Sunday, July 30, 2023

Aspiring and Glittering


It is the time for General elections. Remember the time two decades back when there was a Shining India campaign. Centuries back, India was Eldorado for all invaders and conquerors worldwide throughout history.  Greeks, Central Asian, and West European Invaders robbed this Land and turned India into a deprived third-world country.  India found its right path after Liberalization and well-intended policy-making in the last decade. Most of the champions on the left side worry about the last man in the pyramid. Though one cannot disregard the pain and hardships of a large segment of the populace still oppressed and have remained underprivileged in rural, semi-rural, and urban landscapes many out of this segment have set themselves and their families to aspire and improve their quality of life. There are many initiatives at policy levels that have helped every segment of society. Some have managed to make life easier while some have taken it to the next level economically. Aspiring India is driving the economy across all sectors. The trickle-down effect of the economy is working as well further driving aspirations. The leaders of the economy and those who benefitted from the boom across the sectors have taken the economy to glittering heights. The glittering class inspires the aspiring class to work towards themselves to be counted in the glittering class. Not only are they making new heights for themselves in terms of achievements, but they are glittering on the world stage. And the entire world is taking note of it. If you see their spending patterns and observe how the global luxury brands as well as Indian brands are catering to this glittering class you will really believe in the India story.            

The year 2022 was one of the best for the Indian luxury industry, according to a recent report. The luxury market in India ($8.5 billion) could expand 3.5 times by 2030, says the report. The potential is being realized by the entry of more luxury brands into India. Europe’s largest luxury departmental chain with 290 stores that house over 200 brands has partnered with Aditya Birla Fashion Retail to start Indian operations. Reliance Brands has signed up to bring famous Italian and Spanish brands to India.

Discerning Indian consumers are seeking best-in-class brands and want to settle for nothing less than the world’s best — most famous watches, perfumes, accessories, and jewelry brands. Their homes are statements, and they don’t hesitate to make multiple trips to Europe and the USA for unique artifacts. But there is also a strong urge to support indigenous luxury. It’s even better if it’s handcrafted and has a story to tell about the country’s glorious heritage. The consumer who buys an expensive diamond necklace from World’s most famous brands is more than willing to complement it with an exquisitely crafted Saree priced ₹5-7 lakh from an Indian brand. This adds purpose to the purchase (supporting local artisans), not to mention the great pride of wearing India on the sleeves. This has spawned a plethora of Indian luxury brands. This is apart from myriad direct-to-consumer brands. From bespoke jewelry, fashion and crafts to luxurious river cruises and handcrafted single malts, Indian luxury, though in its infancy, has a bright future.

Indian companies also cater to Individual demands and Customization to source the best material for the best products they sell.  Customers don’t expect this level of service at any of the globally acclaimed jewelry stores. Indians are no longer apologetic about ‘Indianness’. They are flaunting it. That has had a positive rub-off on Indian luxury brands. The earlier assumption was that luxury came only from Italy, France or New York. Today, India has enough confidence in its culture to develop a story that is not a copy of Milan or London. The growth of a few major global brands in post Covid-19 era has come from Indian Brands.

One big reason the Indian consumer is turning to indigenous brands is awareness of the need to reduce the carbon footprint. The best way to ensure this is to support local artisans. The trend has ushered in an era of ‘silent’ luxury. There is subtlety. The craft and value of the garment will come out in its uniqueness rather than the logo. It’s about the quality of materials used.  With people of Indian origin increasingly assuming top positions in business, science, fashion, and films, the apprehension about showing off Indian craftsmanship and designs has significantly reduced in the past decade. Also, the spending power of consumers has gone up significantly.

But is this trend a cause for celebration or should we be concerned about it?   All the glitter normally leads to a glow on social media. All the luxury acquisitions of domestic and international brands invariably feature on social profiles. It leads to many aspirations out of peer pressure. This adds to stress and anxiety leading to mental health issues. The phenomenon of glitter creating more aspirations has its underbelly. Though it’s very natural to aspire, it should not result in envy. This envy may lead to crime. Mental health issues and law and order may get impacted by glitter and aspirations. Indian philosophy has always promoted simple non materialistic lifestyles. The emphasis on core values, savings, and education has created stronger acceptance across regional divides. Things changed after liberalization. New generations, namely Millennials and GenZ have taken up to change core values and role models in our society. People consume more and spend more, which is not that bad for the economy, but we also need savings to be converted into investments. The approach towards consumerism should be balanced.

As we worry about the last person in the pyramid, we can serve him most through growth-driven policies; improve his living standards, healthcare, and so on. That can only be done in a strong economy. No amount of freebies and subsidies will help as they normally will be insufficient or won't reach him. Aspiring and Glittering India is now committed to growing. This is a welcome outcome.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Twenty Years After


Twenty Years After

Remember late 2003 and early 2004. India drew test series in Australia Vs Australia. India won in Pakistan versus Pakistan. A B Vajpayee Government was at the helm of the NDA government. The focus was on Infrastructure building across India. There were campaigns built around ‘India Shining’ and ‘Feel Good Factor’. India had withstood the global recession and there was a strong service-driven economy that later created a mid-2000s boom across cities and towns in India. The 2004 general election sprung a surprise where strange coalitions worked behind the scenes and the UPA government was formed under Manmohan Singh. Congress was the main protagonist, and the Gandhi family let Congress again rode to power  for the first time after 1989. Will history repeat itself twenty years after in 2024? 

Let’s try to analyze the events twenty years before. The decade between 1989 till 1999 was marred by political instability. P V Narasimha Rao had done great service to the Indian Economy thanks to the political acumen/guile to drive inevitable liberalization. But subsequently, the lack of political stability resulted in a lack of structural and policy reforms further needed. By completing the full five-year term, A B Vajpayee Government could drive key reforms like disinvestments, Oil companies cross share purchase, Golden quadrilateral, Gram Sadak Yojana, Telecom reforms, Fiscal profligacy, Steps toward GST, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan, and few other foreign policy initiatives. But the think tank could not make the populace believe in the long-term impacts reaped later by UPA-I. The haste of declaring elections, and the wrong allies hampered NDA. Hi-Tech NDA campaigns and slogans did not resonate where in simple slogans by Congress; careful allies-based politics by UPA resulted in the change of power in 2004. 

Is the situation similar in 2024? Clearly, India is the only shining economy in the world. India now plays a more pivotal role in World politics with its initiates on Quad, G20. Indian deft foreign policy during the Ukraine crisis has been exemplary and has benefitted India. Aspirational India constitutes a large section of the population that does not want to be left out. Aspiration definitely has trickled down to the masses along with resources (though not in the same proportion). The amount of activity around construction, infrastructure, startup ecosystem, entertainment, and sports is tremendous across India. The economy has recovered from the setbacks of Covid and GST implementations.  The healthcare system was efficient during the vaccination drive and helped us recover from second-wave damage. Demonetization which was demonized by all and sundry helped widen the tax net. There were no foreign-sponsored terror attacks on the mainland. Naxal-related incidents have gone down.  India’s labor market has seen an upward trend in employment since July last year with 15 million people entering the workforce in the last three quarters out of which more than 75% or 11.2 million gained employment. The country's employment rate increased to 36.9% in March 2023 from 36.6% in December 2022, while the number of unemployed persons dropped by almost two million highlighting that many individuals were able to secure jobs. The fiscal discipline that has been shown by Government has resulted in financial stimulus across sectors through lower interest rates.  Tata's order to large aviation giants in Europe and the US kind of provided stimulus to the respective economies. We now lead world in the digital transactions. India has used technology effectively in policy-making, healthcare delivery, and distribution of welfare benefits.  Focus on cleanliness, and manufacturing though not have yielded results as expected but there is attention to me at government levels. Ujwalla, Jan Dhan, and various schemes have benefitted the masses.  

All this positivity has created special attention for the adversaries of India. These adversaries include the bigger economies and bankrupt economies in India’s neighborhood. The bigger economy has various issues internally as well as externally.  They have worldwide attention through trade wars, espionage, and interference in neighboring regions. They resort to historical border mischief. The bankrupt economies (maybe fallout of Indian demonetization) have resorted to open wars and hidden wars through terrorism. These adversaries also include ‘so-called’ socialist powermongers operating from their rich mansions in advanced countries. The traditional elitists from the developed world, religious lobbies, and Western media backed by all above have traditionally looked down upon India. All the positivity in India's story has made these forces join hands to kind of undermine, discredit, and also have a decisive say in India's story by influencing democratic elections.  These forces are backing normally diverse forces that constitute Indian political opposition. It all started with orchestrated efforts to destabilize the current dispensation. All have realized that this may be the last chance for them to facilitate regime change.  Big Indian corporates were targeted for ruling party nexus and irregularities.  The intolerance, polarization, and religious persecution of minorities were projected to be the essence of the new India. This is their most potent weapon to raise opinion-making against India's story. Western media along with their local counterparts and sympathizers started with a barrage of global opinion-making against new India on one side despite the fact that at government levels there was closest collaboration and cooperation between the developed world and India.  

There are notable differences between 2004 and 2024. India was nowhere on the world scene then it is at the center stage now which itself can be achievements of policies starting from Narasimha Rao and  Vajpayee Government till Modi government barring the wasted years of policy paralysis during UPA2. UPA1 had few success stories but terrorism, and corruption undermined them.  That attention can be a double-edged sword. It can sway the electorate decisively or it can act as a powerful tool for regime change.  Another major difference is that people have seen differences in Coalition politics and single-party decisiveness in policymaking.  

The coming eleven months is the most important period in the history of modern emerging India. It’s for our vibrant democracy to uphold and continue upon the growth story or choose the opportunity-driven coalition politics of yesteryears.  


Sunday, July 16, 2023

Tipping Point


In the US NRI /PIO community, there is a term called Tipping point. It is the point in time when a person spends more years in the US than he has grown up in India to reach the US. At this point you think like an American and accept all American ways of life. One of the aspects of American Culture is Tips you pay for services consume.  Maybe for someone who has not reached the Tipping point, Tip is something one fails to rationalize. This issue is now even prevalent in India.

Sometimes it seems as though everywhere you go, you’re asked to chip in a little something extra, even for things that weren’t tipped services just a few years ago. Tips are requested at all service outlets, usually through those touchscreen tablets a lot of businesses use as their point of sale (POS) systems. Thanks to a combination of technology, social pressure, and a pandemic those tablets have become ubiquitous, and so have the tip requests. At a time when the prices of many goods and services are already far higher than they used to be due to inflation, we’re paying even more again to the workers who provide them. 

Call it tipflation. We do know that in the United States, people are generally asked or expected to tip far more and for more types of services than anywhere else in the world, so tipflation is going to be especially bad here. Tipping is a largely underground (and lucrative) economy, especially when those tips are left in hard-to-track cash. While those digital payment systems give us a new data source, that data is controlled by the companies that provide them.   

 A study at Cornell University finds that Tablet tipping data is hard to come by and harder still to compare to whatever pre-tablet tipping data is out there. There is a lot of data on how those suggested tips affect the tips customers leave. The higher those suggested tip amounts are, he says, the higher the overall tip revenue tends to be. Tipping is supposed to be a reward for excellent service, but studies have shown that the vast majority of people are motivated more by social pressure. Tipping is expected of them, and they don’t want to deviate from a long-established norm — especially if other people are watching and possibly judging them. 

Digital POS systems aren’t the only way a business will request tips, but it’s one of the newest as well as one of the hardest to refuse. Unlike tip jars on a counter, which are easy to ignore, or writing a tip on a receipt, tip-by-tablet becomes a public affair. You’re forced to declare your level of generosity or cheapness to anyone within eyesight, including your server. It’s easy to cross the line from honest persuasion to harmful manipulation” Just the act of asking people to leave a tip can be enough to push some people into doing so, especially when they’ve already initiated a business transaction.   

The tip prompts are also designed to push the customer into not just leaving a tip, but leaving an amount that the business “suggests.” Businesses can set those suggested amounts, which is why one place might go with something like 10, 15, and 20 percent, while another might do 20, 25, and 30 percent. They can also request dollar amounts instead of percentages, or enable “smart tipping,” which switches from percentages to dollar amounts if a purchase is under a certain threshold  

On some interfaces, custom and no-tip buttons are smaller and harder to find than the suggested amounts. Having to make a tip choice in order to complete an order forces the customer to opt out of a process that used to be opt-in. Touchscreens, tend to emphasize the buttons to give big tips and de-emphasize the button to give no tip at all. And if there’s a line behind the customer, they might feel pressure to move as quickly as possible.  Some people will be so flustered they might end up hitting the most prominent button not because they want to, but because they can’t find the option that they’re looking for  It feels like they’ve been forced.”As opposed to the traditional tip jar method, having a ‘no tip’ button on a payment interface exploits a sense of guilt that the guest may not have otherwise felt and makes them more likely to leave a tip  

Tips may also be a way for some businesses, already struggling with pandemic-related expenses, difficulty finding staff, and now inflation, to keep their costs down and attract more workers. With tips, workers effectively get a pay raise even if their base pay stays the same. They don’t have the budget to actually increase wages. And for that reason, they’re asking more on the side of the consumer by increasing the accessibility of being able to pay tips electronically. Even if a business doesn’t want to enable tips, it might feel forced to do so if a competitor does before it loses employees to the business that pays them more, with that extra pay coming from the customers.  

Barring a nationwide rebuke of tipping culture or laws forbidding the practice — both of which are highly unlikely considering how ingrained in American culture tipping is and how some high-profile attempts to end restaurant tipping have failed: What should one do?  If you’re asked to tip for a service that doesn’t traditionally ask for tips, there’s nothing wrong with saying no. For services that are traditionally tipped,   people should leave at least what’s considered an appropriate amount. They can leave more if they can afford it, but shouldn’t feel guilty if they can’t. And, she added, businesses should practice good etiquette, too. That means making customers feel welcome and comfortable, not ‘guilting’ them into leaving surprise tips. 

It should be a happier experience for tipping for quality services you consumed than being forced into tipping. Maybe I have not reached my Tipping point. 

Monday, July 3, 2023

Wok of the Woken


These days everything has to follow a cookbook which has to be approved by Woke ecosystem of the world. This cookbook defines not only the ingredients of the dish but also the Tongs, Vessels, and Woks. Anything that doesn’t meet the specification is canceled. But as an ardent fan of author like P G Wodehouse, it’s not palatable to let nosey editors and ill-equipped wordsmiths edit the well-crafted books of Wodehouse.   

 Publishers have altered what it termed the “unacceptable prose” of author P.G. Wodehouse in new editions of his classic Jeeves and Wooster series. The publisher also warned readers of “outdated” terms in the revamped works.  Publishers have recently been changing older classic works by such authors as Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming to reflect current sensibilities. The changes have been condemned by some as ruining the original vision of the authors. Fans felt that all that they needed to do was add an essay that describes the issue for the new prints.  Challenge and contextualize what has been written and educate the users. But changing text is disturbing. It’s more disturbing than the prose they need to censor.  In reality, no woke teenager is going to read Wodehouse or even comprehend his humor so why subvert the nature of art to appeal to people who will find offense in the mundane and use that offense to harm other people by suppressing their freedom to express themselves?  

 Mind it this is a similar ilk of woke liberals who were offended by a deletion in the textbook about some events in Indian History.  The Ecosystem historians cried foul and accused the ruling dispensation of driving an agenda. It is well within the purview of the ministry to decide the curriculum. Anyone can publish tons of books to narrate the history of choice. Efforts to make history more diverse and inclusive beyond eras that remain still unknown have to be welcomed. A context has to be given to the history of occupation by Invaders and colonists to help new generations feel for the hardships in those eras not just the glorification of occupation through a debate.  But then this is against the cookbook to use any other wok not recommended by woke liberalism.   

Now get used to Jeeves giving the politically correct advice to Bertie Wooster. Imagine Bertie doing a 9-5 job just like his neighbor with Jeeves as his mental well-being coach and not a butler. And the politically correct humor that makes no one laugh.   

The Woke ecosystem has found another cause pertaining to suicides in IITs to take on the management of these elite institutions. The alacrity to condemn the IIT Mumbai student suicide case as an instance of deep-rooted caste bias and stereotype was disturbing. At the end of the investigation, it was found that it was an interpersonal issue between two students. The entire management and student ecosystem was taken into a media trial. That does not mean that bias or opinions don’t exist or issues can be ignored. In fact, every incident provides an opportunity for corrective action to help us create a merit-based system and as well help those with disadvantaged backgrounds at the same time. If one studies the pattern of suicides in the institutes of higher education. It’s society mostly which creates pressure on individuals. Parental pressure, Peer pressure, and lack of opportunities add enormous pressure on students first to enter these institutes and later to secure hot job offers or International scholarships. This results in patterns like the rich-driven Kota Pattern. Institutes are expected to provide support infrastructure but due to the increase in the number of seats and scarce teaching/support resources Institutes have limitations. In this case, it’s only the self-support mechanism of friendships in the hostel and creative pursuits, etc can help students. They also need to use social media/web very judiciously as it adds to the pressure by means of envy/voyeurism/comparison. But that’s beyond the Woke ecosystem as it tries to just create a narrative without any solution. The same was observed in the litigation vs Cisco on caste discrimination case. Efforts are been made to establish a theory when issues were blown out of proportion as found in the court case.   

 Another disturbing trend is the de-facto enlisting of second-generation Non-resident Indian population in the ‘woke brigade’. The first generation is divided between liberals and conservatives. The liberals make no stone unturned to criticize what’s happening in New India while conservatives find no fault in New India. New India as agreed by experts is the only bright spot in the world economy while its efforts to eradicate poverty have been noted by everyone. When I say new India, I define post-liberalization and not post-2014 just to clarify as a non-political definition of it.  But then one has to admit that post-2014 schemes like Digital India, Jan-Dhan, Ujjwala gas, Swaccha Bharat, Vaccination, and Ayush, have really made an impact. But this divide between liberals and conservatives is not as disturbing in the diaspora as the emergence of Woke culture in the next-gen of the diaspora. It’s fashionable for them to be confirming to this brigade. Those who do are not accepted in the fold, especially in colleges. Normally that’s fine as it’s up to an individual to decide what his or her opinion is on every issue. The only downside of this is the strong anti-India stand taken without any rational justification. Everything about India is portrayed in any possible window of negativity. That’s to do either with inherent superiority over resident masses or thanks to the media which has its funding compulsions that provide this negative twist.   

Woke angle is a global phenomenon and being woke has its benefits. But as per conventional wisdom, suggestion for all ‘woke’ individuals is to be inclusive in their approach, acknowledge all angles to each issue they champion and most importantly find a solution to the issue rather than canceling. And please spare P G Wodehouse for the sake of his fans.