SELF-CORRECTING ONE’S WAY OUT OF POST-COVID ECONOMIC CRISIS - The Daily Guardian
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SELF-CORRECTING ONE’S WAY OUT OF POST-COVID ECONOMIC CRISIS

While governments worldwide have taken steps to ease the blow dealt by the pandemic on the economy, market participants like banks and investors as well as businesses will have to take action to achieve long-term and sustainable recovery.

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“When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.”

—John F. Kennedy

The world has come about a full year since the Covid-19 health emergency broke out in China. It quickly unfolded into a full-blown global economic crisis, posing an existential threat to businesses as they grappled with liquidity and survival challenges. The impact was particularly adverse on businesses in the hospitality, tourism, airlines and manufacturing sectors, weighing down on their cash-starved drooping shoulders. While governments all over the world have taken many fiscal and monetary measures to support the economy and cushion businesses from the brunt of the crisis, this is perhaps also the time for market participants to step up their role in stabilising businesses as the post-crisis period progresses. State actions, even though potent for short-term stabilisation, tend to saturate quickly. For long-term sustainable recovery, market participants need to find the cure themselves through self-initiated actions that are for their own benefit.

MARKETS’ ROLE IN RECOVERY

The World Economic Forum (WEF) in the article, “How banks can help companies restructure for growth”, published on 28th September, 2020, identified three phases of rescue efforts to salvage the economy in the post-crisis period: sovereign phase, debt phase and equity phase. The sovereign phase is the phase for state actions, which is the first response package for immediate rescue and pre-emptive measures to mitigate further loss.

As this phase tapers off, the debt phase kicks in, led by banks and financial institutions for the palliative care of the economy. Here banks and financial institutions need to infuse the required liquidity and capital through dedicated credit lines to revive businesses. In this phase, it is essential for the banking sector to invest in opportunities or back restructuring efforts that not only benefit businesses in the short term to tide over the crisis, but also focus on the bigger picture of long-term growth and resilience of businesses. At the same time, the banking sector will have to carefully calibrate risks and distinguish between good lemons and bad lemons viz. firms that have the potential to be restructured or those which will not survive the crisis at all.

Once the banking sector reaches its saturation point, the capital markets need to step in to offer funds directly in the equity phase. With declining valuations and lower interest rates, the opportunity is ripe for private investors to invest in viable yet distressed businesses. Further, this is the time to find creative and versatile equity solutions for businesses. As per the WEF, there is already some activity picking up in offering full balance sheet solutions for some distressed industries with innovative sale and leaseback. Financial engineering solutions are also being offered, allowing struggling businesses to access their full capital base to generate the needed cash flows.

The equity phase has the potential to be the knight in shining armour for small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Private investors and private equity firms can hold direct equity control in those companies that pump liquidity in SMEs viz. trade credit. Investments in SME-focused exchange traded funds (ETFs) are another lucrative avenue. If risk aversion is more, investors could infuse low-risk liquidity to SMEs by purchasing minority stake in them. This would assuage valuation sensitivity and risk of ownership control.

THE ROLE OF BUSINESSES

A business is an intricate filigree work made of numerous threads that impart strength and continuity to it. Businesses are in the best position themselves to mitigate potential negative fallouts of a looming crisis if the right actions are taken at the right time and in the right earnest. As the post-Covid crisis progresses, managing their own stakeholders and planning for the future will be important ingredients for stabilisation and restructuring. Cash flow improvement measures such as short-term cash saving actions, cash-flow monitoring plan for business plan, contingency planning, income protection measures such as product repositioning and/or pricing, balance sheet structure improvements such as asset review and divestment identification, balance sheet right sizing, corporate simplification like review of corporate structures, and strategic planning such as planning of non-strategic assets divestments, execution of settlement, sale or merger plans, etc., will be immediate corporate restructuring measures that businesses can take to recover from the crisis. Such a recovery will not only aid in overcoming short-term setbacks but also help sustain the value and life of the business in the long term.

When in an economic crisis, a firm’s first instinct may be to just survive the crisis somehow. However, in the long term, the strategy of a firm should go beyond solely saving the day. A corporate restructuring is said to be sustainable when a firm is able to reverse the performance crisis that was brought about on account of a turbulent business environment or economic recession or insolvency, is able to terminate the threat to its survival and, finally, is able to accomplish sustained profitability for future growth.

Sustained competitive advantage and strategic flexibility can prove to be the panacea for long-term stability. A study by Penrose on “The theory of growth of a firm”, developed further by Rumelt, Wernerfelt, and Barney, shows that a firm is said to have sustainable competitive advantage if its resources are valuable, rare, inimitable, and non-substitutable. Some studies advise organisations to use a mix of actions to build flexibility and competitive advantage, such as, (a) developing dynamic core competences, (b) focusing and developing human capital (e.g. contingency workers and outsourcing), (c) effectively using new technologies (e.g., IT or flexible manufacturing systems), (d) engaging in valuable strategies (e.g., cooperation), and (e) developing new organization structures and culture (e.g., horizontal structures).

FLEXIBILITY IS KEY

While markets advocate for flexibility and adaptability for survival, the same fluidity is expected from the state as well. Flexibility in types of interventions is essential, especially in times of crisis. Studies have shown that countries which have shown flexibility in supporting one-off interventions—for example, restructuring funds or special-purpose vehicles—have done better in overcoming a financial crisis. Similarly, such countries have relied on formal bankruptcy and insolvency systems, but not exclusively, in order to prevent overburdening the system in a crisis. They have buttressed the formal system with pre-packaged insolvencies (prepacks). Countries have facilitated setting up of asset management companies (AMCs) to resolve distressed assets and promote a market for them. They have relied on market determined solutions to unload the assets of AMCs. Further, they have established frameworks for voluntary workouts, which are relatively quicker and cheaper, to bring firms and stakeholders together to determine the ability of the firm to pay up its debts and survive a crisis.

The recently enacted Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act, 2020 by the UK government and the German Act on the Stabilisation and Restructuring Framework (StaRUG) for companies are cases in point. Similar innovative measures can also help Indian businesses to successfully restructure themselves outside the formal insolvency frameworks to recover quickly from the Covid-19 pandemic induced economic crisis.

The writer is Assistant Manager in the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India. Views expressed are personal.

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For the love of the chair

Shweta Shalini

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Back in 1975, the ruling Congress under Indira Gandhi had organised mass protests outside the PM’s house. The so-called “spontaneous rallies” and “people’s rallies” were against a high court ruling, which restrained the PM’s right to vote or draw a salary as a Member of Parliament. The conditional stay had allowed Indira Gandhi to retain the prime minister’s post. Indira Gandhi’s misuse of power had put her in a spot when Allahabad HC accepted a petition filed by Raj Narain, which found her guilty of corrupt practices under Section 123(7) of the Representation of People’s Act during her Lok Sabha campaign in 1971 at Rae Bareli. The mass rallies in support of Indira Gandhi were a desperate attempt to cling to the chair when the moral authority and legal tenability of the government was fast slipping away. Gandhi was in no mood to exit gracefully. To insulate herself from the court verdict, she declared an Emergency on 25 June 1975 on the grounds of internal disturbances.

A similar situation is playing out in Maharashtra as CM Uddhav Thackeray desperately clings to power. In the evening of 20th June 2022 when the political observers, media and politicians in Maharashtra were focused on the Vidhan Parishad vote counting exercise, about 30-40 MLA’s in the assembly quietly made their way out of the state. The surprising BJP victory in the fifth MLC seat proved what the LoP Devendra Fadnavis was saying all along “that inherent ideological contradictions and dissatisfaction within the ranks of MVA will fuel our victory”.

When news about the 40 MLA’s who left the state in rebellion against the MVA government in Maharashtra broke the next morning, CM Uddhav Thackeray found himself in a similar situation to Mrs Gandhi in 1975. The Uddhav Thackeray government has lost moral authority as most of his MLAs have deserted him and the government can no longer claim a majority. Realising this, the CM left the official residence Varsha in order to claim the high moral ground and bring back the MLAs. After emotional appeals failed, he tried to convince, cajole and even threaten the MLAs. He attempted a show of strength on the streets and removed the security of MLAs’ family members. After every attempt failed, he is still clinging to power and repeats what Indira Gandhi did—organising protests in solidarity with him even though he clearly knows that numbers in the Vidhan Sabha don’t favour him.

A graceful exit and the forming of a “natural alliance” with the BJP is what his rebel MLAs have demanded. A “graceful exit” for CM Thackeray is exactly what the NCP under Sharad Pawar wants to prevent, even though the NCP is under no illusion about the future of this government. The NCP is egging the Shiv Sena Chief to fight this losing battle, prolong this humiliation, conduct floor test and face more ignominy. How else can Shiv Sena be thoroughly humiliated than fighting for a lost cause? For two and a half years, the NCP worked in tandem with the MVA government in denying their share of power to Shiv Sena MLAs. Today, the NCP under Sharad Pawar is working on its design to weaken the Shiv Sena further by making them fight a losing battle despite a lack of numbers.

If Indira Gandhi’s experience is any indication, Uddhav Thackeray will face the same fate as Indira Gandhi faced in the 1977 elections immediately post-emergency. The protests on the streets notwithstanding, the Indian electorate has consistently demonstrated a preference for democratic ideals. The excesses and desperation to cling to power of the emergency era had paved way for the first non-Congress government in India. A similar trend will be visible in Maharashtra post the 2019 elections.

In 2019, Shiv Sena had fought elections in alliance with BJP under the leadership of CM Devendra Fadnavis. Uddhav Thackeray abandoned the alliance after elections and formed an unnatural alliance with the NCP-INC combine, thereby insulting the voter’s mandate. The Shiv Sena rebel camp led by Eknath Shinde today is merely calling for the undoing of this insult to the people and a return to the Hindutva fold. If CM Thackeray continues to cling to his chair, the people of Maharashtra will punish his group heavily in every upcoming election, while the “original Shiv Sena” of Eknath Shinde adhering to Balasaheb’s ideals will be rewarded by the voters. The post-emergency era brought non-Congress parties into prominence and led to the eventual decline of Congress. The Love of the chair on the part of CM Thackeray will lead to the same results. CM Thackeray can either choose to respect the mandate of the people and their elected representatives or risk losing his party altogether.

The author is BJP spokesperson, advisor to former Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis, and executive director of Maharashtra Village Social Transformation Foundation.

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ONLINE FOOD DELIVERY IS TRENDING AND CONTAGIOUS

Technology has saved consumers from driving through the busy lanes with red lights at smaller intervals and a longer wait for their turn at the restaurant.

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If one is asked, “How many times did you order food online in the last six months?” The chances are that one may not even remember the exact number. However, the answer to another question, “How many restaurants have you visited to enjoy food in the last six months?” would be “yes, I can tell.” Millions of Indians have similar answers. Nonetheless, one might be mistaken if they believe that consumers order foods online only because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Most Indians had never thought that online food delivery would become so common that too, so fast. But the reality is that it is now part of urban consumers’ food habits, e.g., food purchase and consumption behaviour, in many countries, including India. It is trending and contagious. In the year 2021, more than 282 million Indians ordered food online, and the number is likely to increase to 493 million by the end of 2025.  

Was it all because of Covid-19 and subsequent lockdowns? No, the Covid-19 pandemic has only accelerated the pace of the e-commerce business, including the online food business. The two most important factors that led to the food delivery business transformation are a revolution in internet and digital technologies and fast-changing consumers’ lifestyles and preferences. 

Technology has enabled consumers to access their favourite foods from their preferred outlets at their fingertips. Food reaches consumers in the shortest possible time at the place and the time decided by the consumer and all of this without spending much. Technology has saved consumers from driving through the busy lanes with red lights at smaller intervals and a longer wait for their turn at the restaurant. It is undoubtedly a fancied choice both for busy and lazy people. Consumers compare price, menu, quality, and outlet and select the best option that provides them with value. This is in addition to the time they save, a precious resource in modern times. With the number of smartphone users expected to increase to about 1133 million by 2025 from 847.7 million by the end of 2021, the future seems brighter. 

Consumers, too, are changing faster. Nuclear family, husband-wife working, increased disposable income, family members with varying tastes, not interested in kitchen work, and preference for a faster and easy option of getting food – all these have allured consumers to go online. Further, today’s consumers look for utilisation benefits and seek enjoyment, control, experimental value, and emotional arousal in their day-to-day activities. Ordering food online, fortunately, meets most of the wishes. Consumers today expect food to come to them instead of following, travelling, and waiting for it. With per capita spending on food and beverages expected to increase by more than 30% by 2025, many new consumers are likely to join the bandwagon, and existing customers will increase their online purchases.

There are two different types of online food delivery players in the market. First, the online food delivery system owned and run by established restaurants or food outlets, like Pizza Hut and Domino’s, makes home food delivery after consumers put their orders on their website. Next are food delivery platforms like Swiggy and Zomato, which source food from multiple restaurants and outlets and deliver it to consumers. In India, though restaurant-owned online food delivery is more popular and has a consumer penetration of 15.7%, online delivery platforms, with a penetration rate of 6.4%, are catching up very fast.

Online delivery platforms democratise the food market. Platforms provide every consumer with the opportunity to have food from any outlet, making it possible for smaller and not-so-popular food outlets to serve many consumers. In addition, food delivery platforms make local, traditional, and even international cuisine available to all consumers—a win-win situation for everyone. 

The online food delivery system has further decentralised and democratised entrepreneurship with concepts like dark kitchens or ghost kitchens. Dark kitchens create opportunities for established industries to extend their kitchen work and for professionals and entrepreneurs to start a new venture, even with a limited budget, by partnering with delivery platforms. Understanding what, how, and when customers order and how to meet those orders in the least amount of time at a lower price is crucial for the business’s success. It seems that online delivery players are mastering these tricks faster.

Delivering food in the proper packaging is more than 50% of food quality, and the industry seems to learn it slowly but steadily. It can be ensured that hot desi samosa and dosa reach the customer with the same crispiness as those served in restaurants. Hyderabadi Biryani, if not served as it appeared on the screen while ordering or with the fragrance that biryani is expected to have, may upset the customers. Restaurant owners have started using innovative packaging, and delivery partners have added specialised carrying boxes and well-planned routes through which foods are reaching faster and safely. Swiggy food survey 2021 indicates that Biryani and Desi Samosa were the most ordered meals and snacks, respectively, indicating that food delivery players in India are doing it briskly.

Food delivery platforms are labour-intensive, and their success is dependent on their partners. Their delivery persons, called “gig workers” in business terminology, are among the most crucial players in their business. Zomato, India’s second food delivery platform after Swiggy, employs more than 1,60,000 gig workers. Though their remuneration, working hours and conditions have come under scrutiny and have become the subject of debate, no one disagrees that the business creates many jobs at the field level. 

No doubt, advancing technologies, changing customers and innovations in the delivery business will result in the rapid spread of the industry. However, the food delivery business still has to cover a long distance before stabilising and settling down. Most delivery companies are yet to achieve their break-even and will require working hard to spread their reach and optimise costs. The business remains immensely competitive and reliant on the external business environment. 

In 2021, Indians ordered food worth 11782 million US dollars online, 30.4% more than the previous year. If the excitement the recent IPO of Zomato created, the presence of at least one food delivery platform for more than 100 million consumers, and fast-moving bikers with food in every lane are any indication, it establishes that online food delivery has arrived in India, and it will continue to grow and flourish. 

Niraj Kumar is a Professor of Rural Management at XIM University, Bhubaneswar. 

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Unprecedented transformation of the HR industry

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HR, as one of the most paper-intensive and technologically resistant industries, has undoubtedly undergone an unprecedented transformation. The HR industry has changed course and jumped on the technology bandwagon, from handing out pay slips and pink slips to building teams and organisations. HR and technology were once two words that were never used in the same sentence, but today they have integrated and taken the business world by storm.

HR has undoubtedly undergone an unprecedented transformation as one of the most paper-intensive and technologically resistant industries. The human resources industry has shifted its focus from issuing pay stubs and pink slips to forming teams and organisations. HR and technology were never used in the same sentence until recently, but they have now integrated and taken the business world by storm.

EVOLUTION OF THE HR FUNCTION

As the pandemic drove nations to lockdowns and businesses to disruption, HR was thrust to the frontline to facilitate this wave of changes. From handholding employees, as they took up remote work to embracing new technologies such as AI and automation themselves, the purview of HR widened overnight. The HR department made possible the overnight pivot to remote work, organisation-wide move to the cloud and years’ worth of digital transformation within months. As organisations’ appetite for technology grows, the demand for HR tech is building up simultaneously to catalyse change. 

MASTERING REMOTE WORK MANAGEMENT

Today, an organisation’s workforce is dispersed across different geographies owing to remote work arrangements. To enable employees to carry out diverse tasks remotely, HR teams must provide them with facilitating tools and technologies. At the same time, they require the right tools and technologies to carry out HR tasks remotely. On top of that, HR teams need to maintain the organisation’s culture even when people can no longer see each other in person. Technologies such as cloud computing, unified communication tools, performance management software and video conferencing technologies help HR teams master remote work management.

BRAVING TALENT MARKET CHALLENGES

Remote work mandate meant for the talent market proliferation of job opportunities, wider talent pools and a shift to virtual hiring practices. This resulted in a surge in demand for video interviewing, virtual onboarding and AI-based technologies. In an ever-evolving talent market, a slew of challenges such as the war for talent and the ‘great resignation’ has erupted. As a result, organisations are increasingly investing in automation, AI and data analytics to optimise their hiring processes and enjoy time and cost savings. Additionally, such HR technologies enable recruiters to hire higher-quality candidates faster. 

RE-ENVISIONING EMPLOYEE EXPERIENCE

As the resignation pile mounts up and the stack of resumes becomes less than a handful, HR teams across the globe are racking their brains in the quest for a cure-all. Technology allows HR teams to rethink their employee experience and reinforce their talent retention strategies. From improving the employee onboarding process to supporting greater work-life balance to elevating employee wellbeing, technology is helping HR to reshape the employee experience. Consequently, investments in tools and technologies such as intelligent chatbots, video conferencing, recommended learning and development, etc., that enhance employee experience are continuously rising. 

CONTINUOUS RESKILLING AND UPSKILLING

The global pandemic ushered in a period of great reshuffling, which meant new technologies, tools, innovations and even new jobs. As many jobs, skills and practices become obsolete, HR leaders must upskill and reskill their workforce to take on new responsibilities and challenges. Technologies that enable faster learning paths, interactive and engaging journeys and performance tracking saw an uptick in demand. As digital transformation becomes a permanent fixture on CEO agendas, constant reskilling and upskilling are becoming a priority for HR leaders. As a result, giving rise to persistent demand for new learning and development technologies.  

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

Technology is enabling organisations to inch closer to the future of work and evolve with it. The coming together of HR and technology can catalyse this wave of change. By making the most of this window of opportunity, HR can evolve from an auxiliary authority to an enabling force.

Yogita Tulsiani is the MD & Co-founder of iXceed Solutions, which is a global tech-recruiter provider.

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THE BOYS SEASON 3 UNLEASHES UNSEEN LEVELS OF GORE AND PROFANITY

The 2010s are widely regarded as the Marvel decade. But, a more accurate way to describe them is as ‘the superhero decade’.

Murtaza Ali Khan

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Amazon Prime Video series ‘The Boys’ is not just one of the best shows about superheroes but it also makes for a great case study in subversion of all the best-known tropes associated with the superhero genre. How many superhero shows out there are focused on exploring how toxic our obsession is with them? ‘The Boys’ does a great job of critiquing the superhero culture as perpetuated by Marvel and DC but never at the cost of entertainment. It is never preachy and always very entertaining and full of whacky ideas. ‘The Boys’ is based on the comic book series of the same name by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson. In its third season, the series spills even more blood (yes, you read it right!), unleashing hitherto unseen levels of gore, profanity, nudity and sex. Don’t believe me? Consider a scene in the season premiere wherein a superhero shrinks down and climbs inside another person’s body part and mistakenly blows it to smithereens. 

The 2010s are widely regarded as the Marvel decade. But, a more accurate way to describe them is as the superhero decade. Interestingly, nobody was so sure about the future of superhero films about 10 years back. Remember, the first leg of the Spider-Man and the X-Men series had ended in 2007 and 2009, respectively. The future looked uncertain for both the franchises. The second leg of the Superman series never really got going after the mixed-bad response to the 2006 film ‘Superman Returns’. What Christopher Nolan achieved with ‘The Dark Knight’ (2008) was seen more as a personal triumph of a director’s vision than a superhero genre breakthrough. It all changed with ‘Iron Man 2’ (2010) which catapulted the Nick Fury-led S.H.I.E.L.D to instant fame—two years after it was first introduced as part of ‘Iron Man’ (2008) during a post-credits scene. Following the release of ‘Iron Man 2,’ the Walt Disney Studios agreed to pay Paramount a whopping amount for the worldwide distribution rights to ‘Iron Man 3’ and ‘The Avengers.’ And the rest, as they say, is history.

Soon, Hollywood was raining superheroes. As Marvel was putting together The Avengers, DC Comics started planning their Justice League lineup. Before we knew it, Marvel’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ (2014) also came alive. The X-Men franchise too got a new lease of life with ‘X-Men: First Class’ (2011). Next year, ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ was released with a fresh cast and storyline. Subsequently, Zack Snyder delivered ‘Man of Steel’ (2013)—the first film of DC’s Superman reboot that was followed by the 2016 offering ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.’ In 2015, Marvel came out with ‘Ant-Man’ which was followed by ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ in 2018. In 2016, ‘Deadpool’ went on to become the highest-grossing R-rated film at the time. It was followed by ‘Deadpool 2’ (2018). Soon the battle for female superhero supremacy started as DC came out with the hugely successful ‘Wonder Woman’ in 2017 and Marvel responded with an even bigger success in the form of ‘Captain Marvel’ (2019). 2018 also witnessed another superhero film Venom based on a character that appeared in ‘Spider-Man 3’ (2007). All this proves why the 2010s are regarded as the superhero decade.

When the Amazon Prime Video series ‘The Boys’ premiered in July 2019, it took superhero film enthusiasts by storm. For, it offered something rarely seen in the genre: superheroes, popular as celebrities, influential as politicians, and revered as Gods, abusing their powers instead of using them for good. The Boys follows the eponymous team of vigilantes as they try to expose the Seven, Vought International’s premier superhero team led by the egotistical and megalomaniacal Homelander (menacingly portrayed by Antony Starr; the character is considered to be analogous to DC›s Superman). The Seven, among others, also features Queen Maeve (essayed by Dominique McElligott with equal parts brain and brawn; the character is considered to be analogous to DC›s Wonder Woman). The Boys, on the other hand, are led by Billy Butcher (brilliantly played by the uber-cool Karl Urban), a former CIA operative who despises all individuals with superpowers. 

Following the success of the first season of ‘The Boys,’ the second season proved to be bigger and grander at so many levels. Firstly, the stakes were much higher. We had a few new characters with some incredible superpowers. On one hand, we had the enigmatic Stormfront, gifted with the unique ability to manipulate electricity along with many other powers. Although she joined the Seven as its newest member, her real intentions as well as her actual origins remained unknown (she was later revealed to be the first supe in the world who was once closely associated with the Nazi Party). Then, there was a mysterious new character gifted with the power to get anyone’s head to explode at will (who is shockingly revealed to be none other than Congresswomen Victoria Neuman). The second season of ‘The Boys’ also presented Black Noir in a new light. A-Train and The Deep again had solid character arcs this season. The character of Vought CEO Stan Edgar (chillingly essayed by Giancarlo Esposito) also came to the fore. The various arcs involving Homelander, Billy Butcher, Queen Maeve, Starlight, Hughie, Frenchie, Mother’s Milk, and Kimiko also got explored well.

In the new season also, we are presented with a very interesting mix of the old and the new characters. After his wife Becca’s death, Butcher is more obsessed than ever with killing Homelander (an increasingly menacing and creepy-looking Antony Starr). When Queen Maeve tells him about a past supe known as ‘Soldier Boy,’ Butcher leads an investigation to uncover the truth about his mysterious death. Maeve also gives him a few vials of a new serum developed by Vought that gives normal people superpowers for 24 hours. Given his intense hatred for all things supe, will he be able to wield it in order to take the fight to expose Vought? 

‘The Boys’ has thus far lived up to its promise of being an irreverent, unapologetically sharp-witted, and no-holds-barred flip on the superhero genre. The third season takes us to ever darker places and the end doesn’t seem nigh.

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An elite force can do well without criminal elements

Shweta Shalini

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Ever since the government announced the Agnipath scheme, a lot of undisciplined protestors have taken to the streets. In a democratic country, anyone is well within their rights to protest against any action of the government. However, the outright hooliganism, destruction of public property and rioting by protestors are not just condemnable but also prove a serious lack of discipline in pressing for their cause. Potential candidates for recruitment into the elite defence service are expected to protest in a civilized manner. By burning down trains and resorting to violence, these protestors are making a case against themselves on how they are unfit to don the elite uniform. The hooliganism and anarchy on display in the streets are enough to debar these protestors from the candidature. An elite force ready to make the supreme sacrifice for the sake of the nation can do well without these criminal elements destroying public property.

The Agnipath scheme is an effective initiative by the government aimed at structural reforms in the armed forces. The defence budget of India has been increased by the Modi government from 2.53 lakh crores in 2014 to 5.25 lakh crores in 2022. Unlike the earlier wars that the Indian army fought and won, the warfare of the future will be primarily a contest of technological prowess. The Modi government has displayed proactiveness in procuring the best available technology to arm the country with an effective deterrent. In a security apparatus dominated by technology, youthful dynamic foot-soldiers well-versed with the latest technology and sheer muscle power are a requisite. A proper meritocratic system where the best talents are retained for a longer-term would ensure that the army gets the best of the best foot on the ground to protect our borders. The Agnipath scheme backed by the three service chiefs would ensure an enhanced youthful profile of the force and result in the reduction of average age from 32 to 26 years over a period of time. A youthful profile for the defence forces will lead to increased dynamism, competitiveness to be retained for the long haul and optimal utilization of the defence budget. The tech-heavy jawan of the future will require multiple skillsets to guard our borders and Agniveers would be ideal for this technological revolution. The world is moving into an era where drones and robotic technology will slowly replace manual interventions. The soldiers of the future need to be dynamic and adaptable to the changes in technology. Cyber warfare is emerging as a huge threat and India has been ramping up its cyber assets toward this end. While the earlier reforms in defence were necessitated by adverse situations or wars, the Modi government has proactively optimized defence without the need for external circumstances. It is notable that the past 75 years have seen 2 reorganisation exercises apart from a few administrative revamps in the wake of Kargil and Op Parakram. The two reorganisations were around the 1960s after the debacle of the 1962 war and following the KV Krishna Rao committee of 1975. The current average age of uniformed officers can be attributed to the recruiting spree following 1962 and the increase in retirement ages. The manpower-heavy recruitment of prior decades was justifiable.

With the Agnipath initiative, the Modi Government in a single stroke recruits dynamism and youthfulness into our armed forces while also calibrating the defence structure in line with new theatres of war. The misinformation regarding this move has fuelled a spate of protests across the country as if Agnipath isn’t in the interest of the country. Whether the vandalism on the streets is by candidates or are the vested interests trying to take advantage by creating a crisis situation, needs to be investigated. The Modi government with the Agnipath scheme has continued to live up to its reputation of biting the bullet on vital reforms. Whether it’s section 370 of J&K or GST or Defence reforms, the Modi government is making good use of its majority, which the Indian citizens handed to the BJP. India always needed a strong decision-maker and reformer and India has got one.

The author is BJP spokesperson, advisor to former Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis, and executive director of Maharashtra Village Social Transformation Foundation, a Section 8 Company of the Maharashtra government.

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THE TRAGEDY OF SANJAY GANDHI

On the occasion of his 42nd death anniversary, we peep into the life of one of the most controversial political characters of our time.

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Sanjay Gandhi was the second son of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who was widely believed to be the next heir to her mother’s chair, just like his mother had occupied her father Jawahar Lal Nehru’s chair after his death. There were unconfirmed stories floating around that Mrs Gandhi was grooming her younger son, Sanjay, who was keen to join politics, for the PM’s chair after her. Rajiv, the elder brother and a pilot with Indian Airlines, preferred to lead a quiet domestic life away from the limelight.

Sanjay started his career as Managing Director of Maruti Motors.

Sanjay started his career as Managing Director of a company called Maruti Motors Limited, founded by the Government of India to produce a people’s car in 1971. The 25-year-old Sanjay becoming the Managing Director of a newly formed motor company, having no prior experience to his credit, attracted several accusations of nepotism and corruption from the political class as well the general public. The 1971 victory of Bangladesh liberation that year silenced all the noise against corruption. Significantly, the company under Sanjay Gandhi produced no vehicle till 1975.

After the imposition of the emergency in the country on 26 June 1975, without having any elected official position, Sanjay Gandhi had become the de-facto power centre in the Prime Minister’s office as his mother Indira Gandhi’s adviser, usurping all the draconian powers of the Emergency, as basic fundamental rights of the citizens were suspended. It was rumoured that the government was run by Sanjay and his friends, called the ‘coterie’, who ran the PMO, from the PM’s house, instead of from the PMO authorized officials of bureaucracy. Sanjay declared a five-point programme, which included the abolition of dowry and family planning. Sanjay and his cronies were dreaded names who had terrorized the whole country.

Sanjay was sent to the best schools in India and abroad, but he didn’t enter a university. Instead, he decided to learn automotive engineering, spending three years at the Rolls-Royce automaker in England, as he was very much interested in sports cars. His other interest was in aircraft acrobatics, for which he had obtained his pilot’s license in 1976. He often used to take off from the Safdarjung flying club for his acrobatics practices. On the morning of 23 June 1980, Sanjay Gandhi took off for his acrobatic practice in a new Pitts S-2A aircraft from the Safdarjung airports’ flying club, accompanied by his instructor, Subhash Saxena.

Minutes later his plane crashed over Chanakyapuri while attempting a dangerous acrobatic maneuver, killing Sanjay and his instructor instantly. Their mutilated bodies were taken to RML Hospital for stitching before handing over to their respective families.

Sanjay was the first one of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s family to meet a violent death. Four years later, Sanjay’s mother was next to meet a violent death, on 31 October 1984, when she was killed by the bullets of her security guards after Operation Blue Star in June of the same year. About seven years later, Rajiv Gandhi, the last surviving member of Indira’s family and himself a former Prime Minister, was the last one to die a violent death, in a bomb attack by an LTTE woman while campaigning for elections for a Lok Sabha seat near Chennai on the night of 21 May 1991. Within a span of 11 years, all members of Mrs Indira Gandhi’s family were wiped out in violent deaths. Mrs Gandhi used to get advised by tantrics, astrologers and swamis, but no one had ever predicted that her whole family would be wiped out in such violent deaths in such a short period.

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