Koffee with Karan – Ten years and still rocking

  It was way back in the 1950s that the American television network, NBC first started a talk show. It was titled The Tonight Show with Steve Allen as it’s host. It was then seen as a logical extension of Allen’s immensely successful radio talk show. Of course, neither Steve Allen nor NBC in their wildest dreams would have imagined that their show would open the floodgates. And that every television channel in every part of the world would have their own talk show. Be it an international, national or regional channel and on topics ranging from politics to stand up comedy, sports to cinema they were all at it.
In these last many decades, India has had it’s own share of talk shows. Though right until the 1990s, it was only one government run TV channel (Doordarshan) that held sway, this changed completely with the arrival of private TV networks led by the Zee network channel. Today there are dozens of channels dedicated to 24/7 reporting of current affairs where every second programme is a talk show. Point being that there is such intense competition to grab eyeballs today that only the best will survive. And only the ones that rule the roost when it comes to TRP(Television Rating Points) will shine through.

In this scenario, the continued success of the talk show titled ‘Koffee with Karan’ is indeed worthy of praise. This show started more than a decade ago (2005 to be precise) and has completed four very popular seasons so far. One must bear in mind that the host, Karan Johar is a very successful film producer and director who would probably have done more of these shows if not for his extremely busy schedule. What it also means is that the talk show is more of a passion for the filmmaker and less of a necessity to keep the money rolling. The fifth season began last week with a bang setting the tone for what should be another year full of tongue-in-cheek humor, juicy gossip and candid confessions involving celebrity guests.
What is also admirable about the success of the show is that it is conducted completely in English and inspite of this, Koffee with Karan has become a hit with the masses. The reasons for this can be broadly divided into two. First is the way in which Karan Johar keeps constantly reinventing things by adding new fun sections every season. There was the ‘Lie-o-meter’ where the host would press a loud buzzer if he felt his guests were not being forthright in their answers to candid questions; a Rapid Fire round where you answered tricky posers as quickly as possible at the end of which you even got gifted a Gift Hamper if you did well and last season saw the introduction of Koffee Quiz where each guest was given a buzzer to enjoy the privilege of answering first.
Of course, the real attraction behind Koffee with Karan has to be the no holds barred style of asking candid yet extremely controversial questions by the host. For the audience loves nothing more than watching a famous celeb getting grilled.

Impact of demonitisation on black money

Two days after the Indian government demonitised two high value currency notes (Rs 500 & Rs 1000) the impact of the move has already started showing in some sectors. This can be first attributed to the fact that almost 86% of the transactions in the country happen with these two denominations of currency. Let us look at some pros of this momentous move by the current regime.Hawala transactions – If media reports are to be believed, hawala transactions which are considered like a parallel economy in the country have been the hardest hit by this demonitisation. It is said that on an average, two to three thousand crores of money changes hands on a daily basis via hawala. And according to Interpol, it accounts for 40% of country’s annual GDP. Since those caught with hawala money are usually let away with a fine, it has led to many international terror groups to do their dealings using this method. Not surprising then that hawala operators have shut shop for the time being

Curbing of counterfeit cash – The inside story is that every year, hundreds of crores in fake money is pumped into the market every year. In fact, intelligence agencies in the country have claimed that nefarious elements in the neighboring country of Pakistan have been making and circulating lakhs of crores in Indian markets with an aim to cripple the Indian economy. The other purpose is to fund terror and anti national activities in India using this fake currency. The sudden and unexpected stoppage of notes which are of these two types of denomination has caught these criminal elements off guard.

Reduction in hoarding – It is common knowledge that in almost every political party, the practice is to hoard cash in a staggered manner over a period of time especially if elections are due to take place soon. And a lot of this cash is unaccounted for. With many states of India set to go for elections starting next year, corrupt parties will all feel the heat. Likewise in the realty sector, many folks with access to black money tend to invest it on acquiring land as a result of which prices always remain sky high. With demonitisation, it is expected that prices of high value assets like land, gold and jewellery among other things will come down substantially.

Big dip in inflation – Last but surely not the least is the long term impact of demonitisation. Prices of goods and materials cutting across industries are expected to come down gradually but surely. But for this to happen, it is equally pertinent that a slew of measures are initiated by the government of the day to make sure that the impact of demonitisation is not diluted with the passing of time. For those who are good at circumventing the law will eventually find ways in which to work around demonitisation of currency. So it goes without saying that there has be no letup. The pressure must be kept on. For as long as the need be.

To conclude, demonitisation is a good start. And as the saying goes well begun is half done. But then there are much bigger and bolder initiatives that the government of the day needs to undertake. The road ahead is long and there are many more miles to go before the malaise of black money is got rid of.

Demonitisation – What is it all about?

A couple of days ago, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi came on national television and made an important announcement before the whole nation. Two high value currency notes, that of 500 INR and 1000 INR were both withdrawn from circulation in the next few hours. The initial reaction of the people at large was of panic, followed by confusion and lack of clarity. This process of taking out a certain currency from circulation is what is termed as demonitisation. Like in most such cases, the government of the day has given citizens a few weeks time to deposit the demonitised notes with the banks. But what was exactly the reason for this sudden move? What are it’s implications for the country and it’s people at large?

This is not the first time in post independent India that demonitisation has taken place. It was about 38 years ago (in the year 1978) that a government undertook this step. And even back then, the move was made with the sole intention of curbing the rising menace of black money. Today after almost four decades, this process has been initiated to tackle the same problem. That of black money. As part of the process, the government has taken a few measures to ensure that the move yields maximum dividends. One of them involves strictly monitoring large deposits coming into banks. Where deposits over 2.5 lakhs are taxed and if found to be disproportionate with income, the person is likely to be penalized.

A survey conducted by a global agency found that cash accounts for 85% of all global transactions and a lot of these transactions are not easy to monitor neither are they properly accounted for. And many of these are not even strictly legit. One of the reasons for demonitising currency is to try and encourage people to move towards cashless transactions using debit/credit cards, cheques and online transfers. These types of transactions are much more easier to keep track of. The other aim of demonitisation is to ensure that people living in hinterlands & rural parts of the country most of whom do not even have bank accounts take that first step towards opening a bank account in their name.

But it is extremely crucial to understand that demonitisation cannot be that one step which will completely rid any country of corruption and black money. At best, it will be a small but decisive step in the right direction. Which is why four decades after demonitisation was first done in India, the use of black money has only become more rampant today. This clearly means that there are fatal flaws in the system that miscreants have been able to exploit to their benefit. It also indicates successive governments have taken very few concrete steps in order to stem the rot let alone rid the system of this menace.

So if the government of the day believes that demonitising some currency notes will be the panacea to all problems, they are clearly mistaken for nothing could be further from the truth. For it is only a matter of time before those who bucked the system will do it all over again. This is just the beginning and there are many more challenges ahead. Be sure of that.

Democrats and India – A tempestuous relationship

Over the years, Asian Indians (the US term for American citizens with Indian roots coined to avoid confusion with the native Red Indians) have associated themselves with the Democratic Party. The anti immigrant, ultra conservative stance of the Republican Party is a big reason why. They make up for just over 1% of the American population but what they lack in numbers they make up in education & economic well being making them one of the most powerful ethnic groups in the US. They made their choice pretty clear in 2012 when over 80% of Asian Indians voted for the Democrat candidate, Barrack Obama. Yet if one were to look at past history, it is actually Republican Presidents who have always backed India on all important international matters. With a few glorious exceptions.

Starting off with India’s struggle for independence from the colonial masters where President Roosevelt
was known to have urged Winston Churchill to free India. But this was only an exception and the Democrat Presidents Woodrow Wilson & Truman both did little to help the Indian cause. The latter was reluctant to provide financial aid to India in the aftermath of partition nor was he wanting to get tangled in the Kashmir dispute. The first Prime Minister of India had great relations with Republican President Eisenhower but with Democrat President Kennedy, his relationship was a non starter. Mrs Gandhi never got along with Democrat President Johnson and openly criticized US attack on Vietnam. In contrast, her son, the young Rajiv Gandhi got along just fine with Republican Ronald Reagan.

Which is why the election of the Republican candidate and real estate tycoon, Donald Trump might actually be a blessing in disguise for India especially on matters concerning it’s neighbors, China and Pakistan. For starters Trump has recognised that in the last decade and a half, US has lost over 5 million jobs in the manufacturing sector to China which has only grown stronger in the same period. Trump aims to beat the low cost labour advantage that China enjoys by levying heavy tariffs on the country and this could negatively impact China’s economy. This in turn will reduce the influence that China wields in South East Asia which is obviously music to the Indian ears.

Lastly and most importantly, Trump has minced no words while calling Pakistan ‘possibly the most dangerous country’ in the world. As opposed to the previous Republican President Obama who enjoyed back to back terms in office but did little to make Pakistan toe the line, Trump has openly stated in his election campaign that he will cut down on the billions of dollars of aid that Pakistan still avails. Not just this, he also acknowledges India as a nuclear superpower and a responsible one at that making it a natural ally of the US. That India has been urging the US to do just that for the longest time augurs well for future strategic partnership between the US and India.

All said and possibly done, the election of Donald Trump to the Oval Office may just be what India needs in the troubled waters of South East Asia where things threaten to get out of hand. Ever so often.

The Trump factor – Will The Indian IT juggernaut roll on?

While the US Presidential elections were underway, there were many folks half way across the world in India who were all anxiously awaiting the results. And secretly hoping that the Republican candidate, Trump loses. Not without reason too for the outspoken Donald Trump had said repeatedly during his election campaign that if voted in he plans to scrap the H1B Visa, which according to him was robbing US citizens of jobs that was their right. For the uninformed, the H1B visa is a non immigrant visa that permits American companies to temporarily employ foreign employees and if done away with, can only mean bad news for the booming IT industry of India. The revenues of Indian companies from IT exports as of last year rose to over $80 billion. And US alone accounted for 60% of this. In addition, Trump targeted some big US car manufacturers who had set up factories in India by warning them of higher taxation on cars manufactured in this part of the world.So when a couple of days ago, Trump trounced his more fancied Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton to become the 45th President of USA, a lot of people got very worried. For it could all change drastically now but are these fearsreally justified? For the record, the previous President Obama did try and bring changes to restrict outsourcing work to India but never found popular support for the move and business has gone on as usual. So far.

Many experts who follow US foreign policy are of the firm opinion that a lot of what Trump spoke during his election campaign might have been more rhetorical than anything else. The same Trump would lambast US based companies for shutting down in the US and threaten them with stringent taxes on products made outside the country. But in another speech in another state, he would wax eloquent about academic tie ups, student exchange programs as well as scholarship for Indians in US schools. Thus showing that Trump can surely be flexible as and when required. Besides, the US economy depends hugely on the billions (or is it trillions?) of dollars earned through higher education where India is one of the largest contributors. And the businessman in Trump simply cannot ignore this.
These are early days still and it is not easy to be able to predict what is it that Trump plans to do. But the man who has made a successful career as a businessman and has turned to politics only in recent times would do well to realise that jobs are being outsourced outside the US not so much because of the low costs involved in doing so. It has to do more with the fact there is a genuine dearth of talent in the US. And till higher education is prioritised in the US, the situation is unlikely to change. Regardless of who gets voted to power. A man or woman,conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat.