Dead Men’s City: Are we still dead to be alive?

When I chose the title “Dead Men’s City,” I was both skeptical and scarred to use it. But, in the hindsight, I think just apt and perfect for the situation. As a human being, I am ashamed of what has happened in Guwahati just a year ago, as we conveniently forgot about it. A girl was assaulted and molested by a bunch of hooligans in the heart of the city. Yes, the law took its course, thanks to endless social scrutiny through the eyes of media, at national level. And, there goes a media channel and, an array of media stories to follow, to air this gruesome act. Yes, you will agree, as like any reasonable person, that the sense of justification and reasoning of airing such a video only displays the lowest journalistic ethos like getting the prized byte from a victim who gets molested in front of the crew as they remain busy covering it.  ImageBut, we should not ignore, especially in a consumerist society, which the media, that it is a reflection of the society that we live, is driven by market forces and people find it amusing (?) to watch such barbarism on television channels. There is a sense of urgency in this particular incident. While the justice has been delivered in this case with such swiftness (in a matter of months, that seems impossible to dream), is our justice system only lends its importance to those matters of excessive public scrutiny? Yes, I can understand the motives of the politicos or the bureaucrats as their ulterior motives can be understood. Are we heralding an age where justice is delivered and not delayed? People may have their own judgment here without a lesser intelligent citizen opining on their behalf. We heard it. We know it.

ImageNow, I have a very unusual or, if I can use the word, controversial question to it. Like Ceaser, we, the society of righteousness and crusader of wrong, may claim & exhort ‘veni, vidi, vici.’ But can we really? Why is it that we woke up then? Why is it that when the incident was shown on national television that people were hitting the street to demand justice, and not before when it was repeatedly played in regional channels? Why we are not shammed to death for any other, unreported incident but widely known among people, cases of molestation? People have been questioning the ethics of the media. This is good. But are we questioning our own sense of morality and ethics? Do we question our conscience when we may have ignored such an incident happening when you were travelling late in a city bus, or a lonely road in the afternoon, or in a dark alley in the neighbourhood? Did you stop, raise a protest, took it up with the law? Can we lay hands on our souls and tell the truth to our own self. You got your answer & I got mine. That is where we can call ourselves as hypocrites, and no. I am not saying that I am not a hypocrite. I am you.Image

Thanks to media, we are seeing the exposed value system of our society. We are only shouting our voice when we were shammed in public. We have lost our face and we are facing questions from people who would haunt us for our boasting claim to fame about women dignity in Assam. However, we also knew that this is not entirely true. With those disturbing images doing rounds across the country and the world, we are running for covers, from pillar to post. We don’t know how we will continue to live in the fake blown-up-beyond-proportion ego of culture and social identity that is long dead. We are still drawing inspirations to boast about a cultured society from a bunch of sacred heroes who are increasingly getting diminished from the moral map of the present society. As we tried hard to escape from our gory, ugly face, did we try something in last twelve months to improve these scars? Like rising a voice against any injustice & taking it to its logical conclusion or helping a destitute to preserve its honour & dignity, even when there is no pressure of ‘social conformity.’ I did not. Did you? Or, you are me!

All that we love to do is to jump the bandwagon and remain loyal to the ‘way of social conformity.’ As we increasingly compromise our own identity, I wonder if we, as a society, will have another hero in near time. It’s appalling that we are starving for heroes and we shy away vehemently to ignore such a reality. We love to live in a world of myth and materialistic bling. We are hardly bothered about what goes out there as long as I am ‘safe.’ This atypical idiosyncrasy of the present society has led me to question us. Where do we stand as a society? Why did we fail as a fertile society that stopped producing heroes from whom we draw strengths to fight? As we cling on to those legends from yesteryear, there is an urgent need for newer heroes in our lives. Someone contemporary, someone who instills life, someone whom we can feel! Are we ready to find that person? Are you ready to become that person rather than being someone with a job in MNC, a trophy spouse, an iPhone, a Sedan and a flat in the Millenium City blessed with an unknown old age death with no ramification? Do I at least want to try? Do you?

Till the time, it was not aired in the national television; this incident has not insulated such a reaction. Because we love our fake identity and take magnanimous pride in it, this incident shammed us or we are shammed because that the lie that we live in is exposed in front of the world. The foundation, the mascara and the kajal of the society were washed away by this tragedy and the aging wrinkles and horrific scars of our society lay exposed. We don’t know what to do or how to go back to our old fake self. We are challenged by an array of questions. Are we bold enough to lend our ears to these pressing questions & try to look for an answer? Are we ready to have our guts back to fight for our own glory & honour? Am I?

ImageConsumerism and materialism has so much consumed our society that even our values and reputation need to be kicked hard so that it can wake up. Today, sadly, even one’s individual self respect and ethics are driven by market forces. Because, it will have negative impact on the overall reputation of the society we should now join in. All that we care about today, is a good mark-sheet so that one can get admitted to Delhi University (Let the Assam education system go to hell), get a job in an MNC (let the entrepreneurial kick die), get a trophy wife (who cares about love anymore, we need someone who can mingle with my social class), get a hatchback, midsize or sedan (because it’s not only about commuting anymore) and a home as early as possible (because I can move to a bigger house on a bigger loan on a later date).Image In our mad rat race, we forgot to think about our surrounding and ignore the catastrophic implication that it may have on our individual personal lives, our own identity (provided we have one) and an honour (if we care to own it). Am I thinking the way it should be or am I the only one? Are you thinking alike?

With passing days, we will get back to the machine that we love to log on to, and keep on doing things that were being done. We will post a “RIP” if some elderly looking gentlemen dies without recognizing the contribution that he had towards the society. This is how we remain true to the ‘Conformity Movement’ and we will come out on the street wearing black T Shirt (because we love Metallica) only when it’s not too shiny or hot to walk out, is a Sunday and more importantly our fake image is not tarnished and our dirty liens are not washed in front of the nation. Otherwise, we are doing just fine and we are happy with the shopping malls, swanky cars and bikes and five star hotels. Who talks about Assamese language, or its identity? Face of protest? Kalaguru Bishnuprasad Rabha, Ambikagiri Raichowdhury? Who are they? They are passé. We are talking about the changing the world, bringing communism by wearing black, man! How about Ernesto, oh! Sorry! Che! Gueverra? He is kind of cool to be worn. ImageBut, what the heck? We aint grabbing national headlines for any wrong news now. So, let’s just sit back, sip my beer and watch my EPL & La Liga matches! We are happy till our shallow selves are covered. Am I? Are you?

Are we living in a Dead Men’s Society? I am. Don’t know about you. Just pinch yourself and you will get your identity. I knew that I am a dead men before I pinched to realize. Did you?

FDI in retail & Assam!

1908 - 2006

Renowned American economist

Famous American statesman and economist, John Kenneth Galbraith once quoted that ‘in economics, it is a far, far wiser thing to be right than to be consistent.’ And, this exactly describes what is missing from the present economic condition of the state of Assam. We may crunch all the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) and draw a picture to suit the perception. But, will that be a right step to be counted as a wiser thing to do? Are we questioning the macro policy framework of the state and its course of direction? It is a crucial time for an honest self introspection given the scenario that the state is planning to open up to foreign direct investments in retail sector in to the state. As the debate on the ethics, sense and logic of FDI in retail rages on across the country, it is time to ask ourselves, the people of the state, to reason and debate about the implications of this scheme in the milieu of our economic reality.

The Economic Survey of Assam for year 2010-11 states that the state’s GSDP grew at 7.4% as against 8.1% in the previous year. AssamThe Survey further points out that the secondary sector is expected to remain low as against 2.9% in 2009-2010. The tertiary sector that comprises of ‘trade, hotels & restaurant, transport by other means & storage, real estate & business service and communications, banking & insurance, social & personal services’ is set to grow slower at 10% in 2010-11 as against 12.2% in 2009-2010. The primary sector was expected to grow faster at 6.1% in 2010-11 as against 4.2% of the previous year. Now, without further dissecting in to the definitions of the various sectors as identified by the state, we can summarily conclude that except for the primary sector, the other two important cogs of state income, secondary and tertiary sectors, are facing pressure to sustain a positively increasing rate of growth.

Public discourse

Public discourse

Now, there have been debates and deliberation on the model of growth for the state. As we can understand from the statistics, the largest chunk of the growth pie comes from the tertiary sector. If we dissect it, it will be clear that most of the items included in this segment are demand oriented. That means it grows when demand is there. However, to maintain a demand at the right spot, there is an enormous need to sustain a favourable supply side. For an equilibrium matrix of market stability, it is pertinent that the effective demand is maintained to ensure effective supply and vice-versa. The challenge that the Assam is facing today is it’s over dependence on demand side economics and much lesser importance towards supply side of economics. This puts the state economy in a skewed or lopsided form which is never ideal.

Production

Production

The supply of side of economics would mean creating assets in the economy that would generate income for the state. For example, the state production of oil and tea, state’s primary capital goods for decades, and its trade with rest of the world fetches the state income, making the state rich. However, of late, the demand side of the economy, for example real estate, hotels & restaurants, large retail outlets etc; has overshadowed it so much that we are now dependent heavily on import of goods & services. Since we have not created enough assets for meeting the demand of the local economy, the rising demand is met by produce from outside of the state.  Quintessentially, because of poor foresightedness or lethargy in drafting a policy model to diversify the economy, we remain vulnerable to outside support & trade and sitting at the risk of becoming a dumping zone.

FDI-Retail-IndiaWhy is this discussion necessary in the wake of the state government decision to open up to FDI in retail in the state? Because, FDI in retail in the state won’t set up manufacturing units that will produce products here, generating employment and sustained income stream for the state, but will bring it from outside and sell it here. In terms of employment, we will have a few persons buying and selling those products rather than a few farmers, engineers, doctors, entrepreneurs, economists, social scientists along with backward linkage employment working towards creation of wealth of the state. Due to their strong logistical prowess, it makes much more economic sense to this Global Multi Brand Retail Outlets (GMBRO). The proceeds of this will fly out of the country. FDI in retail is a liability of foreign exchange as the profit or returns it generates will have to be repatriated.  It’s simple business. You invest in something to earn returns. The arguments that such retail FDI will generate employment and wipe out middleman from the system is again questionable. The Indian retail market is estimated at US$ 400 billion that provides employment to 20 million people. For a GMBRO like Wal-Mart, the company turnover is US$410 billion but it employs 2.1 million people.

Market consolidation by GMBRO

Market consolidation by GMBRO

The concerns raised by many over the fate of small traders are well founded.  A New York Times report has exposed as how Wal-Mart has captured nearly 50% of Mexico’s retail market in a period of 10 years. The business model of these stores involve waging a price war, aggressive pricing to destroy the local market, at heavy losses for a few years. Once the local competition is annihilated, it will consolidate the market and bring in a monopolistic power ensuring predatory pricing. The present set of middlemen in the market will be replaced by a fancy and systematic set of well oiled professionals like quality controller, standardiser, certification agency, packaging consultants etc.

There are strong arguments that the primary producer and end users will benefit from such scheme. The agriculture in US got government support worth US$ 307 billion for next five years. Another US study has showed that the net income of farmers in US have come down from 70% in early 20th century to less than 4% in 2005. It is true that these GMBRO will work on a razor sharp pricing model, essentially basing their pricing on their sophisticated and supra efficient logistics management. However, the argument that the agriculture will be standardized with such logistical management minimizing the loss of perishable goods and bring in efficiency in crop management.

The point where it fails to make an impression is the fact that FDI in storage is already allowed and hardly any foreign money has come in. This also validates the fact that technology benefit that is hoped out of this policy is highly susceptible. What is interesting is that every minute, a farmer in Europe quits farming. It is quite well known that some of the biggest GMBRO like Tesco from UK, Carrefour from France and Metro from Germany etc. have strong presence in the European continent. Ironically, Wal-Mart struggled recently to open up its store in Brooklyn, New York in USA due to popular protest against setting up such shop.

Protesters in New York take to the streets against  US retail giant Walmart

Protesters in New York take to the streets against US retail giant Walmart

The inflation will be checked, it has been argued, if FDI in retail is allowed. In the short run, yes, they will go for aggressive pricing to kill the local competition. It may incur huge losses in the process. However, why would a commercial enterprise incur such huge losses? The answer lies in their model whereby they will start a monopolistic predatory pricing in the long run. It will slowly leech from its customers which will have no other stores to turn to.

FDI in Retail

FDI in Retail

A kind of veiled Monopoly will be in place and monopoly by a commercial enterprise is never a good idea. Similarly, these GMBROs will weed out smaller buyers of agricultural produce from buying from the farmers initially. Once the network is established, they will act as a Monopsony (a market situation of one buyer against many sellers) and the situation is not ideal for sellers. With such powers, the sellers will lose their bargaining power in front of their monopsonist.

Market Consolidation

Market Consolidation

If they remain true to their business model that they have followed in other parts of the world, then the state of economy of Assam may stand vulnerable given the fact that we are not a strong supply economy. What essentially it means, that they will bring in goods from cheaper destination with a set logistical management process like China; sell it here, earn their money, pay up to keep the Chinese industries running, rake in the profit to the coffers of these GMBRO.  Recently, a British Member of Parliament, David Amess was quoted in the media, to have said, FDI in retail “literally change the fabric of life in India.”

Assam is one of the poorest states in the country.

Out of cash!?

Out of cash!?

The performance of indicators of agriculture and allied sectors as well as manufacturing sectors has been dismal when compared to other developing states from eastern India like Bihar, Chattisgarh or Jharkhand. According to Planning Commission data, growth rate of GSDP in agriculture sector for 2005-06 to 2011-12 for Assam is 3.99% as against 17.07% in Bihar, 10.85% in Mizoram, 9.55% in Arunachal Pradesh, 8.69% in Chattisgarh and 8.94% in Jharkhand. Similarly, the growth rate of GSDP of Assam in Industry sector for 2005-06 to 2011-12 stood at 2.67% as against 16.73% in Bihar, 13.07% in Mizoram, 10.14% in Arunachal Pradesh and 9.37% in Chhattisgarh. Assam has only edged Jharkhand in this segment at 0.69%. The states that are opposing FDI in retail are some of the best growing states in the country like Bihar, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka among others.

FDI in Retail: Debate is on

Rework economic model of Assam

Rework economic model of Assam

Assam needs a serious re-look at its economic model of growth. It should understand its long term implication of a certain policy before jumping guns to join the bandwagon. It has been long time when we took serious steps to set up new industries to prop up the supply side. The aging tea industry, which is struggling with flagging global market, and a state run hugely loss making oil industry are the only two core sectors. We have missed the IT revolution due to our frail education system at that time, we missed auto revolution, we missed green revolution, we missed white revolution, and we missed opportunities to augment other manufacturing or service sector growth stories. And, this has impacted immensely on our economy.

Infrastructure Development

Infrastructure Development

Right now, the focus of the government should be to create assets like roads, power projects, accelerating on the strong points and build capacity on the weaker points of the economic assets. The initial boost to this has to come from the government and once some capability is established, the private sector investments will follow. History is a great teacher and, if we care, we must learn from it. Industrial revolutions of various nations used the same model. They developed their resources by mobilizing resources, invested in the technological advancement & application and then strategizing their management practice for maximum benefit with active government support. For example, England, during it’s hey days, developed its industrial base, e.g. textiles of Manchester, captured markets like colonies in India and America, and then established trade with them without letting the domestic industries to grow.

By allowing GMBROs in poor states like Assam, the state is allowing foreign shops to come to reap profits and take it back, crush any local entrepreneurial venture and killing the local industry, undermining the aspirations of local sons & daughters of the soils to think beyond a 9 to 6 run-of-the-mill job, and exposing our economic sovereignty to a foreign commercial entity, and thinking aloud, that may conjure to lurk for political mileage and sovereignty eventually. One cannot rule out as history has examples that are not that old to forget. Whither Assam thinks beyond and ahead, and dare to dream more, it should not brush aside such stark objections. It should rather concentrate on building competency and muscle to outwit the global competition by not becoming a dumping ground and bring in consistency between supply side and demand side of the economy.

(The article was published in The Assam Tribune on 24th December, 2012. Please visit this link to view the published work: http://www.assamtribune.com/scripts/showpage.asp?id=dec2412%2C6%2C420%2C111%2C993%2C933)

FDI in retail & Assam: Published in The Assam Tribune on 24th December, 2012

FDI in retail & Assam: Published in The Assam Tribune on 24th December, 2012

 

Dead Men’s City

When I chose the title “Dead Men’s city,” I was both skeptical and scarred to use it. But, in the hindsight, I think just apt and perfect for the situation. As a human being, I am ashamed of what has happened in Guwahati just a week ago. A girl was assaulted and molested by a bunch of hooligans in the heart of the city. And, there goes a media channel and, an array of media stories to follow, to air this gruesome act. Yes, you will agree, as like any reasonable person, that the sense of justification and reasoning of airing such a video only displays the lowest journalistic ethos. But, we should not ignore, especially in a consumerist society, that the media, which is a reflection of the society that we live, is driven by market forces and people find it amusing (?) to watch such barbarism on television channels. There is a sense of urgency in this particular incident. This is a welcome step and the guilty should be brought to justice.

Now, I have a very unusual or, if I can use the word, controversial question to it. Why is it that we have woken up only now? Why is it that when the incident was shown on national television that people are hitting the street to demand justice? Why are we doing all that we can for this case? Why are we not shammed to death for any other, unreported incident but widely known among people, cases of molestation? People are questioning the ethics of the media. This is good. But are we questioning our own sense of morality and ethics? Do we question our conscience when we may have ignored such an incident? Can we lay hands on our souls and tell the truth to our own self. You got your answer. That is where we can call our selves hypocrites.

Thanks to media, we are seeing the exposed value system of our society. We are only shouting our voice when we were shammed in public. We have lost our face and we are facing questions from people who would haunt us for our boasting claim to fame about women dignity in Assam. However, we also knew that this is not entirely true. With those disturbing images doing rounds across the country and the world, we are running for covers. We dont know how we will continue to live in the fake blown-up-beyond-proportion ego of culture and social identity that is long dead. We are still drawing inspirations to boast about a cultured society from a bunch of sacred heroes who are increasingly getting diminished from the moral map of the present society.

All that we love to do is to jump the bandwagon and remain loyal to the ‘way of social conformity.’ As we increasingly compromise our own identity, I wonder if we, as a society, will have another hero in near time. It’s appalling that we are starving for heroes and we shy away vehemently to ignore such a reality. We love to live in a world of myth and materialistic bling. We are hardly bothered about what goes out there as long as I am ‘safe.’ This atypical idiosyncrasy of the present society has led me to question us. Where do we stand as a society?

Till the time, it was not aired in the national television, this incident has not insulated such a reaction. Because we love our fake identity and take magnanimous pride in it, this incident shammed us or we are shammed because that the lie that we live in is exposed in front of the world. The foundation, the mascara and the kajal of the society were washed away by this tragedy and the aging wrinkles and horrific scars of our society lay exposed. We dont know what to do or how to go back to our old fake self. We are challenged.

Consumerism and materialism has so much consumed our society that even our values and reputation need to be kicked hard so that it can wake up. Today, sadly, even one’s individual self respect and ethics are driven by market forces. Because it will have negative impact on the overall reputation of the society we  should now join in. All that we care about today, is a good marksheet so that one can get admitted to Delhi University (Let the Assam education system go to hell), get a job in an MNC (let the entrepreneurial kick die), get a trophy wife (who cares about love anymore, we need someone who can mingle with my social class), get a car (because its not only about commuting anymore) and a home as early as possible (because I can move to a bigger house on a bigger loan on a later date). In our mad rat race, we forgot to think about our surrounding and ignore the catastrophic implication that it may have on our individual personal lives, our own identity (provided we have one) and an honour (if we care to own it).

With passing days, we will get back to the machine, that we love to log on to, and keep on doing things that were being done. We will post a “RIP” if some elderly looking gentlemen dies without recognizing the contribution that he had towards the society. This is how we remain true to the ‘Conformity Movement’ and we will come out on the street wearing black T Shirt (because we love Metallica) only when its not too shiny or hot to walk out, is a Sunday and more importantly our fake image is not tarnished and our dirty liens are not washed in front of the nation. Otherwise, we are doing just fine and we are happy with the shopping malls, swanky cars and bikes and five star hotels. Who talks about Assamese language, or its identity? Face of protest? Kalaguru Bishnuprasad Rabha, Ambikagiri Raichowdhury? Who are they? They are passe. We are talking about the changing the world, bringing communism by wearing black, man. Heck! How about Ernesto, oh! Sorry! Che Gueverra? He is kind of cool to be worn.

 Are we living in a Dead Men’s Society? I am. Dont know about you. Just pinch yourself and you will get your identity. If I sound stupid, its ok.