Sunday, June 17, 2018

Review: The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew

The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew by Lee Kuan Yew
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fascinating story. I know there are two schools of thought about Lee Kuan Yew and I know the issue is too complex to be answered so simply. But what immediately struck me is that the story of the Singaore riots is uncannily like the story of Godhra. Certain parties wanted to create a communal rift between Malay Muslims and the Chinese and they used the media to malign Lee and take advantage of said rift for ulterior motives. Very similar to what happened in Gujarat when certain elements used the media to create the perception of Modi being a despot and a dictator. Modi was blamed for 2002 and Lee was blamed for the 1964 riots. Replace the UNMO/Malaysia with the Congress, PAP/Lee with BJP/Modi, Utusan Melayu with NDTV and you have basically the same plot.

But putting the India perspective aside, the book is a fascinating insight into how Singapore was formed despite the Brits not wanting it to be formed, the Malays deep hostility towards Singapore, presence of Communists and the nefarious pressure of Sukarno. Say what you will about Lee, the small nation is now considered one of the most developed in the world. Given it's turbulent history and it's unfortunate geopolitical situation, that's quite an achievement.

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Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Review: A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership by James Comey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A gripping tale. First off, for all the criticism that he's getting; Comey's physical description of Trump is worth less than a page out of 293 pages. If one is so offended by it, one can ignore it. Trump himself is mentioned only after Chapter 12. No doubt he might be the reason Comey wrote the book, but it's a story worth hearing and Comey sets the stage to show that his stand with Trump is not new for him and that he engaged in similar tussles with previous presidents (albeit on a whole other level)

Also, I didn't see the book as Comey tooting his own horn. I saw the narrative as a man trying to remember leaders in his life and narrate what he's learnt from them. He doesn't come off as high-handed either. His story is well told, and makes for interesting reading not just for Americans but for anybody. As for Trump, I'm not American and so it's not my place to comment on American politics.

Coming to leadership lessons; Comey's not saying anything new. Ethical leaders need to respect individual dignity, ethical leaders teach by setting examples, ethical leaders give space to learn by allowing mistakes and so on and so forth. But the difference is that Comey talks about these "fundas" through real-life scenarios. You see the practical impacts of things done right and things done wrong. And you can relate to all the incidents. Because all of us in our careers have worked with such leaders. We've come across good leaders and we've come across bad leaders. Just like Comey. We've made mistakes and learnt from them because good leaders have protected us but taught us; and we've been bullied by bad leaders who've second-guessed and under-cut us. And that's what makes this book such a good read. As a normal guy trying to do the right thing, you can relate to Comey's experiences.

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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Review: The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh

The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh by Sanjaya Baru
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One feels sorry for Dr Singh. You can see this situation so many times in organizational dynamics. To be your own man, sometimes you have to put your foot down and stand up to your own people. If you're not allowed to make decisions, you can't be a leader. At such times, one should step aside; as Baru seems to have advised his employer.

The book itself is a revealing insight into the chaos and mayhem that was UPA-1 and 2. Again, this is typical of an organizational unit that has multiple vested interests and a sycophantic setup instead of a synchronous team and a strong leader. Despite the praise Baru lavishes on Dr Singh the person, the incidents he recounts (also corroborated by the news we've read) present a poor picture of Dr Singh the leader. He comes off as a bureaucratic and submissive lackey despite Baru's best efforts to humanize him.

In hindsight, it is also very clear why the current dispensation is able to function so much better. Modi's natural decisiveness, low tolerance for the "Lutyens elite" and other bullshitters, a clear line of authority, his own choice in terms of creating a cohesive, united team and complete autonomy in decision-making. No wonder there's so much more achieved in terms of effective policy formation and holistic decisions.

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Review: 1991: How P. V. Narasimha Rao Made History

1991: How P. V. Narasimha Rao Made History 1991: How P. V. Narasimha Rao Made History by Sanjaya Baru
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mr Baru begins by recounting a class lecture in which he asks the students about the relevance of 1991 in Indian polity. He was surprised to note that the answers were mundane. If he asks a similar question today, I wonder how Mr Baru will feel. We have all read about liberalization in 1991. But in all honesty, I doubt many people understand the bigger picture by looking at liberalization along with the end of the "License Raj" and India's foreign policy at the time. With all these things placed in perspective, Mr Baru tries to give PV his due.

Rightly so I feel. Especially given the way the Congress mistreated him and relegated him to a side-note in its chapters. A very notable quote in the book sums it up - "It is a sad commentary on this nation of ours that we do not know who our real heroes are and do not know how to honour them." What is shameful is that even in his death, he was denied a rightful place alongside other leaders of the country in Delhi. Only in 2015 was a memorial built for PV at Ekta Sthal.

Besides talking about PV's reform measures for the Indian economy, the book also showcases how PV gave the Indian National Congress its last chance at democracy. They had a real shot at breaking away from its feudal mindset and dynastic politics with PV at the helm. We've all seen the aftermath of this. PV was made a scapegoat for Babri and the Congress lost its golden chance at truly becoming an independent, meritocratic setup and sunk into the sycophantic throes of a feudal family-owned business. One wonders what would have happened if PV had managed to free the Congress back in the 90s from the clutches of "The Family".

Overall, a thought provoking book.

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Monday, April 16, 2018

Parsing Information on the Internet - What's true and what's not

Credit - The Inquirer (
There is a LOT of information floating around on the internet these days. With more and more exposure to this information and increasing integration of normal people like you and me with digital media, it is very easy to be misled by random chunks of information floating around through FB pages, WhatsApp groups or blogs/pseudo-news sites. An example is how Cambridge Analytica purportedly used personal information from FB to influence the US electoral process by bombarding propaganda at targeted demographics. While the jury is out on this one, what is clear is that it has become very easy to mislead the normal public and very easy to make/build opinions in the digital age. We simply cannot control what information we are bombarded with, but we can definitely control how we react to that information and how we let it influence us. With that in mind, here's a few simple things that all of us can take care of when digesting information floating on the internet - 
  1. Avoid trusting a quote or a statement unless the source is quoted along with additional details on said quote or statement. For eg - "we've found out from reliable sources in the ministry that. . ." might not be genuine. On the other hand, "in his statement to the press dated dd/mm/yy, so and so clarified that . . ." is a more reliable statement because you can check for that press interaction. 
  2. Avoid trusting a number or statistic unless there's a citation. A citation will always have the source of the data and a contact where you can validate that data. It can also be a link to an online survey, but then you have to take online survey statistics with a pinch of salt. In either scenario, with a citation, (at the very least) you'll know where a number is coming from. For eg - a random statement like "65% youth unemployed" is a bogus statement. On the other hand, "Unemployment rate for Mar-18 in India stands at 3.46% according to the latest set of data released by ILO (International Labor Organization) published on" is a more trust-worthy statement. 
  3. Avoid trusting random WhatsApp posts, random FB pages unless their provenance is verified. A good way to assess this if you can contact the admin. As Mr Weasley tells Ginny, "Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can't see where it keeps its brain". If you can't contact admin on an FB page or forward is anonymous and random; more often than not, it will be untrustworthy.
  4. Avoid digesting information without proper numbers/statistics to back it up. A reputed news house or information outlet will adhere to points 1 and 2 above so that you can assess the authenticity of the information you are being served. 
  5. Always know the political leanings of the media house which you are reading / watching news from. Most media houses have some political leaning so you can gauge and assess for yourself what level of slant they bring in and in which direction it is. Most print media is anti-establishment (for eg the daily paper "Sakal" is owned by Mr Pawar) whereas a higher proportion of digital media has leanings towards the establishment (eg - You can find out similar information about TV channels as well. NDTV has a bias against the establishment whereas Republic TV is more pro-establishment. 
As educated citizens of India, it is our duty to think rationally and critically about what we read on the internet, build opinions after due diligence and express our own opinions carefully. Let's be safe out there! 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Crackdown Commences

Illicit wealth in India has three major forms - cash, gold and real estate. For all these forms, Modi and the Government of India gave people a decent chance to come clean, no strings attached and no questions asked.

Through the land acquisition bill (read more about that here), the Government of India (hereafter referred to as GoI) offered politicians a chance to earn upto 4 times the value of their land AND ensure said land was used for infrastructure and welfare projects. Through the gold monetization scheme, GoI gave hoarders the chance to give up their gold for equivalent value AND earn interest on it. Through the Income Declaration Scheme, GoI offered holders of Illicit cash the chance to come forward and convert it white with no threat of prosecution and just a few financial penalties.

All three of these schemes received not only a muted response but also vociferous opposition. Political parties from NCP in Maharashtra to TMC in West Bengal ganged up against the Central Government. They created a ruckus in parliament, gave moronic statements to the press, halted the functioning of the legislature, sat on dharnas and even colluded with known anti-national entities to portray the Central Government in a bad light. They tried to rake up irrelevant distractions like Modi's suit and make a big hullabaloo about non-issues like castes and reservations. Jats, Patels, Marathas . . . the list of hitherto influential and politically "connected" communities suddenly clubbed with the "aam aadmi" started feeling the pinch. 

Since 2014, I've been watching Modi function and being an "assal operations" guy, I can relate to his efficiency and his result-oriented approach to problem solving. His first priority was building the right team. He did that by cherry-picking people like Parrikar, Swaraj or Prabhu (amongst others). Next was building short-term, mid-term and long-term goals and a comprehensive strategy for execution of those goals. He did that through the formation of NITI Aayog and by providing initial funding to their plans through auctions of readily available resources like spectrum and coal. Then came a strategy to deal with opponents and his method of creating regional satraps is one of those strategies. Waiting to see how that plays out but there's a plan in place and going by the recent bypolls and municipal corporation election results in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra, it's definitely working.

With all these building blocks in place, GoI is hitting back against dishonest politicians and criminals who've abused the system for so many years. And how! No more "Mr-Nice-GoI"! Demonetization is just the first nail in the coffin. I'm sure there's more coming. As days go by, I can see dishonest politicians/criminals, nefarious elements of our caste-ridden psyche and other scheming/conniving power-brokers scurrying for cover. And boy am I enjoying the show!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Web Searches from Gnome

Ever since Gnome converted their menu to an activities panel with Gnome 3, I was waiting for the community to integrate web searches directly into the GUI shell. Frustratingly, till Wily Werewolf (Oct 2015), Gnome hasn't done it by default. Given that the internet is the de facto place for people to land on to once they load their operating system, this is a big miss. Truth be told, even Microsoft hasn't been able to convincingly integrate web searches right into the OS, but then again; if we keep comparing Linux distributions to Windows we're not getting anywhere. 

So I finally gave up and started checking out extensions for Gnome; and Hallelulah! There's one developed by awamper which is really nifty. You can download the extension here. Works like a charm. 

If you get an error (in Firefox) as follows - 

just ensure that the Gnome Shell Integration plugin is active. You can check that here (about:addons) - 

Once downloaded and installed (you just need to switch it on in Firefox and it will give you a pop-up asking whether it can download and install the extension), you can activate the tool by pressing CTRL+SPACE. It's that easy! Just type your search and it will open a Gnome panel that will allow you to enter a search string - 

More importantly, the tool allows you to edit your preferences to select a default search engine, add a custom search engine, placement of the helper tool and a few other nifty settings. 

Overall, quite useful. Once you enter a search string, it will automatically open the default search engine with the results of said string. Over the course of the past few days, I've gotten so used to it that I inadvertantly press CTRL+SPACE even in Windows!