Political Suicide?

Demonitisation day #5.

Doubts about the thoughtfulness and preparation behind the move have been widely cited. The system is beginning to appear stretched. FirstPost and Mint present a fairly balanced view of the repercussions of demonitisation.

Given the logistical nightmare, and the 100 percent chance that this will result in sheer chaos, anarchy and anger his vote base (since traders will be the worst hit) why did Modi commit political suicide?

If the PM took such a risk, it shows his supreme confidence and a quid pro quo of deep trust between Modi and his electorate. He, as Swapan Dasgupta writes in his column for The Times of India, would have calculated that the electorate, though being made to go through utter inconvenience and hardship, will “appreciate forthrightness and loftiness of purpose.”

But he would be hurting. No matter how strong the conviction and unshakable the trust, Modi isn’t blind to the factors at play — the market slipping into a recession, daily lives suspended in a surreal act of faith and common man getting increasingly restive as the days tick by and the system near a total collapse. – Sreemoy Talukdar, FirstPost.

I don’t have any reason to doubt the sincerity behind the move. That much more reason to believe that Narendra Modi has turned out to be a special Prime Minister.

I know that I can’t completely gauge the problems people are facing from this move. An acquaintance had to default on his rent, footfalls at restaurants have fallen, and for sure those that rely on daily wages have been hit. Life continues to be orderly. I’m encouraged by the few conversations I had when standing in line at a bank on Sunday. I believe that the desire to stay the course is still present. Let’s just hope that we can reboot the system before this spirals out of our control.


Cashless India in a Single Day

8th November ended like any other day. I’d just gotten home from work. My father called me. Excitedly he told me that our PM, Narendra Modi had recalled 500 and 1,000 denomination notes. I responded that it’s probably a hoax and switched to youtube to check just in case. It was true. A number of my colleagues who I discussed this with echoed my initial disbelief on having first heard of demonetisation. Living through a full day after demonetisation has been that much more unreal.

I can’t imagine that an extreme step such as this would ever be taken. As my Dad explained, the last time this was done was in 1978 under similar circumstances. India needed this. Edelweiss Securities predicts that the crackdown will unearth 3 trillion rupees ($45 billion). Perhaps I believed our politicians didn’t have it in them. But Modi ji’s turned out to be a politician like no other. He’s allowed his determination to lead him into the unknown. If this move fails to deliver impact, it’ll hound him. If it works, at least temporarily black money will entirely cease to exist in India. Fake money will be invalidated. Indeed, the nexus between terrorism, corruption and tax-avoidance will receive a blow.

And that’s significant.

As the dust of today’s discussions, evaluations, analysis and experiences settle, it’s becoming clear that although this was a much-needed reset of our entire system, it just might be that the entire potential of what is possible was missed.

First, a little background. A little before tax-season the government announced an amnesty scheme under which tax defaulters could come clean for a penalty and avoid criminal prosecution. Although the scheme was widely availed, it came nowhere near the goals our PM had set. Perhaps he have felt that some thing more would have to be done. I’d resigned myself to “yet another unfulfilled campaign promise”. It would continue to be business as usual.

India (and Bharat) is a clear, desperate large-scale use-case to go-digital. In our cash-led economy, an INR 10 denomination note has an average lifespan of less than 10 months.

Our PM himself appreciates technology for the transparency and accountability that technology brings with itself. He’s also cited the parallel economy being a key driver of forces that are destroying us from within.

Since the early years of 2000 – 2012, digital entrepreneurs have been tracking the Internet in India. We’ve achieved big changes at a snail’s pace. First came broadband, then smartphones, mobile internet, finally e-commerce. This is over a 12+ year time period. If we think forward, will it take us another decade for us to go cashless?

And therefore skepticism. We need to be there desperately, but the inertia won’t allow. Just the other day I was asked by a potential hire, “Do you really believe you’ll sell digital payments to a group that believes in dealing in cash”? I’ve always had a ready answer, but it’s a tough argument to fight. Even now, my son’s private school conveyance hesitated to share his bank account details. We simply didn’t have the cash on hand to pay him.

If one sets out to change India to stop having to rely on cash, until last night this felt a little like an impossible task. I only know now that I felt like this. I’m simultaneously embarrassed and impressed on the boldness and on how our PM’s decision has turned out.

So just maybe, I need not have to wait a decade for this change. Let’s take a fresh look at what was possible.

We’ve just spent an entire day where 500 and 1,000 notes are not legal tender. Throughout the nation Banks and ATM’s were shut. There was some chaos as people scrambled, but systems haven’t entirely failed or stopped. If you’re a daily wage earner and if you were paid in 500’s on Tuesday, you’d have a difficult time. In the coming days there will be more pressure on the system to change those 500’s into new 500’s or 100 denomination notes. On Thursday 11th, ATM’s will be back online, but if you don’t have a bank account, you won’t have access to more than INR 4,000 in the new currency right away. For sure that won’t cover the month’s rent and groceries.

Over the last 2 years, we’ve introduced Aadhaar – a biometric based system capable of identifying citizens, we’ve linked the Aadhaar system to bank accounts, and have recently introduced Unified Payment Interface, a simple account-to-account cash transaction system suitable for smartphones. If we’d made it possible to pay with UPI almost everywhere, there wouldn’t be as much pressure on the system for availability of 100’s and smaller denomination notes. Even in a hybrid system those who need cash to bridge expenses could have had them on priority while the others must pay digitally. Universal acceptance is key.

Let’s look at some of the counter-arguments I’ve got. Not everyone has a bank account, but they may have instances where they’d have to pay large sums (school fees comes to mind).

On the acceptance front, skepticism has prevented retailers and common utility providers from adopting digital. That could have been eliminated.

But just this one day, I believe that we could have prepared ourselves to digitise and made a leap. Even if it is only my limited view-point, on this one day we all accepted to be inconvenienced for the greater good. A nation that can be organised to give up their money and recognise the larger picture, they’re certainly ready to let go of their other fears. This opportunity, this reset might not arise again.

We’re getting quicker at transforming our ageing private / public systems and protocols. Reliance Jio’s doing it in telecom (they’re India’s only 100% VoLTE operator), railway tickets, our cooking gas subsidy system and many other examples come to mind. This pace of change is exciting.

There’s no doubt in my mind that 8 November is historic and a big leap forward. It has strengthened my faith in our version of democracy and in our leader. It’ll strengthen the common man by merging the parallel economy and forcing cash out into the open. It has encouraged me to think about what’s possible, what our future ought to look like and what we’ll need to do in order to get there. Thank you Honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modi for growing our picture by that much. Thank you for surprising me.


Reciprocity: Simplifying Business Networking

A little and a lot, both can be said about business networking. To write about the little is to summarise all the many little things I’ve learned over the last 9 years. Its quite simple that every business conversation starts with give and take. As a novice I’ve found learning this simple protocol to be long and confusing. A short article can help accelerate that process.

The one word that I’d use to capture this idea is Reciprocity*.

The take: Knowledge of what you need right now is distilled from your priorities in that day, week and even quarter. You get the idea. Articulate what you want and suggest ways you can be helped. You can help me with <…> just fill out the blanks.

If you end a conversation without speaking about what you require, you’re missing out. Business relationships work both ways.

The give: This the part that I’m good at. I tend to offer more than I have to in the hope of getting things started off on the right foot.

Nevermind the generosity. What I figure works best is to understand who you’re speaking to and what their priorities are. Remember how you’re priorities helped you out earlier? That’ll work here as well.

Not all give an take has money on one side. They can also be sophisticated barters. Welcome creativity!

Once you’ve established some common ground, its time to apply the idea to the many types of people you will meet.

Investors are not different beasts as is commonly misunderstood. They too want things to be done. Maybe they’re priority on that day is to identify that interesting deal which will make his year. You’re deck or elevator pitch may not necessarily be sufficient if you get where this is going.

In that same picture, always ask based on your priorities. It need not always be an investment. It maybe something the Investor will know (an Analyst’s report perhaps), or maybe someone he knows (an Investee company?).

Moving on, time-based engagements (consulting) also follow this principle. This applies to people who are supremely busy, or have something you want desperately.

Sounds simple, right? I’m glad I’ve had good mentors to help me figure out this idea in its entirety. The biggest temptation being to avoid leaving the take to the context. Doing things this way leaves little room for grudges, disappointment, or entangling yourself in confusing priorities.

I enjoy meeting new people as a part of my work and I hope that by doing business with them it’ll lead to larger things down the road.

* The Key to Getting Meetings with Insanely Busy People, Fast Company.


Is the thinking mind a Mirror or a Whiteboard?

I do enjoy pondering on the attributes of the thinking mind. What is the thinking mind? What’s the purpose of the thinking mind? What is the nature of thought? If we wanted to understand the biological content that makes thoughts possible, where should one look for it? Questions go on endlessly.

One fundamental question I toyed with in today’s meditation is does the thinking mind closer to a mirror or a whiteboard?

If one goes by a fundamental that the thinking mind is not separate from the larger body of consciousness, then the thinking mind is better explained as a smaller reflection of the larger set of events. Of course, you can decide to override what you’re thinking, but that’s still an in and out process.

Another fundamental that the ‘thinking mind as a mirror’ is based on is that of consciousness. Consciousness isn’t directly experienced in its entirety. At least that’s how I see it today. It’s the larger idea that drives every little thing we think of as ‘out of direct control’. There are so many instances of physiological functions. If I threw a ball at your face, you’ll blink and dodge even before you ‘know’ that the ball is headed at you.

Consciousness is not simply limited to instinct. What about digestion? Nail growth? Muscle growth? Or solving a problem in deep thought? It all seems to happen without me determining whether it should stop or start.

Depending on what philosophy you read, consciousness can also be explained as the fabric that binds everything, not limited by your bodily limits.

At the tip of this very large idea is what we directly experience and finally what we directly control. So I like to explain thought in this way – when you can feel a spontaneous thought cross your mind, that’s experiencing a reflection of the many, many events simply blended together.


A clutch of thoughts with no specific objective

A few thoughts on achievement. It’s a good idea to aspire to achieve.

On achieving whatever it is that you desire, it’s certainly possible to lose connection to the emotional content of your work. For instance, it’s never easy to come in every day with a smile. I’m fortunate to know of a few rare, exceptional people who can do that.

Another visual that comes to mind is the blogger who can see her audience’s claps (and Likes if you must) but knows inside herself that her product is a shadow of her former self. There will always be way more popular blog authors out there, but they all know what I mean when I write that.

What does one do then?

In such times I’d say, dare to dream bigger. To dream new. Dream on. But don’t stop working.


My Experience: Startup Leadership Program 2015

After what has been a while, I’ve put thoughts down on paper. I decided to write about my experience attending SLP Pune 2015. It was in the nick of time too. Admissions to the next SLP batch close on 15 August 2015.

In a way, I’m glad SLP came along when it did. Mid-way through 2014, I was in half a mind to move to Bangalore and start from scratch there, which isn’t altogether a bad thing*. I turned in my application from Bangalore staying over at my brother-in-laws on an extended visit. Attending weekend sessions and meeting peers grounded me just long enough to continue to find a solution in Pune.

My complete experiences are captured in this post for punestartups.org.

* Bangalore was recently in the news for having made it to #15 as a startup destination globally.


Fiery Summer Blooms

Summer