February 14, 2007

The Angst about "Sleeping Indian Media"

A respected retired Indian journalist forwards an email expressing deep angst about the quality of Indian print and television media. It is dismayed that what used to be respectable "mainstream" print media is now slipping into tabloid journalism. The latest example cited is the failure to report the killing by terrorist outfits in Kashmir of an Army major just as acquittal of a popular Bollywood star on charges of stashing weaponry at his home during the 1992-93 bomb blasts and riots in Mumbai was all over the news:

Star versus 'Star'

The body of Major Manish Pitambare, who was shot dead at Anantnag [in Indian Kashmir], was cremated with full military honours at Thane [near Mumbai] on Wednesday [Feb 7, 2007].

On Tuesday a news swept across all the news channels 'Sanjay Datt relieved by the court'. [....] experts like Salman Khan saying 'He is a good person. We knew he will come out clean', Mr. Big B [Superstar Amitabh Bacchan saying] 'Datt family and our family have relations for years. He's a good kid. He is like elder brother to [my son] Abhishek'. [...] sister Priya Datt 'we can sleep well tonight. It's a great relief'.

In other news, Parliament was mad at Indian team for performing bad; Shah Rukh Khan replaces Big B in KBC [Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire] and Sonia [Gandhi] asked the PM to consider reducing petroleum prices (I wonder who's the PM. [...] but most of the emphasis was given on Sanjay Datt's "phoenix like" comeback from the ashes of terrorist charges.

In my humble opinion, Indian media's slumber is much more than missing a soldier's sacrifice or pandering to what sells. It is also about propagating the "India Superpowering" belief with the "life imitates media" arrogance displayed in the Indian-brand festooned Times Square.

Patriotism sells. Everywhere. Sometimes for years before enough people start asking the obvious questions. Anything that detracts the "feel-good" patriotism is at best an annoying inconvenience and at worst "anti-national". The distractions include human rights abuses, terrorists killing soldiers, farmer suicides or forced acquisition of farmers' lands in the name of Special Economic Zones.

Of course, convenient slumber isn't the exclusive domain of the Indian media. The US media wishfully denied inconvenient truths about the Iraq war as long as it could. Under the pretext of protecting sources, it unwittingly shielded, as long as possible, Libby and other White House operatives from the worst crimes of abuse of power.

The sobering and reassuring truth is that the US media was shocked out of its slumber by real-life players like whistle blowing diplomats and the political leadership.

The same is required in India. One can blame, and thus flatter, the media only so much.

February 06, 2007

Euphoria in India Over a Foreign Acquisition

Am glad a respected India-based historian has accurately psychoanalyzed the euphoria in India:

India Is Reveling in Being the Buyer - New York Times

“There’s a deep inferiority complex,” said Ramachandra Guha, a prominent historian and social critic. “Sometimes it manifests itself in excessive deference. At the same time, we exalt in cases of success over the white man.”

Ever since the Tata bid for Corus was announced, I've wondered why the largest single industrial investment in emergent India is not in or for the fast-growing Indian market -- not even the steel sector when a huge infrastructure backlog is threatening to knock a point or two off India's projected GDP growth of 9% -- but is a windfall for the European shareholders of Corus.

Is today's Indian industry and its growth potential too shallow to give better returns on $11 billion? To be sure, this acquisition is not about increasing Tata Steel's competitiveness in the Indian market by acquiring technology, management or more efficient suppliers from Corus.

On a purely jingoistic metric, if anything, Ratan Tata's move is opposite of Jamshedji Tata's when he set up India's first cotton mill in Nagpur in 1874 to process central India's raw cotton instead of finding its way to Manchester mills only to be exported back as cloth (as an aside, it helped the Tatas mitigate export losses after cotton production resumed in the South post the US civil war). Granted that was in a different era and in a vastly different global economic environment. Nonetheless, value-add and moving up the value chain from raw materials to finished goods are a constant.

The projected $300 million annual synergies in the Corus deal are from Tata shipping semi-finished products from existing Indian capacity for Corus' automobile customers. One hopes that is the real reason and that this isn't a ruse to ship Orissa's large iron ores, as is preferred by the Indian central government that gets export duties on ores but gains much less, unlike the state government, from a steel plant in Orissa. All of this makes the jingoistic euphoria in India harder to swallow.

There appear good business reasons for the shareholders of Tata Steel, Tata Sons and Corus to get to 100 million tonnes faster and cheaper than setting up greenfield steel mills. In capitalism, for good reasons, that is all that matters and not jingoism.

One wonders if the Tata Sons shareholders, more than any Indian shareholder, have their ears to the ground and know something to diversify holdings away from the booming Indian stock market and emergent Indian economy.