Monthly Archives: April 2010

Fall of an Evil Empire

There was once a cunning man. He got a brilliant business idea. One, that he felt would make him tons of money and also bring glory to his country and their people. No-one else had dared to do something like that before. He decided to take the risk. He approached the necessary governing bodies with his plan. They were skeptical about it. Instead they let him have absolute control over the business and supported the business with funds. He played his rivals against each other and with some calculated manipulations he struck a deal with potential stakeholders which gave him virtual control to run his business. Though it was widely known that this was a business venture for money, he disguised it under the garb of a noble cause. People saw through it but no-one said a word.

He brought in people close to him into the business. People whom he trusted would follow him. With a mix of hard work and luck he made his business very profitable and made tons of money. But his greed knew no bounds. He wanted more. He started milking his business for maximum returns and in the process committed many mistakes. Soon he made many adversaries. They wanted to pull him down. They started a whisper campaign of his misdeeds, his misuse of his absolute power and the atrocities he was perpetrating. He started a counter campaign against what he called were baseless allegations. The secrets were out in the open, but few believed the words of his detractors. They remained just whispers.  However, a few honest men went deeper into this muck to investigate and found the allegations to be true. They launched a full-on media campaign to oust this man from this business and bring him to justice. Eventually, public and international pressure forced the government to launch a clean-up drive and removed the man from his post and took over his business empire.

Who was this man? No, it wasn’t Lalit Modi. It was King Leopold II of Belgium. His “business venture” was the ‘Congo Free State’.

In the 1870’s, Congo still remained an unexplored part of Africa. Few explorers ventured so deep into the African jungles, partly out of fear and partly out of the belief that there were no resources to be exploited. However, Leopold II sponsored an exploration mission headed by the famous Henry Morton Stanley, who returned with treaties signed by local African chiefs, who handed over the land to Leopold II in exchange for peace and a few gifts. The Belgian government was not interested in this venture and Leopold II took full control of the regions which had come under his rule and called it the ‘Congo Free State’. Other European rivals grudgingly ceded the Congo regions to Leopold and recognized him as the sole leader of Congo. Leopold II now governed an area larger than Belgium itself and with a population of 30 million people without even a constitution or a code of laws. He could do what he wanted. Leopold promised the Europeans that he would govern Congo for the good of all and would bring it to the level of “modern civilization”.

He extracted ivory and rubber from the jungles of Congo. In the 1890’s rubber came into great demand for its use in bicycle tires, insulation etc. The rubber trade boomed and Leopold amassed a fortune. However he wanted to stay ahead of his competition and he exploited the villages which collected rubber for him, to maximize his profit. Every village had to fulfill an obligatory “rubber quota”. The villagers would be whipped, often to death, and their women were held hostage until the men collected the requisite amount of rubber. If the village could not meet this “rubber quota”, then the villagers were killed and their hands cut off by Leopold’s army(The Force Publique) to fulfill the remaining amount. The number of villagers killed, increased proportionally to the rise in the demand of rubber.  A soldier could shorten his army service if he brought in more severed hands than others. Soon, the cutting off of villager’s hands became an end in itself for Leopold’s army. This led to widespread mutilation and dismemberment. All this, forced many villagers to flee their villages and try to survive in the jungles. This, coupled with widespread disease and malnutrition resulted in the deaths of an estimated 8 – 15 million innocent Congo villagers!!!

His business rivals eventually got wind of these atrocities and while some used these same tactics in their African fiefs, a few others used this to pull him down. After his misdeeds were brought out into the public eye by journalists and authors, the Belgian govt finally stripped him of his powers and brought his brutal regime to an end. Congo passed on to the hands of the Belgian govt. However, the man who had perpetrated the deaths of close to 10 million Africans received no punishment. This is the colonial history of Africa.



The music launch of Mani Ratnam’s eagerly anticipated ‘Raavan’ took place over the weekend. Below is a teaser from the movie featuring one of the songs ‘Beera Beera’, Beera being the name of Abhishek Bachchan’s character. The teaser shows Abhishek Bachchan jumping into a river and then emerging out as Aishwarya Rai. Maybe Abhishek is a shape-shifter in the movie and can metamorph into Aishwarya at will. That’ll be good news for all of us ‘cos then well have the good fortune of having to bear with only one of them on-screen at a time. 🙂

On a serious note, the teaser looks good and looking forward to watch Mani Ratnam’s take on the Ramayan. The movie also stars Vikram, Ravi Kishen and Govinda.

Music is by A R Rahman and lyrics by Gulzar.

The movie releases on June 18th, 2010.

How to build an aeroplane….. in 2 mins!!!

Totally reminds me of my lego days. 🙂

Mixed Economy: Nehru’s blunder?

Of all the forms of wisdom, hindsight is by general consent the least merciful, the most unforgiving — JOHN FLETCHER, intro, Jean-Claude Favez’s Holocaust

At a book club meeting today, someone mentioned that he considered Jawaharlal Nehru to be a big idiot because he failed to embrace a capitalist economic model and rather opted for a socialist-leaning mixed style economy when India gained her independence. He further delved into some wistful thinking about “where India could have been now” if only Nehru had taken the “right” decision. This is an opinion shared by many people who have grown up and have been conditioned in the era of economic liberalization, post 1991. They have seen the wonderful benefits of a capitalist economy and wonder what the hell the nation’s founders were smoking, that they couldn’t realize the benefits of capitalism when they set out to write the rules of the game.

I too believe that a capitalist economic model is the best possible course to follow for any democratic nation. A capitalist model gives true economic freedom to the people along with the various other freedoms they enjoy in a democracy. A communist model, though noble in its ideals, usually ends up being lethargic , bureaucratic, inefficient and corrupt. But more on that in another post.

However, having said that, I will try to explain why Nehru probably took the decision that he did and why it was the right decision at that time. We have to understand the circumstances which influenced the decisions of the nation’s founders when a country of 300 million people came under their responsibility.

1) At the time of Independence, there was abject poverty, no middle class, frequent famines and widespread malnutrition. Nehru clearly felt that only the government, with a series of planned measures (5 year plans),  could carefully bring development to the people. He felt that, only the government at that time had the resources at its disposal to bring about such development. His govt then launched programmes to build irrigation canals, dams, land redistribution, modernize agriculture, set up IITs, IIMs, AIIMs etc. This was his core idea of having govt control for bringing development to people. And noone can argue that any of the above have not helped us.

2) With the widespread poverty in 1947 and severe lack of funds, Nehru felt that wasteful expenditure should be curbed. Having identified the important industries which were needed to serve people’s needs, he felt that these industries should be in the hands of the govt which had the necessary resources. And having decided so, the govt then discouraged private businesses from entering these areas as they felt that the pvt industries could utilize their money in some other area of development instead of needlessly squandering it in competing with the existing govt industries. I think thats a reasonable expectation anyone will have when funds are low. Idealistic, but reasonable.

3) The U.S.S.R had just established itself as a major world power alongside the U.S at the end of World War II . The whole world was transfixed by the USSR’s economic model. Communism became popular everywhere, from the U.S to East Asia. In fact even the south-east asian countries adopted a socialist economic model around this time. But, to his credit Nehru did not opt for a fully socialistic model and rather went in for a mixed economy with severe restrictions on business. The real problem was that around the mid 1970’s, other countries like South Korea and China,  realized the limitations of socialist economic models and changed course to capitalist models. We did not. When the country’s economy continued performing badly in the 70’s it should have served as a wake up call to the govt to change course, but they dint. That was the real blunder.

4) Having suffered, for 200 years ,the results of an unjust trade and industrial system imposed on us by the British, the founders were naturally skeptic about continuing the same course. They had seen the results of British economic policies which completely destroyed the local Indian industries and caused widespread de-industrialization and famines multiple times. This made the founders feel that Indian goods and industries needed to be protected from outside competition and hence the economy remained closed to global trade.

5) The Caste System. We often forget what a big role the caste system played in influencing ideas and opinions at that time. India has had a caste system which for 2000 years has given high esteem to people of  learning i.e the priests/ brahmins and has held in much lower regard the merchant/trading class. “Money-making” for profit was always, and still is, considered a bit ignoble. We are just not an entrepreneurial society. For too long, Indian society and caste system disregarded those who belonged to the merchant communities and hence created an atmosphere where business for profit was never considered to be a good cause. This same influence hung over Nehru, who was suspicious of businesses and their motives. He too did not have much respect for businesses run for profit. This was another factor why he shied away from giving businesses a free hand in India and led to the introduction of the infamous License Raj.

These were some of the factors which might have influenced Nehru. I’m sure there were other leaders who wanted a capitalist state. But at the end of the day it was a consensus decision for which the whole govt was responsible. Nehru wasn’t running a dictatorship, ramming his plans down others’ throats. His ideas and policies were that of the govt.

Nehru had a vision. The only mistake was that, when that vision did not fructify, even after 30 years, we did not realize our mistakes and take corrective action.

I wouldn’t want to be on this plane!!!!

This video is of a Qantas plane that was about to land in Sydney when it was hit by lightning on 5th September 2004.

The new 100$ bill

The US govt is releasing a new 100$ bill in February. This new 100$ note has more security features which would make it harder to counterfeit the bill. More on this story here.

current 100$ bill

new 100$ bill

Apple + ARM = ?

Apparently, there is a lot of speculation in London’s finance world about the possibility of Apple acquiring ARM. For those who dont know, ARM( a UK based company) is a leading manufacturer of processors which are widely used in a plethora of mobile phones — Nokia, Sony Ericsson and even in iPods, iPhones, iPads and the Sony PSP. ARM’s focus on providing chips for mobile devices as opposed to traditional desktops brought rich dividends for the company as the market for smart-phones expanded massively in the last 5 years. Intel is still trying to play catch-up with ARM in this market.

Many of the Android-based smartphones run on ARM chipsets too. Android phones being the biggest competition for Apple’s iPhone, you dont need to be a rocket scientist to figure out the benefits Apple will have acquiring ARM. Apple will then be supplying the chipsets for all its competitors and this might force the phone manufacturers to look at other chips (Intel’s Atom or Moorestown maybe?). If this news gets confirmed i’m sure phone companies will be up in arms alleging that the deal will cede virtual monopoly and control over the mobile phones market to Apple. This will raise questions of Anti-Trust law violations and would make it difficult for the acquisition to get approved by the regulatory bodies in US and EU.

However, this news just seems to be market speculation and the markets have been wrong many times before regarding Apple(understandable, considering the insane levels of secrecy it maintains). Apple has just posted a 90% jump in earnings buoyed by strong iPhone sales, has had a good run with the initial sales of iPads and are well on course to unveil their new iPhone this June. They’ve also been getting flak for new restrictive terms in the Developers License (which prevents developers from using 3rd party software to develop apps for the iPhone) and blocking out Flash for the iPhone and iPads. With so much on their platter i really doubt they have set their eyes on ARM….yet.