“Kaun Banega Crorepati” (KBC), India’s version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” is watched by between 15 and 20 million Indians. In parts it is great entertainment. But a part of it is pretty darned close to a lottery.
I am in India on a 2 week trip.
On the ride from the airport to Malad, I get to understand why the Mumbai taxis are the way they are, from my driver. For those of us who have had their bones rattled in a Mumbai taxi, this will tell you why. It won’t hurt less when your head bangs into the roof of the cab, but at least you can nod wisely because you know who to blame.
As Mamata Banerjee enters the 21st day of her fast over the ‘forcible acquisition of farmland’ in Singur for a Tata Motors factory, one pauses to reflect upon one of the biggest hurdles that faces heavy manufacturing in India – land acquisition. What started with Narmada Bachao Andolan is now reaching fever pitch. And it is going to get worse before it gets better.
I attended TiEcon Delhi for a day in October. The energy in the main hall and the deal-making in the lobby outside, spoke volumes about how hot the Indian venture scene is. I met old friends as well as some new entrepreneurs. And came away with much to chew on.
Startups in India have opportunities and challenges that are quite different from the ones in the US. Ditto for VCs. A few observations:
I grew up in a small town called Hisar in Haryana. My father was a Professor at Haryana Agricultural University and I did most of my schooling at Campus School. As the name suggests, the school was meant for the children of University staff.
I left Hisar after my 10th boards. On trips back to Hisar to see family I would drop in for a chat with my school teachers. Then my family left Hisar and I never went back until recently the internet brought some of my old school mates together. On this trip to India I went back to Hisar and to Campus School after more than 20 years. It was quite a trip down memory lane.
From time to time you hear some government minister or bureaucrat in Delhi making a proclamation that the FDI limit (Foreign Direct Investment) on such and such industry has been raised from X% to Y%. The press dutifully covers it, the Communist parties huff and puff about it and another credit is chalked up on the Indian government’s liberalization scoreboard. But most people like me, remain uninformed about the issues behind the decision.
An article on the Indian Postal Service in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) portrays the service so pathetically, it almost reads like a children’s book describing a distant kingdom where everything goes wrong all the time. Unfortunately, this is no fairy tale. It is very, very real.
Here are some damning stats and facts about Indiapost:
Property rights form the fundamental bedrock of capitalism. In a capitalistic society an individual’s right to own property and dispense with it as he deems fit, must be protected. Only then is the individual encouraged to invest money and effort to add to his property. (Here the term property applies to all assets, not just real estate)
If India is to keep the momentum going on its recent economic growth, it must strengthen the pillars that hold up the edifice of capitalism in the country. Property rights are the most important ones. There are many laws like the rent control act that impact an individual’s right to property. In some cases, the inability of the state to protect its citizens’ property may be construed as something that erodes property rights. I see labour inflexibility in India in the same light. Many will not agree with me on this. I believe that shareholders of a company ‘own’ the company. Not allowing the company to conduct its business as it deems fit, including hiring and firing employees, is in effect constraining the shareholders’ rights to property.
Last week the dastardly terrorist bombing of Bombay’s suburban trains brought global terrorism another step closer to the largest democracy in the world – India.
Bombay is a city very dear to me and my wife. We started our working life in Bombay and worked there for 5 years. Took the train from Andheri to Churchgate and back everyday. I traveled in the same first class coaches that seem to have been targeted by the terrorists. Life wasn’t all roses – the 3.5 hours total commute didn’t leave us much time to enjoy Bombay. But when we did we fell in love with it. We loved the theatre (Prithvi), restaurants (Samraat, Mahesh lunch home), movie halls (Eros, Regal). The heady mix of high finance and Bollywood. The professionalism at work. They all endeared us to Bombay. But most of all it was the people of Bombay.