To transform India’s future, we need to change the direction of India’s policies. That needs political change. And for political change, we need Middle India to come together, which will only people when there is a greater awareness of the wrong path we are on.
Awareness will lead to Action. That is what I hope to catalyse in the coming months and years. This is the real battle for India’s freedoms – not just political, but also personal and economic.
The task may seem impossible. But not if we think differently with the mindset of entrepreneurs. The heroism that India needs now has to come from each of us. As I wrote last May:
Middle India is waiting for real leadership. We can either continue on the dismal path that India’s past leaders have set India upon, or we can create a different path that leads India to its true destiny. It will not be an easy path – it is a road that will have many twists and turn, and obstacles at every turn. We have do take this new path if for nothing else but to be able to look our children in the eye and say, “Yes, my dear, we did what we had to do and we did it well.”
Our time starts now.
From a post a couple years ago:
My advice to entrepreneurs is (and I wish someone had given this to me a decade ago):
- think of the business in quarters: it is the right granularity — a month is too short, and a year is too long
- put together a 2-3 member Board with whom you can review the business once a quarter
- prepare a quarterly report just like a publicly listed company does (and share it with the Board and senior management internally)
The challenge inherent in new, early-stage blue ocean businesses is that one has no clue how the numbers will come up against projections or targets. But, the exercise will still be a useful one and creates much-needed discipline of tracking numbers.
The answer to transforming India’s future lies with us, the people of India. This is what I wrote in my series in May 2010 entitled “It’s Up To Us Now“:
Middle class India has many more people than the few required for change. These are the people who are frustrated with the state of affairs, and are willing to do something about it. They genuinely want to see a successful India, an India that they and their descendants would be proud of.
But these few feel disheartened. They feel isolated and alone. The task appears to be too immense compared to their numbers. They are forced to accept that the change they want is beyond their reach. They accept the unpalatable reality much like the poor accept poverty because constantly fighting to get out of poverty and failing is worse.
With a clear direction, the right leadership and a deeper understanding of the change that is needed, a small group of us can indeed change the country’s future.
I followed this up with answers to two questions about India and Change in April 2010:
If there was ONE thing you could Change about India, what would it be?
Middle India Apathy towards the nation. It is almost as if most of us in Middle India (young, educated in urban India) have switched off from trying to make a difference to what we see happening around us. It reflects in the voting percentages in urban areas, in the quality of candidates that we see contesting for elections, in the deteriorating quality of life in cities in India, and in the debates that we have for what India needs to become.
What is India’s Greatest Asset?
I also think that Middle India is the country’s greatest asset – if it can get its act together. The Rich don’t really care to bring about Change – they are beneficiaries of the existing system so status quo is good enough for them. The Poor cannot bring about Change. It is we in the Middle who are the country’s hope. We have the benefits of education, growing incomes, material benefits that are more than what our parents had. We need to get more engaged in defining our country’s future.
In late January 2010, I asked and answered three questions which help lay out the agenda for India’s future:
1. What are the 2-3 big issues that will present the most challenges and opportunities for India?
- Quality Education
- Jobs Creation
- Urbanisation (moving India’s rural people to livable new cities)
2. Which ideas/issues would resonate most with the youth in this decade – those issues which will fire them up to actively work towards their own and India’s development?
- Building a Better India – with pride in our culture and power in our actions
- Getting youth to be participative in local governance issues
3. Which matters should we focus on in the next 10 years? These should be achievable and must be important for India’s development.
- Urban and Rural Infrastructure
- Creating Opportunities for people
- Eliminating Corruption from the highest levels of India’s government
- Creating an open, transparent real-time government
In January 2010, a year after I made the decision to support the BJP and help start Friends of BJP, I reflected:
A number of people whom I meet (along with others who have commented on various blog posts) ask me whether I think I made the right decision given the results of the elections and the subsequent events that have transpired in the context of the BJP. My answer is Yes. I have been disappointed by what happened, but that does not mean the decision I made was wrong. While winning is everything, especially in politics, losing can also teach if one is prepared to learn.
I believe that what India needs is a centre-right formation in its government. The BJP is the closest to this. Yes, the party has gone through dramatic downs over the past six months, but I think it will emerge stronger and better. Political parties in every country have gone through trying times – and the BJP in 2009 has been no different.
I do hope the party learns from its mistakes, and creates a genuine centre-right formation. It cannot win by aping the Congress. Going ahead, I hope to do more in helping drive the centre-right movement in the country. India needs more of us to be involved in creating our future. And potentially, create better political parties on both sides of the spectrum.
Sunday’s HT had a profile on me written by Samar Halarnkar as part of a series looking at what the dotcom entrepreneurs are doing now. An excerpt:
Biggest deal, biggest dreamer
Frodo: “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.” Gandalf: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” — From the movie, Lord of the Rings
This dialogue, stored in the mobile phone of Rajesh Jain, 43, the man who struck India’s biggest Internet deal ever, is fair indication of his state of mind — grateful for good fortune but struck by disillusionment and imbued with new desire to answer the next big question, find the next big thing.
His question: “Why is India poor and what can we do to make it prosperous by 2040?” His next big thing: India 2.0, the recreation of no less than a nation.
Jain is ready for his biggest Internet gamble: A politically right-of-centre site that will use Facebook and Twitter across a variety of devices, feature strong opinion-laced stories (like the Drudge Report or Huffington Post), float ideas and get people from middle-class India to create a politically aware community, passionate about education, technology and change. He believes it can ride what he sees as the Net’s biggest opportunity, a “direct-to-consumer mobile value-added service”. Indeed, many entrepreneurs see India’s 700 million mobile connections and forthcoming 3G and 4G telecom services as the great, new hope.
Jain blogs every day about his vision for India (at emergic.org), but one foreseeable problem for his project is that he has taken political sides by becoming the national convenor of the “Friends of BJP”. He believes you have to pick one party and change it. “You cannot create a ‘Friends of India’,” can you?” he asks.
As he works towards his grand, new dream, entrepreneurs still seek out Jain. He’s not very enthusiastic because he notices the dotcom ideal lives: Attract investors, get high valuations and exit. “I tell them, don’t worry about the exit. You have to run your business for the rest of your life,” says Jain. “Every day has to be a Monday morning.”
PS: A link to the ePaper article.
From a series a year ago:
To create a micropayments infrastructure, we need to build on what already exists. Mobile operators in India have created an amazing network of points of presence where one can buy airtime. They know how to handle cash that users pay. (Cash remains the preferred payment mechanism given the low penetration of credit, debit and cash cards in India.)
Today, mobile operators cannot use the cash balance that is there with them for purposes other than voice and data services. Besides, the high incidence of taxes (10% service tax and 15% spectrum and allied charges, for a total of about 23% on what the end users pay) makes it difficult to use the cash balance for real world transactions.
Suppose, we were to change this and allow the cash balance that operators have to be used for third-party non-voice services for a fee of 5-10%. Credit card companies charge merchants about 2.5-3% for transactions. Operators could play a similar role for small transactions (say, under Rs 250 or Rs 500).
This would be a game-changer in India. Application and service providers could now create services and leverage the cash balance that users have for collecting their payments. Consumers already know how to refill their accounts with cash given the ubiquity of the mobile prepaid infrastructure.
From that support emerged the genesis of the idea of Friends of BJP (of which I am now the National Convenor). Here is what I wrote in late Jan 2009:
As citizens of India, we have a duty to help build a Better India. The 20 of a week ago are now 200. We need to become 2000 in another week, and 20 million by the time the elections are here. We have to become the Voice of India. For 60 years, we have been Led. And for many of those years, Led down a wrong path. The time has now come for us to Lead.
A vote at the ballot box is just a first step – and not the end goal. We need to – and have to – do more. I am not completely sure where this will lead to. It could fizzle out, or it could grow into something very big. I hope I can be a part of making a difference. The next 100 days will show us. This is a journey we need to do together. As a first step, irrespective of which party you decide you support, you can start by being vocal – so we can start a dialogue. India needs millions of such conversations happening every day. Out of that will emerge a New, Better India whose citizens are equal stakeholders in its future.
That was the start of my journey. Even though the outcome in May 2009 was not favourable for the BJP, that did not diminish my enthusiasm – both for the party and the broader goal of transforming India’s future.
Continued next week.
It was in that context that I coincidentally met one of the senior leaders from the BJP. For me, the decision to support the BJP was a natural one given our family voting history. Something about the dynastic Congress didn’t seem right, even though my history lessons had taught me otherwise. From brainstorming sessions with the BJP leader and other Middle India professionals like me emerged the idea of Friends of BJP.
This is what I wrote as part of a post stating my support for the BJP in Jan 2009:
We are on the wrong track. And it is WE who put us there. By our apathy, by not voting, by accepting mediocrity, by not being part of the political process. The best we do is show up at candle-light vigils when we are shocked from our smugness, but don’t we need something more concrete and impactful?
We are India’s educated civil society. If we cannot act individually and as a team, then we forfeit the right to complain. Democracy comes with responsibilities and duties. It also comes with a generation having to make some sacrifices so the Tomorrow for our children can be better than our Today.
We have 100 days only to the elections. India has 2 national parties and a multitude of regional parties. We have to make a choice about the party at the Centre. We can wait for a utopian world and the creation of the Perfect Political Party. Or, we can pick the party with the lighter shades of grey.
…The BJP may not be the Whitest of the parties, but in our view, it is by far, the better, cleaner, more democratic, less feudal and more promising of the two national options.
26/11 and the political response to it made me realise how hollow and shallow our own leadership was. The elections provided an opportunity to do something. A question I asked myself was: What can we do? This is how I answered it in early Jan 2009:
There are about 100 days to the elections in India. These will be be the 15th national elections in India’s history. I like to think that the 2004 elections were the last of the 20th century elections, and these will be the first of the 21st century. We, the People, need to give a decisive mandate in this election. India cannot afford another five years of fragmented, coalition politics. So, the question to ponder is: what can we do? How can each of us make a difference – besides casting our one vote?
India needs an engaged civil society. Politics cannot be bifurcated completely from our lives. So, what can each of us do? What can we do as a group? Is there a way to create a bottom-up, emergent organisation using next-generation community and interaction tools to amplify messages? Given than 42% of India did not vote last time, can these “non-consumers” create a decisive swing?
Only 100 days stand between us and a new government coming to power. Whom would we like to see form the next government? Given that the India of 2009 is very much different from 2004, can we really make a difference? Whatever our decisions and answers, we need to make it quick.
Obama’s campaign energised the US, and I could not help wonder what it would take for us in India to get excited about a leader. I was in the US the night the results were declared, and it was an electric feeling all around. This is what I wrote shortly after in November 2008:
It was a terrific experience being in the US the night Obama became President-elect. This election energised people across the US – and the world. There is great hope and expectation. I wish we could say the same about India’s leaders.
Here, there is an air of resignation, of politics as usual. We need a leader who can energise us, whom we can relate to, and who embodies a vision for the New India. We need to get a large percentage of our citizens involved in the community process – which is what Obama managed to do.
So, who can be India’s Obama? We have elections happening in the next 6-odd months. We need change, but will probably not get it this time. The three choices this time are likely to be Manmohan Singh (who has disappointed more than delighted), LK Advani (let’s hope he governs as well as he writes), and a dark horse in Mayawati. I think we will have to wait a few more years before India’s Obama emerges.
What helped Obama was the Internet – in raising cash for the campaign and mobilizing millions of supporters across the country. In India, that change will come in 5-6 years with the mobile platform. But we also need leaders who can think big and put India first.
So, who will be India’s Obama? Any ideas? If I had to pick one person, it would be the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. He is much older than Obama at 58 years, but that’s still relatively young compared to the people we have now.
It was almost exactly two years ago that I made a decision that added a new dimension to my life. That decision was to support the BJP in the 2009 elections and help start the Friends of BJP. Two years later, that decision, more than anything else, is shaping my future.
I used to be part of what I call “Middle India” – people who live behind a protective wall to shield themselves from whatever was wrong with India. I thought that my responsibility ended with voting in elections every year, and that was it. But around end of 2008, three things happened which changed that attitude.
First came Obama’s campaign and subsequent election as president of the US. Next came the horror of 26/11 that unfolded a few kilometers from home. And then there were the upcoming elections in India.
From a post I wrote last January:
We need to make decisions all the time. Some have a nominal impact; others can make a more lasting difference. Some decisions are easy; others are hard. Some decisions can be reversed; others are much harder to change. Decisions are a constant in our life. Most of the time we make decisions without thinking too hard. At other times we need to think through a lot more because of their importance and impact.
Whether it is made in a blink or we ‘think twice’, every decision has consequences, and we need to live through those. Sometimes, decisions go right, and sometimes they don’t. At times, it makes us a long time to realise and accept that we have made an error in the decision.
One of my favourite books (and movie series) is “Lord of the Rings.” And so, I can think of no better way to end this series than with three quotes from the movie that I feel epitomise my thinking and life.
Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.
To bear a ring of power is to be alone.
Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.
Wish you all a Wonderful 2011.
On the Personal front, there are three things I want to do: continue my travels so that my learning and deep thinking continues, continue my writing because this is where I clarify my own thought, and further deepen my study of India’s past and understand what the future can be because it is that dream that we need to bring alive in the coming years.
All of this will mean making good use of Time. That is one resource we cannot change. I will also need to ensure we set up good teams of people both in NetCore and on the Political front so we can amplify what we do and make things happen faster. These are personal challenges for me!
At home, Abhishek will be 6 years in April. He will transition from Higher KG to First standard in July. His school hours will increase by an additional two hours daily. And hopefully, he will learn to read rather than stick to doing pattern recognition on words! Abhishek has much more of his life now. Bhavana and I have helped put his foundation together, and he now needs to build on that. I like to explore new things with him, and I hope to do more of that in the year. The one hour we get every morning from 6-7 am is something I treasure.
On the Political front, 2011 will be about two primary objectives: public education and mobilisation. People in India need to understand that things are not going well, and there is an alternate future that can be crafted – and which will not be created by those who are responsible for ensuring that India has still stayed poor more than 60 years after Independence.
We in India need to understand the poverty is not our birthright, and that is the result of flawed economic policies. India may have become politically free in 1947, but all we did was transition to a new Raj. There needs to be a drive for complete economic freedom, and that will not happen with the current set of rulers we have.
A narrative needs to be created around this theme, so it can be explained to people in a language and context they understood. This public education component will then get people to ask what is it that they can do. And that is where we need to come together with community organisations that get people together. Middle India, which for long has ignored the events in the country, has to become a platform for India’s political change. It has to now come together to deliver India’s Real Independence.
That is the movement that I wish to drive.