Sunday, September 16, 2012

Bhagwanji aka Netaji?

September 16th, 1985 - a mysterious Swamiji "Gumnami Baba" aka "Bhagwanji" died in Faizabad, UP at the age of 88. His followers (many of them ex-INA and hard-core Netaji loyalists) had for long claimed that he was Netaji himself - living incognito in the land of his birth. 

The Government of India (GoI) that had always claimed that Netaji died in in an air-crash in Taiwan on 18th August 1945 showed undue haste in arriving at Bhagwanji's residence, locked and put away 2673 of his personal effects in 23 boxes in the Faizabad District Treasury where they lie till today. 

Bose mystery investigator and journalist Anuj Dhar who submitted some of the writing samples from Bhagwanji's personal effects was told by India's most feted handwriting analysis expert -- former Additional Director of the National Institute of Criminology and Forensic Science, Dr B. Lal that the handwritings of Bhagwanji and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose did match. Dr. Lal supported his claims with his trademark thoroughness by providing a solid analysis backed by visual evidence. The Government-appointed handwriting experts (trained by Dr. Lal himself) rejected their mentor's report with a report that lacked both incisive analysis and credible evidence. They Government-appointed experts were later pulled up by the Justice Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry, the third and the last commission to probe the disappearance of Netaji, for their shoddy work. 

Was Bhagwanji Netaji? 

We may know the truth if the GoI declassifies 33 files it still is unwilling to make public 67 years after Netaji's alleged death. 

For more, read Anuj Dhar's India's Biggest Cover-up, a brilliant piece of investigative journalism on Netaji's disappearance.

Let the truth prevail!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Book Review: India's Biggest Cover-up, by Anuj Dhar

A profile image two inches-by-two in a school textbook. Round-face. Round-rimmed spectacles. Khakhi garrison cap. Looking into the far distance. That is the image our minds invoke on hearing the name Subhas Chandra Bose. An ICS officer in the His Majesty's British Empire turned revolutionary. Twice the president of the grand old party of India - the Indian National Congress. The founder of the Forward Bloc. The civilian who became a general. The first leader of the Azad Hind Government, in exile. The man who promised us freedom and asked us to pledge our blood for the cause. The man who raised an army to march against the British Indian Empire. Axis partner and war criminal, for the victorious WWII Allies. Simply, the most selfless patriot of modern India.

Yet Netaji’s life was largely a mystery. A mystery that began with his escaping from British custody in 1941 and compounded by his disappearance during the final days of the Japanese surrender during WWII. The government of India led by Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru bought the Japanese version of Netaji's death in a Taiwan air crash and adopted that as the establishment's version. Successive governments and two commissions of enquiry toed the Nehru line. 

Anuj Dhar in this brilliantly pieced together masterpiece of investigative journalism convincingly blasts the "air crash theory" to smithereens in the first 20 pages and goes on to strengthen his case by following other credible leads on Netaji's escape via Manchuria to Stanlinist Soviet Russia, his possible return to India and life as "Bhagwanji" in Faizabad, UP (until his death in September 1985), the Government's confiscation and sealing of Bhagwanji's personal effects, their reluctance to release at least 33 classified Netaji files, and their collusion with Netaji's "aides-gone-rogue" (Shah Nawaz Khan, Munga Ramamurthy, SA Iyer et al) to perpetuate the death of a man who cheated it. 

Anuj backs-up all his statements and conclusions with images of de-classified documents obtained via the Right to Information (RTI) Act of India, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) of USA and UK, and documents obtained from other countries (such as Japan and Russia).

For lovers of our history and Netaji, this book is a must-read and an eye-opener. Buy it, read it, speak about it to others. That’s the best respect we can pay to India’s greatest patriot.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Book Review: Making Breakthrough Innovation Happen: How 11 Indians Pulled Off the Impossible by Porus Munshi

Why are Indians so good at jugaad (improvisation or quick-fixing) but not at systemic innovation? What makes them better innovators when they reach foreign shores but not within our own country? Is our “system” built to stifle innovation? If there are innovators who succeed within “our system” are there lessons to be extrapolated from such successes? And can these innovations be applied across sectors – private, public, and social?

Built around 11 case studies of Indians who made “orbit shifting innovation” possible across the private, public and social sectors in our country, Porus Munshi’s book Making Breakthrough Innovation Happen: How 11 Indians Pulled Off The Impossible talks about overcoming the “impossible”.

Examples in the book include that of a Hyderabad-based biotech company that developed a low-cost Hepatitis-B vaccine and made it globally affordable, a watch manufacturer that created the slimmest, water-resistant watch in the world – something that even the fabled Swiss watchmakers contended was impossible, and a police force that rewrote policing paradigms to bring law, order, and confidence in the police system in a communally volatile South Indian city, thus transforming it.

I would put this book on par with IDEO general manager Tom Kelley’s best-selling books The Art of Innovation and The Ten Faces of Innovation. What sets this book apart is its relevance to “the Indian condition” and its focus on insights that enable breakthrough innovation. The innovative storytelling approach is sure to inspire every reader to set out on a similar journey.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Saying Goodbye! to Plastic Bags...

The Mayor of the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad has a taken a bold and much overdue decision in banning the use of plastic bags. Come July 1st, commercial establishments will have to look for non-plastic alternatives that are sustainable. With the D-Day just around the corner, what is the status on the ground?
What I saw during my weekend visit to the SPAR supermarket at Somajiguda last Sunday (19th June) didn’t give me much confidence. The store still had rolls of “bio-degradable” plastic covers for customers to pack their vegetables and take them for weighing. The person at the weighing counter, even “wrapped” a plastic cover around a cucumber that I had picked up. I had to ask her to not use any more plastic than was absolutely necessary and paste the bar-coded sticker directly on the cucumber.
When asked about the store’s July 1st compliance plan, more than one store associate at SPAR gave me a blank stare followed by an embarrassed smile. If there is a plan to comply with the July 1st requirements, the store associates certainly don’t know about it yet.
Which forces me to suspect: Are the businesses in the city of Hyderabad smug and confident of getting the Mayor to repeal her decision of banning plastic bags? Or at least get the date extended? I wouldn’t be surprised if either happened. Given the clout that large businesses have in the corridors of power, I suspect such moves are already afoot.
Here’s my advice to SPAR and similar stores:
·         Ask customers to bring their own jute or other environment-friendly bags.

·         To pack farm produce, make available (at subsidized prices for a few weeks) bags made from post-consumer recycled content such as plastic/PET bottles and containers –or even better– lightweight, cotton muslin bags with drawstrings. Both options are reusable for long durations and can be washed as well. Cotton muslin is "fully breathable" and is an excellent option for storing fruits and vegetables.

·         For stores that have a loyalty points system in place, incentivize customers that diligently follow the “green way”. Add 5 0r 10 “green points” for customers’ that bring their own bags (in addition to the points they gain on the amounts they spend at the store). Such actions on part of the store management would go a long way in reinforcing positive customer behavior and earn enormous goodwill from the customers and the environment-conscious.
And finally, all green ideas need to be sustainable. While SPAR provides a shopping experience that is as good as any, there are a couple of things that I have noticed it could do better (I’ve shared this extensively with their Customer Service associates in writing):
1.     SPAR presently charges customers INR 5/- per “jumbo-sized” plastic bag to discourage plastic use while giving away the small and medium-sized bags for free.

I have seen customers carry their purchases in 8 to 12 small/medium bags when those items would comfortably fit in one or two jumbo-sized plastic bags. My average weekly spend at SPAR is nearly INR 2000/- and my purchases fit comfortably in the 2 jumbo-sized jute bags that I carry or in 2 “jumbo-sized” plastic SPAR bags.

What is the logic behind charging for one or two plastic bags and giving away 8 to 12 for free?

Wouldn’t it make sense for SPAR to charge their customers for the small and medium bags and give the jumbo bags for free (and perhaps not give any bags at all for those buying less than 5 items)? This would also force customers to bring their own bags in cities where a ban on plastic bags is not in force.

2.      SPAR is one among many stores to voluntarily switch to bio-degradable plastic bags. Customers wanting to do their bit for the environment embrace these bags with great fervor. The moot question is: Are bio-degradable plastic bags really green?

SPAR’s bio-degradable plastic bags carry the term “oxy-biodegradable” on them. What it means is that these bags will decompose when exposed to oxygen (and light, and moisture) as is the case in the composting of organic wastes. But the bags do not define the exact conditions (of oxygen, light and moisture) under which they will bio-degrade.

In countries such as India where plastic pollution is rampant and facilities that provide “composting conditions” to compost bio-degradable plastics are virtually non-existent, bio-degradable plastics also end up in traditional landfills where they decompose very slowly. The perceived environmental benefits of bio-degradable plastics are thus lost to the communities.

Stores using bio-degradable plastic bags should be aware of these realities and plan their “green strategies” accordingly.

Will Hyderabad-Secunderabad be plastic-free post July 1st?

Time will tell!

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Roti, Kapda, Makaan aur Masala...

According to Wikipedia, the state of Tamil Nadu (TN) is the 5th largest contributor to India's GDP and ranks 10th in Human Development Index as of 2006. TN is also the most urbanized state in India. The state has the highest number (10.56%) of business enterprises and stands second in total employment (9.97%) in India, compared to the population share of about 6%.

TN is also famous for its two main "self-respect" espousing, "atheist-rationalist" Dravidian political parties the DMK and the AIADMK. With very little to differentiate one party from the other (both parties are phenomenally corrupt while bringing in appreciable all-round development and investments to the state), the last decade has witnessed the parties showering the electorate of the state with cash (clandestinely, before the elections) and electronic goods (post the elections as fulfillment of election promises).
During a recent, quick and short “US-Navy-Seals-in-Abbotabad” kind of visit to Chennai (the capital city of TN and one of India's four "Metro" cities), I came across this “Garam Masala” (spice powder) packet distributed through the Public Distribution System (PDS). The 10 gram sachet prominently carried the likeness of the 87-year old Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, M.Karunanidhi (popularly known as “Kalaignar” or “scholar of arts”) with the message “Making fair-priced groceries available during the rule of Kalaignar” (in Tamil).

64 years after our Independence, political parties in India still depend on the powerfully emotive slogan of “roti, kapda aur makaan” (food, clothing and shelter) to garner votes. Since 1951, ten Five-Year Plans have been developed, executed and monitored by the Planning Commission. But the basic issues of food, clothing, and shelter continue to be serious problems. Add to these bijli, sadak aur paani (power, roads and water) the issues only seem to be compounding.
In this scenario, a fair-priced, 10 gram packet of Garam Masala could certainly swing a few percentage points of votes in your favor (enough to win another 5-year term as the “democratically” elected ruling party of a state.)
In India, poverty is the politician’s lifeline.
Once poverty is eradicated, the politician loses his relevance. Politicians and political parties therefore need poverty and “bottom-of-the-pyramid” politics to remain in power. Eradication of poverty is a goal with an “eternal” timeline. The politico’s goal is to strike the right balance just enough poverty to tom-tom about, cause angst in the electorate and win the next elections, and marginal poverty eradication so as to not face anti-incumbency.
Thus, while our politicians and political parties follow “the preservation of Self” as the central theme of their political doctrine, our neighboring countries (notably, China) with more forward-looking policies surge ahead to claim their rightful place among the world nations.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Yesterday, August 15th, India was 57 years young as a Nation. On display was copious quantities of patriotism, nationalism, jingoism and (among many) skepticism.

One well-educated skeptic sent in this email.

“Nothing to cheer about the Independence Day - the day we regret our inability to achieve anything.

Independence has become limited only to a few people in India. Politicians are totally independent. They can do whatever they want and can change any law. It is a shame.

I feel President APJ Abdul Kalam should become the Prime Minister of India (a President can only talk, not do any thing – but a Prime Minister can.)

If God comes to me, I will ask Him to kill all the corrupt politicians in the world.”

It’s nice to be a critic. Constructive criticism spurs betterment. But I question the right of arm-chair critics to assume a holier-than-thou posture. Do these critics berate the world around them after exhausting all attempts to change it? I do not think so.

I have a question to the arm-chair critics. How sincerely have we tried to change the habits we have acquired in our independent state of existence?

Fifty years of independence has granted us many ‘freedoms’.

1) We can jump traffic signals.
2) We can leave electricity ON 24 hours a day in our public (and even private) places.
3) We can urinate and defecate in public places.
4) We can waste tap water by hundreds of gallons every day and then blame the government for not implementing rain-water harvesting (now that its pouring by the dam-fulls in Hyderabad, how many of us have harvested water?)
5) We can spit on the roads and our co-travelers.
6) We can go to all the supermarkets, choose to use polluting plastic covers and bags, and then dump the same on to our roads and into our ecosystem.
7) We can go to places of national importance like historical buildings and write graffiti on the walls (go to Golconda fort and see the number of "Kumar loves Rani" messages and you will be astounded.)
8) We can choose not to declare our total income and escape taxes (and then crib the damn roads are not fit four our Mercs.)
9) We can throw cups and other garbage out of the train windows while completely ignoring messages imploring us not to.
10) We can smoke in all public places (damn the Supreme Court order!) unmindful of the many a passive smoking fool.
11) After doing all of the above (and more) we can assume an US (the educated moral, self-righteous, indignant elite) versus THEM (them rotten politicians, babus and netas) position and prattle on incessantly.

We clamor from the rooftops non-stop about human-rights but seldom whisper about our human responsibilities.

When all is lost, we wring our hands in despair, shed crocodile tears, mouth a few profanities at "THEM" (them rotten politicians, babus and netas) and call upon the Providence to send down heavenly thunderbolts from Hell to wipe out corruption (after all, isn't that the least we can choose to do in this Kaliyug?) or ever-optimistically wish for a new Prime Minister…

Does it take eons to realize that God and the Satan, godliness and ugliness all reside in our hearts?

Let’s begin with our responsibilities - let’s work on it hard and fast for the next one year. On August 15th 2005, at the stroke of midnight, when the world sleeps, we will gather online and chat about our experiences with assuming greater responsibilities. Have we made a change around us?

I am absolutely sure that WE WILL BE pleasantly surprised.

Jai Hind!

Monday, April 21, 2003


I personally think it's shameful -in this capitalist economy- to feel a sense of belonging to an employing organization. But first timer fools and romantics (if you can differentiate between the two) invariably fall into the "belongingness" trap.

I wrote this letter (below) on April 30th 2002, the last day of my work at LearningByte International, my first "real" employer. I re-discovered it today when I was rummaging through some of my backed-up files on a CD.


Exactly a year before it became etched indelibly into history, September 11th became a momentous date for me at a personal level. It was on September 11th, 2000, that I joined legacy LBI. At a professional level, I was making the transition from being a boy to a man.

And what a transition it has been from then --sweat, blood, tears, toil, ecstasy, despair, joy, sorrow, successes, and failures-- no elearning course could have given me this kind of a learning experience. And I am thankful to each and every one of you for having played your part (consciously or unconsciously) to make that possible. Thanks so much!

I have had the pleasure of building strong relationships with many wonderful and talented people in LBI and DT over the last one and half years – in Hyderabad, Bangalore, Kolkata, San Francisco, San Diego and Minneapolis. At a professional level, I regret that these bonds might not remain anymore but at a personal level they will continue to be as strong as ever.

Of course I will miss the Hyderabad office – the backyard, the Friday Fundas, the boisterous company gatherings, your joie de vivre the nimboo pani, the steps from the graphics mezzanine that was my lunch place, and your tolerance to my self-righteous spam mails. In short, I will miss you all.

It has been a rather long harangue from my side. It is now time to end. And end I shall, with these immortal lines from Ulysses by Lord Alfred Tennyson. Lines that have inspired me when I have been down and out, lines that have defined and redefined my raison d’etre…many a time…

…The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends.
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
the sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be that we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are ---
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

al vida,

PS: Nothing warms my heart like a call or a chat or a mail from an old buddy. Please do keep in touch. Even if I don’t write often, I can assure that I reply to every mail that I receive.