Citizens' Issues
Bride burning

The artist and thinkers need to push the boundaries of culture so that is not ossified by custom and so that it evolves. Our collective evolution towards a more inclusive society, a more caring one, depends vitally on debate and dissent

It has been some time since I read in the media of a bride, (read poor-woman-who-could-not-pay-dowry), being burnt. I am hopeful that I won’t read about women being burnt at the unholy altars of greed and oppressive chauvinism for a long long time.

Call me optimistic. For I am forever hopeful: That man will seek and find his better nature and that evolution, however, random wants this for us and the planet. But I may be placing responsibility on disembodied Gaea which could be onerous.

Unfortunately the tyranny of orthodoxy (a phrase that I have shamelessly purloined from my male muse, Howard Jacobsen) persists.

And another form of burning raises its fiery head.

I refer of course to books.

Recently Salman Rushdie’s opus, Satanic Verses has been the subject of controversy again. The keepers of conscience objected and the protectors of freedom were seen to be helpless and therefore tearfully angry.

I have not read The Satanic Verses and therefore cannot comment on its credence to blasphemy. My attempts to scale the heights of Mr Rushdie have been foiled consistently by the short but slippery wall of his language. I find him difficult. That is my failing, not his. But the quality of his writing or my inadequacy is not the issue. 

The book was banned, I remember, almost two decades ago. It was considered as being hurtful to Muslims. Fatwas, which sound like exotic scarves, were flung madly at him. Mr Rushdie was in hiding, protected no doubt by burly men in black suits.

It was a time for political introspection and circumspection, as well. No one wanted this to be the petri dish for fermenting fanatics. As everyone said, if you do want to read a copy of this, get a bootleg copy. In India where reputably, more Scotch whisky is consumed than is distilled in Scotland, this should not have been too hard. And so it was. Hey nonny no, as the jester said. Soon it was Ho Hum as well, The SV another one of those memories like a somewhat unpleasant odour that one remembers but can’t quite place.

It wasn’t such a blot on our collective escutcheon. We had been known to ban books before. My father who was a civil servant working in the customs department of the recently formed government of India was once tasked with reading and then pronouncing his judgment on Lady Chatterley’s Lover. His opinion, which was ignored, was that he didn’t think it was one of DH Lawrence’s better works anyway and he didn’t see what the fuss was, if someone wanted to titillate themselves they could find much more prurient stuff lying around in our own literature, or even pictorially strewn about on the walls of crumbling temples.

The book was banned. Of course it is, I believe, no longer so. But then not many people read post-Victorian literature these days, so it would scarcely matter. And in any event, you could were reaching the sexual mores of those corseted and cosseted ladies, the Internet will be happy to provide.

The problem is the sleeping dog is not allowed to sleep. Awakened once again at a literary festival where fabulous writers gather, read from their works to the oohs and aahs of adoring fans and budding writers seeking inspiration and where they exchange mental fluids in social and literary intercourse. 

As I understand it Mr Rushdie, I wish I could call him Salman and make him sound more approachable, was to have attended. There was a real or imagined security threat.  Discretion being the better part of valour, the government discouraged the visit, though not banning it. Mr Rushdie chose to stay away, but wanted to speak via video link. But prior to this, incensed by what the writers thought was disguised censorship, but which could easily have been political expediency, some writers took the step of reciting from the SV itself. Totally brilliant on their part, I thought, to challenge the keepers of conscience! Seriously? 

There were some murmurs that since time had passed, the SV should be un-banned. Which was even more inane as a suggestion as reading forms the SV in the first place. Time has passed, yes, but times have actually gotten worse, with India under siege from parts known and unknown. So taunting people who are not really amenable to ‘superior intellectual’ logic is kind of quite stupid to begin with.

And the SV is not really banned. (see ‘Internet’ ibid above)

The media who loves nothing better than a storm in a teacup tried hard to turn this into a Force Five cyclone.  Tempers frayed, organizers cried, politicians shrugged and the world moved on.

In all this the issue of book burning, metaphoric or literal, was not brought up.

The tyranny of orthodoxy extends beyond religious sentiment. It now includes historical figures.  A history of Shivaji and his times has been banned procrusteanly.  Another account of Mahatma Gandhi has been banned. (Even painting long given to license, is not immune. India’s most famous artist ran to exile chased by the hounds let loose by custodians of virtue and died, stranger in a strange land.)

I don’t know whether any of those books are any good or not. But they are legitimate attempts at understanding our history and our roots. You should be free to accept or reject any conjectures or contentions made therein. Provided, of course, that they are not attempts made to incite people to arson.

This raises the impossible to answer question of public and common good versus the artistic freedom to express oneself.

I am all for artistic, literary and generally, all forms of freedom that one should legitimately hope for.  (There are forms of freedom that i like that are not even strictly legitimate.)  The problem is those who read are few, very few. Those who hear are many, very many. The hushed and therefore sinister innuendo, the not-whispered scream of outrage significantly amplified by bad public address systems and the cry of moral and self-righteous indignation are heard by these many, many hearers. Almost none of them will have bothered to read the original text to understand the context of what has been said. If after that, they were moved to umbrage, one could proceed to reason. But incited by hearsay content and comment on the content by others may bespeak to a sensibility not unlike the wild bison that roamed the prairies. But without my making any judgement on herd mentality, this is dangerous stuff. 

The writers will absolve themselves of the responsibility of consequence. The artists will shrug with Gallic aplomb.

However, the person who loses house or limb in the fires conflagrated by this freedom will weep.

So what is the balance? 

The government must afford protection but cannot guarantee it. It guarantees freedom of speech, but cannot ensure its practice.

The artist and thinkers need to push the boundaries of culture so that is not ossified by custom and so that it evolves. Our collective evolution towards a more inclusive society, a more caring one depends vitally on debate and dissent. 

At the same time those who have the privilege and yes it is a privilege, to be able to think outside the box and who have the gift to express those thoughts must consider the consequence.  As an entomologist you have every right and reason to go poking at anthills, but for the ants themselves this is a mountain and they will swarm in defence of their carefully built fortresses. Belief besieged has more fury than the wrath of empires.

The answer obviously lies in persuasion and education. It asks of us to engage with the government to help them manage what is a truly difficult dilemma, where they are damned if they do or cast into eternal perdition if they don’t. The answer does not lie in rising up at a conference and spouting the very same lines from the Satanic Verses that started the fatwa flinging in the first place. 

Instead maybe all these eminent and clearly well meaning and earnest people could have protested about all the other books that have been banned as well, instead of just picking up cudgels on behalf of Mr Rushdie alone.

(V Shantakumar is the former chairman & CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi in India. He is now the managing partner at Doing Think, a consulting company. Mr Shantakumar has over four decades of wide ranging experience as a marketing strategist and communication specialist and has played a key role in the creation and growth of some significant brands in India.)



Concentration in Emerging Markets

Market concentration tends to distort the efficiency of markets, which negates the accuracy of analytic tools. To successfully invest in these markets requires different tools to understand the different rules

Last week I read an article about the IMF’s (International Monetary Fund) latest forecast. Confirming my most recent suspicions, the IMF was forecasting that China’s economic growth in 2012 would slow to 8.25% from the 9% projected in September. Although in most countries a growth rate over 8% would be considered to be highly inflationary, the IMF advised that China could inject additional stimulus into its economy via its weekly open market operations.

Normally a central bank uses open market operations as the primary means of implementing monetary policy. The usual aim of open market operations is to control the short-term interest rate and indirectly control the total money supply. But in China this is not necessarily the case. Interest rates may make little difference in China. Few Chinese use debt to buy homes and fewer still use credit cards. Loans at the controlled interest rates go to state-owned industries and private companies are forced into the huge shadow banking system where interest rates have nothing to do with the money supply.

The IMF’s recommendation tells more about how economists and analysts from developed markets look at China and other emerging markets than about the economic situation in China. The IMF looks at China through the lens of developed markets, where its recommendations would make a lot of sense. In emerging markets things are different. One of the most important differences has to do with market concentration.

Emerging markets are dominated by two types of companies: state-owned firms and family-owned firms. Each emerging market is dominated by one or the other and sometimes both. In either case each market is made up of a few whales and a bunch of minnows. So the diversification that investors expect by investing in emerging markets is often simply an illusion.

For example in Russia about 45% of the market is dominated by five companies. They include three enormous state-owned companies: Gazprom, the world’s largest gas producer, Sberbank, the largest Russian bank, and Rosneft, the company that ‘inherited’ the assets of Yukos. Together these three make up 35% of the market by capitalization. If you include two private companies, Lukoil, and Norilsk, the total market capitalization of just these five makes up over 45% of the Russian market. Gazprom and Sberbank make up over half the turnover. In addition the state also owns large chunks of other large listed companies including Transneft, a pipeline company; Sukhoi, an aircraft-maker; Rosneft; Unified Energy Systems, an electricity giant; and Aeroflot among others. 

 China is a little better. Its top five companies make up a bit less than 30% of the market. They include PetroChina, ICBC, Bank of China, China Construction Bank and the Agricultural Bank of China. It is not only the concentration of a few large companies that dominate emerging stock markets, the companies are overwhelmingly concentrated in either finance or commodities, usually oil. It is not only former communist countries like China and Russia where state-owned companies dominate markets, the 179 listed companies in the Gulf are at least partially owned by 51 government entities. Governments controlled almost 30% of the region’s total market capitalization.

Brazil at least has a mostly private firm, the mining giant Vale, dominating its stock market, but the combination of Vale and the state-owned Petrobras make up 30% of the Bovespa alone. If you add the shares of Vale and Petrobras with the other three in the top five, which include two banks, Itau Unibanco and Bradesco, and, refreshingly, a brewer, Ambev, you end up with the most concentrated stock market in the world at 48%.

In contrast to the other BRICs, India is the model of diversification. The top five companies make up only 23% of the market capitalisation. Still almost three quarters of the economy is in the hands of either state-owned or large family-owned firms like the two Reliance firms controlled by the Ambanis and various bits of the Tata empire. India is hardly unique. Carlos Slim is the richest man in the world. His companies account for more than a third of the Mexican stock market. Even in Israel the market is controlled by a few oligarchs.

Investors around the world are advised of the wisdom of diversification including diversifying internationally and into emerging as well as developed markets. But there is hardly any diversification by investing in markets concentrated in state or family-owned commodities and financial firms. This type of diversification also misses investing in the more dynamic firms that are supposed to make up the emerging market growth story. 

Finally, market concentration tends to distort the efficiency of markets, which negates the accuracy of analytic tools. To successfully invest in these markets requires different tools to understand the different rules.

(William Gamble is president of Emerging Market Strategies. An international lawyer and economist, he developed his theories beginning with his first hand experience and business dealings in the Russia starting in 1993. Mr Gamble holds two graduate law degrees. He was educated at Institute D'Etudes Politique, Trinity College, University of Miami School of Law, and University of Virginia Darden Graduate School of Business Administration. He was a member of the bar in three states, over four different federal courts and has spoken four languages. Mr Gamble can be contacted at [email protected] or [email protected])



Dassault, RIL ink MoU for collaboration in defence sector

The MoU comes soon after the defence ministry on 31st January had offered Dassault the multi-billion dollar deal to supply 126 combat aircraft to the IAF. Sources said there is a possibility of the two companies working together in the MMRCA deal

New Delhi: Days after bagging the multi- billion dollar Medium-Multirole Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) deal, French defence major Dassault Aviation has entered into an agreement with Reliance Industries (RIL) for partnering in defence and homeland security sector in the country, reports PTI.

“Dassault Aviation, a major player in the global aerospace industry, has entered into a memorandum  of understanding (MoU) with Reliance Industries, for pursuing strategic opportunities of collaboration in the area of complex manufacturing and support in India,” officials of the two companies told PTI here.

The MoU comes soon after the defence ministry on 31st January had offered Dassault the multi-billion dollar deal to supply 126 combat aircraft to the IAF.

Sources said there is a possibility of the two companies working together in the MMRCA deal here.

After finalising the deal, Dassault will have to reinvest 50% of the worth of the deal back into Indian defence sector.

The aerospace and security division of the RIL is headed by Vivek Lall, who has been closely associated with the MMRCA deal while spearheading the campaign for Boeing in the deal.

Mr Lall has earlier worked with American NASA and Raytheon.

He was recognised at Cambridge, England, as one of the 2,000 outstanding scientists in the 20th century.

In the recent past, there have been efforts by the Mukesh Ambani-headed RIL to position itself in the defence, internal security and aerospace solutions sector.


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