Prevention of/Reaction to Financial Crisis

About a week before being elected President, this is what potential candidate Barack Obama told Time magazine in an interview: “We have got a boat with a lot of leak and we need to get it into port. Once we get it into port, once the credit markets are functioning effectively, it is time to get back to the fundamentals of our economy.” The truth is that one of the worst financial crisis of recent times has been because of gross violation of the fundamentals. Giving loans to low- income or sub-prime US households in the hope that they could recover the money on bad debts from the property in the hope that property price would always go up and stay up turned out to be financial hara-kiri. The Times of India reported that the investors could not be protected from one simple and irrefutable principle — if these housing loans turned bad, the instruments based on these loans would lose value, which is, what happened, denting investment portfolios of banks and destroying their capital, inter-bank liquidity and general confidence. In 1999 during the tech stock bubble, many of the hot tech companies had no earnings, little revenue and no long-term track records and without these absolute basics, it was a bubble waiting to be burst, which it did.

Financial education
From an individual’s perspective, there is again a simple and irrefutable fact — a sound practical financial education emphasising on basics as prevention is better than cure. Since everybody has to manage money, a knowledge of accounts, which is known as the language of business, is always an added bonus. The book Rich Dad, Poor Dad says that practical financial intelligence is a synergy of accounting, investing, marketing and law. Each child needs to know the rules — a different set of rules. According to the authors, being rich basically implies being financially independent, which implies that one’s regular income from investment is such that one can survive from that alone and can choose not to work if one wants to. This implies financial freedom for which instant gratification has to be postponed initially. I learnt all this from my father, a chartered accountant. Unfortunately a lot of young people do the other way around in an effort to get rich quick and start lives in debt. For being a good investor, one has to learn how to do financial analysis of company balance sheets along with the qualitative analysis to the extent possible and also have a sound knowledge of technical analysis for investors to enable them to know when to enter and exit. The most intelligent man I met in the stock market was a broker who had a background in merchant navy (most individual brokers are commerce graduates). He told me that he had a position trading system which he had been perfecting over a period of 10 years and was still coached by a mutual fund advisor. Even with all the fancy software in the US, trading has a 95 per cent failure rate and most traders speak against day and to a lesser degree, swing (weekly) trading. Unless one has a very good intuitive sense of the market which very few people have, it would be foolish to trade. There is an old saying that nobody can claim to be an expert on the market including the mutual funds which the current crisis clearly reveals. Today’s computerised era makes it possible for even a layman to maintain systematic financial records for effective follow up. A good basic knowledge of both investment and financial administration is a must.

Avoid greed
Since many people get into financial trouble because of greed, it is interesting to know what the above book says about high consumption spenders: “They get a few bucks in their hands, again the emotion of joy, desire and greed take over. But the joy that it brings is often short-lived, and they soon need more money for more joy, pleasure, comfort and security. They don’t want to lose the big houses, the cars, the high life that money has brought them. They worry about what their friends would say if they lost all their money. Many are emotionally desperate and neurotic, although they look and have more money.” In one of my previous articles, I have mentioned how eight prominent people in the US who were at a peak in their careers in 1923 were nowhere 25 years later — one became bankrupt, two died as penniless fugitives (one pardoned from prison), one went insane, one died insolvent, one was imprisoned and three committed suicide. I do not know the root cause of the problems in all the above cases but there is a book called World Famous Riches to Rags where a lot many other cases are given in detail and much of their fall from grace can be directly attributed to the high consumption lifestyle. A couple of them went bust because they could not control their over-spending wives. Many committed fraud out of blind greed, some could not manage at a higher and a more complex level and some suffered because of trying to operate on a bigger scale which was done for still better status. A majority of them were a case of ‘all covet, all lose’ or ‘those who miss the silver lining are those who opt for the gold’.

My father who turned around a sick company once and had to operate on a shoestring budget for four years says that the problem arises when one starts doing well, the feeling of “having arrived” can go to one’s head and one tends to get extravagant. This could be true both for companies and individuals. The old saying ‘success is never certain, failure is never final’ is true even more now because of the kind of turbulent changes that are expected in the 21st century. Some of the things I learnt from my father about the wisdom of frugality are better expressed in how the world’s most famous and perhaps the best ever investor, Warren Buffet conducts himself. Buffet never travels by private jet, although he owns the world’s largest private jet company. He even drives his own car everywhere and does not have a driver or security people around him. He does not even carry a ‘cell phone’, nor has a computer on his desk. He does not socialize with the high society crowd. He still lives in the same small three-bedroom house in mid-town Omaha that he bought after getting married 50 years ago. He advices young people to stay away from credit cards, to live their life as simple as they are, not to go for a brand name; just wear those things in which they feel comfortable, not to waste their money on unnecessary things and last but not the least to remember that money doesn’t create a man; it is the man who created money.

Even if one were to follow the middle path advocated by the most famous enlightened man in history, Gautama Budhdha, one would be much better off. Unfortunately, many young people learn this the hard way, which is why we have situations like the one where two MBA students were arrested for kidnapping 15-year-old Arjun Verma after suffering a loss of Rs 80 lakh in the stock market, which would not have happened with more balanced thinking. It would not be out of place to mention that Buffet and another great speculator-cum-investor, George Soros are now known as much for their philanthropic activities as for their financial expertise.

Looking beyond money

The root cause of the high-consumption lifestyle is keeping up with the Joneses syndrome and false notion of the role of money and status in determining a person’s worth. Unless that issue is addressed in pragmatic realism instead of giving lectures on values and character sounding as platitudes, it is not likely to be resolved. I read once that Sachin Tendulkar earned eighty times more in endorsements than his contemporary hockey superstar Dhanraj Pillay when both were at their peak, which is only because of the fan following that cricket enjoys. It does not mean that Pillay is a less superstar. Similarly, someone like Govinda may have more commercial success than a brilliant actor like Naseerudin Shah. Even Abhinav Bindra, who was the first individual gold medalist in the Olympics in over a hundred years, will probably earn less in shooting than a good Indian cricketer would do but his achievement is greater in a certain context as the competition in the Olympics is a lot stiffer as a lot many countries participate than in cricket. While attending a function for a school of mentally challenged children abroad, referring to the activities of the school Rahul Dravid had remarked, “These are the real heroes. We are just more visible.” The role that the NSG played in the recent Mumbai terror attack also reveals this but how much paid are these real heroes or the army heroes who protect our lives paid compared to cricketing and bollywood heroes or even corporate executives? There is nothing wrong in wanting to be rich and famous but looking at the element of destiny from a reality perspective, one realizes what can best be summed up by a quote from Einstein: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

This can be said for other fields as well. In a recent article in the Hindustan Times, journalist Karan Thapar wrote that once upon a time his merchant banker’s wife’s salary was eight times his salary. He may be a very good journalist but if the profession itself does not pay, what can he do? In Vir Sanghvi’s book, Men of Steel, Infosys CEO and MD Nandan Nilekani stated that his success was being at the right place at the right time. He elaborates that there are people who are much brighter and work much harder than him. His wealth is partly a consequence of good timing. Likewise, in his book on Bill Gates, Jonathan Gatlin states that his leaving Harvard for starting Microsoft was largely a matter of timing. On the other hand Leonard Mlodinow has written an entire book on how the element of chance makes less talented people more commercially successful than their talented contemporaries.

Remain motivated

Other prominent people like Shakespeare, Vincent van Gogh, certainly Munshi Premchand were all posthumous successes — a case of bad timing. Some books even state how to remain motivated if you are the wrong person at the wrong time. Even in well-paid industries the dynamics of business — markets, segments, customers, buying behavior and costs — can be drastically different and beyond an individual’s control. One may mention here that the Gita’s message of doing one’s work without being attached to the results is not merely because the Gita says so; it is so because the market profile in any profession is dependent upon tastes and preferences of millions of people apart from other variables which is beyond an individual’s control. So blindly following money as a measure of a person’s worth and running after brands and status can be counterproductive in the long run. Many spiritual books are critical of the role that advertising plays in converting wants onto needs in impressionable minds. It is better to hear it from the horse’s mouth — In 1982, a study entitled Advertise-ment and Social Responsibility indicated that of the total advertisements sampled only 3.3 per cent were factual and informative about the product without any psychological appeal. The appeal becomes more predominant when there is little to differentiate between brands and products in the market.. In such a situation there seems to be no other alternative but to win the consumer support by flattering his or her ego or resorting to a whole range of basic psychological and emotional appeals, including the most primordial ie sex appeal. With so many channels since 1982, I wonder if the situation is any different. What happens when one suffers from a sudden crisis for no fault of his? When a financial
crisis strikes, instead of letting our imagination blowing it out of
proportion, the best thing for coping initially is to think about the
intangibles.
Sometimes money itself can be a source of the kind of crisis mentioned above. About a year back, in Mumbai, a rich Parsi boy was kidnapped and murdered by four of his friends on whom he used to splurge. Some years back, when a builder was killed by extortionists, his wife mentioned how being rich had proved to be a bane in their case.
Filmstar Shah Rukh Khan mentioned in one interview how he was sometimes apprehensive about losing all that he had achieved.. It is perhaps because of the intangibles that both Osho and Krishnamurthy said that people follow security but it is like a mirage because even if one is able to achieve financial freedom, destiny can strike in other spheres of life over which one may not have any control. Severe problems in other intangible spheres — relationships, health and career can be even dicier even if the losses cannot be determined numerically. So the perception that once economic freedom is achieved, all will be well could be deceptive, which is another reason why a blind pursuit of wealth should be avoided.

Facing financial crisis with courage and dignity can prove to be an achievement in itself. In the book Riches to Rags, it is mentioned that Oil baron Glenn McCarthy, though down and out, remained a respectable man and a hero to many people who admired him for his courage, hard work, uprightness and honesty. He faced his destiny with ease and equanimity and never compromised with his principles though driven by destiny from riches to rages. So much so that a book was written and a movie made on him. The railway king of England, George Hudson died a poor man but when his procession passed through the streets of York, the citizens rose to the occasion and gave him a peaceful burial. Sir Clive Sinclair’s phenomenal wealth vanished because of cheaper and better competition but he continued to be treated as an honorable man. All this reminds one of that question one comes across in management books: “What would you liked to be remembered as when you die? What would you want your obituary to say — someone who earned so much money or left a legacy”? The examples clearly show that the world would remember you more for what you achieved and how you conducted yourself than how much wealth you earned or had.
J Krishnamurthy had mentioned in one of his books that pain is physical but suffering is psychological. This is true in the context of ‘perception of reality is more important than reality’ and therefore, how one responds to a crisis is even more critical than the crisis per se. However, as the earlier part of the article clearly shows, one can dig one’s own grave by ignoring certain basics. Whether it is finances or life, perceptions or reality, one thing is certain to avert any kind of crisis which generally has consequences that are mental, one cannot violate any fundamental.

Advertisements

Rock on or knock off

This article was published in the November 2008 issue of the magazine Management Compass. The relevant pdf file link is rock-on2(May take about three minutes to upload)

A Bollywood blockbuster reinforces the importance of correct career choice, for your career constitutes bulk of your waking existence

The most important hymn of young India today, ‘Rock on, hai yeh waqt ka ishara’, has the country ecstatic with joy. But the strongest undercurrent in the movie is the sadness that the key four characters carry with them, 10 years after they split, signaling an end to their music band. They achieve varying degrees of success in their respective professions, including investment banking, but that does not take away the bitterness about what they could have been. The best designation in investment banking and the best office suite can’t compare with the lifestyle — long hair, hair bands et al — they have left behind. No promotion can touch a chord, what music did 10 years ago..

The movie Rock On is about a character called Avinash (portrayed by Farhan Akhtar), an investment banker by profession, who comes across as quite grumpy and indifferent initially, but changes drastically when music reenters his life. He had been an aspiring music star in his college days but could not pursue his calling. Though he has become a successful professional, he does not at all seem happy with life. Rekindling the old passion does seem to rejuvenate him and infuse a spark into his somewhat moribund existence. Even the character Joe, played by Arjun Rampal, is shown rejoining the music band in the end, rather than take up a secure job which his wife feels so strongly about. The narrative in the end depicts practically everybody following what they enjoy doing after dropping old occupations.

A week before the movie was released, this is what I read in an article in the Brunch magazine of the Hindustan Times group: “Dancer and choreographer Sandip Soparrkar made quite a few pit stops before he found his true calling. He started out with a degree in hotel management, did an MBA, was the head of a PR firm and then turned to modelling. He left that boring life a few years ago when he discovered dance and never looked back.” Sometime later, The Sunday supplement of The Times of India had two articles on unconventional career choices, the jist of which was: Unusual careers like wealth manager, hair stylish, graphic designer, bar tender are now bringing both fame and fortune. The lead story of India Today’s Aspire (November 2008) is on out-of-the-box careers, where they have mentioned various other unconventional careers, apart from those given above..

In May this year, I went to Ladakh on a holiday. We were staying at Mantra cottages in Leh. One evening, in a group gathering, the manager in charge, Sunil Motay, played the guitar so well that there were repeat requests for other songs from everybody. His body language indicated that he was enjoying himself very much. That prompted me to ask him the very next morning, “Didn’t you ever think of taking it up as a full time profession?” He replied that because of lack of proper guidance, he could not make the right moves at the right time, and music being a field of sporadic and irregular income, he didn’t later have the guts to switch professions. He also told me that his niece was an aspiring singer and he was encouraging her to participate in the music shows on television so that she does not repeat his mistakes.

In the context of passion for music, the one person who comes to mind is the all time great singer, the late Kishore Kumar. He put in so much zest in his singing through his vibrant, bubbly personality that his co-singers were inspired to perform better by his sheer presence. The book Kishore Kumar by Derek Bose says that since he would perform a song with all nuances and expressions, his dancing and jumping around in the studios would make it impossible to hold one’s laughter, so much so that his lady co-singers would plead with the music director for half-hour breaks with Kishore not being around. He carried this exuberance to stage shows and could galvanise live audiences into dancing with him for hours on end. The king of playback singers was a living testimony of the fact that to “sing is king”.

However, the same book also records the very same Kishore Kumar’s attitude towards acting. “I only wanted to sing. But I was conned into acting and I hated every moment of it — I muffed my lines, pretended to be crazy, shaved my head off, played difficult, began yodelling in the midst of tragic scenes, told Meena Kumari what I was supposed to tell Bina Rai in some other film. I screamed, ranted, went cuckoo.” All this considering that he was such a natural actor that neither could any director enact a scene for him, nor any seasoned actor find it easy to match his style. When his elder brother, the established star, Ashok Kumar pointed out all this to him along with the fact that actors got paid more than singers and musicians, he replied “Acting is fake. Music is real as it comes from the heart. Only that which emanates from the heart can reach the heart of others.” It would not be out place to mention here that many, if not most Indians would have even at that time preferred to be a Bollywood acting star or a part of the Indian cricket team because of the visibility and following they have always commanded compared to other occupations in India. More importantly, it shows the plight of a person in the wrong sub vocation even within the same domain, the film industry.

What Kishore Kumar says about the heart seems to find an echo in management circles as well. I found Mr Kumar Mangalam Birla’s views, the most intriguing in this context. In the book, Smart Leadership Insights for CEOs, he says, “It is not always that a family member wants to spend his entire career in the family business. With education and changing value systems, today’s youth often prefer an independent path, and sometimes a vocation completely different from a family business. If those aspirations cannot be accommodated, then the successor may as well have to come from outside the family.” That would probably happen when the family member decides to follow his passion fulltime. One such person was Subir Malik, key recordist and manager of the most successful rock band in India, Parikrama, who made a conscious decision to switch from his motor spare parts business in Kashmere Gate to music. The adulation that the music band received at an informal public performance queered the pitch for the formal creation of India’s first rock band. On the other hand, Osho had once advised a very successful surgeon to spend the last fifteen years of his life as a musician for personal fulfillment because the person felt that music was his real calling.
Since this article is written in the context of music, it may not be out of place to mention that Singer Abhijeet was a chartered accountant, singer Shanker was a software engineer and last but certainly not the least, AR Rehman was a civil engineer. The so called extra curricular activity may sometimes turn out to be the main activity. Anupama Shah’s book on Shah Rukh Khan states, “Shah Rukh enrolled in Hans Raj college for a degree in economics but his real education started in the evening with the Theatre action group.” What draws out innate talent in the right vocation is real education indeed — “In work, we have the possibility of discovering ourselves.” This is a far cry from the tendency to have a somewhat negative attitude towards vocational education vis-à-vis studies. In our time, SUPW, which stands for socially useful productive work, included music, electronics, clay modelling, batic etc among other things. As students, we used to joke that SUPW could also stand for some useful periods wasted but such jokes can turn out to be very costly in real life if one is in the wrong profession, where he may have to spend a majority of his waking hours for a lifetime.

Many people, though they feel miserable in the wrong profession, do not have the guts to change because of various reasons: fall in income, fall in stature and status, lack of confidence of functional excellence in their professed area, possibility of exploitation etc. An American entrepreneur, when complimented on being able to leave his six figure salary to pursue his passion of opening a chain of food stores, said, “such decisions can only be made if the personal profile, the business profile, and the market profile match.”. One cannot ignore the practical perspective before making such a shift. The point to note is that like Soparrkar, if you take a very long time in seeking your correct working identity or matching the personal and business profile, the chances of success can reduce considerably as your unique talent also needs to meet the market requirement of the times. This could especially be so with certain unconventional career choices having low success rates and the solution is to know your correct vocation early. There are certain things only practical experience can teach for which there is a gestation period in which one learns the new trade or occupation.

The director of Rock On, Abhishek Kapoor himself started off as an actor but after his first couple of films (which he didn’t believe in) flopped, he moved out of the film industry to create an entertainment-based website at the wrong time when the dotcom business crashed. He then wrote and directed a film in which he believed, Aryan, which took four years to release but didn’t do well. That, however gave him the confidence and practical experience to write and direct Rock On, a film in which he closely identifies with the character Joe. He has been overwhelmed with the response to this movie. The correct working identity with a suitable market profile at the right time queers the pitch for commercial success. Currently, the demand for music and new sound has been rising because of the media and the entertainment boom, which means opportunities for people with that kind of profile.

One wonders why determining the right career can be tough. Supposing one were to indulge in a bit of upside down thinking and contemplate how the situation would be if sports or music education is imparted the way general education is imparted. Supposing here the aspiring sports or music students were stuffed with all kinds of facts on their subjects for a few months/years, earn a degree and then made to try the musical instrument or their respective sport. What could probably happen for some of them is the opposite of what happened in Soparrkar’s case. Many of them may realise that music or sport is not their cup of tea and opt for an MBA but it may not be easy to shift. Learning by doing not only enhances learning but helps in pinpointing vocation. Functional talent and passion can only be reaffirmed if not known by functioning and not by analyzing what others may have done, which can, at best make an intellectual of the particular subject or vocation.

It was the pioneer of training and development, Dale Carnegie, who said that choosing one’s spouse and one’s occupation are the two most important decisions of one’s life. When one comes across fancy expressions on career coaching sites like life purpose, life work, personal fulfilment, career meditations to know one’s vocation, it reminds one of the lines in the movie Dil to Paagal hai: “God has already made your life partner, it is a matter of finding him or her..” The Tagline: Someone, somewhere is made for you. That is equally true for the right occupation as well — something, somewhere is made for you. One may not find a hand in glove kind of match but at least the broad direction has to be right. The negative is also worth pondering upon.. Just as the lover Devdas is shown destroying himself in a spiral of negativity because of not being able to marry his desired choice, the misery of the Career Devdas is even greater for not being in the right occupation because of the time involved. In my article ‘Soul of a profession’, I narrated the real life plight of the great Indian actor Balraj Sahni. Another Sahni, Jaideep Sahni, the writer of Chak De India, called the wrong occupation “Lifetime imprisonment”.

These questions of career coaches explain it all:-
Do you dread Monday mornings and feel that the day and week just drags by? Are you ready to make a change but want to avoid saying ‘yes’ to a job that you may end up despising even more? Do you lack self confidence and have the belief that you can’t accomplish your career goals? Are you feeling stuck in your career and confused about possible job options? Are you puzzled about your strengths, talents, career values and career interests? Is your work your calling? Are you engaged in work that you value or does it merely pays the bills? Does your work bring out your strengths or do you keep thinking about turning work activities into your life’s work? Do you have the financial security to effect a career transition?

Another analogy could be the recent big bang experiment, where the The £5bn machine, Large Hadron Collider (LHC), was designed to smash protons together with cataclysmic force to discover what the Universe was made of billionths of a second after the Big Bang. In the West, no foolproof method has so far been devised to know the talent of a human being (what he is made of). Benjamin Franklin’s saying, “There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond and to know oneself”, is almost as relevant today as when he first said it. As far as I am concerned, if you discover what you are made of correctly early in life, it is like the big bang either way — it considerably enhances your chances of success and happiness as career constitutes 70-75 per cent of waking existence. On the negative side, life can bang you very badly — you can suffer both emotionally and financially — a lifetime of frustration and regret according to Devajit Bhuyan, chairman of a Career NGO.

It is not easy for everyone to determine his working identity but that can pave the way for both satisfaction and professional success. Writer Salim Khan, who joined films as an actor but switched to script writing, says in the book The making of Sholay that he had the gift of conception but not the gift of projection. He managed to make a shift within the same domain but what about people like Soparrkar who have to seek their working identity by trial and error across industries. While feeling a rift within, one can continue to drift for discovering one’s gift by making a shift from occupation to occupation. It can be a merry dance and as stated in the movie Rock On, life may never offer you another chance. Contrary to the commonly heard phrase among youngsters these days, “You rock, dude”, the wrong occupation could be a prelude to your being anything but a dude. It could very well be knock off; not Rock on.

BIG BOSS II-Political style v/s substance

This article is published in the October’2008 issue of the magazine, Management Compass.

The Reality game show Bigg Boss was in the news recently for how politicians were desperately trying to get into it to hog the limelight. Manas Chakravarty, the managing editor of Mint, in an article, in the Sunday Hindustan Times of 31 August reported that hundreds of Republican Party of India (RPI) workers ransacked the office of Colors television channel as their leader, Ramdas Athavale was dropped from the reality show Bigg Boss-II. He also stated that Sanjay Nirupam from the Congress and several other politicians pulled all the strings they could to get in and the UPA tried to persuade Shibu Soren to accept a place in Bigg Boss rather than become the chief minister of Jharkhand. You’re in front of a camera every single minute of the day for three months, it’s every politician’s dream, the analyst pointed out. “They would do anything to get on the show.” Some desperation.

Earlier, an article by Shailaja Bajpai in the Indian express on August 20 revealed that Sanjay Nirupam had stated in his blog that that he had agreed to participate in the show to enhance the image of the politicians through his behaviour in front of 32 cameras. One wonders whether Rahul Mahajan also had similar ideas. If he did, he was not doing a good job of it as by the end of the first week, he seemed hyperactive and desperate to make a good impression. It was best summed up by actress Ketaki Dave on the show on September 1, “Rahul is trying to be gregarious with everyone but is that the real Rahul?” God knows.

Ironically, the same edition of Hindustan Times that featured Chakravarty’s article revealed a reality of a different kind. Actor turned MP Vinod Khanna was praised very highly for the initiatives he had taken to build several bridges throughout his constituency, Gurdaspur. The article stated that embittered by corruption in Indian politics, medical practitioner Narinder Kumar Kohli had stopped casting his vote 20 years ago. He changed his mind recently. In his own words, “I will exercise my right to franchise during the coming Lok Sabha elections only to support him. His contribution in this area in the past one decade has been immense. Vinod Khanna is a real-life hero for me,” said the 58-year-old doctor. He said the BJP MP was doing a good job, even if he was inaccessible. It seemed strange that while politicians were pulling out all stops to come to the limelight frivolously, a former actor and celebrity was avoiding it despite performing so well in politics; style without substance and substance without style.

It seems that some politicians are of the view that just as Big Brother did a lot more for Shilpa Shetty than her acting career, they would perhaps fare likewise just by appearing in front of the camera.

Is it so easy to impress just by being in front of the camera? It is worth looking at perhaps one of the best performing politicians in front of the TV, former American President Ronald Reagan. When he died in the year 2004, Time magazine devoted an entire obituary issue to him. It has some interesting insights about his television performance. The magazine reported that when his career as a Hollywood actor was going nowhere he was hired by General Electric. For $125,000 a year, he would act as host and occasional star of a weekly television drama series for General Electric; for 10 weeks each year he would also act as a kind of goodwill ambassador to GE plants around the nation. As one of the first prominent Hollywood actors to defect to the much-scorned new medium of TV, Reagan revived his acting career. The General Electric Theatre, with Reagan as host from 1954 to 1962, dominated the Sunday-night ratings. But what changed Reagan was his tours of the GE plants. Later, Reagan’s opponents often underestimated him, dismissing him as “just an actor,” an amateur lacking political experience. What they failed to see was that although Reagan had not spent much time in conventional politics, he had gained both skill and experience in what was to become the politics of the TV age, the politics of electronic images and symbols. Reagan once figured that in his eight years at GE, he had visited every one of the company’s 139 plants, met more than 250,000 employees, spent 4,000 hours talking to them and “enjoyed every whizzing minute of it.” He polished his delivery, the intimate confiding tone, the air of sincerity, the wry chuckle, the well-timed burst of fervour. The very fact that he had to make so much conscious effort despite being an actor shows how difficult it is to pull off an outstanding performance on Television.

That apart, one needs to be smart and witty like Shah Rukh Khan, who seems to be in his element in front of the camera not only as an actor but whenever he gives interviews or speaks extempore. Coming back to Reagen in this context, he once turned the tables on his electoral rivals by one witty remark. Reagen was getting on in age and this had become an issue during the 1984 presidential debate with Walter Mondale. His humorous reply “I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience..” bowled over a wide American audience and impressed his opponents as well. That one statement made a pivotal role in his victory.. So political performance apart, even TV by itself requires a flair of a different kind. I doubt if even the actor politicians of India can get anywhere near Reagen.

Our politicians are lucky that our audiences are not so discerning. American politicians in general and Presidents in particular have to do well in terms of both style and substance on TV as well as politics.

Since politicians are so desperate to get into the limelight, conducting behavioural interviews on what all they had achieved could make interesting viewing as anecdotes can be very entertaining. They could be pitted against one another or other features could be introduced to make things more interesting. The Times of India with its lead India campaign, has already shown the way on how to detect political talent but that was from among unknown people. This would be more of a performance appraisal of established politicians. The politicians would have their place in the sun and be made accountable on TV with behavioural interviews. It could be a win-win situation for everyone.

An inadequate performance culture is one of the reasons why politicians try to hog attention the wrong way in real and reel life. India Today summed it up wonderfully in one of its recent issues — “The world Bank says that four out of 10 Indians live below the poverty line. You could quarrel with the methodology but there is no disrupting the cause — pathetic governance” Its latest issue, while giving the constituency wise performance and stating that even the constituencies of long-elected ministers and former prime ministers were far below from the top performing ones, has this to say in conclusion: “The landscape is littered with issues of poor governance- from teacherless schools to waterless pipes to a crumbling delivery system for foodgrains. At the assembly level, anti-incumbency is as high as 65 per cent, while it is between 45 and 55 per cent at the parliamentary level. Nothing reveals the sloth in the system that renders even the most voluble politician ineffective better than this study”. On the positive side, the article praises Sharad Pawar alone for bringing about a complete transformation in his constituency.

The public has to act as the big boss and using transparency provided by Television, choose to stay with or remove them, the way people are ejected from the reality game show. The India Today article above thankfully mentions that though MPs are elected to legislate at the centre, they are now expected to monitor everything from bad sanitation in the neighbourhood to public transport in their constituency. The media, in turn, should follow up the MPs using behavioural interviews or whatever feasible manner, instead of just moving on to the next news story. The crisis of Kosi has shown how lack of competence can make things messy. Politicians can face problems of a far greater magnitude than companies and lack of relevant competencies can prove disastrous in preventing such crises or coping with it; Kosi left 2.5mn homeless, 1000 dead and 866 villages destroyed. Looking at it from another context from the scale of problems that politicians may have to face, they are the big bosses and not being able to elect the right ones can cause substantial, unmitigated losses.