Elections: Indian Press Comments

I had written earlier [1 2 ] about the Indian elections, with comments from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Here is a sampling of commentary from the Indian press.

Shekhar Gupta writes in the Indian Express:

Rent-a-quote analysts and pseudo-socialists are out of the woodwork already. They call it the revenge of Bharat on India, the message from the poor to the feel-good classes and so on. The import of this election is more intricate than just that. If it was so simple, how come the greatest beneficiaries of feel-good economics, in South Bombay and New Delhi, the mall-multiplex crowd in Gurgaon, have voted exactly the same way as the debt-strangled farmer in Vijayawada, the jobless graduate in Hazaribagh, or the petrified Muslim in Mehsana?

This dramatic verdict is as much about anti-incumbency as about the rising expectations of our voter. As reform pulls more Indians above the poverty line, they are moving the bar of their expectations higher. From roti, kapada aur makaan to bijli, sadak, paani and then education, health, social dignity and security, all quality-of-life issues. This voter is more unforgiving, demanding, tougher to fool. It would then require something extraordinary to blunt his almost compulsive rejection of the incumbent.

The reality of today and tomorrow is Sonia and her coalition. Even in this heady moment, she would know the meaning of carrying the faithand futureof a billion people. She wasnt born among them. But she has adopted them as so many of them have accepted her. Its a formidable challenge, morally, politically and intellectually. While she may do well to learn from her predecessor the art of managing a rainbow coalition, she also has to understand what denied him a place in history that should have been his for the asking. In the national interest, it is not good enough to rise above your partys interest most of the time. You have to do it all the time. And when you blink, people will be brutal. The legacy of the family and the party she inherits is both mixed and complex. Her test lies in deciding how much of it to build on, how much to revampand how much to bury. The agenda is already formidable, from comforting the markets and writing the budget to picking up the thread with Pakistan and China, figuring out America, a complex world and Indias place in it. There is no time to lose. For, if theres one thing Verdict 2004 tells us, its this: the voter wants to see a better future, not tomorrow or the day after but today.

P Sainath writes in The Hindu:

The first thing the election results drive home is the sheer disconnect between the Indian elite and the Indian people. Here was a leadership that thought the `India Shining’ campaign would bring it success. A part of the elite even those with the Congress party went further than that. They believed the claims of `India Shining’ itself were valid and true. The dispute was over the patent rights on the shine. Did those belong to the Bharatiya Janata Party or to the Congress?

The Indian voters had very different issues on their mind. They were rejecting the National Democratic Alliance Government, which, as one poll slogan had it, stood for the “National Disinvestment Agency.” The intensity of this electoral quake rates an 8 on the political Richter scale.

At this point, the `feel good’ factor seems so pathetic as to require no ridicule. The ruling party even tried to co-opt the thrill of a great cricket tour of Pakistan. It didn’t work. Yet while the spin doctors have been sacked, the age of spin doctoring has arrived.

Also rubbed in yet again was, of course, that second huge disconnect. That between mass media and mass reality. Little in the media output of these past five years had prepared audiences for anything like this outcome. The polls succeeded where journalism failed. They brought back to the agenda the issues of ordinary Indians. Deeper analysis must await more data. However, some broad contours seem clear.

There is almost no government in the country that has ill-treated its farmers and not paid the price. That has hurt agriculture and not been punished. India has never seen so many farmers’ suicides as in the past six to eight years. For some, the urge to blame it all on nature is overwhelming. And yes, droughts have badly hurt people in parts of the country. But that would be missing the wood for the trees. Countless millions of Indians have seen their livelihoods crippled by policies hostile to them. Many of these applied to agriculture, on which two-thirds of the people depend. Any incoming government that fails to see this writes its own exit policy.

Vir Sanghvi of the Hindustan Times on Vajpayee’s legacy:

History will remember Atal Bihari Vajpayee as one of India’s finest prime ministers.

Mr Vajpayee has many achievements to his credit. He is the first non-Congress prime minister whose government did not fall before the end of his term. He is the man who made the BJP electable. And he is the first prime minister who showed that coalition politics could not only work in India but were also probably the only means of ensuring stability.

At a policy level, he exhibited both guts and imagination. The two initiatives with which he is associated the economic reforms and the normalisation of relations with Pakistan are both policies that were imposed on the bulk of the reactionary Sangh Parivar because of the sheer force of Mr Vajpayee’s own personality.

Mr Vajpayee took a reforms process that was in a state of disrepair and relaunched it with a determined earnestness. It was during his tenure that India became a global software superpower. And it was Mr Vajpayee’s courage and support for Arun Shourie that powered the privatisation programme.

Unlike many prime ministers before him, Mr Vajpayee had no court of sycophants and chamchas; he preferred to work alone. Even within the cabinet, there were few ministers who could be regarded as Vajpayee-loyalists; the prime minister did not believe in camps.

Though his personal popularity has been at an all-time high he remains India’s most popular politician, regardless of the fate his party has suffered Mr Vajpayee resisted the growth of a personality cult, rarely gave interviews and remained a largely silent, discreet figure who was unwilling to offer any opinions on non-policy issues.

When the history of his government is written, his many achievements will be set against one notable failure: the Gujarat riots and his unwillingness to punish those responsible for them, or even to restrain a chief minister who fought one of the most shamefully communal campaigns in Indian history.

Nevertheless, he should step down a happy man. He has achieved much of what he set out to do and even in defeat, he can say that he has been proven right he never thought the BJP would win an early election.

IBM’s Server-centric Software (continued)

There’s been a lot more discussion on IBM’s recent announcement. Business Week writes:

A confluence of factors could conspire to make Workplace the first legitimate mass-market competitor to Microsoft’s Office software suite. That, in turn, could have far ranging consequences. It might open up a wave of competition to the core Windows operating system itself.

In a nutshell, Workplace takes Microsoft Office and moves it to a server. This isn’t a new concept. Two of tech’s top CEOs, Sun Microsystems’ Scott McNealy, and Oracle’s Lawrence Ellison, have long espoused the idea of moving desktop software into the back office. And dozens of Internet startups were launched around the idea of delivering complex software capabilities through a Web browser and a Net connection.

Most failed, but several have done well, including Salesforce.com, which delivers so-called customer-relationship-management software over the Net. Even IBM has been pushing the concepts behind Workplace for several years, calling it “utility computing” and rolling out these capabilities in a more limited fashion.

The model’s attraction is clear. Workplace administrators will need to service only a single machine, the server that houses the software. The only thing users need to run Workplace is stripped-down software installed on their PCs and a fast connection to a corporate network or the Internet. By extension, users don’t have to worry about complicated software upgrades or installations, let alone the constant problems that come from conflicts between different programs installed on desktop PCs.

In the past, attempts at network computing on desktops didn’t work because broadband Internet connectivity wasn’t ubiquitous. The link back to the network data center — where software like Workplace runs — was slower than the Lincoln Tunnel coming back into Manhattan after a holiday weekend.

Now the growth of wireless broadband networks has made speedy access common in business environments such as convention centers, airports, and hotels, which allows applications such as Workplace to appeal to workers on the go. And a new wave of wireless data services that run at close to broadband speeds could soon make high-velocity connectivity nearly ubiquitous in major cities and for large swathes of rural America.

Another factor in Workplace’s favor is the growing realization that Microsoft Office is about 95% overkill for the average desktop user. Most folks use Office for basic word processing, spreadsheets, e-mail, and collaboration software that helps them sync up and talk to co-workers and partners. But very few use any of those programs to anywhere near their full capabilities.

This has led more and more chief technology officers to ask why they’re paying so much for Office when they take advantage of so little of its impressive but unnecessary capabilities. A simplification trend will build as companies strip down desktop software and give employees only what they need, which in many cases is a Web browser and an advanced e-mail program that incorporates some word processing capabilities — and not much more.

Amy Wohl had a more detailed analysis in her newsletter:

IBM has been listening to its customers, particularly its enterprise (large) customers who are implementing the portal approach to managing the distribution of software and information to their employees. Based on these conversations, IBM announced [recently] a different approach to providing office function, a genuine re-invention of the office. To understand requires that you forget that you are (probably) reading this on your PC and think not about how things are, c. 2004, but how they might be, moving into the future.

The IBM Workplace is a centrally managed, server-centric world. Function is located on central servers, managed by middleware and then distributed, via client middleware (a new concept) to whatever device the user happens to be employing a desktop, a laptop, or a mobile device such as a PDA, a tablet, a smart phone, or a smart car. The IBM Workplace is designed to distribute function and information between its server and any enabled client.

IBM has already built a portlet for Microsoft Office Suite. It permits an Office user to take immediate advantage of Document Management without changing anything about the Office application, adding automatic replication of files to the server and document management. This is an important idea because it means a company with many Microsoft Office users can choose to implement Workplace without the need to displace its Office users. They can continue to use Microsoft Office, adding the additional functionality of Documents.

The set of componentized office applications IBM is offering as part of its Messaging and Document Management applications are derived from the OpenOffice.org open source code. This means the level of functionality and interoperability provided by the IBM text editor, the spreadsheet editor, and the graphics (presentation) editor, are equivalent to that found in OpenOffice (or Suns StarOffice). Wed estimate that today at about 75% of the functionality of Microsoft Office for the equivalent applications, increasing with each new release of OpenOffice. (Microsofts office suite, in its various versions, includes other applications, such as a personal data base, and note and web editors, not included in the IBM offering.)

Because these componentized editors exist ONLY as part of the server software offering (and not as a shrink-wrapped or downloadable office suite), they are not available to an individual user, working in a PC without server environment. On the other hand, once they are downloaded to the users computer (desktop, laptop, or mobile device), he may use them (and other elements of the Workplace) in disconnected mode, without continuous access to the server connection. Whenever the IBM Workplace user is working in connected mode, additional server-based function becomes available and any work (emails in the out basket, new documents to be stored on the server), will be synchronized and processed. Likewise, new email will be downloaded, new information will become available, and new software (or upgrades and patches) will be automatically applied.

IBM is going to focus this product at Enterprise and the high-end of the mid-Market (IBMs definition of mid-Market is companies with 100 to 1,000 employees.), at least for a while. But this product will be equally appealing, we believe, to smaller organizations. Much smaller ones. Wed guess that IBM will have to figure out how its going to handle the go-to-market strategy for that. Partners will obviously be involved and, wed suspect, some vertical segmentation. (In any case, IBM plans vertical offerings in a number of markets.)

What wed really like to see is a hosted offering for the SMB market, perhaps connected to IBMs recent announcement of a hosted systems management offering for SMB PC buyers, adding office services to system management.

Forrester on Apple and Steve Jobs

George Colony (CEO of Forrester) writes:

When Jobs arrived back at Apple, he said, “Screw the software business–let’s build our own great applications!” This old computer business stratagem, dating back to the minicomputer industry, yielded the ease and elegance of one computer, one architecture, one software set–openness and interoperability be damned. Without standards and third parties to worry about, you can tune your software for maximum integration and seamlessness–no bulky APIs (application program interfaces) or open drivers to file, rub and sand the cool edges off your systems. And if the software is good enough, consumers have to buy your computers to run it.

It’s not open, and it’s not industry standard or industry certified. It’s just better.

Jobs is delivering on the digital dream. While other companies in the tech industry are either stumbling (Sony), services-focused (IBM), protecting their monopolies (Intel), or shepherding their legacy systems (Microsoft), Jobs is delivering inspired, compelling digital alternatives to the old analog world. The guy has the creativity of Sergei Brin and Larry Page at Google, the experience of Michael Dell, and the connections and persuasiveness of Carly Fiorina.

What it means No. 1: To the enterprise world? Nothing. Jobs is digitizing the consumer world.

What it means No. 2: Consumer electronics vendors, whether they like it or not, will have to contend with a resurgent Apple and an omnipresent Steve Jobs.

What it means No. 3: Watch for Apple to take its music strategy (elegant integration of the personal device, desktop management software, and online music store) into new spaces. Still cameras and video cameras would be obvious markets to attack. Making mobile phones easier to use and highly integrated with the desktop could be a big win for Apple. iSync with Bluetooth would finally make it dead simple to switch phones without trashing address books.

What it means No. 4: Linux plus Apple? Somehow, you know that Jobs won’t be able to resist this one. If Jobs and team point their considerable innovation and creativity back toward desktop applications, they could blow a lot of new thinking into the market. Call it “iWorks”–an integrated desktop suite based on Linux. Apple would feature iWorks first on the Mac and then make it available on Intel machines. This would mean that 5 percent of desktops would have Linux desktops right out of the chute–a great start for the first serious Linux-based Microsoft Office fighter. This one’s a stretch, given that Mac is based on OpenBSD, not Linux. But if the opportunity becomes compelling, I’ll bet Jobs will move.

Wanted in a PDA…

Dana Blankenhorn has a wishlist for a PDA:

  • A keyboard as big as I can make it. You can do that with infrared, so I can pound on any surface and still type.
  • A real voice interface. If I can train it to my handwriting, which is abysmal, I should be able to train it to my voice.
  • The ability to transcribe recorded notes.
  • An integrated camera, so I can snap the picture, do the interview, and get both words-and-pictures for editing when I want them.
  • Make that a video camera.
  • Tighter integration with all kinds of PCs, especially laptops.
  • Integrated cell phones standard.
  • Cognitive radio that will automatically use 802.11 or cell systems, whatever it finds.

    I put this in my pocket, I take my pictures and short videos, I do my interviews, it transcribes my notes, and I can then use an infrared keyboard to turn that into a package I can deliver through a blog.

  • I too am waiting!

    TECH TALK: Two Blog Years: The Blog and You

    Those who have met and interacted with me will rarely have a conversation without being exhorted to blog (if you dont already do). For those who have a weblog, I will try and persuade them to write daily. Should you decide that you want to join the growing community of bloggers, this column is for you.

    It is easy to get started. There are various open-source blogging tools for those who have their own server to host on I would recommend Six Aparts MovableType. For others, I would recommend two web-based services: Googles Blogger (free service) or TypePad (from the creators of MovableType, for $5-15 per month). There is also Userlands Radio ($40 per annum, including web space) which has a client-side blogging and RSS aggregation software which you install on your computer. You can blog locally, and the software takes care of updating your public blog site on Userlands servers. Of course, there are plenty of options now. For example, in India, Rediff and Sify both offer free blogging platforms.

    An RSS Aggregator would be a good tool we complement the blogging platform. Again, there are many options. BlogStreets Info Aggregator provides the RSS items in your email client via a separate IMAP account. Bloglines is a web-based aggregators. NewsGator is an Outlook-based aggregator (has a 14-day free trial).

    There are plenty of services becoming available for bloggers and readers. Our BlogStreet has a ranking of the top blogs along with their neighbourhood (other related blogs), along with a set of useful RSS utilities. Three other RSS-based search and notification services that you may find useful are Feedster, Technorati and PubSub.

    So, the tools for making blogging easy are there. What you need to do is to get started, and that can perhaps be the most difficult part. I am reproducing here some tips and suggestions from a post I wrote early last year entitled Why and How I Blog (So Much):

  • Determine to blog daily. Blogging has to become part of the day’s routine. In case I am travelling or know that I will not be able to update the blog on a specific day, I try and create posts in advance, thus ensuring that readers find plenty of new things daily. This is something I learnt from IndiaWorld – we updated every site of ours daily. Things have to become habits – for both readers and writers.
  • Read widely. One may not understand everything, but over time, one gets the lay of the land. Maps start forming. Stories acquire a context. And over time, the linkages between developments start becoming apparent. They prevent us from tunnel-vision. In today’s world, it is very important to have a wide-angle view.
  • Think aloud. The one thing I decided when I started blogging is that I would write what I thought. This means I don’t have to worry about whether I need to “protect” this idea or not. Write everything. And that makes life simpler!
  • Meet people. I find some of my best ideas come when I am meeting people and talking. Something they say or how they react sparks off a new thread. This reinforces the underlying thinking or sets me off on a new path. Either way, more fodder for the blog!
  • Start. Even when I feel I may not something to say, sitting in front of the computer changes everything. The words just come. I find this happening with uncanny regularity especially for the Tech Talks.
  • Always keep a notebook (paper/pen) handy. Ideas come by anytime. So, I jot them down, and then build upon them for the blog later.
  • Hopefully, come next May, there will be many among you who will be celebrating their blogs First Birthday.

    Continue reading

    Elections: A Vote for Change

    Watching the election results unfold, my mind went back to that India-Australia Calcutta Test Match in which Australia asked India to follow-on and then Laxman-Dravid put on their famous partnership, and finally Harbhajan Singh won the match and the series with his bowling for India. The BJP must have felt like Australia, and wonder what they did wrong – after all, they called for the early elections and all indications in the beginning were that the BJP-led NDA would return to power with 300 seats. Even the most pessmistic of the exit polls gave the NDA 230+ seats – short of the 273-figure for majority, but still reachable with support from the smaller parties.

    The reality turned out to be very different. The NDA ended with 187 seats. The Congress-led alliance got 219. With the support of the Left (63 seats), it will form the next government. Sonia Gandhi will be India’s next Prime Minister. After 6+ years in power, Vajpayee departs. As he said in his farewell address to the nation, “A party has lost, but a nation has won.” India’s democracy has transitioned power peacefully.

    I have realised one thing in this elections: the opinions of the urban intelligentsia do not matter. The poor outnumber the rich, the less literate are more in number than the educated. In India’s democracy, it is one vote for everyone. Hopefully, this will not become our weakness.

    India needs to develop rapidly if it is not to lose yet another generation. Hopefully, the new government will “embrace and extend” – embrace the good of the previous government and do a lot more. There is little time to lose. We need “plus” policies, which accelerate the pace of reform across all sectors of the economy. How the marriage of the Congress and the Left works holds the key to the future. It is pertinent to note that the architects of India’s reforms process (Manmohan Singh and Chidambaram) are both likely to be back in power.

    The first 100 days in power are critical. This is the time when the tone of governance is set. Major decisions need to be taken – some may be difficult. This is the so-called “honeymoon” period. This is where Sonia Gandhi’s leadership needs to come to the fore. Her choice of ministers will be the first test – I hope that we have leaders we can be proud of. There were a handful in the Vajpayee government. There need to be many more. [I will give my views on the agenda for the government in next week’s Tech Talk.]

    Among other opinions from the international press:

    NYTimes has an anaylsis:

    The verdict represents a totally unexpected resurrection for the Congress Party of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, which ruled India for 45 of the 57 years since independence but had floundered so badly in recent years that it was being written off as an historical relic.

    The B.J.P. had constructed an American-style presidential campaign around Mr. Vajpayee’s perceived popularity, but it ran aground on the realities of the Indian parliamentary system, in which voters turned on incumbent legislators who they felt had delivered little. Indian voters are known for their anti-incumbency, and that was in evidence today.

    But even more, voters particularly, but not exclusively, in rural areas rebelled against the idea of “India Shining” that had been pedaled by the incumbent government in a glossy, costly public relations campaign.

    Unlike in the United States, where the most prosperous also vote the most, in India it is the poor who turn out in greatest numbers. That means that the very voters for whom India has been shining urbanites from the middle and upper classes who benefited from globalization and reforms are also least likely to vote.

    The B.J.P. also seemed to suffer from its association with the Hindu nationalism that had powered its rise. Muslims, still repelled by the anti-Muslim carnage in the B.J.P.-controlled state of Gujarat in 2002, resisted the party’s efforts to woo them, as did many Indians concerned about the weakening of the country’s secular identity. Congress and its allies had united around a secular platform.

    At the same time, hard-core Hindu nationalists have been disillusioned by the party’s tempering of Hindutva, or Hindu-ness, in its time in power and in this campaign. Ram Madhav, a spokesman for the Association of National Volunteers, the parent Hindu nationalist organization, said today that the B.J.P. had campaigned on Mr. Vajpayee’s personality and policy, he said, but ideology “an emotive issue” was missing.

    “There was a general lack of enthusiasm among the core voters and cadres of the party,” he said.

    Adds WSJ: “The results indicated that millions of rural poor people abandoned Mr. Vajpayee, believing they had been left behind by the country’s economic boom and rejecting his Hindus-first message in favor of the Congress Party’s secularism…It was one of the most dramatic political upsets since Indian independence almost 60 years ago…The Congress Party focused its campaign on the country’s 300 million citizens who still live on less than a dollar a day. It hammered away at the lack of even basic infrastructure, electricity and potable water for millions of rural poor.”