The Strong and The Weak

Reflection-from-Mirror

The emotions they feel,
The dreamers, they dream,
The world doesn’t care, but,
In captivity, they breed.

The once expressing eyes,
Doesn’t wet, in good-byes,
Lost is the grin,
When the vibes are genuine.

Peeping in the subconscious,
Their manifestation, subtle,
Pushed back deliberately,
In the morning, eloquently.

The more they are repressed,
The better, it’s addressed,
The world needs the strong,
For the weak, always wrong.

Though the night, dark and long,
Stand still and stand strong,
For the weak always wrong,
Away from the weak, follow the strong.

Politics of Karnataka

The July of 2019 saw the politics of Karnataka reach one of its lowest points. The Congress-JDS alliance government was about to fall – only that it wouldn’t.

With the resignations of the nearly 18 MLAs, the government had gone into a minority in the house and was legally ineligible to run the government of the state. The build up to this situation was also an embarrassment. Horse trading has become a word used too often in the political scenario of Karnataka. Politicians have a price at which they would switch sides and help form or falter governments. Its shameful – but not new.

The coalition had been sworn into governance just 14 months ago and was deemed an unhappy marriage. The ministers in the cabinet had descended to a bunch of squabbling pirates trying to seize power from one another. Greed was so obvious that ministers were changed within months and a visible policy paralysis in the state with barely any representation at the national level. The general election of 2019 made the point clearer when both JDS and Congress were reduced to a solitary seat out of the 27 contesting seats from the state.

All that being said, the BJP which by far had the best numbers – 105 of the 224 seats in the Karnataka assembly was about to succeed finally to form the government. BJP had by hook and crook managed to get the MLAs to resign – ofcourse there is no actual proof that BJP did this, but that’s not the question. The point of concern is, even after the JDS-Congress alliance government went into minority they stalled the proceedings of the house and when the time came to seek the trust vote, the Chief Minister and the parties in government took up almost 3 days – 3 working days and almost 7 non work days to bring on the trust vote. It was just shameful. The whole country was covering the news. Karnataka politics had sunk to a new low, and there was nothing we could do, the public was just a dead rubber duck in a stale tub of dirty bath water.

Finally the government fell on the 23rd of July and made way for the new government to be sworn in. It is at this point that my brother in law sent me a link to a Times of India article which read “Only 3 CMs have successfully completed their term in the history of Karnataka”

I clicked it.

It said, Nijalingappa, Devaraj Urs and Siddaramaiah were the only chief ministers who completed a full term. Ofcourse, it’s just Times of India, so you can expect them to be a little hyperbole. Firstly there were 2 other CMs who completed full terms, Ramakrishna Hegde and SM Krishna. Inside the article it does specify that they are only talking of Congress CM’s but still SM krishna was a congress CM and they conveniently overlooked him.

Leaving the factual error aside, it’s still an eyebrow raising point that of the 15 state assemblies, the state has had 22 Chief ministers, and only 5 of them have stayed the CM for the full term. Why is this?

The people of Karnataka always pride themselves as being different from the rest of the country. Even though there is no lack of patriotism towards the nation, we’ve always been different. Rather we’ve been somewhere in the middle. Unlike Kerala or Tamil nadu or Bengal who have traditionally had their own way of thinking and their own rule, Karnataka politics has interwoven itself into the national politics at many places and also maintains long blank spaces of disconnect.

While there are places where we want conformity with the center, we’ve also struggled to find our own autonomy. The BJP of Karnataka doesn’t speak the language spoken by the BJP of the hindi belt of country, nor does the congress indulge in excessive sycophancy to the Gandhi family; and finally unlike Tamil Nadu, we don’t have a strong regional push for autonomy. Like all humans, the state of Karnataka has always been struggling to find a middle ground and the perfect blend of moderation. So what do the politicians of Karnataka hold dear? Values? where do they get their values from? Are they as confused as any regular citizen of the state?

Nijalingappa and Devaraj Urs are hailed as the greatest leaders that the state has seen. Some even term Ramakrishna Hegde, a prodigi of Nijalingappa, as a big name too, but he was a little too well connected with the underground and mired in scams, so lets not give him a pass for now.

Now speaking of Nijalingappa, he was obviously the most powerful and incorruptible leaders of the states, he came to the position because of his initiatives and movements towards the unification of Karnataka. It was his moves that made Tamil Nadu and Kerala move resolutions in their states for letting go of Kannada territories.

Urs had a lot of achievements to his name, he was the one who changed the name of the state from Mysore to Karnataka, and he was the one who approved the creation of the electronic city in Bangalore. It is also known that his next of kin were also involved in the underground of Bangalore, but that never smeared his image as an efficient administrator and visionary of Karnataka.

Even after the big three, Karnataka saw a spell of stable government when SM Krishna was sworn in as 16th CM of Karnataka in 1999. His vision for Bangalore is also hailed even today in urban legends of Bangalore. However, SM Krishna’s term ended in 2004 and hence started the turbulent times in the politics of Karnataka – a trend that has been going on since then.

Since 2004, in the 15 years there have been 4 assemblies constituted out of which one was dissolved; 10 swearings of the CM, and 2 stints of President’s rule in the state. How did it all go down so fast?

It all started in 2004 HD Kumaraswamy first engineered a defection in 2006 to leave the Congress-JDS coalition to join hands with the BJP with an added incentive of becoming the CM of the state. The Congress-JDS government in the first place had a rocky relationship because of multiple factors, prominent among them being the unassertiveness of CM Dharam Singh. Kumaraswamy’s actions didn’t stop with the first defection, after he held the CM’s post for nearly 20 months he was to transfer power to the BJP based on a power sharing agreement that they had while engineering the defections of 2006. But Kumarswamy didn’t come through, he refused to transfer power and hence the state was put under president’s rule. After 2 months, in the November of 2017, Kumaraswamy again extended support to the BJP and BS Yeddyurappa was sworn in as the CM of the state; but when it came to proving majority, Kumaraswamy again backed away due to disagreements in sharing ministerial positions.

The assembly was hence dissolved after 191 days of president’s rule and the fresh elections where announced. By now the people of the state had lost respect for the JDS and the BJP had gained public sympathy. The BJP came to power on its own by way of a historic victory for the BJP in the south of India. But does that mean this story has a happy ending? No.

The BJP was mired in corruption charges and Yeddyurappa was named in a mining scam chargesheet. The opposition and BJP central leadership demanded Yeddyurappa to step down from the CM’s post, but he wouldn’t. Amids massive public outrage doctored by the opposition, Yeddyurappa remained adamant and maintained that he was innocent and his conscious was clear. Eventually his prosecution in the mining scam reached a fever pitch and he was even pronounced to be held in police custody. BSY was now out of options and had to quit the CM’s post in the July for 2011, about 3 years after he had assumed office. He was so disappointed and disgusted by the lack of support from the central leadership that he even quit and party and joined a regional party called Karnataka Janata Party – he came in at the top as the party president. After this bitter turn of events, the BJP appointed 2 other CMs for the remaining 2 years of the assembly.

In the assembly elections of 2013, though the country was reeling under policy paralysis and sever corruption charges on the central government, the state voted in favour of the congress giving it a clear majority to form the government on its own. The main reasons for this being the split in the BJP and the general sentiment to stay away from corrupt politicians.

This government remained in power for the entire term of 5 years without many hiccups. Although not much was achieved in the term, there was nothing visibly wrong and the opposition just didn’t have enough opportunities to usurp. Point to note – Siddaramaiah, the CM who held the post for the full term is also a defector – in fact he has been in 5 different parties. The biggest episode being his exit from the JDS in 2005.

Then came the assembly elections of 2018. An eventless term of the congress was about to end. There was not much to show and tell for the congress. The BJP stuck to its idea of being one with the nation and trying to breathe a breath of fresh air in the politics of the state. All indications depicted that it was going to be a hung assembly and a story of 2004 to repeat all over again. That’s what we saw in the drama that unfolded in 2018-19.

Now that we know all the facts, the question to be asked is, why? why are these men after power and why do they openly and easily defect? and why is defection so acceptable? is there no place for loyalty and integrity? Most importantly, can we as public do nothing about it? because no matter whom we vote for, they all have their own agenda to push for and they wouldn’t mind switching sides without a second thought about their voters.

I guess this is a riddle for students of political theory?

Scooters Come Back

In the AGM held in August 2018, Rajiv Bajaj, the MD of Bajaj auto was subjected to the ever-present question by the shareholders. When will Bajaj scooters make a come back? This question had become a permanent fixture in the AGM’s held by the Pune based automobile maker. Every meeting, someone or the other would ask this question and Mr. Bajaj would duck or dodge the question. Not this time. This time he lost his cool and said “I will make scooters when Royal Enfield makes scooters”.

I will make Scooters when Royal Enfield makes Scooters.

Source

The less than composed outburst made headlines. We do like our punch lines don’t we? Mr. Bajaj went on to elaborate on his illustration. His point was, no one can be the best in all segments. Bajaj is the 4th largest manufacturer of the two wheelers in India. The two wheeler industry itself is a huge mix of scooters, motorbikes, sports bikes and elite high power bikes. His idea is, no one can be the champion in all the segments. OK, so does Bajaj lead in any segment? Yes, actually the three wheeler category is where Bajaj shines, the Autos. Its not the only segment; Bajaj Pulsar is a household name and one of the most selling two wheeler motorbikes in the country.

Two Wheeler Market

He also explained that the scooters first of all, are a small part of the two and three wheelers segment, secondly Honda is way ahead in the scooter game with the Honda Activa selling more than 100 thousand units a month.

So to sum up, he wasn’t interested in going into the scooter segment because:
a) He didn’t think the scooter segment was profitable enough – given that scooters sell for far less than a motorbike and that the margins are low, it seemed a low hanging fruit.
b) The scooter segment is already over crowded with Honda doing too well and TVS fighting hard to make the numbers.

Ok, now let us look at his statement. How can he say I will make scooters when Royal Enfield makes scooter? RE never made scooters, but Bajaj did, and Bajaj made great scooters. What the shareholders are asking is for a come back of the scooter. The Scooters of Bajaj are emotionally etched to the Indian psyche. A feel good factor, a nostalgia of the 90s and 80s when our fathers owned a scooter is what is making everyone ask for a scooter.

Bajaj Chetak

Emotions are not the only thing involved in the idea of bringing scooters back, of course its a huge risk. The scooters of Bajaj were of a different generation. Today’s scooters are mostly grearles automatics used by children or women who want to drive a lightweight, automatic two wheeler. Not the kind of Scooters that Bajaj made or the kind that the market wants Bajaj to bring back. Infact, except for LML in Punjab, today there are hardly any geared scooters in the Indian market today.

Aren’t there examples of old brands making a come back? The biggest example in the world is the Volkswagen Beetle. The 1938 model sold for nearly 40 before phasing out in the 70s. The model was so loved that when the company reintroduced it in 1998, it was an instant hit. It sold in the a hundred thousand units annually for nearly 10 years! Of course the numbers started falling again, and VW introduced a newer, more masculine version in 2011. The car has been out of fashion in 2019, but was one of the greatest comeback stories of the century.

Beetle 1998

Talking more closer to home, Royal Enfield itself is a comeback story. The chivalrous motorbike maker typically made motorbikes for the military and paramilitary forces, and very few owned the bike. It wasn’t till the 2000s that the bike started making a comeback. People wanted to own the Bullet, look tough and be part of the movement. The movement is still going strong and RE is making quite a buck.

So why can’t Bajaj bring back scooters? It’s not like Bajaj didn’t try its hand at selling the new generation gearless scooters. There was a model called Bajaj Kristal that was released in the 2000s. This model failed and with that Bajaj ended it’s venture into scooters. Which is really really sad.

Red Ocean

The fear of entering an already competitive market is not a sign of a good business. Its not just being risk averse, but its just throwing in your towel without getting into the ring.

The best example for this is the entry of TVS in the three wheeler market. The auto rickshaw market. Bajaj has historically owned this place. Even today Bajaj owns more than 50% of the market share in this segment. Yet TVS ventured into this market in the late 2000s and has since been chewing away market share. That is a sign of positivity and intent from a business that we as investors and shareholder look for. Why can’t Bajaj take cue from this move by TVS and take a change at entering the scooter market?

Three wheeler Market

The entry of TVS is not the only example of a new player entering an already saturated market. In the second decade of 2000, electric three wheelers have also come into the forray, and as a pleasant and path breaking news, the sales of electric three wheelers has for the first time surpassed the sales of petrol/diesel/CNG/LPG vehicles.

TVS Three Wheelers

As per data shared by the Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles (SMEV), the apex lobby body for electric vehicles, sales of electric three-wheeler segment grew 21 percent during 2018-19 to 630,000 as against 520,000 sold in 2017-18. In 2018, sales of petrol, diesel and CNG-powered passenger three wheelers grew by just 10.6 percent to 572,400 units, compared to 517,400 units sold in 2017-18, according to data shared by the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers.

King of the Hill

As we already saw, Bajaj is not the king of the hill. It comes off as a distant 4th when it comes to manufacturing and sales of two wheelers in the country. The bike that is on top of things is the Pulsar, but even that has stiff competition with other street bikes like the TVS Apache and Honda CBR. So where then does Bajaj see the money to be so adamantly stuck only in the motorbike segment of this huge market?

The partnerships. KTM has been a famous name in the domestic motorbike segment. KTM RC 200 and KTM 390 have been selling hot on the streets of the bigger and smaller cities of India. KTM has a manufacturing and marketing partnership with Bajaj. Hence is eating off a fair slice of action. KTM is not the only partnership game of Bajaj; not so long back they had partnership with Kawasaki, and the most recent partnership they’ve announced is with Triumph. Do these partnerships mean Bajaj can make enough money and move up in the market share? Not likely.

Partnerships

Of the top 10 bike awaited bike launches in 2019-20 FY, there is just 1 Bajaj bike – the Bajaj Dominor 400, and 2 other bikes from partnerships. Yamaha is planning to launch 3, Hero, Aprilia and RE are planning to launch 1 bike each. So clearly, Bajaj isn’t really pushing too hard to make it to the top.

So what do we have now?

  1. Bajaj isn’t the best in motorbikes and isn’t likely to be anytime soon
  2. Entering an already saturated market is not unheard off
  3. Brands that have had a special place have made successful comebacks

Why after all this does Bajaj want to stay out of the scooter segment? Because its too little money? or because its too much work? or is it because it’s just not fashionable anymore? Its here that we must recall that Rajiv Bajaj is not the one who made the company.

This reminds me of a line from Psalm 37 –  The righteous shall inherit the land and dwell upon it forever. Unrelated question: Who’s the righteous one here? Rajiv Bajaj or the Scooter that we loved so much?

~*~

Hoping Against Hope

On the auspicious day of the official FIFA world cup qualifier draw, we were hit with some bad news. Goal.com which is literally the mouthpiece of IMG Reliance and FSDL made a post speculating the exit of Bengaluru FC from their home ground of Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru. It was a jolt! This had been our home since 2016 when we bid adieu to the smaller and astroturf-ed Bangalore Football Stadium since the number of fans had outgrown the 8000 seater.

Without going into details, lets understand that the news is not new that the Athletics Association of the Karnataka and Bengaluru FC have been fighting a turf battle in the Kanteerava. Now Kanteerava is a multipurpose stadium – most stadiums in India are. Hence the athletes of different track and field sports need the stadium to practice. When Bengaluru FC or BFC for cuteness, has a game coming up, it takes over the pitch for 2 to 3 days. This obviously creates problems for the athletes of other sports and hence the tiff. There has recently been a court order by the High Court of Karnataka that the stadium needs to be used only for athletics purpose and BFC needs to make way.

I just couldn’t believe it. Many couldn’t believe it. Staunch BFC supporters and fans were in disbelief and then in denial that we could actually lose our home. Many went on to create social media petitions and tried to spam or slander with FSDL, IMG reliance and even AIFF.

But inside, there was a hope that things will be fine and we will find a way through this. We will still play at our home ground. But what’s the reason behind this mad hope? Well nothing. The case as it stands doesn’t allow us to play in the Kanteerava stadium and the case will come up next for hearing only in October, by when our season would’ve already started. So why this hope? Why this belief of things are going to be good? I looked it up.

Apparently there is something called the Delusion of Reprieve. It was first found in Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E Frankl.

The condemned man, immediately before his execution, gets the illusion that he might be reprieved at the very last minute.

Source

Basically, Mad hope.

This struck me hard. Not the meaning of Delusion of Reprieve but the fact that it happens so frequently in our lives. The earliest of examples I can think of from my life is when we first moved to the suburbs. There were only 2 buses to our house and it took a full hour to make the round trip. We would wait at the school bus stop waiting for the bus. It would get late, real late and we would know the bus isn’t coming this hour, but yet we would stand there and turn up at every sound of a heavy vehicle.

It also happens on a bad day at poker. It happens to everyone that you’re just dealt with bad hands. You check, bet low and fold time and again, and yet you continue to play. Hoping, and earnestly believing that the next hand is going to be good.

The easiest example that everyone will be able to relate is school. Don’t we all remember the days when hoped against hope that a certain teacher wouldn’t turn up at school? they wouldn’t check the homework books? just before reaching school had the feeling that there would be a board saying its a holiday?

Today it happened again, even though we have a court order against us, and on us for quite some time so that it has actually sunk in, we still harbor a secret hope. Hope that at the last moment some miracle man would save us, some miracle from god would bend the rules for us.

The trickiest part of the this effect is actually defining it. Because in the bare sense, delusion of reprieve is nothing but hope. And isn’t hope a good thing? a virtue to possess? Yes it is, and the trick lies in understanding when Hope turns into the delusion of reprieve. I’m not gonna try to define the line of distinction as its a changing line based on context and relevance. It is different for all of us, but what’s important and the actual objective of this post is to realize there exists a place to which we can descend into, where hope becomes insanity. So the next time you are locked in a box, ask yourself, is this hope tingling under my skin or is it the insane delusion of reprieve leading me to the fool’s paradise?

~*~

Part 4: Jodhpur

The Blue City

Google maps is a life saver. It helps lost souls find their way. But on a bad day it can easily go the other way. We left from Jaisalmer just as the sun had started going down. It had thus far been a great day. Good places, good people and great food of Jaisalmer had left us wanting. But as plans go, we had to move on. Next stop Jodhpur – the Blue city. We were eager to get to Jodhpur, and in our eagerness made the one mistake that made subjected us to one of the hardest commutes we’d seen so far. We turned on google maps destined to Jodhpur while still in Jaisalmer city limits.

The Wrong Way

The main route taken to reach Jodhpur is the one that goes via Chandan, Pokhran and Dechu. This is a 4 lane highway and has tolls on the way. I’m not sure what google thought of us but she showed us a non-toll route that went through the countryside and maybe even through a forest. It was a single road – just two lanes with no clear onward and return sides. Over that we have a bizarre incidence where saw the carcass of a cow or some big animal like a deer or a camel right in the middle of the road. We slowed down, there was no one on the road, no vehicles, no homes, no people, just that carcass. Maybe it was a trap laid to get us? We didn’t stop, didn’t click photos, just escaped.

As on the previous day, we reached Jodhpur in the middle of the night. Our hotel had a wonderful view of the Mehrangarh fort, but sadly that meant the hotel was 125 feet below the fort and right in the center of the town – a town of narrow streets and open drains. It was frustrating enough that the hotel wasn’t perfectly pinned on google, but the midnight traffic was what got us really riled up. At 1 AM in the mid night people are riding around in their bikes at top speed! It was insane, insanity that we endured and finally found the hotel. It was a residential building modified into a hotel, and the promised parking was on the road – which our expert drivers struggled to mitigate.

Our day started with a visit to the central clock tower. Natives called it the Ghanta Ghar. It’s a tall tower in trade mark Jodhpuri architecture. The tower is surrounded by markets on 3 sides, including street markets that sold cloths, leather articles, plastic and wooden toys and a lot of things that looked like souvenirs for tourists. There isn’t much to talk or appreciate about the clock tower except that its a popular local land mark and though its right in the middle of the street, it makes for some decent photos.

Next on the list, the Mehrangarh fort. The fort itself is an awe inspiring site. The lofty towers, the thick walls and the shade of age on them makes it as imposing as it can get. There is another monument called Jaswant Thada close to it. It’s practically in the same premises as fort but very tranquil and serene in comparison to the fort. Given the fact that the monument is basically a place built to offer homage to the kings gone by, it is practically a tomb, just that there are no dead bodies in the place – perhaps because they were all hindu kings. There inner hall of the monument has photos and biographies of the kings, and is surrounded by a quite garden with bougainvillea trees and a serene lake on the outside. We saw a couple are artists trying to sketch the monument, so we stood for a while to catch them in action. It is said the Thada continues to serve as the cremation ground for the royal family. One of the interesting and humorous things about the place was the numerous No Selfie Zone signs.

The Mehrangarh fort has huge entryways and huge double doors which would’ve made for beautiful photos if not for the never ending hoards of people. There were also school trips and pilgrims among the crowd. Like most forts and palaces, this is also a huge museum. The exhibits can be categories as pictures of royalty, models depicting battles and other history, armoury of the royal army, and a special section of the museum dedicated just to the turbans! The fort has long corridors lined with photos, and a lot of rooms showcasing all the different remnants of the royal family and their lifestyle. There were numerous gift shops and other pop up shops in the fort. Rajasthani poppets, cotton cloths, turbans, exhotic metal utensis among other things.

The fort also housed a temple of ma chamunda devi. It is said that one of the kings of the province was a devotee of the goddess and had made the temple in the fort premises. The temple is in the compound of the fort, but is to be approached via the roof. The roof in itself is a showcase. It houses numerous canons of different time periods and makes for good photos. The view of the city from the roof top reminds us why this is called the Blue city.

Jodhour is known for its sweets. Jalebis, Ghewars, barfis and laddoos of a million kind. Unfortunately we had no time hunting down authentic places to eat as the fort had taken up nearly 3 hours and it was almost 2 PM. Sticking to our ambitions plan meant we would have to leave the city in less than 2 hours if we were to reach Jaipur before nightfall. We did find a Haldirams and ordered some delicious Raj Kachori to end our day in Jodhpur on a sweet note.

~*~

PS: We missed the Umaid Bhavan palace. Though the palace is visible from Jaswant Thada, its not like actually visiting the place, is it?