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First published in February 2007 to serve as an unbiased and clear-minded chronicler of the Indian Dream
EDITORIAL LEADERSHIP TEAM
FRIDAY, JULY 23, 2010, DELHI ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM
The Afghan chessboard
t is 2014 in Kabul. The last vestiges of the US presence are being extinguished fast. The British and the ragtag European contingents quit ages ago. The Taliban rules southern and eastern Afghanistan with an iron hand, guided mostly by Pakistan. There is strong resistance to the Taliban in the west and the north. The country increasingly looks fractured. Hamid Karzai is a figure of the past. This scenario may sound overtly pessimistic in light of President Karzai’s assertion that Afghans will be able to manage their security by 2014.
But it can hardly be ruled out. A similar hope was voiced when the Red Army marched back home in 1989 and Najibullah, a forgotten figure today, was firmly in the saddle. Soon after the Soviets left, his army and police simply melted away. A similar script is unfolding again. On 29 June, the US special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction released a report on the state of preparedness of Afghan national security forces (ANSF). Contrary to Karzai’s hope, the report tells a dismal story. Let alone the hard task of battling the Taliban, ANSF
is hardly prepared to carry out basic policing duties even in relatively safe environments. So it is hardly surprising that Pakistan is cock-a-hoop about the prospect of western withdrawal from Afghanistan. It can smell “strategic depth” in Afghanistan, a dream that has eluded it since 1947. One can also be sure that mistakes made earlier, such as attacking the US, will not be repeated. This has made the punditry in Delhi forlorn. There is no reason to be despondent. For the fact is if Islamabad won’t let the Taliban repeat old mistakes, it is already paving the ground for new ones. Its excessive reliance on Pashtuns, and that too of one variety, will ensure the alienation of other Afghan communities. It is cementing a template of past Afghan ethnic wars in a Faustian bid to further its aims. That is bound to backfire. This is one mistake that Pakistan can’t avoid making.
ANIL PADMANABHAN TAMAL BANDYOPADHYAY PRIYA RAMANI NABEEL MOHIDEEN MANAS CHAKRAVARTY MONIKA HALAN VENKATESHA BABU SHUCHI BANSAL SIDIN VADUKUT
(MANAGING EDITOR, LIVEMINT)
FOUNDING EDITOR RAJU NARISETTI
ON BEHALF OF
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India should not compete with Pakistan for Pashtun influence. To be sure, we should have good ties with various Pashtun factions, but this should not be at the cost of our long-time friends, notably those of the former Northern Alliance. In addition, in cooperation with Iran, India
ought to focus on building ties with regional players in western Afghanistan. It may be a rough ride for some years, but there is no reason why we can’t ace the Afghan game. Is India being booted out of Afghanistan? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org
A step backward on GST
t has long been established that the transition to a single goods and services tax (GST) would have been a singular piece of economic reform that would bring the changes initiated over the last two decades to their logical conclusion. And not without reason: It would economically unify the country. Seen in this context, the decision of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to dilute the parameters of what it
had itself argued was a “good” GST tax is retrograde. What is worse, the proposal suggests a very defective architecture, which, if allowed, would do more harm than good. To start with, the proposal flies in the face of a single GST. Given its distinction between goods and services, on the one hand, and items of mass consumption, on the other, there is the implication that the proposal is looking at a multiple rate structure—or actually
about five rates. Further, it has, by suggesting differential rates—16% for items of mass consumption, 20% for other goods and 12% for services— proposed to tax goods and services differently. Not only will this distort the value-added principle of indirect taxation—in some cases, the inputs may attract a higher duty than the output—it will also invite classification disputes; people will tend to classify their goods in the cheaper tax slab.
Since items such as alcohol and petroleum products, which generate substantial tax revenue, have been left out of the purview of the proposed GST, the tax rate on commodities has had to be pegged at a high rate of 20%—a rate at which there is greater incentive to evade taxes. So far in the debate, only two of the three stakeholders have expressed their opinion. The consumers, and particularly industry, have reserved their opinion, or at least not spoken in public as yet. It is time they did, because a lot more is at stake for them as the country gears up to
move into the next stage of growth, where a uniform tax regime would not be a concession, but a precondition. Clearly, the government’s intent seems to be to manage the deadline than the ideal architecture. This is a mistake. Proceeding with a defective proposal would only do more harm than good. Maybe it is simpler to assume that the country is not ready for GST at this point, and suspend the initiative altogether. Does the current GST structure need more thought? Tell us at email@example.com
THE TURTLENECK TUTORIAL
re you considering visting Delhi any time soon? Don’t. The place is an unholy mess. What with the construction, congested roads, flash puddles and traffic police. The reason for this mayhem is the Commonwealth Games. By most accounts, the arrangements for the Delhi Games are in shambles. Some of the critical infrastructure such as stadia and roads are already many months behind schedule for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014. Indeed, at a recent press conference, when asked about rain damage to the table tennis facility, an organizing committee spokesperson denied everything. He insisted that “there were no delays”, that “it only rained little bit”, that “these rumours were being spread by maybe ISI” and that “there was no such thing as ‘table tennis’”. But amid a hailstorm of allegations one man has stood tall and resolute. His determination and optimism has been unflagging. Not even for one moment has he let the massive popular opposition, media ridicule or international doubt waver his confidence. Yes. I am referring to Manoj Night Shyamalan. Ha. Kidding. I mean Suresh Kalmadi. The chief of the Indian Olympic Association has been an island of cool even as
Suresh Kalmadi needs to desperately win back credibility. Some management pointers from an unlikely source
his pet project flounders. At every single press conference Kalmadi has defended it enthusiastically. Yet somehow Kalmadi manages to reap only negative PR. Even when he assures people that Delhi will outdo the Beijing Olympics, no one takes him seriously. Kalmadi, in short, needs to desperately do something about his management style. Only a drastic change will win him credibility. In order to do this, he must immediately seek inspiration from the master of subterfuge himself. Five Management Lessons For Suresh Kalmadi From Steve Jobs: 1. Offer a consistent image When Suresh Kalmadi addresses the media he does not have a standard dress code. Sometimes he wears ethnic clothing, sometimes a suit and sometimes a regular T-shirt. Jobs always, always,
wears Levi’s 501 jeans and a black mock turtleneck. This creates an aura of mystery and power. Kalmadi should do the same. And then when he suddenly has bad news, he should wear a drastically different ensemble. The confused press will lose focus. Kalmadi: “...which is why I must announce with regret that we have misplaced the Archery Stadium.” Journalist: “Yes, OK. But where is your violet suit?” 2. Use slideshows Currently, Kalmadi makes all his presentations orally. This is sheer folly. Even if Steve Jobs wants to say “good morning” to his staff, he summons them into a conference room and uses a snazzy slideshow. Human beings tend to accept without question anything delivered in slide form. Would the iPhone be such a success without Jobs’ drama? I doubt it. Kalmadi must immediately hire an MBA with minimum five years experience, who can make slideshows. 3. If there is a problem, deny it as a lightweight issue The biggest mistake so far has been Kalmadi’s complete dismissal of all criticism. Ask him about any problem and he responds by denying its existence. Tragedy! What did Jobs do when people said that the iPhone 4 has an antenna problem? Dismiss it? No. He admitted that there was a problem. But Jobs also said it was a miniscule issue when compared to the world-changing awesomeness of the device. Similarly, Kalmadi needs to deflect instead of denying. “For a very, very, very small percentage of divers,” he could say, “there may not be water in swimming pool”. 4. Blame other people for mistakes
There is only one way to correctly hold an iPhone 4. However, it requires advanced BKS Iyengar yoga training. In an ideal world Jobs would have been apologetic. Instead he blamed the consumer’s tendency to hold the iPhone 4 like other phones. At some point Kalmadi has to blame other things. Such as the people of Delhi, the weather, the lowest bidder system, Right To Information, and so on. For instance: “If it were not for the Commonwealth Games, we could have avoided many delays and controversies associated with Commonwealth Games.” 5. And one more thing: Take everyone down with you Finally, when Jobs was pushed to the wall, he convened a press conference. Where he said that other phones had the same problems as iPhone 4. I cannot think of a better strategy. It is not like Kalmadi is living in a perfect country where everything happens like clockwork. So why should he alone shoulder blame for inefficiencies? Sample press statement: “In his defence Mr. Kalmadi wishes to present the following: screenshot of website that promises Tatkal Passport in seven days, a copy of the Lieberhan Commission report, and Air India’s balance sheet.” I hope Mr. Kalmadi uses the wisdom of Steve Jobs to better handle the Delhi Commonwealth Games crisis. Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at the pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
To read Sidin Vadukut’s previous articles, go to www.livemint.com/cubiclenama
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