Sucheta Dalal :Pressure tactics (15 April 02)
Sucheta Dalal

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Pressure tactics (15 April 02)  

Until recently, Gujarat was considered the most attractive investment destination in India. Although nature has never been kind to Gujarat and lashed it with severe cyclones, droughts and more recently the massive killer earthquake, the State still attracted tens of thousand crores of investment from India’s biggest public and private companies. They were all enthused by the business-like attitude of its leaders irrespective of their politics. Instead of converting this investment into economic prosperity, the Bharatiya Janata Party has told Narendra Modi to convert death into votes. It believes that the majority of Gujaratis are happy with Modi’s (in)action. If that is true, why is government busy skewing the electoral field in Modi’s favour by brow beating those who speak out against the carnage? In the last few weeks, presidents of leading industry associations have been told to shut up about Gujarat. Business leaders who dared speak out have allegedly been summoned and silenced. It is no wonder then that industry associations are afraid to come forward with humanitarian aid for Gujarat’s victims. Foreign aid agencies and NGOs are also not as forthcoming for fear of antagonising the ruling government. Countries such as the US and Australia who have issued advisories to their citizens against travelling to India are keeping it very low key. Businessmen tell us of several foreign delegations that have been cancelled due to these advisories. If Modi does win this blood-washed election, will he lead Gujarat to prosperity or poverty? The State will pay a heavy price for believing that economic prosperity will be unaffected by bigotry and intolerance, but when that realisation dawns it will be too late.

Iridium V/s Motorola v/s BPL For several months, Motorola Inc of the US had simply ignored the criminal complaint filed against it in connection with the Iridium global satellite project. Recently however, it quietly moved the Bombay High Court and obtained a stay against the Pune proceedings by claiming they were frivolous. This is the case where nine leading Indian financial institutions (including IDBI, ICICI, UTI, HDFC, SBI, LIC, IL&FS etc), who promoted Iridium India Telecom Ltd have accused Motorola of ‘fraud, cheating and misrepresentation’ leading to substantial losses to themselves. Motorola apparently finds it shocking that warrants should be issued to summon its chairman Chris Galvin and others including Robert W. Kinzie, former chairman of Iridium LLC to appear before an Indian court. (Scores of similar actions have been filed against Motorola by Iridium investors in the US, which are not going too well for the company.) Ironically however, the same Motorola Inc finds Indian courts good enough to sue BPL Mobile Cellular to recover its own dues. Motorola has filed a winding up petition in the Madras High Court (185 of 2001) against BPL Cellular for allegedly failing to pay up fees of $17.38 million and over a million dollars in interest. Motorola is certainly within its rights to fight for its legitimate dues, but then it cannot at the same time ignore the litigation filed against it in Indian courts. That is one of the unfortunate hazards of doing business globally.

The coffee mantra By all reckoning, Barista, the chain of expresso bars serving international quality coffee is a super hit. It is truly India’s answer to Starbucks, some would say even better. So when the Taj Group starts Barista corners in its five star coffee shops (Sea Lounge) and lobbies (Taj Mansingh), does it enhance Barista’s reputation or hurt it? Strange as it seems, it is the latter. Barista projects a look, feel and ambience that is completely missing in these five star corners. The coffee is thrice as expensive, the menu truncated, the snacks are missing and the cookies thrown in with the coffee are jarring. It is simply not Barista. It is true that the Taj holds a chunk of equity in Barista, but it should restrict its role to supplying the snacks. Barista should not allow such needless brand distortion in what seems a flawless growth strategy.

Tailpiece: Yes it is true that those in the race for the country’s top two jobs of President and Prime Minister are all over 75, but there are no immediate solutions to that problem. However, there is nothing to stop us ensuring that top appointments at regulatory agencies are not post-retirement sinecures. The proposed amendment to the Sebi Act should cut the age-limit for Sebi chairman from 65 to 60. The Government should also take a lot more care and diligence in appointing senior central bankers and bureaucrats to head advisory posts connected with the vigilance agencies. If the role of one such person in helping private banks show lower non-performing assets came in for close scrutiny, it would cause acute embarrassment to the central bank.
-- Sucheta Dalal