008. In Satyam’s September 30 balance sheet, the cash and bank balance was Rs 5,361 crore. Subtract the Rs 5,040 crore fudge, and you get just Rs 321 crore. Recall that Satyam had proposed to buy Maytas for $1.6 billion (or Rs 7,700 crore), financed out of its cash. But it didn’t have the money. So, what was the play? Get the Maytas assets into Satyam, delay paying cash to Maytas and, in the meanwhile, shore up Satyam’s balance sheet with valuable infrastructure assets. In Raju’s pathetic confession, “The aborted Maytas acquisition deal was the last attempt to fill the fictitious assets with real ones.”
The game was up once the institutional investors thumbed down the acquisition. Raju desperately needed suitors to purchase Satyam to fill the gap between real and fictitious money which had “attained unmanageable proportions”. It appointed DSP Merrill Lynch to do match-making. And Merrill’s team found these discrepancies, forcing Raju to confess.
Raju couldn’t have rigged the books on his own. You can’t overstate cash and bank balance by Rs 5,040 crore, or quarterly revenues by Rs 588 crore without participation of the CFO and, at the very least, negligence of the CEO. If you were the CEO of a company whose revenues
shot up by an unanticipated Rs 588 crore, wouldn’t you ask, “Where did that come from?” And if you didn’t, what should one infer?
The most amazing aspect of the case is PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the dog that didn’t bark. Like Andersen in Enron, PwC failed as a statutory auditor whose task is to certify that the accounts are ‘true and fair’. The cash and bank balance scam is damning. From the articleship days, auditors swear by the need to verify a company’s cash and bank balance. How could this be inflated by Rs 5,040 crore leaving PwC clueless? When DSP Merrill Lynch figured it out in a trice? Clearly, either the CFO fabricated documents on banks’ letterheads, or rigged the company’s enterprise reporting software, or PwC didn’t dig deep enough. PwC’s apparent errors in omission are too glaring to be countenanced.
Here’s my initial take on the post-debacle scenario. First, Satyam as we know it is history. It will be well-nigh impossible for Ram Mynampati, who has taken over, to steer the company to a safe harbour. And it will be a while before anyone shows an active interest in buying a company riddled with falsified accounts. That’s a shame for which Raju is entirely to blame. His hubris made him the terrible destroyer of all that he created and grew. To think of the fate of 53,000 lost souls who struggled day and night for a company whose promoter cheated them so outrageously brings rage and tears in equal measure.
Second, PwC’s goose is cooked. US shareholders will slam class action suits, and the Securities and Exchange Commission will pitch in. If it is very lucky, PwC will be severely fined, lose many clients, have its Satyam audit partners punished, and become a shadow of its former self. Otherwise, it may fold like Andersen. Not by actions in India, but in the US.
Third, like the post-Enron era, this could prompt a rash of new directives and rules from the SEBI and the ministry of company affairs (MCA). I hope not. India’s problem is not of inadequate laws; it is of grossly inadequate enforcement. Let’s not have more over-regulation and underenforcement. Fourth, one hopes that SEBI and the MCA will collaborate to take swift action and confer exemplary punishment on the guilty. India needs to show the world that it can punish the high and mighty, and do so quickly.
Finally, while one recognises that independent external directors can’t do much if the internal or statutory auditors don’t blow the whistle, the Satyam episode is a wake-up call to all of us who serve on boards. Independent directors must focus more on their companies — be more diligent, deeply question proposals, speak their mind and take outside counsel. Understand the management’s perspective, by all means. But never forget that you are a fiduciary of the shareholders.