Monday, May 22, 2006 

Stock Market Crash and the Economy

For the past three years, the stock market has seen an unprecented rise. From languishing in the 4000s, the stock market has risen to more than 12000. Simultaneously, the Indian economy had been growing consistently at a rate of more than 8%. Different reports indicated that India and China would be the drivers of growth of the world economy.

Many experts claim that the rise in stock market is an indicator of the growing economy. It was our robust economy that had attracted foreign institutional investors (FIIs) towards the BSE. Many reasons were given for the continued FII romance with the stock exchange. However, all, of a sudden, the markets seem to be crashing. FIIs have panicked into selling, and others are following them.

All it took was the rumour of a bill on taxing stock market investors in the same way as traders are. The FM started shouting his favourite word, whenever the stock markets falls, i.e. “Conspiracy” , and denied all reports of such a tax. **Digression: The Sensex crash couldn’t have come at a worse time for the government. It coincides with the completion of two years in power, and the middle class is upset over reservations. The Congress has done poorly in two states that had gone to polls recently. The government-bashing left has just grown stronger. End of Digression **. This did not pacify the FIIs, and the Sensex continues to fall. If the stock market is indeed a function of the economy, then does it mean that are economy can sink because of a rumour?

Experts have always linked stock market boom to the boom in Indian economy. While I am no expert, I never quiet agreed with them. I have always held the belief that stock market rise is all about sentiment. If the market sentiment is good, the stock market will do well even if the economy and industry in general don’t. It has been seen time and again that a few individuals can manipulate the stock markets for their personal gains.

The market may be one of the factors that moves the economy, but is certainly no indicator of the economy. But this does not mean that the FM can relax while the market falls. The bad sentiment from the market starts affecting other sectors very soon, spreading depression. The Finmin must ensure that a positive sentiment prevails once again in the market.

Monday, May 15, 2006 

Anti Reservation Protests: We are still the Land of the Mahatma

Take a poll today, and you will find that there are more fans of Bhagat Singh amongst the youth than those of Mahatma Gandhi. Much of the youth feels that violence was more potent a weapon against the British than non-violence. “ Maar do saale ko”, shouts the latest blockbuster Rang de Basanti, in which a corrupt politician is murdered by the protagonists. The mass appeal of the movie, and the way it has influenced the Indian youth makes one believe that the present generation feels that violence is a valid form of protest.

And yet, when it comes to the real-life political issue that has got the youth of India protesting, i.e. Mandal-II, it is a pleasant surprise that all protests have been non-violent at the students end. All violence that has occurred during the protests has been by the government machinery. It is the police who have lathi-charged the protesting doctors in various cities. There have been no instances of students being arrested, trying to kill Arjun Singh, the perpetrator of the crime of dividing the nation on caste lines, as the protagonists in RDB did. There have been no instances of youth being arrested trying to bomb the parliament, even though they haven’t received an iota of support from any political party.

But one definitely sees protest marches, similar to those against the Simon Commision. We do get to see non-violent protesters braving against lathi charges in the vein of Lala Lajpat Rai. And we see these young protesters, resorting to Bapu’s beloved weapon, the hunger strike. Add to these new forms of non-violent protests that technology has armed them with. Online petitions, blogs, chain e-mails and SMS have all been an active part in their campaign against reservations. Humour has been used to good effect, with some e-mails suggesting a reservation in the Indian cricket team, where the opposition bowls at reserved category players at a lesser pace.

Brash, rebellious, irrational are some epithets commonly hurled at youngsters. But the decency and calm with which the youth of the country has protested reservations in higher education, just goes to show the maturity of the youth of today. They may adore Bhagat Singh, but are equally adept at using the Mahatma’s methods.

Friday, May 12, 2006 

Assembly Elections 2006: A Snapshot

The Assembly election results are out, and have surprised no one. In all states except Assam, the people have voted decisively in favour of one party or alliance.

In Bengal and Kerala, the left has swept the polls. So did the DMK alliance in Tamil Nadu. While the results were as expected by psephologists, the magnitude of victory has surprised a few. There were a few reasons for this.

In Kerala (as in Tamil Nadu), it has always been seen that in every elections, the alliance which is in opposition wins the polls. As the Left Democratic Front (LDF) was in opposition in Kerala assembly, it was bound to win owing to the anti-incumbency factor. Added to that was the fact that the national leadership of Congress didn’t speak to much against the Left during their campaigns, as the Left was supporting the Congress government at the centre. However, the left (as always) continued to blast both the governments, the UPA in the centre, and the UDF in Kerala. So was the case in West Bengal as well.

In Bengal, added to the muted campaign by the Congress, the opposition was in a complete state of disarray. The CPM had effectively blackmailed Congress from staying out of the ‘Mahajyot’ of Mamata Banerjee. Budhadeb Bhattacharjee’s work had floored Calcuttans, and for a change, Calcutta voted for CPM. CPM baiters had been crediting scientific rigging for CPM’s long stay in power, but even the worst critics were forced to admit that elections this time were free and fair.

In Assam Congress reached near the majority mark, which is an achievement in itself, as Assam has a history of voting out the incumbent government. Again the benefits of a split opposition were all too clear. The AGP had suffered a split, with former CM Prafulla Mahanta forming his own party, and neither tying up with the BJP.

In Tamil Nadu, the elections were expected to be too close to call, but the DMK-combine swept the poll. CPM and Congress benefited from the largess shown by the DMK, and won a large number of seats in TN. Amma was decisively voted out. A part of the loss could be blamed on actor Vijaykanth, whose party, the DMDK, ate 7% of AIADMK vote.

The Assembly polls show major gains for the left front and major losses for Congress in Kerala & West Bengal. This would mean a more aggressive left front, and a weaker government at the centre. The good results for parties like DMK will revive talks of a non-Congress, non-BJP third front. SP and CPM have been dropping hints on the formation of third front for quite some time. The BJP was a non-entity in all these states (Except Assam), and nothing was expected from the BJP. However, the poor showing in WB and Assam further weakens the BJP standing in national politics.

Friday, May 05, 2006 

Kid's Channels in India: An Evolution

Kids these days are pampered with choice. Look at the TV channels for them: Cartoon Network, Pogo, Hungama, Animax, Nickelodeon and 2 channels from Disney (I hope I didn’t miss any). Kids are a big market, and influence the choice of many FMCGs purchased (from biscuits to toothpaste), and hence these channels do great business.

When I was a kid, all I had during vacation was 2 hours of dedicated programming for kids on the metro channel of Doordarshan, called as fun-time. That was before the private TV channels hit India. Even after that, there was little focus on kids, with regular channels providing time-slots for kids programming.

The first big step in dedicated children’s entertainment was Cartoon Network or CN. CN also started sharing time with TNT, a movie channel. CN showed cartoons in the day, and TNT showed movies evening onwards. During that time it was believed that at primetime, children lost control on the TV. Soon Cartoon Network shattered the myth, by successfully becoming the first 24 channel for children in India.

Nickelodeon was launched at around this time, but it couldn’t make similar inroads. Indian kids found most of the shows too foreign to relate to. So CN continued its monopoly on the Indian market, with no other Channels coming to the fore. To tap into the rural Indian market, CN gave the option between Hindi and English subscription. But CN realised that with its total emphasis on cartoons, it was missing out on the tweens and early teens’ market. So CN came out with Pogo, a channel targeted at these age groups.

But in the past three years, a flurry of channels has come to India. Animax hit India with Japanese anime. Disney who till now, had been content with providing content to other channels, started two channels. Hungama was there, but it too spiced up its channel from being a non-descript, obscure channel to a prime competitor in the race.

And yet, the rural kids market is up for grabs. And why? Because of the same reason Nickelodeon didn’t work in India. Rural kids found many of the concepts too alien. That’s where Doordarshan scored with Shaktimaan. An Indian superhero saving Indians (and sometimes the universe), in locations they can relate to, with themes they are familiar with, speaking a language they understand. Shaktimaan became a huge hit all over India. No more marshmallow-chewing Americans saving the world.

TV channels have recently caught up to this trend. Disney has launched two Indian shows, Hatim & Aryamaan (which was on DD for some time). It plans to start an animated series, Hanuman (the movie that became such a hit with little ones). Pogo had roped in Shaktimaan a long back. Hungama also has its “Hero”. Cartoon network has started Raja Hindustani on Sundays for showing cartoons based on Indian legends. But going by CN’s previous ventures of Tenali Rama, and Akbar-Birbal, CN tends to cast characters into western stereotypes, which is why they don’t become popular in India.

With tremendous IT expertise, India has the potential of bringing about its own culture of animation series, just as Japan did so successfully. The success of Hanuman, the first full-length Indian animated series, has shut the naysayers up, who raised doubts about the acceptability of anime in Indian markets. Though technically not the most perfect animated film, Hanuman was able to do great business just because kids were able to relate to it. The children’s entertainment industry should take lessons from this.